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A Return To Prep-Lite

I was running out of time to prep my games. Sounds almost ironic from the guy who wrote Never Unprepared, but it was true. Things have changed in my life, and my ability to prep was straining against my dwindling free time. I had maximized the usage of my time, and I simply had less time to prepare than before. It was time to re-evaluate the way I prep and evolve my prep to meet my new life situation.

Prep-Lite you say?

Four years ago, I began to write a series of articles on a theme I called Prep-Lite, culminating with the Prep-Lite Manifesto [1]. The philosophy was fairly simple:

The goal of Prep-Lite is to trim your prep down to the essentials, while at the same time making sure you have what you need behind the screen to be comfortable running your sessions.

My Old System

After coming up with the idea four years ago, I followed this philosophy and was able to greatly streamline my prep to something more manageable. My prep had the following structure for a bi-weekly game:

Note- these terms are from Never Unprepared [2], where they are discussed in greater detail.

For the past few years this system has served me well, and has allowed me to get my games prepped while still being able to spend time doing other things – and without feeling rushed.

Things Change

The past year has been one of the busiest years I have ever had. A number of things fell into place and new opportunities opened up for me including:

The end result, as you can imagine, is that my free time dried up. My past prep system was being encroached upon by recordings, writing deadlines, and games. Soon I was feeling the crunch to get something ready for both games.

Re-Visiting Prep-Lite

In order to continue GMing the two games I had committed to running, my prep needed to undergo a change and evolve to meet my new lifestyle. I revisited the concept of Prep-Lite and began to evaluate what was in my prep, along with what could be changed. After some reflection I began to develop a new system. Here is how the system evolved:

Not All Games Were Equal

The hardest part of this journey was to realize that in my current situation, not every game was going to be good for me to run. Games that had complex rules, complex settings, or story structures that needed attention to detail (i.e. mysteries) were going to be difficult to prepare. I needed games which were lighter systems, and if possible minimized the need for prep by placing greater emphasis on the action of the players at the table. I found myself moving towards the following systems:

What could go?

I began to look at what was in my current notes, with an eye on what I would be able to remove. My improvisational skills had improved greatly in the past year through my playing and GMing a number of the games listed above. With that increase in skill and confidence I dropped the following from my notes:

What would stay?

Not everything I was doing was wasteful, and I looked over what I had in my notes and confirmed the following things needed to be included:

What was added?

I also found myself doing a few things that were helpful, which I picked up from other game systems. I liked these enough to include them into my overall prep:


Making a few changes in what I was writing and omitting was not going to be enough. The biggest changes I needed to make were in the overall workflow for my prep. With the changes above, I was able to structure my prep into the following workflow:

Did It Work

It sure did. Having used the new system now for the past few months, I have the confidence that my shorter prep cycle as well as the lesser amount of documentation is more than enough to run an enjoyable game. It has allowed me to juggle a very complex schedule at home, and still keep the commitments to the players in both groups.

Looking Around and then Within

Improvement occurs through periodic evaluation of the things around us, coupled with introspection of the things within us. All systems become outdated as things change in our lives, or in ourselves. When we notice that things are not working as well as they used to, we need to stop and look around, and then make adjustments to get things working smoothly.

Have you had to change your prep style due to a change in your life? What did you change? How did the change work, in the long run?

11 Comments (Open | Close)

11 Comments To "A Return To Prep-Lite"

#1 Comment By John Fredericks On July 31, 2014 @ 8:14 am

Phil, this is a great article. In fact, I planned on detailing how I do some of the same things (and some different things), but decided I better save that for myself. Maybe I can milk an article out of it myself.

Also, thanks for the heads up on FATE. I was looking at FATE just yesterday, but now you’ve given me the push to actually sit down and read it, and maybe get a hard copy.

#2 Comment By Wookie Steve On July 31, 2014 @ 10:07 pm

John Might I recommend Atomic Robo by Evil Hat games, as a good Fate intro. I read Fate core and other Fate games but it wasn’t until I read Robo that it all clicked.

#3 Comment By black campbell On July 31, 2014 @ 10:29 pm

I also liked what they did with Atomic Robo.

#4 Comment By Phil Vecchione On July 31, 2014 @ 8:17 am


I love articles about managing prep, especially when people have busy lives. The more advice about how to keep getting games prepped, keeps more busy people in the game.

As for Fate, if you want to hear more about Fate and Aspects, we did a show about them at Misdirected Mark: [5]

Give it a listen.

#5 Comment By Airk On July 31, 2014 @ 9:40 am

Perhaps humorously, I found the most valuable part of this article to be the stuff you had already figured out – the idea of “prepping around your strengths” is a very smart one that hadn’t entirely solidified in my brain.

#6 Comment By drow On July 31, 2014 @ 9:45 am

[3] [3] [3] [3] [3] 😉

#7 Comment By Phil Vecchione On July 31, 2014 @ 1:43 pm

Fixed. Thanks for the catch.

#8 Comment By Martin Ralya On July 31, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

Awesome. My free time has dwindled as well, so I appreciate seeing you revisit approaches I’m familiar with from the Stew and NU. Great article!

#9 Comment By Scott Martin On August 1, 2014 @ 9:56 am

I appreciate “prep-even lighter” and the clear demonstration that applying thought can solve intractable problems.

Is there any relief coming up–someone itching to run a game you’ll enjoy playing in for one of your groups?

#10 Comment By SmokestackJones On August 3, 2014 @ 4:00 pm

Good read, Phil my now-podcast-comrade. 😉

I read Never Unprepared and it has given me some good tips and ideas about streamlining prep and so does this article.

BTW, the one thing that helped/helps me to outline an adventure is from the old (unfortunately OOP) Dream Park RPG that Mike Pondsmith produced through R. Talsorian games. In the back he shows you how to use “beat charts” to outline your adventure. I still use it to this day and I recommend it to any GM who needs a framework to hang an adventure on. If you can find a copy, by all means grab it.


#11 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On September 18, 2014 @ 10:51 am

I’m going to dig deeper into Aspects… Thanks!