Ameliorating the self-torture of prep

Once again I tortured myself over the upcoming session.

Every time I try to write my magnum opus "How to feel ready for a session" I fail.

I know what I need. A piece of paper per major thing the players are interested in, or what I sold the game on.

On the right side of that page, ways to pressure the players (you have offended the duke, you are barred from the Temple, you have been challenged to show your magic is worthy of the court). On the left, desiderata (Elven sword), choices (you could trade your skygem for membership in the Coven of avatars ) and texture (like what the sound of the flute-carved trees is like in the courtyard).

On the back, names, words and pictures.

This is really, really close to AW Fronts, but they're more like lists of moves than lists of Threats.

At the last minute the nervous energy gives me enough of these for the session. But I never seem to be able to make it easier on myself for next time.

Gah!
«1

Comments

  • edited November 2015
    Heh. Same here. My conclusion is that I just don't enjoy prep enough. I mean, I certainly don't hate it, but I never just find myself wanting to do it for its own sake. Only the anticipation of the session gets me prepping, usually minutes before we meet.

    Accordingly, my prescription for making myself prep better is to make prep more fun -- probably gamify it somehow, with cards or tables or whatnot.

  • Accordingly, my prescription for making myself prep better is to make prep more fun -- probably gamify it somehow, with cards or tables or whatnot.
    I tried exactly this recently.... turns out I don't like the mini-game I crafted for my prep. Probably a sign of bad design no ;).
  • I don't know if this will help, but for me, prep doesn't start with me sitting down and saying to myself, "Now I am going to prepare for the next game session." It starts sometime after the last game session, the first moment I am idle enough to daydream. Maybe I'm eating lunch, or I'm at work and there's nothing to do, or I'm in the shower, or I'm driving somewhere, and I start thinking.

    Usually I start with imagining how the NPCs are going to be affected by (or even find out about) whatever the PCs just did. What are the NPCs going to do in response? Has what they want changed since the last time I thought about it? Or I'll think about what the PCs are planning to do next, and I'll start workshopping little scenes in my head, different ways things could work out, different places or circumstances that might work. Or I'll see something interesting and cool somewhere and rotate it around in my brain for a while to see if there's a way I could work it into the game. Sometimes I jot down random thoughts in a little notebook I keep for just that purpose.

    Basically, I just keep playing the game in my head, freeform, whenever I'm bored.

    By the time I actually do sit down and say, "Now I'm going to prep," I've got a bunch of ideas and some random notes built up over the past week or two that I can work with, and it takes maybe fifteen minutes or half an hour to sift out the good ones and make notes that would actually be useful to run the game with. Most of the heavy lifting is already done -- I've got ideas and I've pictured things in my head and I've almost certainly workshopped some dialogue, and out of all of that I just need to get a small list of things specific to the next session that I want to do, and then assemble whatever mechanics or numbers or strategies it's going to take to do that.
  • I think that if you're not enjoying your prep, you're playing the wrong game. System Matters, right? And that applies to your prep as much as anything else.

    If a player said, "I love D&D, but I *hate* writing long character backstories. What a chore!" I'm pretty sure the response would be, "Play a different style of game - if you don't like writing backgrounds, then play with a group/game where that's not part of the deal."

    I love doing prep for games when:

    a) I know the players well enough to be sure they're going to really be excited about what I'm working on, and eager to dig into it. (For instance, if I'm writing up a dungeon map for a D&D group, it doesn't seem like much of a chore since we all know the players are going to be raring to get into there and search every nook and cranny for gold.)

    b) There is an element of game or interactivity to it. I adore prepping for games when I have a procedure which takes some player input and my own ideas and spits out emergent material I wouldn't have though of on my own. (Ry, you probably remember when we played Dogs? I had a random table I used to replace my Townspeople with the important Relationships each of you came up with before the game. It was exciting because it forced me to reevaluate a lot of the relationships in the game and was full of surprises. I think my favourite was when I rolled for the young girl the Dog had impregnate six months earlier... and discovered that she was the Sorceress in the Town! Excellent stuff. Wouldn't have had the guts to go with that idea myself, it seems a little too contrived. But I think it made the Town that much more exciting.)

    c) My technique for getting lots of a) and b) in my prep is to prompt the players for material, which I have a way of prepping with or around. I leave blanks in my prep and force myself to fill them with material the players bring to me, creating surprises both for me and for them.

    My job prepping, then, is more like problem-solving and exploring than just writing lists and memorizing names.

    I think another good way is to make your prep into some kind of artistic project. (Interpreting "art" loosely here, as anything which gives you creative satisfaction.)

    * Drawing a beautiful map is very satisfying, and presenting it to the players gives you an enthusiastic audience.
    * Creating clever handouts is similar.
    * Creating a costume or prop for particular NPCs - you can't avoid learning a little more about the NPC in the process.
    * If you're a poet, write a short poem about each location or NPC.
    * Game design can be part of this, as well: I like to create little mini-games which feed into prep. (For example, instead of coming up with a detailed history and a world, write an Oracle full of elements for a game of In a Wicked Age... - it's a similar process, but more fun because even once your prep is done, there are still lots of surprises in store for you when you get to the table.
  • I'm with AFT and Paul. The word "torture" is 180 degrees from what I feel. Prepping for a game is just part of writing the world in an ongoing sense, and like every other act of creation, it feels no more like "torture" than writing the first draft of a story or plunking out the first notes of a melody that will become a song. I wouldn't create adventures if I didn't enjoy creating them.

  • I think the love-letter form of bluebooking is good because it has a really pointed question for each player and/or character; that can solve a lot of prep questions.
  • edited November 2015
    Love your ideas Paul, especially trying to treat it as an 'artistic project'. I find that anticipating prep is a weight on my mind, but I'm going to try one or two of your ideas to see if they help.
  • If you consider the personalities, accoutrements and tropes your Players have deployed, you'll likely find that they've already given you a lot of information on the kind of surroundings or stories they wish to find themselves in. A gambler needs a game; a performer needs an audience; a strongman needs heavy stuff what needs liftin'... and you can be a lot more subtle than I'm being here.

    Ask yourself: What sort of setting, problem or situation would need to exist for this character to shine in a way their description seems to foreshadow?

  • Yeah, starting everything with the characters in your game is the easiest way to make prep flow naturally.

    It can be a really good exercise:

    Limit yourself, as the GM, to not preparing or inventing ANYTHING which doesn't lead directly from a PC in some way.

    (Depending on the game you're playing, you may or may not need to prompt the players for more info, though.)
  • Interesting. I hear this advice a lot and always like the idea, but I find that when I sit down to prep a game I start devising a plot and spend quite a lot of time engineering situations that I think will cause the players to choose to follow the plot. I think the reason I do that is that even now -- after 20-odd years of GMing -- it still scares me to think that the players can take the story off in any direction and I'll have to respond on-the-fly. I worry that I won't be able to make a quality game experience for everyone out of that. (Sorry, I realise this may be veering off-topic now!)
  • ... the love-letter form of bluebooking ...
    What is that?
  • edited November 2015
    I find that when I sit down to prep a game I start devising a plot
    This was always the most fun style of GM prep for me. I just need to find some players who are on board with it!
    What is that?
    I think JD's referring to writing up some of your prep such that it's actually addressed to the players/characters, to be given to them before the next session.
  • If you think prep is stressful, why do you play games that require prep?
  • My prep starts with day dreaming and that's the fun bit, after that its down hill. :)
    But some times the battle works out on paper, the imagined parts do fit together and shit I've got a story happening in front of my eyes.
    What I mean by story is,,, a real functioning imagined world robust enough to withstand any player fuckery. ( well for now )
    In actual play the imagined world lights up under players views, the players reactions and views and mine add more.

    The one thing that I hate in play is the managing of difficulty, the crappy rolls the pop of the scene when the player/s fail and trying to save the hero/s.
    I have a knee jerk reaction to try and catch them.

    I like pictures I have found on the web, music and props and figures. These physical things help fuel the imagined world and reduce hand shaking dice.
  • edited November 2015
    I'm with AFT and Paul. The word "torture" is 180 degrees from what I feel. Prepping for a game is just part of writing the world in an ongoing sense, and like every other act of creation, it feels no more like "torture" than writing the first draft of a story or plunking out the first notes of a melody that will become a song. I wouldn't create adventures if I didn't enjoy creating them.
    This is great, but I think it's worth acknowledging that even in the best conditions, for some people, some of the time, any of those creative acts will not be enjoyable. You're not necessarily doing it wrong, or playing the wrong game, just because you're not having a blast doing your prep work. There are certain foods that I love eating that are a real chore to prepare - it pays off in the end, but actually doing the work is like torture sometimes.

  • If you think prep is stressful, why do you play games that require prep?
    Because the games that result are electrifying. After a good session I get about three days where I feel like every aspect of my life is better, because I've been energized by such a great experience.
  • Yes, that sums up my experience too. That's why this thread is so fascinating - anything to help ameliorate the self-torture will make my gaming life better.
  • I would love to hear more about the type of things which are "torture" to prep, but lead to incredible gaming. What are they like? What kind of play do they produce? Can you give some examples?

    Maybe those of use without your perspective could use that to come up with some clever solutions or analysis which could help the process.

    ...

    "Love letters" are a thing (as far as I know) Vincent Baker invented. You write a "letter" to each PC, which tells them a bit about their current situation, and often asks them to roll some dice. As a result, they are asked to make some choices. The choices lead to a situation in play, as soon as you start the game (the advantage of the "love letter" technique).

    For instance, let'say you captured a strange beast of war and have it locked up in a paddock on your farm, but you don't know what it can do, and aren't sure it's secure. The GM might write a letter which says something like: "Dear [character name], you wake up in the middle of the night to incredible noises coming from the paddock, and it sounds like all the animals on the farm are screaming into the night sky. You've made some preparations against the Beast getting loose, but how good were they? Roll your Cunning Preparations skill. On a success, choose one from the list below. On a failure, choose 2; on a really bad failure, choose 3:

    * The Beast is loose and running off into the forest.
    * One of your servants/allies (to be chosen randomly) has been slaughtered by the Beast.
    * The paddock and enclosure is ruined, and the Beast (if it is still here) will have to kept here by force.
    * The Beast has manifested a frightening and unexpected ability to spread a frightening disease.
    * The Beast has manifested a frightening and unexpected ability for large-scale destruction.
    * All the other animals are either dying or fleeing from the farm.

    You can see how, no matter what happens, at the beginning of the session there will a tense and exciting event, but you, as the GM, don't have full control over it. There will be a surprise for you as well, and (given a couple of love letters), more than enough material for the session.

    It's just one technique, of course - who knows, maybe that's even more stressful than whatever you usually do.
  • Thanks Paul. The love-letter approach sounds very interesting. Again if seems as if many of these cool prep techniques suit long - running play as they encourage plot to emerge within a campaign world.

    Does anyone have cool tricks for making prep for one-shots fun? Or in fact does a one shot need to be heavily plot-driven (mine always turn out that way!)? If not then the techniques already mentioned should work.
  • Sure! I love creative prep for one-shots (and don't like "heavily plot-driven", if you mean by that what I imagine you mean). "Love letters" work great for this kind of thing. I made a hack of Lady Blackbird which uses this exact method, to great success. You sit down to play, and everyone gets to improvise based on a unique and exciting situation, different each time you play.
  • I made a hack of Lady Blackbird which uses this exact method, to great success. You sit down to play, and everyone gets to improvise based on a unique and exciting situation, different each time you play.
    I'd love to see that, Paul!

    As for my own prep, I imagine single scenes, say a car chase, a seduction, a gunfight on a flying starship, and see if I can get iut worked into the session. It's a wish-list of sorts.
    For the real prep for an ongoing campaign, I list a series of questions for the players, such as what does it look like, what's her name, things like that. I let them flesh out the world. Then I write a hook, and note down a series of names of NPC's (drawn randomly, but consistently across sessions so established NPC's don't suddenly change) along with a table of descriptors, of which there are always three assigned. In my experience, three identifiers is enough to make a character memorable. Two will be physical, one mental, such as "the bearded young wizard in the red robe" (I don't consider gender or job a descriptor, though, technically, they are).

    For one-shots, it depends on the game. I tend to only run one-shots written for fastaval, and those are single complete games, completely self contained. How I prep for them, other than reading the material, depends on what's required of me as a gm. I had one game where I had to play a single consistent npc who was present in every scene, cut scenes, start the next scene (scenes were pre-written) and direct the players all at once. It was rather exhausting, to put it mildly. In the opposite corner I had a game where I had to set the scene, hand out characters, and send a text messsage every half hour. That was it. Other than that, sit quietly in a corner.
  • A good way to get started on campaign prep is to ask the players after each session "What are you looking forward to in the next session? What would you like to see?" That can give you something to build on that you know the other players will engage with.

    Then again, I pretty much never do any prep besides daydreaming, maybe because I tend to play character-driven games where the characters' actions are the plot, and I can't prep that.
  • I would love to hear more about the type of things which are "torture" to prep, but lead to incredible gaming. What are they like? What kind of play do they produce? Can you give some examples?
    I'm having a hard time articulating; if it was easy then I would have turned it into Dogs towns / IAWA start of session by now. I do prepare love letter style "session opener" moves, but that's more of the 1/4 of what I'm going for that works well enough without too much torture. But my high standards even for that make it stressful:

    When it comes down to building the list of pressures including the session opener, I want them to:

    1. move play forward without knowing which way it will necessarily go
    2. push the players' buttons based on their expressions so far
    3. feel natural to the campaign world, with accompanying texture
    4. have good 'pairings' - like accompanying events or options that the players also care about, add an extra dimension (worst example but all I can think of: Not just a street fight, a street fight where a few donkey carts have knocked over and there's apples and confused donkeys all over the place)

    but also...

    5. Provide the background texture that will support me if things head off in a different direction

    I end up trying to do 1-4 on a scale that would also help with 5. But I end up with love letters that hit 1-3, fail at 4, and totally fail on 5. The game can still be OK when only 1-3 happens, but campaigns with legs get at 4 and 5 also.

    A good version of 5 in isolation would be Vornheim-style supporting tables of ammunition.
  • edited November 2015
    @Ry,

    That's a great summary of the concept behind the prep. Perhaps some actual examples would help get at the process behind *why* they work?

    @Tore_V,

    My Blackbird approach was to use two techniques:

    1) Key pairings.

    I made pairs of contradictory Keys and then assigned them to different characters. An obvious example would be a character who is desperate to have his vengeance against the Empire, and another with a Key of Mercy or Compassion or something like that.

    A web of those is enough to create memorable characters who have something to talk about.

    I then "cut" up characters into three different "pieces", allowing players to combine them to create different characters every time you play.

    2) Love-letter-style introductions.

    Each character has a "love letter" which instructs them to make a roll, choose options, and answer questions. Things like, "Which other character was once your suitor? How do you feel about them now?" Also things like, "You believe the Cult has something you need. What is it?"

    These create a starting situation as well as some background information (as in the examples above).

    Oh, I also have a fun NPC-creation piece:

    I have a (short) list of important NPCs, and a list of "reputations". The players take turns assigning the "reputations" to the NPCs. Every time I play I have an Imperial commander, for instance, but sometimes he could be a coward and a cannibal, and other times he could be a ruthless but honourable killer. These are really fun! (Since they are just "reputations", I always have the option of surprising the players with some kind of revealed persona contrary to reputation, but so far that's never been necessary.

    The rest of the hack is mechanical stuff; not really important to this thread.

    (If anyone wants to see it, let me know and I could try to clean it up and post it in another thread. But the "prep" I used to make the scenario is very effective and fun, as well as replayable if desired.)





  • Ry, that's interesting! As much as I have sometimes struggled to prep good puzzles and balanced encounters, I would have no trouble at all prepping your 1-5. One of the parts of prep that's most fun for me is world-creating or world-imagining, and I inevitably do some of that before beginning a campaign. Once I know what the setting is like and am eager to express it, that expression inevitably comes out in donkey carts and background texture, with no specific prep required.

    If I were to attempt to systematize this for your goals, I'd write a list of bangs, with the first half being Sorcerer-style player character crises and the second half being evocative events that express what I like about the setting. Then I'd call on that list as needed in play.

    If coming up with my own world stuff were problematic, I'd use a sourcebook. If it had nice tables, I'd use them, and if it didn't, I'd simply read the book and jot down whatever strikes me as cool from it in a bangs-style list.

    Does any of that sound more manageable than what you've been doing?
  • I'd also look for ways that allow you to prep the same content, but are more fun. Perhaps creating NPCs for upcoming encounters feels like drudgery, but writing up a random encounter excites you? Or perhaps drawing small portraits of the NPCs is fun, but writing about them isn't... etc.
  • edited November 2015
    Another thing worth thinking about is what kind of content you actually need on hand, so if you do find yourself having to do some drudgework to prep for a game, you're at least only doing the barest minimum necessary.

    This was pretty much the biggest stumbling block for me for a long time. I'd find myself writing down a bunch of crap that I didn't need and not writing down the one or two things that I actually did, all because I had weird ideas about what prepwork entailed that had nothing to do with how I was running a game. I'd write up a lot of detailed background information that was fun to think about but didn't really have any immediate relevance to what the PCs were doing (or could reasonably be expected to discover, let alone be remotely interested in), for example. I wasn't thinking about anyone's goals in the next game session (not mine, not the players'), I wasn't thinking about where I might get bogged down and would find it useful to have some stats or rules written down in advance so I wouldn't have to look them up on the fly, I wasn't even thinking about how long the session would probably go or what would make good stopping points along the way.

    Once I started really paying attention to what I needed to run the next game session instead of flailing around prepping all kinds of things 'just in case,' things got better for everyone. And hell, if you're in doubt whether you'll need a thing, don't prep it. If you're right, you just saved yourself some pointless busywork, and if you're wrong, it's not the end of the world.
  • I'll take some pictures but what I ran with is so comparatively dopey looking. I really don't think the output captures what the prep was for because the prep is also a process of loading the game world in my head.

  • When I ran Anima I did my best work as a GM writing scenarios and leading players into them, but also adapting quickly to their input and saying goodbye to lots of prep when whatever they asked was funnier/better/had more sense. But eventually I got burned out as a GM playing this style, so badly that I started looking for GMless / GMfull games or mechanics that I could apply that could help me get the same feeling in the campaign with less prep.

    Years later I kinda gave up feeling that while such games were quite interesting, the feeling and atmosphere we got from them wasn't any close to what we wanted to play as a group. I then came back to good terms with doing some nice prep for certain games, and improvising the hell out of some others.

    For my (finally finished) Offline rpg I outlined a series of procedures that make prep a quite enjoyable and quick brainstorm. It ended up being 8 questions that the players and narrator get to answer as a group. They also roll a few dice to see how good/bad are the situations proposed by them. Like on the last playtesting, where players wanted the economy of their kingdom be based on brothels, but they rolled a 1 for it, meaning they had the worst ones in the world righ now (because they were populated now by undead).

    That made the necromancer they created as a threat into the Necropimp, but that's another story.

    In Offline, once the setting is defined, the narrator has about 2/3 of the prep done. He rolls then a couple of dice over the map. one indicates where the adventure starts, the other the current destination. The numbers inform about how dangerous is the place, so on a six at the place where the adventure begins, the PCs are escaping from something related to the main threat or the main threat itself. if it's at the end, they are actually going to confront it. If both numbers are low, then the danger is somewhere in the road.

    The rest comes from checking the character's sheet that should be done by then (characters are built using 5 fate-like aspects, related to 2 or 3 main character concepts like race and one or two professions, but the skills are totally player defined.) and that's it. Since the conflict resolution mechanic is basically PbtA, it's reaaally quick and nice to improvise with it.

  • edited November 2015
    Otoh (and sorry for the double-post) when I read 5e final version it was love at first sight, but immediately I knew I couldn't improvise a D&D campaign just like that. I had to do proper prep. But then again, I wasn't going back to railroading until the players came up with something better, so I came up with something in the middle. Here's my advice on this:

    a) For almost all GMs there's a part of the prep that is enjoyable and one that not, or at least not so much. Simplify, prep in advance, randomize or handwave the one you hate the most. For me, it's the numbers and rules I hate, so I had to study my a$$ off of the rulebook, make monster cards to have them handy and avoid bookflipping in middle-session, download an app to handle the spells and some other unavoidable stuff. I did some random tables and lists for merchants and that was most of it. From time to time I still study the corebook before a session, even the parts I'm already familiar with, just to see if I find something new.

    Dungeon crafting is also a chore that can be randomized. I haven't found an online randomizer that suits me so I made my own, complete with trap randomizer. I like it so much that it even allows me to improvise dungeons on the run, but of course, you get better effects prepping it in advance; Tony Dowler's How to host a dungeon is one of my favorites at that.

    Even the NPCs and adventures can be randomized. You just need to find some system/randomizer you're comfortable with. For me it's usually enough with my own old resourcefull deck

    b) Brainstorm the heck of it if you can. Just having one person who isn't stressed by prep and telling them what happened on the last session may give you ideas of what to come up next with. I helped countless times a friend of mine to dress his next session or add some twists here and there. Players still have issues with him about his way of directing the game, but always end up coming back.

    c) Plan backwards instead of planning ahead. As anybody I always have a general idea of what could be a good place to guide the campaign to, but more often I find the best inspiration thinking about the things the players have left behind. Think on the actual consequences of their actions and push them forward until they reach them. What about that monster that escaped last time? And that town they liberated, did it got better or worse? That pitiful goblin they didn't found should have leveled up and have reasons to chase after them now, right? And what if he found an ally like that other monster they fought and though it was dead? Even if players don't remember, it's often fun and more interesting to have motivated enemies, npc's and monsters that have seen the PCs fight and know a few things of what they are capable of.

    d) Random concept art. It works wonders for me, as I'm totally a visual person. May work for you too, give it a try: just google up "concept art" anywhere and you will get a lot of interesting places, characters, monsters and even equipment ans scenes you would like to try. Of course, I more or less keep things ready to be used anywhere, like someone posted above, instead of railroading players into that scene in particular.

    e) Ask the players! Also a favorite of mine, and you can even keep it somewhat "in character" and avoid players pushing too far with a simple procedure. For example, PCs go into a bar. I give them freedom to make up what kind of legends myths, threats and treasure they heard about there, but then I get to define how much of that is true. I even use the same procedure to create the setting in my D&D campaign that I do when GMing Offline but again, I get to say how much of it is true. I often do so by letting players roll for it, since it feels more fair. Of course, players never get to arrive to the place described the same session they find out about it, so that gives me until the next session to prepare, but also gives me some direction.

    f) Control your perfectionism. When prep feels like a torture it's probably because you're putting too much effort into it. Stop it. You're not writing a classic, you don't need to be prepared for all the things they may or may not do. They won't care if the bad guy has a story or not, for all they know it's there for them to kill it. They won't stop to hear his speech if they can go straight to kill it. They won't mind if he was right in the end after they kill it.

    The magic actually happens in the session, not before. My take now is that if I need an enemy, I use it as it is on the monster manual and ONLY if the dice are good and keep it alive, I start giving it features. A hobgoblin survived two spells from the cleric; NOW you notice it has the symbol of an evil deity tattooed on his chest. A bugbear killed one PC and captured another; the next time they find him he's taking a bath and speaking like a noble. That's it, now they are a bit more interesting and it's the things they have done that give them importance, not anything I could have come up with before that the players may or may not find out before they fight them. Of course, it pays off to have some features, names and other things prepared to use them with any character when the opportunity arrives. Again, you can't wing everything, but you don't have to prepare for precise, predefined situations.
  • My torture is the small bits. (Details)
    I even find pre made scenarios missing details. It reminds me of that quote:
    "Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." by Salvidor Dali.
    Have no fear of detail.

    Surfing the web can be like quick sand, more you search the deeper you sink into the details.
    Like a microscope the magnification is infinite but in one direction.
    At what point do you stop.
    Thats my vice.
    So I have set my self a task to collect evocative descriptions, pictures a bit like Impressionistic dungeons
    This I find helps fill in the details in play. By reading through them they spring to mind in play, a bit like Kata in Karata !
    Game Fu
  • edited November 2015
    If it inspires you, I think it's okay. For me, the practical limit of perfection is the speed and accuracy of the reader/spectator's comprehension. I noticed this first as an artist: due to the methods of reproduction I use for my comics and the size I publish them at, I realized that there was a threshold beyond which details weren't reproduced. So even when working on a A3 page, scanning at 1200 dpi for resolution, details that were clear for me in the original became fuzzy or even disappeared on the reproduction.

    In the end, It was enough to hint at the details instead of rendering them completely, scanning at 600 DPI and even working the original at half the size. Later I found it was more or less the same with the game. Players pick up pieces of information, their own brains reconstruct the whole deal in a different way and there's all sort of noise mixed with the information you're delivering them that you would be surprised of how far their versions of the story could fall apart.

    Though you're right about using evocative descriptions. The more emotional, the more chances there are that the players remember that detail.
  • So here's my prep

    https://db.tt/kmSppHWB

    The pictures of pages that have lots of stuff in them are examples of when I successfully tortured myself into having everything done.

    The ones with lots of gaps or where I tortured myself but didn't have enough time and I ended up kind of faking it.
  • Oh, another way to put it is in trying to get a ghost/echo (sans layout) per session.

    http://www.onesevendesign.com/ghostecho/
  • @Ry, which game are you playing? One which features you as a GM of sorts, and what are your specific duties in it?

    What I'm thinking now is, any negative experiences I've had with prepping games weren't actually problems with preparing per se (excepting time constraints - not having time enough during the week to do what I've set up to do is often a serious issue for me) but, rather, problems with creative disparity in the game as designed/played.
  • edited November 2015
    Ry,

    I wonder about that, too! I don't know how many pages we are talking "per session", but those are really detailed. Is it really necessary to write all that down, and how much of it do you actually use in the session? Can you recycle any of it for future sessions?

    I think my own prep for games which require it would be something like one of those pages for the first session, and then almost none for subsequent sessions. How much is it for you?

    Also, which parts are fun and which parts are not fun?

    Is there a reason you can't "outsource" more of the process to your players? (Especially if they know you're not enjoying the prep, I'm sure they would be happy to contribute.)

    We've played games together, and I know you have no issues with creativity or blanking: you can improvise material and seem totally confident and in control, but you're also not afraid of handing over authority to other players. So where do things get sticky for you in play?
  • edited November 2015
    Judging from the pictures, I think you need a better framework for how to play the game. If you got a model of how to play, and a clear checklist with things you need to add for that model to a) work and b) be different from other sessions, then the prep can be cut down to a minimum. It took me between 20-40 minutes to prepare a session that lasted between 2-4 sessions.

    (It took 20-40 minutes, because I don't play games anymore where I need to prep.)
  • If it's just one full page per session, I think I write as much as you Ry. Curiously, only 1/4 of my prep looks like the things you wrote and most of the things you have there are the kind of things I end up winging, according to what the players want to do or misinterpretate from what I tried to convey.

    In my case, if it's a new element, it probably came from whatever the players created at the beggining of the game or just mentioned they'd want to see, so I'll most probably only prepare enough to improvise the rest on the fly. The other 3/4 of the prep is about the consequences that the players actions will bring.

    Yet I loosely based the campaign on the mines of phandelver module, mostly out of insecurity; it was my first time DMing D&D at all, so if I didn't used a module, I'd probably end up with a few more pages. The way I'd like to do it, I'd have one page for each "front" in the game that I'd had to actualize each session or two. Maybe a couple of phrases, but nonetheless, I'd probably spent more than one hour on the whole deal, separated in different moments along the time I get between sessions.
  • RyRy
    edited November 2015
    ....
  • The game is an AW derivative, if that helps. But the PCs start as blank slates by design- the game has this birth concept, player characters are thrust into the world without guidance on who they are or what the universe wants from them

  • edited November 2015
    That *is* a design challenge in terms of prep, definitely. Not helping yourself there!

    This might be so obvious as to be not worth mentioning, but have you considered simplifying the situations you present, so that it's less work to prep at a time? Instead of 8 of your TRAPS sets, prep just 3, with a clever way to connect them, that kind of thing?

    Or even write down a basic idea for 8, then have the players pick 4 they find most interesting, and go prep only those?

    Can't imagine you haven't already explored this direction, but it's the first thing that jumps to mind.
  • So, is this a game where discovering what you've prepped is a main feature of the other players' experience? Where you define portions of the world by imagining them in your prep time and you commit to those, perhaps, and that commitment stands even when the other players fail uncover those informations or reach those areas in actual play? As opposed to a game where prepped materials are just there as a tool for you to employ when you make your moves, but are ultimately disposable, as you only commit to imagining things a certain way when you're together as a group...
  • Sorry I haven't been able to give the longer posts the time they deserve. will try tonight.
  • RyRy
    edited November 2015
    That *is* a design challenge in terms of prep, definitely. Not helping yourself there!
    Yeah but it's so, so, so beautiful when the players turn to me for guidance in the face of conflicting pressures "I think I'm going to get this teenager's broken back fixed by this alien, but to pay for it I have to sell her into a lifetime of slavery! Do I have any sense of what I should do?" and I can say "No, nothing is going to tell you what the right move is here."

    or, the one that always happens in the first session "All the directions are bad! What should I do?" "Well, you could just sit here and starve to death... but let's be honest, dehydration will probably get you first."

    In terms of simplification, I am trying to do less by grouping all the "right side" elements and just making sure I have a sheet of pressures. That's what I was trying to do with the handwritten pages but I couldn't get them ready in time and ended up falling back on the original first-session prep (the bigger printed pages). But that was *barely* enough to run the session on. I certainly didn't give the city the feel of density that I wanted.
  • So, is this a game where discovering what you've prepped is a main feature of the other players' experience? Where you define portions of the world by imagining them in your prep time and you commit to those, perhaps, and that commitment stands even when the other players fail uncover those informations or reach those areas in actual play? As opposed to a game where prepped materials are just there as a tool for you to employ when you make your moves, but are ultimately disposable, as you only commit to imagining things a certain way when you're together as a group...
    I'm only committed once they've occured in play. The prep in advance only exists to make sure that stuff is consistent, interesting, and remains relevant. Although I don't get the feeling that anything is disposable in this game. All the players have to go on has come through play, so it's got to remain consistent, and consistently interesting.

    But I have a really strong commitment to the players to provide the texture and internal consistency of this world. After the first session in "bugtown" - the Yellow sheet that is being replaced by the really, really big white printed sheet - I had thrown out a multi-caste and multi-species city of insect people with a human ghetto that is also a sort of reserve food supply for the higher-caste insectoids. Keeping that fresh, dynamic, full of pressures, relevant to what the players have revealed they care about...
  • Rafu - a better way for me to put that is we imagine things a certain way when we're together as a group, but that it's not disposable... once something's been introduced it's part of a universe of experiences that has to be maintained. So if I don't commit to that universe, the players are floundering for who they are and what they need to do, and I'm floundering for what the universe contains to begin with. I've got to be able to generate the sense that the universe is full of stuff, and that we're discovering it, even if I do that based on lists of 100 things and I do it in the moment.
  • Ry, did my world color bangs idea sound worth trying? I'm enjoying the discussion, but I'm not seeing how anything here directly addresses the "add accompanying events or options that the players also care about" and "provide background texture" goals you said you were struggling with the most.
  • The way you're making it Ry (which is right and the best to get the exact results you want), there's only one thing to do: take more time to prep in advance, recycle as much as you want and ask players to postpone the next session whenever you really need that extra time. I must warn you: doing that is what got me burned as a GM before; but if you're better than me at handling that stress and get that extra time to work without pressures, you'll be fine.

    The best advice I can give you is to try to improvise more, not to change you way of GMing nor as a replacement for prep, but in order to gain more confidence to make things on the run, like that extra detail you crave for but don't have enough time to add in your prep.

    And if you can find another GM that can help you, brainstorm stuff together. You just need to be clear about the limits of what the other person can add and what not, and maybe roll a dice for inspiration or when both of you aren't sure about something.
  • One of the parts of prep that's most fun for me is world-creating or world-imagining, and I inevitably do some of that before beginning a campaign. Once I know what the setting is like and am eager to express it, that expression inevitably comes out in donkey carts and background texture, with no specific prep required.
    So, I do that, but it's hard to do on a tight schedule... i.e. "Get that world imagined quicker, man!"
    If I were to attempt to systematize this for your goals, I'd write a list of bangs, with the first half being Sorcerer-style player character crises and the second half being evocative events that express what I like about the setting. Then I'd call on that list as needed in play.
    You see that's basically what I'm trying to evolve it towards... bangs = pressures on the right-hand side of the page. Other interesting stuff = desiderata, sensations, and options on the left.

    But yeah, I end up staring hard at that empty, divided page.

    If coming up with my own world stuff were problematic, I'd use a sourcebook. If it had nice tables, I'd use them, and if it didn't, I'd simply read the book and jot down whatever strikes me as cool from it in a bangs-style list
    I do frequently visit my wall and come back empty-handed, because I get caught up at the point where I'm like "OK, I need something I can convert into a dinner party for a bunch of decadent alien species that all think differently but coexist in this city... they need to be somewhat racist towards humans and there needs to be ways for the players to advance their agenda during the thing even though they'll just be servers... and I don't want to pre-judge what hte players will decide their agenda is..." and then nothing in my gaming collection helps and I go back to staring at that blank page.

  • edited November 2015
    Yeah, that's what happens to me when I aim for an over-specific goal. Phrasing "other interesting stuff" as "world color bangs" was my attempt (I dunno how successful) to get away from that. I think with a long enough list of just "stuff that I think is neat", there's hope that I can make it fit in the moment.

    So, like, dinner with decadent aliens that think they're better than humans -- the first things that pop into my head are:
    - An invitation that assaults human senses -- a blinding card that thunders words into your skull and then deducts a "tip" to help cover the service by siphoning off a millileter of your spinal fluid
    - "brain food" that stimulates parts of the brain that in humans cause hallucinations but in "advanced" aliens just aid focus and perception
    - a human ex-con servant with a collar
    - live art, some sort of naked painting thing
    - periods of meditative silence between meal courses

    If I brought that list to the session, then who knows which one I'd wind up using, but I'd expect to get some utility out of it, and even if not, my mental vision of the aliens is now clearer than it was when I started writing this post 6 minutes ago.
Sign In or Register to comment.