What do you- yes you, personally- prep for a session?

sharps54

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MattyHelms MattyHelms Kobayashi Kobayashi BedrockBrendan BedrockBrendan L Lundgren all pretty much nailed my ideal prep.

I tend to liberally borrow from relatively obscure media, at least obscure to my players, for plot points, scenes, twists, and interesting non player characters to use as examples (at least superficially) to base my games around. I then ruminate on motivations, fiendish plots, long term goals, and how they may adjust those if something interferes. I don’t try to be too specific but the more I’ve thought about that NPC the quicker I’ll be able to improvise how they act in the game when the players show up and do something out of left field. I like to start a campaign with an inciting incident, sometimes even in media res, And then let it develop according to the player’s decisions although certain planned events will happen at certain times if they aren’t interfered with.

Depending on the system I may work up base generic stat lines for the various NPCs (more needed in Cyberpunk 2020 than ICRPG or even Barbarians of Lemuria for example), I will work up my major NPCs, I will have a random table of period appropriate names (one of my weaknesses) with an accompanying one with distinguishing features or personality bits so I can flesh out random NPCs quickly, and I can normally run from just referencing rules off a decent GM Screen so I don’t have to crack books during the session.

While there is nothing wrong with running the various published railroads and mega campaigns I much prefer my RPGs to be a game of group improv between the GM and players using the rules to determine the outcome of questionable situations. As you might imagine I’m also a theater of the mind kind of GM in most cases.
 

T. Foster

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If I’m going to be running a module, re-read the key encounters and make notes on things that feel like they will be important and likely to get overlooked or forgotten in the heat of play.

If I’m going to be running something I wrote myself I’ll be scrambling to get more written, trying to get enough down on paper to at least allow me to fake it - maps and at least a general sense of what’s on them, a sense of who the important NPCs are and their goals and what they’ll be up to offstage.

Either way, I also try to anticipate the most likely ways for things to go off-script and come up with at least a general idea of what I’ll do in response

I also think about where everybody’s going to be sitting and what the snacks will be and how long we’ll be playing and who’s likely to show up late or have to leave early and whether we’re going to break for dinner and all that stuff.

I make sure I’ve got my dice and pencils and scratch paper and any other props or tools I might need - poker chips, glass beads, index cards, etc. I try to remember to keep plenty of water on-hand so I don’t lose my voice mid-session. I try to calm my mind and get ready to go with the flow and not overthink or try to control things.
 

TristramEvans

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Based on the responses I take it no one runs long prewritten campaigns like The Enemy Within, Masks of nyarlathotep, or other types of adventure paths?

Yeah, I have. With substantial reworking.

I honestly just can't at the moment go in detail into the type of prep I do for campaigns, I'm very busy workig on a few other things at the moment.

Instead I'll simply repost my response to another thread from a while back, and just consider this x1000 for a large campaign such as Masks(in my case I blended Masks of Nyarlothotep with Day of the Beast, another CoC module, JAGs AWonderland, and tied it into the overarching story of my ongoing campaign of an occult war between worshippers of the Elder Gods and the cult of Moloch):


Generally speaking, this is how I handle a published module...I'll use Call of Cthulhu as an example, as its the game I'm most likely to use a published adventure rather than just sandboxing it...

First I'll read through the adventure once to get an overall feel for how it is meant to transpire. Then, I'll read it again, this time specifically looking for "traps" i.e. areas where players won't move forwards without railroading, or performing a specific anticipated action (searching in exactly the right place, talking to exactly the right person etc). These are the primary things I need to fix before the adventure is ready for play. Next, I'll prepare a flowchart for the adventure showing what points lead to what other points (with a mystery, this often means clues; in fact, I'm going to refer to everything as 'clues' for simplicity's sake, meaning a magic item, a key, a map to a wizard's lair, a town rumour, etc - anything vital to the completion of the adventure). I prioritize clues as "Vital", "Bonus", or "Chasers". Vital Clues are needed to move forward. Chasers are hints that point towards the direction of Vital Clues (I often have to add these). Bonus Clues either allow the players to skip steps or provide some advantage (a magic weapon, an opportunity to learn a spell, grounds for blackmail, etc). I'll often add Bonus clues, especially if the adventure is part of an ongoing campaign, as stuff related to the bigger picture rather than the immediate concern. I then will make up two charts, one of Vital Clues, one of Bonus Clues and Chasers. These are the charts I will roll on (or chose an appropriate one) when the players are clever or successful (as opposed to acting 'correctly' as dictated by the adventure). For example, if the adventure calls for the players to search the archives at a university library to find a Vital Clue in a specific book, and the players instead search the private library of a suspicious person of interest looking for information, then the roll on the chart will occur based on their success at that attempt.

Next I'll look at significant NPCs and antagonists. Generally what I'll do is draw a picture of them which for me is a great method of getting to know them and get inside their heads. On the back of the picture I'll give them stats (I convert everything to my House system, Phaserip, which was specifically designed to allow me to easily model characters in game terms on the fly), and then record their primary and secondary motivations and a few notes to aid in roleplaying. Depending on their role in the adventure I may also create a flowchart that shows what they will be doing at any point during the adventure. So instead of the players meeting them at one appointed time and place, they may encounter them anytime their paths cross in the course of events.

Something else I like to do is tie my Mythos adventures to specific places and dates in time in history, and so at this point I may do some research to see if the adventure lines up with any significant or odd pieces of historical interest. This often means I'll change the location to a specific realworld city or even replace NPCs with appropriate historical figures. Not major famous icons of history, mind you, but the sort of people you'd only know about if you actually did some studying up on the time period or location. A few of my players are in the habit now of taking to google the week after an adventure and seeing if they can find the people or events I used. This goes even deeper with me inserting complex in-jokes, most of which pass over my player's heads, but a few have landed successfully or been discovered after the fact. But that all is just my interests, it has nothing to do with making the adventure a success. The point is mainly that you can enrich a published adventure by inserting parts of yourself, or your interests into it,

So thats the basic prep for the course of the adventure. Now I start thinking in the more abstract. Moods, themes, etc. I spend a day or two putting together a soundtrack for the game. A mix of period music with ambient stuff. I draw out any maps needed. (even if the adventure provides maps, and I'm still using the same setting, I like to redraw it as it instills in me an innate familiarity, and gives me a broader sense of geography). I'll google up a collection of photos of architecture and items that are applicable to the game. And, this is probably the trickiest part, and something that only comes with experience, I look at the pace of the adventure and then alter what I need to to either increase or slow it down as appropriate. For a horror game, a simple premise with a slow burn is good, but hard to accomplish in a single night's game session, or maintain over several sessions. For an action adventure, I make sure there are a few opportunities for quiet times to collect thoughts, interact, and assess. etc.

All in all, I'll spend at least a week with an adventure before I've made it my own and ready to run. Does this mean that its now foolproof, above critique, and always plays out well? Of course not. But at this point I feel prepared enough that everything else I can easily handle on the fly. A large part of actually GMing is spur of the moment, but the more solid the basework, the easier improvisation is for me, because I know the subject matter and what I'm (or the NPC I'm roleplaying) is trying to accomplish and can predict the ramifications of anything "Off-script".
 

Kobayashi

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While there is nothing wrong with running the various published railroads and mega campaigns I much prefer my RPGs to be a game of group improv between the GM and players using the rules to determine the outcome of questionable situations. As you might imagine I’m also a theater of the mind kind of GM in most cases.

I'm finding myself in the same place now. Last big pre-written campaign I ran was the Two-Headed serpent for CoC. It was good fun but not as memorable as campaigns where each session was built on the ruins of the last. As far as I'm concerned I need a few things to avoid that kind of campaign to peter out: a strong opening session with clear, immediate goals for the players and a fleshed-out setting (not necessarily a ton of information but a clear vision of the world, the factions and the overall mood). So that first session requires a bit more work (a few hours here and there for a week).

Thanks to the Me, Myself and Die show on Youtube I started using an Oracle in my most recent SF campaign (I made up my own 'cause I wanted something I could use without using a chart). It's been tons of fun for me and the players who accept the decisions of the dice more easliy than a GM's ruling :smile:
I can't see myself running a game without using one now.
 

Bunch

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Based on the responses I take it no one runs long prewritten campaigns like The Enemy Within, Masks of nyarlathotep, or other types of adventure paths?
Oh Ive been running Water deep Dragon Heist and it's follow on Dungeon of the Mad Mage for a few years now. It's a long running campaign but I'm just not running it well.
 

The Butcher

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Based on the responses I take it no one runs long prewritten campaigns like The Enemy Within, Masks of nyarlathotep, or other types of adventure paths?
No, not nearly as often as I’d like. To me it feels like more work than creating. (I do know I’m missing out on some great material.)
 

Bunch

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Oh Ive been running Water deep Dragon Heist and it's follow on Dungeon of the Mad Mage for a few years now. It's a long running campaign but I'm just not running it well.
I figure I'm running it. Everyone else is showing up. Most don't do any more prep than upgrading FG 5 minutes before game night. So if I'm doing anything more than that I'm ahead.
 

sharps54

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No, not nearly as often as I’d like. To me it feels like more work than creating. (I do know I’m missing out on some great material.)
I have been in games where the GM is using a published adventure with VTT assets “because it’s easier” and we inevitably run into parts of long block text, “hold on let me look up what’s in that room” or “I need to find where those monster stats are” or there is a glitch with the VTT assets, something doesn’t calculate correctly, and we have to fiddle with that.

I’m a social gamer and appreciate the chance to play instead of GM so I can overlook that stuff but the sad thing is when that GM runs their own homegrown adventure it always goes much smoother without those kinds of hiccups.
 

Sable Wyvern

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Based on the responses I take it no one runs long prewritten campaigns like The Enemy Within, Masks of nyarlathotep, or other types of adventure paths?
My previous game was using the Pirates of Drinax campaign for Traveller. But, while that could be played as "do this sequence of scenarios in order" it is very much set up to provide the framework for a sandbox campaign (especially with the wealth of other Trojan Reaches material available).
 

Bunch

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I have been in games where the GM is using a published adventure with VTT assets “because it’s easier” and we inevitably run into parts of long block text, “hold on let me look up what’s in that room” or “I need to find where those monster stats are” or there is a glitch with the VTT assets, something doesn’t calculate correctly, and we have to fiddle with that.

I’m a social gamer and appreciate the chance to play instead of GM so I can overlook that stuff but the sad thing is when that GM runs their own homegrown adventure it always goes much smoother without those kinds of hiccups.
Sure. The GM is transferring some of the work they'd have to do that you don't see to something you do see in those cases. It is a huge time saver for the GM in the long run.
 

sharps54

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Sure. The GM is transferring some of the work they'd have to do that you don't see to something you do see in those cases. It is a huge time saver for the GM in the long run.
Bunch Bunch the following rant is not directed at or reflective of my thoughts about you.

The lie that GM I wrote about and many others fall into is the idea that all the VTT prep is needed. The idea we need fancy maps, dynamic lighting, the ability move through an entire dungeon or outdoor area or marketplace one square at a time has been sold to people and some have bought it hook, line and sinker. I understand we are playing online and some visual representation is needed in certain cases but a simple white board with some scribbles and possibly tokens can handle that just as well as a map pack for anadventure path. At some point it was decided to start marketing VTTs as board game simulators and some have been hoodwinked by it.

I see a lot more effort being put into terrain and maps in Fantasy Ground and Roll20 than I ever saw when we played in person. I know some groups bought Dwarven Forge or did wonderful DIY stuff but I bet most were like us and used those big roll up maps with the erasable markers.

For those of you that do extensive map and encounter prep in VTTs or “rent” modules on VTTs do you put more effort into that then for face to face games? Would you lose players if you didn’t spend all that time in virtual prep?
 

Bunch

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Bunch Bunch the following rant is not directed at or reflective of my thoughts about you.

The lie that GM I wrote about and many others fall into is the idea that all the VTT prep is needed. The idea we need fancy maps, dynamic lighting, the ability move through an entire dungeon or outdoor area or marketplace one square at a time has been sold to people and some have bought it hook, line and sinker. I understand we are playing online and some visual representation is needed in certain cases but a simple white board with some scribbles and possibly tokens can handle that just as well as a map pack for anadventure path. At some point it was decided to start marketing VTTs as board game simulators and some have been hoodwinked by it.

I see a lot more effort being put into terrain and maps in Fantasy Ground and Roll20 than I ever saw when we played in person. I know some groups bought Dwarven Forge or did wonderful DIY stuff but I bet most were like us and used those big roll up maps with the erasable markers.

For those of you that do extensive map and encounter prep in VTTs or “rent” modules on VTTs do you put more effort into that then for face to face games? Would you lose players if you didn’t spend all that time in virtual prep?
Oh you don't need it. VTTs started really coming about around the time D&D 3.X came around. They made it easier to keep track of all the rules effects. They still do that. 5e is lighter so it's less important than before.

I purchased DotMM module in book and VTT format. I don't do any more prep on the VTT than I do in the module but it's a little different prep. There's trade off and changes between in person and on a VTT. In person I look up more rules and may have more arguments or rollbacks as we remember this effect or that should have been taken into effect. On the VTT the biggest issue is speeding up movement in the map. I either have to delete the tokens and plop them down or I have to move them all legally around the map.
In person and in VTT I print out the level map and highlight which factions control which areas of the dungeons. In person I have to mentally keep track of who is where/which room and think about what might get there attention. In a VTT I tend to put all the surrounding rooms encounters on the Combat Tracker so I can see all the monsters in the map. As players take actions I can more easily see how that would draw attention from neighboring rooms.

You have complaints about the maps and tactical impacts. I'm sure it can be a problem but I think having something to look at helps keep engagement in a virtual game. I used to play a game virtual over conference line. Some folks were in the same room and some were not. That game was much harder to stay focused in and feel like I was an equal participant in.

Making the maps on/for a VTT does take time and has other limitations. I'm working on taking one of Klibbix! Klibbix! Maps and turning it into an adventure. I'm learning how to add dynamic lighting for the first time. I'd say I've added an hour to the map making to put in dynamic lighting. If I were just doing this for my group I'm not sure I'd do it. It's another tradeoff. I either need to manually unmask the map as the move to checkpoints of put the time in to do it automatically as they move. Masking unmasking is probably about equivalent to erase and redraw in my mind. Adding monsters is I'd say no different than in real life. I search a box, find a monster and drop them on a map. There's a small amount of in-between steps like added an encounter and putting the encounter on the map first but for it I get basically the page of the Monster Manual instantly handy.

I always thought dynamic lighting requests were kind of annoying. Let's face it we never really do that in person. We can't do by character lighting in real life. But it's actually fun to see and play in a VTT that has it. The Paladin can do stupid things and run off with the torch leaving folks in the dark. The half orc thief can see things the rest of the party can't and come back and miscommunicate where the enemy is and you can watch that happen. Is it necessary no but it's worth more than I thought it was.

All of the automation isn't cheap. It's a question of do you get the value of it for you.

If I played online with just free versions of things it wouldn't be too bad. I can find most monster stats for free online so the flipping through the MM wouldn't happen just like in the full purchase FG experience. Keeping track of effects would be more of a pain. But scratch physical/virtual paper works. We could do theater of the mind but I think with nothing to look at in any of the games where combat can take up a significant amount of time would result in more players web serfing/checking out in between turns. That's where I see the VTTs really shining. My players tend to just click a button and they are told if the need to do damage which they then click another button to do. Turns are faster so they stay more engaged. Less time to switch to another tab and read and article while waiting for it to come back to them.

If I did a non VTT virtual game I would for sure use a much lighter rules game. BX would probably be my choice. It has almost no tactical rules and effects tend to be more binary. Trapped for x rounds not save every end of round for X rounds.
 

Klibbix!

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Oh you don't need it. VTTs started really coming about around the time D&D 3.X came around. They made it easier to keep track of all the rules effects. They still do that. 5e is lighter so it's less important than before.

I purchased DotMM module in book and VTT format. I don't do any more prep on the VTT than I do in the module but it's a little different prep. There's trade off and changes between in person and on a VTT. In person I look up more rules and may have more arguments or rollbacks as we remember this effect or that should have been taken into effect. On the VTT the biggest issue is speeding up movement in the map. I either have to delete the tokens and plop them down or I have to move them all legally around the map.
In person and in VTT I print out the level map and highlight which factions control which areas of the dungeons. In person I have to mentally keep track of who is where/which room and think about what might get there attention. In a VTT I tend to put all the surrounding rooms encounters on the Combat Tracker so I can see all the monsters in the map. As players take actions I can more easily see how that would draw attention from neighboring rooms.

You have complaints about the maps and tactical impacts. I'm sure it can be a problem but I think having something to look at helps keep engagement in a virtual game. I used to play a game virtual over conference line. Some folks were in the same room and some were not. That game was much harder to stay focused in and feel like I was an equal participant in.

Making the maps on/for a VTT does take time and has other limitations. I'm working on taking one of Klibbix! Klibbix! Maps and turning it into an adventure. I'm learning how to add dynamic lighting for the first time. I'd say I've added an hour to the map making to put in dynamic lighting. If I were just doing this for my group I'm not sure I'd do it. It's another tradeoff. I either need to manually unmask the map as the move to checkpoints of put the time in to do it automatically as they move. Masking unmasking is probably about equivalent to erase and redraw in my mind. Adding monsters is I'd say no different than in real life. I search a box, find a monster and drop them on a map. There's a small amount of in-between steps like added an encounter and putting the encounter on the map first but for it I get basically the page of the Monster Manual instantly handy.

I always thought dynamic lighting requests were kind of annoying. Let's face it we never really do that in person. We can't do by character lighting in real life. But it's actually fun to see and play in a VTT that has it. The Paladin can do stupid things and run off with the torch leaving folks in the dark. The half orc thief can see things the rest of the party can't and come back and miscommunicate where the enemy is and you can watch that happen. Is it necessary no but it's worth more than I thought it was.

All of the automation isn't cheap. It's a question of do you get the value of it for you.

If I played online with just free versions of things it wouldn't be too bad. I can find most monster stats for free online so the flipping through the MM wouldn't happen just like in the full purchase FG experience. Keeping track of effects would be more of a pain. But scratch physical/virtual paper works. We could do theater of the mind but I think with nothing to look at in any of the games where combat can take up a significant amount of time would result in more players web serfing/checking out in between turns. That's where I see the VTTs really shining. My players tend to just click a button and they are told if the need to do damage which they then click another button to do. Turns are faster so they stay more engaged. Less time to switch to another tab and read and article while waiting for it to come back to them.

If I did a non VTT virtual game I would for sure use a much lighter rules game. BX would probably be my choice. It has almost no tactical rules and effects tend to be more binary. Trapped for x rounds not save every end of round for X rounds.

While I’ve never managed to get around to learning how to do it on my own maps, we played through a portion of Storm King’s Thunder a member of my group bought off Roll20 and the dynamic lighting did add to the experience.
 

Bunch

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While I’ve never managed to get around to learning how to do it on my own maps, we played through a portion of Storm King’s Thunder a member of my group bought off Roll20 and the dynamic lighting did add to the experience.
It does. It's mostly not necessary but can be real fun once in a while.
 

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Well, not playing the Thieves Guild system, just the setting (and some of the scenarios). Where are the TG9 scenarios set? Anywhere near Haven?

We are using my house ruled RuneQuest 1st edition for rules (I would consider running the TG rules IF they were available to the players AND there was a bit more detail on the other character classes).

Oh, and I guess that makes you Bob Traynor? What parts of TG9 did you write?

That would, yes. I'm responsible for the Ashwood mines rescue scenario, which I admit I cringe slightly at reading 40 years down the road. (That was my first publication credit, and alas, I didn't have a computer upon which I could tinker until I got it RIGHT, and beyond that, I buckled under the social pressure from Rich, Walter & Co to squeeze in somewhat clunky puns and wordplays, neither which have ever been remotely to my liking.) It'd look a fair bit different were I to write it today.

(Hell. Why DON'T I rewrite it? I can use the exact same legal clause that Steve Jackson used to reclaim TFT.)

The scenario is one that I ran in my own campaign and game setting, and the placenames in it are my own. It'd fit in to Haven anywhere there was (a) a nearby jungle which (b) had a silver mine in it. Al Hipkins's scenario (which is Part II of one started in TG8) is definitely set into the Haven world, but a good long way away.

With that, the old "Namori" region was never developed anywhere beyond Kerry Lloyd's old campaign notes. We were starting to do that -- admittedly provoked by having to repatriate Within The Tyrant's Demesne and City of the Sacred Flame, which had both been written using TFT for the Land Beyond The Mountains setting, just before Metagaming abruptly folded -- along with working on the third Haven book, and then Gamelords promptly folded. Rich Meyer, Walter Hunt and myself (all of us in the Boston area) segued into forming the Adventure Architects collective a year later, and there we were. But the upshot is that all we know about the "world" of Haven is a rough map in one of the Haven books and various placenames sprinkled throughout the works.
 
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sharps54

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Oh you don't need it. VTTs started really coming about around the time D&D 3.X came around. They made it easier to keep track of all the rules effects. They still do that. 5e is lighter so it's less important than before.

I purchased DotMM module in book and VTT format. I don't do any more prep on the VTT than I do in the module but it's a little different prep. There's trade off and changes between in person and on a VTT. In person I look up more rules and may have more arguments or rollbacks as we remember this effect or that should have been taken into effect. On the VTT the biggest issue is speeding up movement in the map. I either have to delete the tokens and plop them down or I have to move them all legally around the map.
In person and in VTT I print out the level map and highlight which factions control which areas of the dungeons. In person I have to mentally keep track of who is where/which room and think about what might get there attention. In a VTT I tend to put all the surrounding rooms encounters on the Combat Tracker so I can see all the monsters in the map. As players take actions I can more easily see how that would draw attention from neighboring rooms.

You have complaints about the maps and tactical impacts. I'm sure it can be a problem but I think having something to look at helps keep engagement in a virtual game. I used to play a game virtual over conference line. Some folks were in the same room and some were not. That game was much harder to stay focused in and feel like I was an equal participant in.

Making the maps on/for a VTT does take time and has other limitations. I'm working on taking one of Klibbix! Klibbix! Maps and turning it into an adventure. I'm learning how to add dynamic lighting for the first time. I'd say I've added an hour to the map making to put in dynamic lighting. If I were just doing this for my group I'm not sure I'd do it. It's another tradeoff. I either need to manually unmask the map as the move to checkpoints of put the time in to do it automatically as they move. Masking unmasking is probably about equivalent to erase and redraw in my mind. Adding monsters is I'd say no different than in real life. I search a box, find a monster and drop them on a map. There's a small amount of in-between steps like added an encounter and putting the encounter on the map first but for it I get basically the page of the Monster Manual instantly handy.

I always thought dynamic lighting requests were kind of annoying. Let's face it we never really do that in person. We can't do by character lighting in real life. But it's actually fun to see and play in a VTT that has it. The Paladin can do stupid things and run off with the torch leaving folks in the dark. The half orc thief can see things the rest of the party can't and come back and miscommunicate where the enemy is and you can watch that happen. Is it necessary no but it's worth more than I thought it was.

All of the automation isn't cheap. It's a question of do you get the value of it for you.

If I played online with just free versions of things it wouldn't be too bad. I can find most monster stats for free online so the flipping through the MM wouldn't happen just like in the full purchase FG experience. Keeping track of effects would be more of a pain. But scratch physical/virtual paper works. We could do theater of the mind but I think with nothing to look at in any of the games where combat can take up a significant amount of time would result in more players web serfing/checking out in between turns. That's where I see the VTTs really shining. My players tend to just click a button and they are told if the need to do damage which they then click another button to do. Turns are faster so they stay more engaged. Less time to switch to another tab and read and article while waiting for it to come back to them.

If I did a non VTT virtual game I would for sure use a much lighter rules game. BX would probably be my choice. It has almost no tactical rules and effects tend to be more binary. Trapped for x rounds not save every end of round for X rounds.
I can see that. I find adding a video connection as well as audio is helpful so players can see each other. I’m not saying you don’t have any visuals, I often put of various pictures and things on the screen to excite the imagination, perhaps the inside of a saloon if the players enter one, or a town square or images of how I picture some of the more important NPCs they meet.
 

soltakss

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I know a wide variety of approaches exist. I'm not asking about theoretical session prep. I want to know what you- yes you, the pubgoer reading this- personally prepare when getting ready to run an rpg session.

As a Player: Absolutely nothing.

As a GM: Nearly nothing. I have a sketch of the upcoming scenario, in bullet-point form, usually just in my head. I might even have a number of NPCs who can introduce new ideas and new shiny things for the PCs to follow. That's about it.
 

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Based on the responses I take it no one runs long prewritten campaigns like The Enemy Within, Masks of nyarlathotep, or other types of adventure paths?
I once wrote the Tower of Lead for Dorastor in Glorantha. It was in a little booklet, with ten storeys of a Vampire-infested tower, with basements that led into a Short World where a piece of Gbaji was kept. The whole thing took me about three months to write.

The Players went past it, took one look and said "Vampires in Dorastor? No thanks, they are probably really dangerous" and skipped on past.

That taught me a valuable lesson.
 

ffilz

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I once wrote the Tower of Lead for Dorastor in Glorantha. It was in a little booklet, with ten storeys of a Vampire-infested tower, with basements that led into a Short World where a piece of Gbaji was kept. The whole thing took me about three months to write.

The Players went past it, took one look and said "Vampires in Dorastor? No thanks, they are probably really dangerous" and skipped on past.

That taught me a valuable lesson.
I couldn't even entice players to vampires in Prax... In my 1990s campaign, I tried to entice the players into Hellpits of Nightfang. Should have just run it the way I did in grad school for Cold Iron where it had giant ants boiling out of it and not a vampire in sight...
 

ffilz

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That would, yes. I'm responsible for the Ashwood mines rescue scenario, which I admit I cringe slightly at reading 40 years down the road. (That was my first publication credit, and alas, I didn't have a computer upon which I could tinker until I got it RIGHT, and beyond that, I buckled under the social pressure from Rich, Walter & Co to squeeze in somewhat clunky puns and wordplays, neither which have ever been remotely to my liking.) It'd look a fair bit different were I to write it today.

(Hell. Why DON'T I rewrite it? I can use the exact same legal clause that Steve Jackson used to reclaim TFT.)

The scenario is one that I ran in my own campaign and game setting, and the placenames in it are my own. It'd fit in to Haven anywhere there was (a) a nearby jungle which (b) had a silver mine in it. Al Hipkins's scenario (which is Part II of one started in TG8) is definitely set into the Haven world, but a good long way away.

With that, the old "Namori" region was never developed anywhere beyond Kerry Lloyd's old campaign notes. We were starting to do that -- admittedly provoked by having to repatriate Within The Tyrant's Demesne and City of the Sacred Flame, which had both been written using TFT for the Land Beyond The Mountains setting, just before Metagaming abruptly folded -- along with working on the third Haven book, and then Gamelords promptly folded. Rich Meyer, Walter Hunt and myself (all of us in the Boston area) segued into forming the Adventure Architects collective a year later, and there we were. But the upshot is that all we know about the "world" of Haven is a rough map in one of the Haven books and various placenames sprinkled throughout the works.
Cool. I wonder if we ever crossed paths... I grew up in Concord and Lexington and started gaming at MIT in 1979 and after graduating high school in 1981 I would drop in during the summer and winter breaks.

It really would be nice if somehow someone could resurrect Haven, I really could use the 3rd volume... For my uses though it is nice that the setting is relatively undeveloped. But it's also disappointing that there are all these scenarios that are nowhere near Haven...
 

ffilz

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Dynamic Lighting would be cool, but I can't justify paying for Roll20 to get it...

I do pretty good with Fog of War though.

I use a mix of chick scratching maps, and scanning maps from printed modules and uploading them and then playing with grids. It HAS been really cool to take a map of a village or part of a city and turn it into a battle map. I would never do that on table top. For table top I HAVE played with enlarging module maps to 25mm scale, but just smaller things.
 

Bunch

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Dynamic Lighting would be cool, but I can't justify paying for Roll20 to get it...

I do pretty good with Fog of War though.

I use a mix of chick scratching maps, and scanning maps from printed modules and uploading them and then playing with grids. It HAS been really cool to take a map of a village or part of a city and turn it into a battle map. I would never do that on table top. For table top I HAVE played with enlarging module maps to 25mm scale, but just smaller things.
Dynamic lighting is interesting. Before I played with it I thought it was total bullshit user request crap. I mean prior to VTTs no one ever really had it. You can't calculate shadows on the move per player. It's not really happening.
Having had it I have used it a few times to truly improve the game regarding stealth and not had players complain. Enemies with dark vision who can see where the light is and isn't, popping out of light sight, around obstacles and surprising the players when they're least expecting it. It's been exciting and fun for GM and players.
Is it worth the time to setup for every map? Maybe not. But when it adds it can really add. Walking past a column you thought was safe and having something just appear on the map can get some fun results. Especially when it happens organically not as a result of the DM saying "Stop. Right hear you encounter a Orc Backstabber!". They just waltz past a column and see it and go "Whoa!". That's how you know the player was actually surprised!
 

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Bunch Bunch the following rant is not directed at or reflective of my thoughts about you.

The lie that GM I wrote about and many others fall into is the idea that all the VTT prep is needed. The idea we need fancy maps, dynamic lighting, the ability move through an entire dungeon or outdoor area or marketplace one square at a time has been sold to people and some have bought it hook, line and sinker. I understand we are playing online and some visual representation is needed in certain cases but a simple white board with some scribbles and possibly tokens can handle that just as well as a map pack for anadventure path. At some point it was decided to start marketing VTTs as board game simulators and some have been hoodwinked by it.

I see a lot more effort being put into terrain and maps in Fantasy Ground and Roll20 than I ever saw when we played in person. I know some groups bought Dwarven Forge or did wonderful DIY stuff but I bet most were like us and used those big roll up maps with the erasable markers.

For those of you that do extensive map and encounter prep in VTTs or “rent” modules on VTTs do you put more effort into that then for face to face games? Would you lose players if you didn’t spend all that time in virtual prep?
I used map tools for my in-person GURPS X-Com game, because I wanted tactical modern/scifi combat over realistic outdoor ranges, and it was completely impractical to do on a physical table. I put a LOT of effort into those maps, more than I have done for any other game, but it was done for a very specific purpose, so that I could run terror missions and UFO assaults that were essentially tactical combat games. The players definitely appreciated it.

Conversely, my Rolemaster campaign had to wrap-up online due to Covid, but I made no use of complex map features there, simply drawing sketches on an electronic whiteboard, just as I was doing for the in-person sessions up to that point.
 

Ravenswing

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Cool. I wonder if we ever crossed paths... I grew up in Concord and Lexington and started gaming at MIT in 1979 and after graduating high school in 1981 I would drop in during the summer and winter breaks.

It really would be nice if somehow someone could resurrect Haven, I really could use the 3rd volume... For my uses though it is nice that the setting is relatively undeveloped. But it's also disappointing that there are all these scenarios that are nowhere near Haven...

Probably not; I was never in the MITSFS crowd. Did my gaming out of UMass-Boston until the mid-80s, when I started doing it out of my home as well. By that point, our crowd was mostly gaming out of our respective apartments.

We'd started work on the third volume of Haven. What I was working on at the time was details on the national government (especially by way of giving Haven an actual hinterland, instead of being just another silly "city-state"). I had in my possession a few typed pages from Janet Trautvetter on trade and economics in the city, and she'd done a good bit of work on the city's general marketplace. Kerry Lloyd's son, as of ten years ago, had some stuff his father had been working on. But that's as far as it went, and four decades on, it's safe to say no one's reassembling it. (Never mind that I was the youngest of the Gamelords writers. We're all of us at or around retirement age.) Since I just up and plunked Haven into my own gameworld, I just wrote in more stuff on my own account for my own uses, and OCRed the two books so I could rewrite the existing material to my own liking.

But as far as the scenarios being nowhere near Haven go, heck, that's perfectly malleable: it's all fiat anyway. If it suits you to stick my own backwoods town of Ashwood -- jungle, silver mine and all -- four days' ride from Haven, why not?
 

Malakor

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I typically make a few notes after a session to remind me what happened, but other than making a list of names, occasional stat blocks and the like, These days, I wing it. I will prep the initial adventure fairly thoroughly and then everything from there is completely dependent upon what the players do during a current session. I have had months long story arcs begin because the players decided to 'see what's over there'.
 

E-Rocker

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For context, I'm running a Savage Worlds Adventure Edition campaign that will hit 3 years of real-life time in September. It's me as GM, plus four local players and one remote player. We play on alternate Fridays and had our 55th session last weekend.

What I prep is... usually not very much, really. Of the 55 sessions in this campaign, there have been three or four where I prepped literally nothing, as far as game content. The first two or three zero-prep sessions went totally fine, and the most recent one, from a couple months ago, fell somewhere on the poor-to-mediocre scale.

What I typically do between sessions is open a Google Doc where I write a recap of the last session. My shortest recaps have been one sentence each, and the longest have been around eight pages. I try to keep them around two pages. Once the recap is done, I post it to the Discord that one of my players kindly made so we can keep all the campaign-relevant documents in one place.

Then I open a new doc where I type up ideas of things that could happen in the next session. These are typically just bullet points that are largely independent of each other. I rarely have any "If X, then Y" situations in my notes.

Most sessions I've got somewhere between 3 and 12 bullet points, but usually I'd guess it's around 8. We usually don't get to all of them in a course of a session. Whatever we don't get to, I either move to the doc for the next session, or just delete if I decide that it wouldn't be fun/relevant/etc.

When I'm coming up with my bullet points, I generally think about where the PCs are, what NPCs would logically be there, and what would those NPCs want? I try to have at least 3 locations & a handful of NPCs in my back pocket for each session. I usually don't bother statting up the NPCs, because I'm pretty confident in my abilities to stat SW NPCs on-the-fly, major bad guys notwithstanding.

If I find myself hurting for ideas, I'll use some of the techniques suggested in an older thread here, like combining the plots from the last four pieces of media I've read/watched, or pulling a Tarot card to get inspired by the picture (I have a Vampirella Tarot deck).

Back when we were all in-person, I would choose some instrumental background music that fit the session's anticipated mood/theme, but I don't do that anymore with one player joining us via the magic of the internet, since it would interfere with the audio too much.

A few days before a session, I'll text my players individually to check if anyone can't make it. Day of, I make sure the guest bathroom has soap, toilet paper, and towels, clear the dining room table, set up my laptop for the remote player, and grab my dice, dice tower, and notes. Usually at this point, I'm thinking I didn't prep enough and should probably do some more, and right around then is when my players start showing up, of course. :happy:
 

Brander

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My online prep has been: Write a blurb about the scenario, email reminders to the players, log into the VTT, check my notes, start game and steal ideas from my players.

Recently back to face to face: Buy a physical copy of the rulebook (SWADE in this case), battlemats, white board and pens,, clipboards, paper and dice, and my notebook or notes for the game. Try to steal ideas from some younger players (like my daughter) who don't share as much.

Notes in all cases being about a page max.

I don't think I have ever run a published adventure in my gaming life (40 ish years). Played them, read them, stolen ideas and maps from many of them at once, but never run them as written.
 

ffilz

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I couldn't even entice players to vampires in Prax... In my 1990s campaign, I tried to entice the players into Hellpits of Nightfang. Should have just run it the way I did in grad school for Cold Iron where it had giant ants boiling out of it and not a vampire in sight...
On another note... Shortly after that, we started a new campaign in Dorastor... :-) (maybe they should have stuck with the original PCs and done the vampire thing...). Dorastor didn't last that long since one of the key players I think was starting to complete his PhD by then. But we were all sort of frustrated by the Dorastor set up. It was a bit of a railroad. I could have made it more of a sandbox, but that would have taken some work.
 

zarion

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I imagine stuff...

I like, daydream about what may happen in the coming sessions. Mostly I think about what the key NPCs will be up to and what is going to happen in the world.

Imaginationland is fun to think about, but then the session happens and the PCs fuck that all up, so, back to the drawing board...
 

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I’m running a homebrew system, so I mostly prep revisions, so we can rebuild everyone’s characters again at the start of the session. :tongue:

Seriously though, I try to avoid that, but it happens (next session is going to be a big one I think). The prep for the session itself is pretty minimal. I have a lightly keyed hex maps and some other locations. If I need details for a new location, I might work on that (or find an appropriate adventure if I think I have one that would fit). When I do sit down to design a dungeon-like area, it can take some time, but I get multiple sessions out of the work (meaning I still get more gameplay time out of it than what I put into it). However, for the most part, I try to rely pretty heavily on content-generating mechanics rather than having every detail prepped (because I would never finish, and it would burn me out).
 

soltakss

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On another note... Shortly after that, we started a new campaign in Dorastor... :-) (maybe they should have stuck with the original PCs and done the vampire thing...). Dorastor didn't last that long since one of the key players I think was starting to complete his PhD by then. But we were all sort of frustrated by the Dorastor set up. It was a bit of a railroad. I could have made it more of a sandbox, but that would have taken some work.
I made Dorastor into a sandbox way before Dorastor Land of Doom came out. I agree that the scenarios were a bit rairoady.
 

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I'm gonna preface this by saying that I really enjoy prep. It's a way for me to engage with my hobby without being around my players and so on. I'm a perma-GM but I'm also pretty introverted, so I like having downtime to fiddle with things between sessions. When I was younger and wasn't as tired out by life, I tended to do prep the hour before, make stuff up on the fly, and just roll with it. We played like that for years. But as I've gotten older I've really gotten into the idea of having an existing world pre-made, with lots of detail, and just letting the players loose and seeing what they do.
I play in person and online, but I put a lot of prep in either way. I play SWN or D&D generally, but this would apply for other games I like like modern games too.
In both cases, I pick an area of my setting that the players are gonna start in. This would be a map from the Wilderlands of High Fantasy for D&D, or something like the Nentir Vale or the Elsir Vale that I've dropped "off the edge" of the wilderlands map. Then I choose a "tentpole" dungeon that will be in the region. That's usually a big megadungeon. So in Valon from the Wilderlands, I dropped in Barrowmaze. In Nentir Vale, I went with Thunderspire Labyrinth. The idea here is to give the players a default place to go that they know they'll find monsters, treasure and stuff going on. Then I look at the surrounding area and put in any homebrew stuff I want to have where it makes sense. And then I look around and fill the rest of the area in with stuff from other adventure modules or whatever. I mostly lift locations and maybe NPCs, and don't worry at all about plotlines or whatever.
Then I make a big list of NPCs with a brief two line description for the different locations.
In person, I try to paint up monsters based on what's in the local area, and I have tokens if I can't manage that in time. I pack up my dungeon tiles, battle mats and minis in an organised way and ready for easy transport. I print out the adventure PDFs and put them in binders organised so they're easy to pull out and use. Once all that prep is done, prepping for any individual session is easy - just think about where the players are, read over any material or notes, and get started!
Online, I make or find maps for all the adventure sites. I actually really enjoy doing this. I'll take black and white maps out of a pdf and colourise them and scrub all the secret doors and numbers off. Then I get tokens for all the inhabitants and drop them onto the maps. I don't bother with coding macros for stuff because I don't find coding to be that fun. And then I do the vision blocking. I really like having the map pre-stocked because I find it a lot easier to run a dynamic dungeon if I can see the layout and all the monsters in front of me, and I'll often leave little notes for myself in the GM layer. I think the kind of play I enjoy (exploration based with a fair bit of combat) really benefits from the vision blocking and dynamic lighting stuff, and I find it worthwhile to do that, but I know it's not for everyone and have played in lots of games without it. I just kinda enjoy it, and it's satisfying to slowly build up my collection of completed dungeons fully stocked and vision blocked as I populate each region in my setting. I also find it really helps me to get to know a dungeon - when I've gone through it and stocked it, I've had to read it pretty closely and it helps me to run the dungeon as a dynamic place and keep everything moving in play without having to look at the key too often.

It's a very front loaded approach, it might take me a month or two of intense work to prep a campaign that way, but then while running it it's really easy. I have been a bit burned out on GMing due to a problem player, so I took a year off and prepped a huge hexcrawl that I'm excited to get into with my online and in person groups. I think when you prep like this the number one thing to remember is that you did the prep because you enjoyed it, and it really doesn't matter if the players never see huge chunks of it. Prep doesn't go off, and I intend to be playing D&D for years to come, so I'm confident I'll end up using nearly all of it at some stage.
 

Paragon

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I know a wide variety of approaches exist. I'm not asking about theoretical session prep. I want to know what you- yes you, the pubgoer reading this- personally prepare when getting ready to run an rpg session.

How do you want it answered when it tends to vary depending on system and campaign? Because it tends to vary considerably dependent on the demands of same.

As a simple example, do I need to actually prep all opponents? I often didn't need to when running Mythras (some generics would do for a lot of things). I usually do in Fragged Empire. And except for reappearances, I almost always did in most superhero games because opponents are so often unique individuals.
 

Jan Paparazzi

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I will generally update and expand my setting. This will generally take an hour a week. Setting creation takes a lot longer, but you will do that only once. When I create a setting I will create different areas, factions, locations and npc's. I will add some hooks/rumors/clues/myths on top of that. The most important thing is to make the areas disctinctive and give the npc's and factions all their own agenda. After that you fill up each area with different locations. This is generally my weak spot, because I am much more of a broad strokes type of guy than a details person.

So in between settings I need to update my info. What changed? Some npc's might have died or disappeared, some might have been added, locations could have been added during play. New organisations might have popped up and the agenda of different npc's or organisations might have changed. So I need to update all of that. Then, because it's a sandbox, I need to add more of the same. More npc's, more factions, more locations and sometimes even some entirely new areas may "unlock" for the players. For me creating an entire sandbox from scratch is a lot of work, so I figured if I keep adding content on a regular basis it would all work out. Another thing that I do is add more depth. Give more details to certain locations, npc's and groups. Add more info on the relations between them. Some things can be fleshed out more. It's a bit like a painting that is never finished.
 

Brock Savage

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What do you- yes you, personally- prep for a session?​

0-4 hours. My prep is typically easy low-stress "filling in the blanks" work, fleshing out ideas, and miniatures.
  • Most of the heavy creative work is front-loaded before I start a campaign.
  • I shamelessly recycle and reskin classic & OSR material.
  • I curate or create solid random tables to generate what I need on the fly (especially NAMES). I don't suggesting relying on RNG to fill up an entire session but they are excellent for "filling in the blanks" to ensure you can generate cool names, events and details on the fly.
 

Brock Savage

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I'm gonna preface this by saying that I really enjoy prep.
Same here! I enjoy prep immensely.

I will say that I do not enjoy VTT prep. It takes a lot of time and involves little creativity or expertise. I could offload the chore to someone else and it wouldn't make much of a difference (I couldn't do that with my regular campaign prep)
 

Eternal Chump

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That's fair - particularly doing Vision Blocking by hand is a bit mindless, but I still enjoy doing it in a weird way. It's a low brainpower activity I can do when I'm tired from my job and stuff that still gives me a feeling of satisfaction and making progress on something hobby related. I don't watch much TV or anything, so I guess that's my version of abnegation at the end of a tiring day.

But I agree it's like a rote task, not creative, and not for everyone. Playing in a campaign at the moment that is online and entirely theatre of the mind, and it's great fun.
 
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