I use Loopy Planning for this. (https://campaign-community.com/index.php?resources/loopy-planning-tutorial.309/
for Silver+ WoAs).
In a nutshell:
1. List out all your plots, say, in a spreadsheet column or in a Campaign Logger table.
2. Break each plot into rows grouped under your plot, one row per faction or key stakeholder involved. Villains, Resources, Guilds, etc. I call each row a "Loop."
We've now got an inventory of all the key actors in the campaign or adventure. I find having this visibility key to feeling more confident when thinking things through.
In addition, a GM trap is focusing on the wrong things - outcomes. When we prep plots, we tend to want to orchestrate gameplay by the very nature of the task. But instead of managing the plots, we manage the actors within them. NPCs are active agents in the campaign that you control. Therefore, they become the perfect tool for managing the development
3. In col 2 list each Loop's goal. In other words, each faction, villain, and notable agent's mission, aims, impulses, instincts.
4. In col 3 list Next Action. Based on what every faction or Loop knows about the current situation, what's the very next thing they'll do to take a direct step closer to their goal?
A Next Action must have a big enough scope to matter to an encounter's gameplay. If a Next Action is too small, like go to the store and get milk, it's a waste of prep and detail. If Next Action is too big, it's tough to squeeze into the encounter layer. I usually say that if a Next Action would make a great plotline for a single encounter, the size is about right.
At this point, I decide what Loops need plans. I like "5 Step Plans" that follow 5 Room Dungeon beats. But, essentially, we want a bullet list of how they plan to achieve their goal in terms of milestones.
What gets a plan? Anything I don't feel confident about improvising. Sorta a gut-based decision, so I can't add much there for you, sorry.
These milestones become col 4. Just 1-3 word bullet lists. For example:
- Gather Ingredients
- Discover Place for Ritual
- Conduct Ritual and Summon Demon
- Demon Destroys Foes
- Crack the Champagne and Rule the World
Some Loops don't have such plans though. No plan survives contact, so I prefer to just keep taking Next Steps that point at the Goal.
One exception is Plot Arcs. I'm fine with most Loops zig zagging their way into collisions that create juicy encounters. But some Loops need a dramatic arc. So I'll give those more detailed plotlines like I show in the Master Game Plan course. ymmv.
Alternatively, instead of plans, you might use Countdown Clocks. Four ticks means the party loses or the volcano explodes. I also create Loops for deadline things (active volcano) and progression things (keeping score type plots).
5. The final col is for notes. I try to keep all my notes in CL, but adding a list of Tags if using CL gives you the overlay screen, thus becoming a mini "GM Screen" for that Loop, if that makes sense.
During sessions I reference my Loopy Plans Page as needed.
Next Actions become:
- Events that trigger an encounter
- Events that intrude mid-encounter
- Events that happen as a direct consequence of an encounter that trigger another encounter
- Events that arrive as news, rumours, and gossip
I run a Session Log in CL. So I'll take brief notes as needed to help the Evaluation stage.
Within 2 days post-session I'll try to do the Evaluation stage in one day, then cycle back to Prep.
Alas, I do not have my Loopy Plans Page fully migrated into CL vNext. It's caught between two states. But once done, I'll screenshot it for you.
The final stage of Loopy Planning is eval between sessions.
I update my table with new Next Actions as needed. Next Actions that triggered need replacement, sometimes as revenge, retribution, or "take it back" counter-attacks.
Stale Next Actions are triggered as a background event. If too much in-game time lapses, for example. These events become rumours, news, gossip, and clues. And so expired Next Actions need new Next Actions created.
Then I review my session log and see if any Loops closed. I try to close Loops fast in most cases to create a sense of fast pace and exciting story progression.
Then I review and think if any new Loops opened. If so I add them, list factions, provide faction goals and plans, etc.
After Evaluation, I swing into Preparation. With Loops refreshed, I plot new encounters I think likely to trigger. I prep my Knowledge Table with news of expired Next Actions, and then move onto other session prep stuff.
So, the question is... "Is all this even worth the effort?" Maybe I should just ignore the inactive arcs until I need an encounter. Maybe all I need is a current node and the three next nodes (win, setback, default). That means generating three encounter nodes, of which only one will get used.
So to summarize, I list out all my plots and do find it worth the effort. Once you've done a few iterations, it gets fast.
Note that during Eval and Prep I prioritize action arcs/Loops. I try to update everything, but some long-burn Loops or irrelevant Loops I let lie dormant. But I like having them listed and visible so I can do my post-session quick-scan Eval steps.
I like your 3 nodes idea! Win, Setback, Default. Very cool. In Master of the 5 Room Dungeon and in Master Game Plan, I go over Complications & Setbacks. A Complication lets you retry but it's tougher each attempt. A Setback means the current avenue or approach is no longer open - bridge burned, rocks caved in, secret out of the bag - and the party must return to Room 1-3 and think up a new plan.
So now I'm noodling on Win, Complication, Setback, Default. A four-pronged fork.