So Much Prep, So Little Time

Things are going well in my gaming world. Almost too well. With the advent of TheOtherCast, I’ve added hours of audio editing to my day job work, other writing, and game prep. I only run games every other week, which is good, but that’s about to change. In addition to the Star Wars game that I record for the podcast, I’m going to start a likely-once-a-month Planescape game. I figure that about a week out from the first session of that game would be a good time to talk about getting a new game going with all the other stuff going on.

Why Add Another Game?

One of the first things that’s useful to consider when you’re looking at starting a new game is a very basic question: why? Sometimes it’s because you’ve got a game idea that you can’t let go of. Others, it’s your players coming to you with a game idea they’d like to play, but there’s no one to run. Maybe you’ve got no game currently and you just need to scratch that itch.

In my case, I got a comment on one of the early episodes of the podcast asking if there were any women playing in the game. The person asking found it difficult to listen to a bunch of dudes. Makes sense to me. We do normally have at least one woman in our regular games, but she’s not able to be part of the Star Wars game due to scheduling. That got me thinking about a way I could add a game to the podcast that gave some more diversity.

That also brings up another reason for the new game, one that’s pretty particular to me: I’d like to have more than the one Star Wars game on the podcast. I’ve got plans for this podcast, and I want to see where I can take it. To that end, I’m working to add more content to the feed. In addition to the Planescape game, we’re also going to record a game that I’m not running. That’ll be a nice change of pace, as playing is a different beat than prepping and running. (I’ll still be editing the audio, though.)

Whatever your reasons for adding another game, make sure that they’re either reasons that will sustain your interest in running the game, or that you plan for a short campaign (or even one-shot). GMing is a lot of work. If you’re not feeling it, it’s really easy to burn out and then the game fizzles.

What’ll Get the Job Done?

When you’re busy and running a game, you need to use your time wisely. Everyone uses a different prep style, and learning what works best for you is key to getting your game up and running in short order. So, here are some preliminary steps that I’ve done:

  1. Know the System and Setting
    If you don’t have a good grip on both of these things, then you’re setting yourself up to fail. Obviously, you have to take your players’ preferences into account, too, but make sure you do what’s good for you. If you need to learn the ins and outs of a new setting or system, look to find a primer online, or take time to talk to other players or GMs that know those things better. Also - if you’ve got a player who knows either of these things better than you, talk to them ahead of time and empower them to help you at the table.I know I’ve talked about the importance of knowing a system, and I always feel that a good story is the most-needed thing. However, if you don’t know how the basic mechanics work, the game’s more likely to clunk. No one wants to clunk.

    In my case, I know and love Planescape, so that’s one of the hurdles down. For the other part, I talked to my players and we’ll likely use Fate for this game. It suits our playstyle well, and I know the system well enough to be able to improvise anything (story or mechanics) on the fly. It’s a good combo for us.

  2. Make the Basic Notes You Need
    The image for this post is what’s sometimes referred to as a “hipster PDA.” I hate that name with a passion, but I find the most useful thing for my session prep is a stack of index cards, a sharpie or nice black pen, and a binder clip. (USB cable for syncing your recordings to your computer is optional).I make all of the necessary notes on my cards and use the binder clips to keep them all together. I’ll make the following cards for easy reference:

    • One card for each character with basic bio and stat info.
    • One card for each major set piece or area play will happen in. Use Aspect-type descriptions for ease.
    • Same for NPCs. No need for a ton of stats, just make sure you know who these characters are. Voice notes are helpful if you find yourself giving them a distinct sound.
    • Adventure/session notes – Just a thumbnail sketch of what could happen and the plot points. This is the framework I can riff on during the session.
    • Recap notes – If I’m a few sessions in (and because I’m lucky enough to be able to listen back to previous sessions, rather than taking notes during), I’ll make some notes about what happened before so both the players and I don’t get lost.
  3. Grab Any Stats You Need
    If you need to make sure that you have stats for NPCs or enemies, make that info readily accessible for you during game. Mark the pages of the Monster Manual, write the basics down on other index cards, or whatever you need to do.For the games I’m running, I use the Fantasy Flight NPCs cards for all those stats and just pull the ones I need at the start of each session. For Planescape, I’ll likely end up coming up with the stats on the fly, as that’s really easy for me to do in Fate; I just jive with it.
  4. Get Your Mind Right
    When you’re busy, whatever the reason, it can be really easy to rush from work to home to dinner to game and not be in the right mental space to bring the fun to your players. If you can at all, take 10 or 15 minutes before you leave to just relax your mind and clear yourself out. GMing is hard work and you should come into it ready to give the best you can to your players. And for your own peace of mind, take that time. When you’re rushed, it’s super-easy to look at GMing as just another chore. That can sour you on the good times. Take some time, center yourself, and come to game as ready for fun as you can.

Mind the Basics

Some of this stuff might seem simple, but I find myself forgetting any of it at any given time. What works best for me as a GM is coming back to the fundamentals on a regular basis. If I don’t, I get too into my own head and I forget to do some relatively simple things that will make my games so much better. I find revisiting good advice a very good idea. To that end, I’m gonna recommend you check out a book that echoes some of what I’ve said here. Sly Flourish’s The Lazy Dungeon Master is a good, solid read for low-impact prep. Go check it out.

As well, I’m always on the lookout for new ideas. If you’ve got suggestions, leave them in the comments.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go edit some podcast audio.