The Three-Page Manifesto, Revisited

The latest RPG Blog Carnival encourages us to “revisit the past”. Hosted by GameMastery, the kickoff post discusses writing a follow-up or sequel to a prior post. For me, that’s revisiting “The Three-Page Manifesto”.

Written in 2008, the column saw me grappling with balancing gaming and fatherhood. At the time my kids were 6 and 3 and my biggest challenges were lack of sleep and the perpetual colds that get when one kid is in preschool, another attends grade school, and you work at a college. Zombie-like, I fought to find time to write; when I found that time, I needed to be as efficient as possible.

The Three-Page Manifesto is about efficiency. I used it to refocus my gaming priorities and break me of the habit of writing a dozen pages of adventure content when only two or three were needed. It helped keep me gaming for the last nine years, and it keeps me gaming today.

My current challenges are different and in some ways harder than what Zombie Ken faced. The kids are 14 and 11, and while I get a lot more sleep and everyone’s healthier, my free time is consumed by a swarm of kid-related activities including coaching baseball, serving as assistant scoutmaster for Boy Scouts, and raising Seeing Eye puppies. They’re all good, worthwhile activities, but they do devour focus, attention, and free time like temporal wraiths.

The goal of the Three Page Manifesto remains same, but I’ve added additional components based on research and experience.

The Goal

Save time and energy by creating role-playing game adventures limited to three pages or less of text.

The Approach

The Organization

I create a folder for each campaign I run. That folder contains subfolders for each chapter of the campaign. The chapters consist of three documents:

  • The adventure: All of the notes needed to run the adventure (and the focus of the Three-Page Manifesto).
  • The notes: A summary, sometimes short, sometimes long, of what occurred during the adventure. This lets me jumpstart my next game’s adventure prep by not having to scramble to remember what came before.
  • Combat/XP spreadsheet: When playing Dungeons & Dragons, I use a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to track combat and record experience. I skip this when running games like Savage Worlds, which have less bookkeeping.

If I create write-ups that I’ll re-use — a new organization, a major NPC, a new religion — I save those to a special “Resources” folder that’s separate from the chapter folders.

I compliment the campaign folder with two documents on Google Drive:

  • Campaign calendar: The in-game calendar for the campaign which includes the weather forecast for the next few months, major holidays, and notes about when each chapter took place.
  • Experience spreadsheet: I maintain a campaign spreadsheet that tracks the characters’ experience and notes how much XP is needed for the next level. This spreadsheet is shared with players so they know where we stand.

The Document

The Three-Page Manifesto evolved into a standard adventure template. Adventures written based on this template are typically 1,250 to 2,500 words and two-to-three pages (perhaps three and a half if I’m running long).

Title

The chapter or episode number followed by the adventure title. e.g. “Chapter 28 – The End of Light” or “Chapter 38 – The Crypt of the Queen in Silver”.

Timeframe

  • Campaign Date: The in-game date for the adventure.
  • Real World Date: The real-world date for the session.

What Has Come Before

A recap of the last one or two adventures and how they impact any ongoing storylines. This reminds me of where we are in the story, and hopefully helps spark ideas about what to do with the next night’s adventure. I typically read this at the start of the night’s adventure to help the players remember where we left off; if I have time I post it to our game forum or Slack (150-300 words).

Adventure

Weather: A three-to-five day in-game forecast created using random weather generators and tweaked as necessary to the needs of the story. I’m not a slave to the random generators, but they provided great inspiration for my D&D campaigns (check out the Weather Forecaster for Greyhawk).

Anticipated Player Characters: A list of player characters I expect to be at the table, based on that week’s online polling. Listing the player characters helps me identify the challenges that best fit the party.

Dungeon Master Goals: A bulleted list of my goals for the adventure. Inspired by Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Session Prep, these goals help me focus on what the adventure is trying to accomplish. As a result, I prep less by only writing what I need to write to further the goals.

Synopsis: An overview of what should (or rather, what might) happen in that night’s session. I took this idea directly from Dungeon Magazine, which used the same technique to introduce each of its adventures. This is a crucial focusing tool; it lets me do all the brainstorming about the night’s session upfront, rather than having the adventure form organically as I’m writing it. Writing organically may work for novels, but I can’t afford that kind of meandering, time-consuming approach when I only have an hour to write. (150-300 words)

Encounter Summaries: These are either role-playing or combat encounters. Each entry quickly sketches out what’s supposed to happen. If I’m introducing an important NPC, I add some flavor text and quick role-playing notes. If it’s a scripted encounter, I break out things into bullet points. If it’s a combat episode, I jot down some notes on the environment, maybe some flavor text and sourcebook references for NPCs and monsters (full stat blocks go in the “Non-Player Characters” section. If I want to make sure we can finish the session in one night, then I cap the adventure at three encounters, otherwise, I go as high as five (250-400 words per encounter).

Resources

Depending on the adventure, I may spend 15-30 minutes doing research for the session. I log my findings in the “Resources” section here for future reference.

Non-Player Characters

Stat blocks for the non-player characters featured in the game. Because stat blocks can run so long (particularly in Star Wars: Saga Edition and Pathfinder). I don’t include these in my page count. I only create stat blocks for the monsters and NPCs who need it; if I can get away with using an entry from an online system resource document or a print sourcebook, I’ll do that.

Feature Image Meta

A close-up of the maps, dice, and game notes I use as part of my game prep. Credit: Ken Newquist.

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