When I’m running a streaming game or recording an episode of our podcast, it’s not enough that I have plans for whats going to happen in the game; I also need to know when it’s going to happen. I prefer to have each episode reach some sort of completion. If there is a cliffhanger, I want that to be intentional.

So how do I keep a game going where I need it to go? I think in threes.

My sessions are normally there hours. That length works really well for recording and broadcasting for me. Therefore, I start to think of my games as having three acts. Each one gets about a sentence descriptor to give me a general reminder as to whats going on. It’s the big picture.

Lets make an example. We’ll start with a one sentence overview of the whole session.

  • The party has to hold off the siege of Orcs until the Elves arrive to drive them off.

Cool. It’s nice and simple. The party is in a homestead surrounded by palisade walls. There are more Orcs than they could hope to kill. The real goal is to hold them off until the cavalry arrives. Since we know this game is going to go on for three hours, we need to give it three acts. Each act is going to have a summary sentence as well.

  • The party has to hold off the siege of Orcs until the Elves arrive to drive them off.
    • The party must convince the families to fight and not open the walls in surrender.
    • Orcs breech the west wall.
    • Guarding the flaming barn

If you notice, there is a bit of a progression going on here. Things get more dire as the bullet points progress. This is the type of pacing I like, as it keeps the action continually ramping up. Convincing the families sounds like there is a lot of role-playing opportunity, but no real hard threat…yet. Once we reach the flaming barn, however, it seems things have gone drastically wrong.

This is a great skeleton so far, but lets break it down one more level. Each of those acts is also going to have three bullet points. Each bullet point represents a substantial event in that act. Note that combat generally takes longer that anything else, so I like to keep it to one combat encounter per act, with the first two generally being shorter than the last. There’s nothing like having to stop a game mid battle because you ran out of time, right?

Convincing the families to fight is priority one. The players obviously know that surrender means death, so they have to convince the NPCs of this. Let’s give the homestead two big families. We’ll call them the Hatfields and the McCoys because I’m super good at originality. Now let’s convince these two families not to open up their gates to murderous Orcs.

  • The party must convince the families to fight and not open the walls in surrender.
    • Convince the Hatfields that the Orcs will not hold true to their word and that they’ll slaughter everyone once the gates open. (Role-playing and persuasion checks)
    • Convince the McCoys that the elves are going to come to help them and won’t abandon them. (More role-playing as above.)
    • Stop the young, brazen, elf hating Josiah McCoy from opening the gate anyway. (A battle or other creative idea.)

Great, we have our first act. The Orcs are camped outside the wall offering peace and the players have to convince everyone that it’s a lie. They’ll be putting out little social fires for most of the first hour until Josiah decides, “Fuck it, let’s dance,” and goes to open the gate anyway.

So then we get to the second act. Let’s see what we can do there.

  • Orcs breech the west wall.
    • Orcs are flinging Torches from the east wall as a diversion.
    • A loud crash occurs from the west as part of the wall collapses.
    • Hold off the Orcs at the west wall.

Cool, we have a little mini game where they have to put out fires in the east. That will likely take a little bit. The loud crash is a pretty sudden event. There isn’t much to draw it out. Let’s add a few skill challenges as the characters cross the homestead. We can add a little sub list there to help us remember them, though they don’t count as a whole event themselves.

  • A loud crash occurs from the west as part of the wall collapses.
    • Convincing the mass of peasants not to panic (intimidation, persuasion)
    • dodging a falling tower that had caught fire (acrobatics, athletics)
    • stampede! (animal handling, acrobatics)

So none of these things will take a long time, but that is okay. Once they make it back across the farm, the Orcs will provide plenty of action. They are streaming in a hole in the wall big enough for two of them at a time. Maybe some are already in. Can the players hold them off there?

Finally, we have the last act. The player’s are holding off the orcs when more pieces of wall collapse. The peasants fall back to the barn, yelling for the players to protect them there.

  • Guardian the Flaming Barn.
    • Closing and barring the door (Athletics vs Orcs).
    • Fighting fires.
    • Fighting Orcs as they begin to breech the now burning barn.

It’s the third act. Obviously, shit is really hitting the fan. They get to the barn, they bar the door. Oh no, the barn starts to burn! The players are going to be running all over to put out the new fires. A few rounds of this and the Orcs are starting to breech the ceiling and walls. Just one spot at first, which isn’t too bad. Soon there is a second, and a third… the party is split and starting to become strained. Obviously, this is when they hear the horns signaling the elves approach. Suddenly the Orcs are quite distracted.

So why this format? Easy. Since each main bullet point represents one hour of game play, its easy to tell how on track you are. Each of the smaller bullet points is roughly twenty minutes, some shorter some longer. You can look at where you are on the list and compare it to where you are on time pretty easily. You can then either slow down or speed up as needed. You can even get rid of some bullet points if combat really starts to drag.

Let’s look at the whole picture.

  • The party has to hold off the siege of Orcs until the Elves arrive to drive them off.
    • The party must convince the families to fight and not open the walls in surrender.
      • Convince the Hatfields that the Orcs will not hold true to their word and that they’ll slaughter everyone once the gates open. (Role-playing and persuasion checks)
      • Convince the McCoys that the elves are going to come to help them and won’t abandon them. (More role-playing as above.)
      • Stop the young, brazen, elf hating Josiah McCoy from opening the gate anyway. (A battle or other creative idea.)
    • Orcs breech the west wall.
      • Orcs breech the west wall.Orcs are flinging Torches from the east wall as a diversion.
      • A loud crash occurs from the west as part of the wall collapses.
        • Convincing the mass of peasants not to panic (intimidation, persuasion)
        • dodging a falling tower that had caught fire (acrobatics, athletics)
        • stampede! (animal handling, acrobatics)
      • Hold off the Orcs at the west wall.
    • Guarding the flaming barn .
      • Closing and barring the door (Athletics vs Orcs).
      • Fighting fires.
      • Fighting Orcs as they begin to breech the now burning barn.

That’s a hefty little outline. Other than getting together the maps and stats you need, this should be enough. Any more planning than this, and things become a bit inflexible. As is, you should be ready to diverge from the outline or even throw it out if the players start going different directions with it. Then you’ll have to rely on those maps, stats, and quick thinking.

If you’re lucky, however, this will keep you on track to run a game in whatever time frame you have. If you’re running a longer or shorter game, just change that amount of bullet points. If you run the outline above, let me know how it goes! @CrumblingJames on Twitter or Facebook.Com/CrumblingKeep. It’d be pretty cool if you did.

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