This is a pretty basic prompt, but it’s complex if you go far enough in, like anything else is. To me, the short stabby GM at Beer With Teeth, a Scenario is a set of pre-listed things that will happen, that the adventurers can interact with, for some outcomes that are largely pre-set (the monster is dead, the dragon is rescued from the princess, the reward is given) but may also be open-ended. It’s a tremendous effort to come up with a new scenario for every game, particularly from nothing. Even more so when, like me, you run two or three games a week.
Sometimes I ask my friends for plot – they usually have suggestions that I can make into plot that’s more closely related to each game. They’re good about that. However, that’s a plot, not a scenario. A plot is the backbone of a scenario, and a scenario (as I see it) comes with details like character stats, and probably NPC rationales and personalities. It’s what you get when you inflate a plot with imagination and a bicycle pump. For scenarios, I have a few cheats;
I fall back on scenarios I have played before. If you’re in Sartar in Dark Season, and we play through that, Ice Shinty WILL be involved. Something will almost certainly go wrong. There will be a riot, maybe two. The Varmandi will sulk. And that’ll be a low-effort but enjoyable session, a break for me and a met expectation for the characters and the players, who look forward to the game, and the legends that will come from it.
I use the Big List of RPG Plots: None of these are complete plots, but they are ways of thinking about which elements I have in place already. It is most helpful when you have a rich world already, but you can always take an element you like and generate names and personalities randomly. The twists that come with each plot help me to add my own twists, which help to disguise what can be very basic.
And, also, I use scenarios I have found for free, or bought. The Jonstown Compendium has given me about 30 hours of gameplay, and plot hooks for far more. I tend to pick up scenarios and then debone them, adding my own shapes and colours on top. You’re not restricted by the scenario you have – it’s a foundation you can build on.
I’m using Scenario here to indicate a pre-written adventure, but there are other usages. Maybe we’ll get into them as I write more. I don’t know – I’m making this up as I go along. A lot like one of my plots, really.