When I’m wrapping up a session, we go around the table and each player fills in the sentence, “Tune In Next Week For…”
“Tune in next week for Magic Blasting Everywhere!”
“Tune in next week for Swinging In On Ropes and Crashing Through Glass!”
“Tune in next week for Barfights!”
“Tune in next week for an Island Of Babes!”
…and I usually mentally add, “tune in next week for a plot-related reason to even be doing what you’re doing right now.”
This concept is not original to me, but it doesn’t get said enough. I heard it late in my GMing career. And believe me, it will turn your GMing experience around.
How? Three ways.
#1. You’ll rarely have a reason to feel like they don’t like what you prepared.
…because that feeling’s the worst. But even if you don’t have the head for all this ad-lib stuff, this is the one simplest tool you can use to put a huge amount of player input into your campain. Just go home and build a cluster outline around the four or so points you got from your players, and voila! You now have a session that you and the players created together.
They’ve told what they’d like to experience, then you set it up for them, so now, even if your session is the most railroaded thing in the world, they’re not going to mind because it’s something they helped create. And if you’re able to ad-lib during the session, even better.
#2. You’ll challenge yourself to make a plot-advancing campaign chapter out of the unconnected ideas they gave you.
Players won’t always give you ideas that fit together easily. This is one of the most fun challenges I have in GMing.
You have a point A – it’s whatever the players left off with this week. And you have a point B – your own general idea of where you’d like the campaign to go next. Now you have to create a session that moves the story from point A to point B – and it has to use a handful of components that you’ve been handed at random. Sound fun?
Some would see these “have-to-use” elements as a limitation. Instead, think of it as a way to focus your creativity. Once you have these half-dozen ideas, that’s about a million other ideas you don't need to worry about. Think in terms of, you’re doing a few things better, instead of a lot of things halfway.
#3. You’ll find that building on their creativity makes your story better.
When your players get to steer the next session, you may have to really work to keep your ideas in the picture.
There was a great example of this in my game recently. Backplot: the group had been trying to track down a powerful NPC to help them on their quest; in one epic session they both found him and did something to earn a favor from him; and as the session was winding down, the players initiated a bout of intense roleplay and actually convinced the Mad Captain that he should also help them take vengeance on a non-major enemy from our first session. My plans for the next session? Blown out of the water.
(Note since this was in-game, it wasn’t technically a “Tune In Next Week.” However, it is an example of a) how using Tune In Next Week can put your players in the right mindset to steer the story where they want it to go, even doing kind of an “Extreme Tune In Next Week” while in-game, and, b) how accomodating players’ ideas makes your own ideas better – see below)
That meant that next session we were going back to where the campaign began. Now I couldn’t introduce the Big Main Plot Element(s) I’d been panning… or did it? Actually, all I had to do was think of reasons how that minor enemy could turn out to be the major enemy and bring the Big Main Plot Element into an old location. And this was more than just duct-tape and BS – it enriched the story by adding motifs that wouldn’t otherwise have existed, like “We Just Got In Over Our Heads” and “So It Was Under Our Noses All Along.”
The fun thing about incorporating your ideas into theirs is that your own ideas get incarnated in ways that are surprising even to yourself – which helps keep the game fresh.
…But what if you can’t get all their ideas into your session?
The name of this technique is “tune in next week,” but there’s room for leeway if you explain to your players ahead of time that you’ll try to work this stuff in next week, but that you’re at least writing it down to work into later scenarios. The main purpose here is for the players to express their wants. And depending on the player, they’ll probably be ok with saving those wants for a later part of the campaign if it just doesn’t fit right now. Just try not to leave any one person’s ideas out all the time.