Dungeon Mastering with cards

Two weeks ago I ran a two-hour one-shot D&D adventure for some friends who hadn’t played before. I’d been reading Sly Flourish‘s book The Lazy Dungeon Master recently. This book explains a method of DMing that requires a minimal amount of preparation. It also leaves a lot of room for collaborative storytelling with players. In this method you write notes on index cards. You make sure there are a few different direction that the could take by planning three locations that the adventurers might visit, three paths they might follow, three potential allies they might encounter and three potential enemies. Altogether, my planning only took up six index cards:


I think this worked well. This is something I could do every week if I was running a weekly campaign. I think the one limitation was that sometimes when a player asked a question I hadn’t thought about I’d take a bit too long to respond. But that’s no different to running an adventure straight out of a book.

Since I’m generally running published adventures (my regular group is gradually going through the Tyranny of Dragons expeditions) I was wondering about how I might use this method to run those adventures. I don’t think I can. The adventures are too complex. However, I think I can use some skills that I already have, which invovle metaphorical cards.

One of the things I used to do in my work in the city was lead tours, mostly for church groups. We had other workers who led tours for business people or students. In each location on a tour there were various different stories we could tell and questions we could discuss. We wouldn’t use all of the content for each location in one tour. It would depend a lot on where the conversation went with that group and what was going on in the space at the time. The way I learned to organise the content we had available for the tours involved ‘cards’. You imagined that you had a box of cross-referenced index cards. You had a card for each tour location and each of the location cards were cross-referenced. That way, if you had to change your tour because a location was too busy or not appropriate to the group, you could choose another location that would connect in. There were also story cards and question cards connected to each location – or some of them might be connected to multiple locations. So in each location you had a number of options.


Basically, you didn’t need to do much planning if you knew the connections between the cards well. You could respond to the specific needs or interests of the group if you knew the connections between the cards well.

On Monday (it was a public holiday here) I ran an adventure for my regular group, so I thought I’d try something a bit like the cards idea to organise the adventure. This is not exactly how I imagine it working the best. I think if I was running a more flexible adventure it would work best. But it did help me to give myself a clear reminder of the basic trajectory of the adventure. It also helped me work out what to cut out when we were running out of time. This was my plan for Drums in the Marsh:


I don’t think this really does justice to the kind of method I’m imagining. I’m beginning to feel more like I’d be up for running a flexibly-planned campaign. So hopefully soon I’ll be able to try it out in that context.

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