The previous session of our campaign was a couple of weeks ago (before Christmas). We left on something of a cliffhanger– the PCs ambushed and slaughtered the Evil Dwarf King’s elite guard, in two back to back battles that were almost a session long apiece. After their victory, I started to skip ahead and sketch out some downtime, but the players had a quick conference and stopped me. They had an idea ready to go right now. The players had a plan– one that they gleefully chose not to share.

We resumed three weeks later and memories of the plan were hazy. A couple of questions at the time led me to guess the general idea behind the plan, but I wasn’t sure exactly what they were planning.

What did I think they would do?

While I wasn’t sure, I could guess based on their questions and the status of the world at the end of the session. The PCs ambushed this elite guard, because it’s responsible for securing the location of the evil king’s ceremony. Their understanding of the plan (based on intimidating the heck out of a few captured prisoners) was that the king would scry to find his loyal troops and teleport to join them on the volcano’s lip. Then king would cast his big ritual and open the portal between planes, ending the world. Or unleashing demon hordes. Or whatever evil he needs this spot for.

My guess was that they intended to fool him when he scried and would wait for him to teleport in, then kill him while he was alone, undefended, and far from home.

How do you prep for that?

A lot of prep could have been wasted, particularly if I planned for one course of action and they reconsidered or I guessed wrong. I hate wasting time prepping– while I enjoy play, statting out characters in 3.5 is too much like work. Still… I wanted to have a solid session ready, so I prepped. Here’s what I spent my time on.

  • First, prep enduring content. I didn’t know if their plan would work, or even if I had guessed the right plan. I do know that some things are going to happen sooner or later. I suspected that the King of Dwarves was going to tangle with the PCs– if not during this session (due to the plan failing, or me guessing at the wrong plan), then soon. Spending time statting him (and his companions up) would prove useful whenever they meet. (Or, as it turns out, however many times they meet.)
  • Look at the overall situation. While the PCs might have picked any course, they make their choices based on what they know and expect of the world. It was time for me to review the world and remember what they’ve seen, so I could update what everyone else in the world was up to. (Allies and enemies both.)
  • Be ready to stop. One hard thing, especially after missing many sessions, is to stop and pause, or even end the session early, to figure out what happens next. It is very important– going on without thinking could have led to me overlooking very obvious things. A five minute break to quickly replan the session and tab a few pages can make a huge difference. Committing to it up front helped me resist the lure of running ahead blindly.
  • Be ready to improvise. Even though my guesses were close, this session was not planned out in much detail at all. There were too many branch points to predict and too much guessing for detail. Working from my review of the overall situation, I had to be ready to respond with characters they already know and new ones they’ll meet.

How did it go?

I didn’t get as much prep done as I’d have liked, but it still went pretty well. They improvised some changes in the plan (mostly due their mastery of teleport, which is going to kink all kinds of plans from here on out).

The session started off a little slow, both because they had a lot of loot to sort (from the previous two sessions of battles) and because we had the holidays to catch up on. As we got further into the session, the game came into focus and we concentrated on the game more. There were a few fun twists that no one anticipated– that’s one reason we like to roleplay. In the end, my guesses wound up being close enough that the session moved along smoothly and we played late into the morning.

Would I do anything differently?

The battle was something of an anti-climax, but that’s due to the dynamics of the situation. Whenever the group has a chance to dictate the situation, they kick ass. The plan worked as well as most of their plans– meaning victory was total and quick to come.

Ironically, next session will also be hazy… this time due to events while they catch their breath and the numerous responses to their actions. The work I did on reviewing the overall situation before last session will be very useful in helping plan the world’s response to their latest victory.