So, the D&D game is in a Baltic dark-fantasy setting, drawing from the Witcher, Spinning Silver, historical interest in the Teutonic Knights and the Livonian werewolves, and a dash of Ravenloft and Innistrad. Everyone at the table is big into culture-and-religion based tensions and identities for the characters.
I had a pile of index cards that included, among other things, these:
- The Sword Brethren are going to love the news that the haunted manor is safe now. What’s brother Abraam going to do with the news?
- Vigo’s old captain Janina Laur is due back from sea now. What if she has the sole survivor of a ship wrecked by a leviathan, an Ishmael bearing ill tidings?
- Kalveis’ old master [a secret werewolf of the order of lunar smiths] is still looking for him.
- Algis’ family are going to be proud of him for opening up trade on the north shore, but they still don’t care about his truth. So?
Meanwhile, the proximate situation that all the players were invested in was this: “We rescued a sea-nymph from the smugglers and need to help her safely get back to her village—and figure out why the smugglers were able to find and capture her, because they’re clearly up to something more.” So that was, no questions asked, the next thing they were going to press for. The index cards were all complications, hanging consequences, or just “man, I wanna see this at some point” things.
They decide to set off into the dark forest because they’ve heard rumours that there are two figures there who could help them get to the sea-nymph’s underwater village, the witch Mother Marrow, and the scientist Dr. Traumfresser. They figure they’ll get to the witch, because they trust her more, and failing that, get to the scientist.
I look at my cards and think: do I want to bring any of these up now? They’re in town, and I could delay their departure. I am gonna hold off on Captain Laur; she’s cool and deserves a proper intro. I’ll drop hints about the Brethren and Brother Abraam, but if they don’t take the bait, that situation will get worse by the time they choose to act. I check my in-game calendar and realize that the full moon is three nights away; that’s perfect for Kalveis’s old master. I tell them that the innkeeper (Valdis, a good friend of theirs) had some people ask after them, but he disavowed knowledge. He’s not gonna rat out his friends to suspicious strangers. Kalveis knows this bodes ill, but doesn’t know what to do yet, besides trust his new friends.
At this point, I realize that the thing about Algis just isn’t interesting to me right now, and I haven’t even thought about it—it has settled peacefully lower in the pile, maybe to stay there, maybe to float up later. That’s okay.
They set off into the forest, meet with the witch. Kalveis asks her to read the cards and tell his fortune, so that’s a perfect opportunity to do some creepy stuff with “the whole deck is the Moon now and she tells you you’re cursed and to get out”.
That means that they’re trekking through the forest, on the night of the full moon, with knowledge of a curse hanging over their heads, and have taken no real precautions against being tracked. (Well, they travelled by water a bit, but it turns out that canines can track better along small running water, so!)
That means that as soon as they settle down in an old sawmill for the night, I bring in Svarogo (the old master) and his friend, who come just to talk with Kalveis—and we follow the situation from there, because it’s hard for a werewolf to keep their temper on a full moon.
That play then generates more cards after I’ve crossed out the “Svarogo is hunting Kalveis” card. But those are for next time.
Basically: if I know what has to happen next, I do it. If I’m in one of those “which thread do I pick up?” moments, I look at the top few and see which seems right. Between sessions, I look through the whole pile and see if I forgot anything important, adding some, reordering the pile, etc.