Updated: Jun 13, 2022
First off, 'vector' is a super cool word. It makes you feel smart, because if you're saying 'vector' you must have a very specific meaning. In this case, it's all true. You ARE smart and in TTRPG thinking, 'vector' is very intentionally used. Let's unpack it.
This all began when I was doing what we all do as GMs: trying to quell my anxiety before an upcoming session. Would players bite on the bigger story clues, or muddle about fighting cave crabs for five hours? Did I have a sense for who the cool NPCs were at travel-distance destinations, or would I name them all 'Keldar' and say they sell mangoes for a living? Which way would they go, and why? I took a long, baleful look at my area map. I needed to at least narrow the possibilities down a bit.
I drew an X where the players were. Then I stared at that X for several dark, lonely minutes. Drawing a blank, I drew a little arrow 'to Mord's house,' then I drew another one, but shorter 'to crab cave.' I kept going, ruining my nice map but filling in a few dozen arrows. I wasn't just drawing arrows, or indicating directions... I was marking VECTORS.
My journals are Pepe Silvi style lunacy, just how I like it
A vector is "a quantity having direction as well as magnitude" in physics lingo. The little arrow points somewhere, and has a length. That length is 'how likely, interested, or invested are players on this element.' Leaning back, looking at my map, it looked like a poorly drawn weather map. Some of the vectors were somewhat aligned, some completely opposite, some huge, some tiny.
Drinking some iced coffee and cackling manically, I circled the three biggest arrows on my now-messy map. This gave me three vectors players were likely to follow. I had my crab cave ready in my notes, so I just needed to prep the other two destinations. Anxiety descending, clouds parting, Ullr, Aesir of Archers alighting on my shoulder with praise!
Using vectors can be even cooler with a huge map, tracking things 'legacy' style
"I already do that, you ninny." Ok, ok, it isn't earth-shaking GM wisdom, but while I had you visualizing my terrible pen-drawn map, I was preparing the prestige: boasting!
"I totally run a wide-open sandbox world," or "sand boxes are boring, I like to keep my players in a tight, concise narrative flow." Ever hear this perennial GM chest-thump? Me too. Here's where vectors have one final function to serve: justified boasting.
Take a look at your map after using vectors to narrow possible hooks and prepare a session.
-If most of your vectors align, you are a narrative railroad GM-
-If your vectors are all criss-crossing and ridiculous, you are a sandbox GM-
Now when you plant your GM flag in some imagined future argument about what is best at the table, you can WITH EVIDENCE announce your GM style and boundless insights therein.
Vectors. They kinda rock, and so do you.