Sometimes we fail to see the forest for the trees.

I have found myself so caught up in trying to perfect one particular aspect of my game that I blinded myself to the whole of the game itself. It is easy to become focused and obsessed on a few details that seem oh so important the night before the game, but that really are not deserving of so much attention.

A few of the monumental wastes of my time in the pursuit of perfection have been centered upon:

  • Props
  • Maps
  • Terrain
  • Miniatures
  • Online Resources
  • Pictures
  • Descriptions
  • Stats
  • Accents

This is just a short list. The complete list probably rivals the United States Federal tax code.

I take pride in my games. I want every single detail to be a contributing factor to an amazing experience for the players. If you are going to be a GM, then be the best GM that you can possibly be, right?

Unfortunately that desire to be the best can sometimes steer us down the path to failure. If I spend an hour in a dollar store debating internally with myself about which of two different types of plastic skulls will be the better prop (yes, I can get that ridiculously obsessed about this stuff) I am hurting my game and not helping it.

Hell, I am just hurting myself in general when I become that narrowly focused!

Why do I occasionally develop this OCD intense fixation for a relatively minor aspect of my games? Because I fool myself into thinking that this one tiny detail is going to be the magic ingredient that puts the game over the top and make the session legendary! That is why I will become completely oblivious to the idea that I can simply buy both of those stupid plastic props for $2 and obsess back in the comfort of my own home as to which one I will use for the game. Instead I tend to stand in the store aisle looking like a moron who cannot comprehend what a Halloween decoration is.

In my head choosing the right prop, or piece of terrain, or miniature, or what color the BBEG’s cloak is, or <insert trivial detail here> is the most important decision I have to make so that my next game is pure awesome bottled in excellence and sealed with amazing.

Thus I can easily waste an hour of my life on such frivolous details in preparing for my game. An hour that I can spend preparing other materials for the game. An hour I can spend with my kids. An hour I can spend with my wife.

What kind of idiot spends an hour deciding on what cheap trinket would be best to buy for their game instead of going home and spending a lovely, and probably much more enjoyable, hour with the love of their life?

Me. I am that idiot.

Or at least I used to be that idiot. I am probably still an idiot in regards to other aspects of my life (okay, “probably” is being kind to myself), but I no longer allow myself to get hooked up on these types of details with my games.

See, I realized that what I was really doing was procrastinating. I was focusing on something trivial instead of tackling the more difficult parts of my game prep work, or as Gnome-In-Chief Martin puts it “letting the perfect be the enemy of the done”. Once I understood why I was taking so long to make such minor decisions, I created a little rule for myself to follow:

I cannot spend any more time on a detail that is greater than the amount of spotlight time that detail will receive at the table.

Note that I specifically said “spotlight time.” It does not matter if that miniature is on the table for the entire night’s worth of gaming. If that miniature is only going to receive five minutes worth of reaction time from my players, then I should not spend more than five minutes of time deciding on which miniature to use in order to get that reaction.

This simple guideline helps me to keep focused on what is really important for the game. It helps me to catch myself avoiding the real work of the game. It helps me to keep my hobby from taking over my life. This rule keeps my game “profitable” because it prevents me from spending more effort than is needed in pursuit of the potential rewards.

Time I can instead spend with my wife. Hubba-hubba.

Some of you might not have this problem, and thus this article is not of great use to you. Hopefully you found it amusing in some way, but I understand if you would have preferred 1,000 words on NPC creation instead.

But to those of you who can relate, and I know that you are out there from many a gaming convention dealer room visit, I hope that you will adopt my “prep time < spotlight time” formula. It will keep you on track with your preparations if you stick to it, and it will help you to discover what game prep work really matters to your group.

If you are brave enough, please feel free to share your stories about your own Game Preparation Obsession Syndrome (or GPOS for short) Ask your physician how Gnome Stew may be right for you in the treatment of GPOS. Side effects include numbness to edition wars and a preference for wearing kilts.