Having no intention of running a game in 2012, I did not craft an entry for our New Year, New Game event — hopefully you did! — so imagine my surprise walking out of last week’s game discussion with a new campaign to plan. Did I mention it’s based on a licensed property that I’m only passingly familiar with and two players who dwarf my knowledge? Oh, and we’re starting chargen this weekend. Just another day in the GM’s chair?

Prep For Success

Whether you’ve never been behind the screen before or an old pro, you may find yourself in a similar position. This isn’t about improvisation, it’s about making use of an accelerated prep timeline and focusing on the important few.

  • Make a list of exactly what will be done in the first session and you need to have ready. In this case we’re doing character generation. That means being familiar with the creation rules, not necessarily the entire rules set or combat.
  • Strive to meet those minimum requirements and, if time allows, then expand into what you’ll need to know for sessions 2+. Don’t spend time on, say, the experience or advancement rules yet.
  • In the case of a setting or backstory you’re not familiar with, lean on your campaign guide or online resources. Most campaign or players’ guides strive to compact the essence of “what is this game about?” into a concise summary. You don’t need to be an expert but you do need to have a common foundation and language to work from.
  • If someone else in your group is familiar or has knowledge of the game then utilize them to help spread the workload and explain it to other players (or you!).
  • Online resources continue to be an excellent way to help shave time off your prep. Handouts, logs, spreadsheets, etc can bring relief to your limited timeline.
  • Have a plan to get ahead of the prep; being just one session ahead isn’t a sustainable model for success in most cases and will sap your energy.
  • When the rubber hits the road for that first session, consider a pre-created one. Introductory adventures tend to be well-tested, contain a number of newbie-friendly hooks (good for you as well), and are character-neutral. That is to say, they tend to work of all characters. Later sessions can focus on your newly-created PCs. It’s easier to read an adventure designed for new campaigns and GM/players rather than writing your own under the gun.
  • Don’t be afraid to pull the eject handle. If, in the first session, you get up to where you were able to prep, don’t be afraid to stop. End the session, explain that you’re as far as you were able to prep, and setup for the next session. That’s better than trying to stumble ahead, ill-prepared; and your players will see it, too.

Again, none of this is improvisation, just good time management.

What’s That Game?

As mentioned in the lead-in, I was a little surprised to walk away having to plan for a campaign for the A Song of Ice and Fire RPG, aka A Game of Thrones. Beyond the HBO miniseries and the first novel, a setting I’m not intimately familiar with. The system roughly the same, although I’ve been researching it for the past month as a potential Birthright replacement, something we’ve been eager to play but not saddled with the D&D rules.

Fortunately the first session will be all about House creation and the setting’s default state is just prior to the first book, alleviating some of the prep concerns for only have a week to begin. But all of this is rather academic when confronted with excited and engaged players. It doesn’t feel like work at all!

Any tips to share about a quick game prep turnaround? Share below! Also, want to toss a Gnome a bone (or halfling)? Give me your Game of Thrones campaign ideas!