Wednesday, 1 September 2010

preparation - everything or nothing?

This month's RPG Blog Carnival is about preparation.  For some a necessary evil, for others a breeze and for the brave few, something they've heard of - once - but have no truck with. Preparation varies with a number of factors not just the quirks of the person running the game.  There are common elements that resemble story creation - the who, what, where, why, when and how of a situation.  Putting the whole thing together may be as simple as having three distinct events or working up something a bit more elaborate.

Then there are variables based on system of choice and overall game duration.  Some people enjoy one system only while others prefer a bit of variety in their gaming.  These variables include but aren't limited to:
  • complexity of game system (compare 3:16 with D&D 3.5 with high-level Rolemaster)
  • session duration (D&D Encounters vs. tournament vs. an evening's gaming)
  • if the game is a one-shot or part of a campaign
  • nature of the setting (pre-generated module vs. self-created sandbox).
Time to prepare can be a precious resource. Making it easier to prepare a game is one of the strongest ways a publisher can support the growth of their game.  Tools to simplify and automate the process makes even the most intensive preparation easier.  Checklists and templates can spark ideas not just for stories but also for characters, locations and even items met on the road. 

Extremes in preparation can be a game killer.  Too much can stifle the ability to say 'Yes' when you need to and lead to burnout through exhaustive preparation of unused items.  Too little leads to chaos unless you're down with improvisation, keep it up while making notes of what went before and getting your story straight.

Relevance to the characters (and to the players) can elevate a game.  Making it personal is a double-edged sword, some thrive on the challenge, others resent such base attempts at manipulation.  In some cases, there are hot buttons you just don't press.  Knowing what your players want is half the battle.  Providing it is the other half - talking good game is one thing.  Delivering may need slightly different capabilities.

Everyone who runs a game has their own way of doing things.  Share what worked or what you learned from your failures.  If you've got tricks, tools or even opinions on how to make preparation easier, better or just plain quicker now's your chance to shine.  Let's see what September brings...


    1. I'll have to think on this and see if I have any pearls. In general, I find myself gravitating toward systems that require little in the way of prep as I get older, but I still haven't gotten over my desire to do quirky settings that tend to require more thought.

    2. Having seen The City, I'd love to see some of your prep process for a session there.

    3. My contribution to this month's carnival is an upload of one of my session planning documents to give an example of my preparation style.

      I may put up other material this month - I like this theme a lot! Is more than one contribution acceptable? Also I forgot the rules of the carnival - am I supposed to use the pic?

    4. Carnival rules (more guidelines really) can be found here. Tell your friends.

      @faustusnotes: Thanks - it's a good, detailed example of a session plan.
      Taking your points specifically.
      Using the pic is encouraged.
      Write as much as you like.

    5. I wrote on this topic a few years ago in my "Three-Page Manifesto". The gist of it was that weekly game prep taking far too much time because I was writing way too much. That was fine when I was in my twenties, but once I had kids, well, that sort of time became a luxury.

      I refocused my efforts with the Three-Page Manifesto that consists of 1) a short recap of what came before 2) a brief summary of what I expect the night's adventure to cover and 3) Skeletons for 3-5 combat/role-playing encounters. The whole thing should take less than 3 pages.

      The idea is get the essentials down on paper, then flesh things out as needed. This approach helped considerably; I could usually knock out adventure overview in a night, and then either cherry pick monsters/NPCs from my source books (we play Star Wars, so I have lots to choose from) or rolled up NPCs on my lunch break.

      Once I did this, my weekly came suddenly became a lot more manageable. :) It's been a few years now since I wrote the manifesto, and I think I may need to do a follow-up post on Nuketown to go with the carnival.

      Thanks for the excellent topic!

    6. You're welcome. Would like to see that manifesto - a template would be a popular download.

    7. I can sum preparations up in one word, Triage.~ Thanks for hosting this time around Satyre

    8. Thanks for both of your contributions. Only 13 days left to go. I may have to break out the carnival barking skills. Roll up, roll up!

    9. I've added a post to Nuketown about the "The Lunchtime Game Master's Toolkit", which I use to run my lunchtime Savage Worlds game.

    10. Thanks for hosting this month's carnival! great topic. Here's my ramble.

      Game Master Tool Illustrated: Plot Flowcharts


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