So what do you (yes, you, personally) prep?

Picaroon Jack

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Same as the above with starting scene and lists of random names, and I try to have enough background info to explain who is in charge of the regional government, what factions are in play, key landmarks, and things like that.
 

Stan

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This is why there was a fairly lengthy stretch of time where my only prep would be a stiff drink (to loosen my tongue, since I'm kind of shy) and a handful of NPC names.
A great product would be either a coffee cup or stein with a ton of random names, random numbers, and such on the inside.

Players ask, "How many clowns are there and what are their names?"

DM looks like he's trying to remember as he takes a drink. "There are three of them. Their names are Archibald, Liz, and Amsu."
 

E-Rocker

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A great product would be either a coffee cup or stein with a ton of random names, random numbers, and such on the inside.

Players ask, "How many clowns are there and what are their names?"

DM looks like he's trying to remember as he takes a drink. "There are three of them. Their names are Archibald, Liz, and Amsu."
OMFG, that is an awesome idea!!
 

TristramEvans

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A great product would be either a coffee cup or stein with a ton of random names, random numbers, and such on the inside.

Players ask, "How many clowns are there and what are their names?"

DM looks like he's trying to remember as he takes a drink. "There are three of them. Their names are Archibald, Liz, and Amsu."
"The Mug of Inspiration"...seems like a Kickstarter waiting to happen.

I recall in the 80s there were those large thermos mugs with a sort of layer of cler plastic filled with some sort of liquid and little sparklies. If the sparkles were replaced with little slips of game info somehow....

Or, just have like a glass bottom stein, with a magic 8-ball-type effect
 

Tulpa Girl

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A great product would be either a coffee cup or stein with a ton of random names, random numbers, and such on the inside.

Players ask, "How many clowns are there and what are their names?"

DM looks like he's trying to remember as he takes a drink. "There are three of them. Their names are Archibald, Liz, and Amsu."
"The Mug of Inspiration"...seems like a Kickstarter waiting to happen.
"Crom, I've never backed Kickstarter before..."
 

Arkansan

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I tend to do as little prep as I can get away with. These days I stick mostly with heavily houseruled retroclones and run sandbox games.

Before the first session I write out a general sketch of an area a few days travel in each direction with a background history in very sparse detail, a base town, a handful of interesting locations or things described in a sentence or two, a list of important NPC's with a one sentence description, a handful of relevant tables (rumors, weather, random encounters etc), and I come up with a couple of "things" that are going on in the area. Lastly I map out a couple of adventure locations.

Everything after that I infer from bullshit I come up with off the top of my head in play, or what players think is going on, etc.
 

Stan

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"The Mug of Inspiration"...seems like a Kickstarter waiting to happen.

I recall in the 80s there were those large thermos mugs with a sort of layer of cler plastic filled with some sort of liquid and little sparklies. If the sparkles were replaced with little slips of game info somehow....

Or, just have like a glass bottom stein, with a magic 8-ball-type effect
I'm not good at making things. If someone wants to go for it, I'd like a free copy for the idea.
 

Baeraad

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I sketch out a bunch of major NPCs - possibly stat them up too, if it's the sort of game that makes that reasonably easy - and a couple of big events that may or may not happen. If I'm feeling especially ambitious, I start to consider mood and aesthetics and try to decide what sort of impression I want it all to give.

All in all, I think my preparations for a campaign are less about getting a solid outline than about getting myself into the right headspace. When it becomes time for individual sessions, I am a lot more thorough and describe locations and possible events, with skill modifiers and everything, and fully statted-up NPCs (or at least notes about what boilerplate statblock I'm planning to use for them). Things tend to go off plan sooner rather than later, but in the course of making a plan I have to spend a lot of time thinking about what sort of place and situation the game will focus on, and that makes it easier to improvise.
 

PolarBlues

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One instance where I found prep a little easier was with my western game. A couple of things helped (bare in mind these were mostly one-shot or episodic games).

Firstly I reduced the entire western genre to just two variations - lawmen adventure and outlaw adventures (hence the name Lawmen v Outlaws). Restriction help focus creativity I find, but it also helps ensure coherent parties.

Then I struck on a very simple device to structure adventure ideas around. Lawmen adventures all start with "It was a quiet day like any other when.." <insert event that alters the status quo and drags the characters into action> followed by "Turns out..." < insert twist or unforseen consequence> because a bank robbery is just a bank robbery makes for a pretty bland adventure.

For outlaw adventure, it's pretty much the same except the intro changes to "After a night of revels, the gang meets to discuss..."

In the end, there is still the hard work to be done fill in the details (see How to Draw an Owl image above). Some of the stuff will of course be improvised during play, but without prior understanding of the connections and motivations of the main NPCs the turn out making very little sense (not the players will always notice). So this isn't a magic bullet, in fact it's pretty basic, but I found it help be focus.
 
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