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Refinement Prep

“Refinement prep” is the final stage of game prep for an RPG — the part where you:

One of the problems I have with prep is that I tend to either procrastinate, which means I don’t get time for this important (and easily overlooked) stage of the process, or that I drill down to this stage on a couple of prep elements (maps [1], for example) but skip the stuff I really shouldn’t skip for all the other elements.

Refinement prep always seems like a luxury to me, but it shouldn’t be — two of the other GMs in my group always include this step, and it shows in the quality of their games. How important is refinement prep to you? Do you have an overall prep strategy that ensures you have enough time for this stage?

(I’m at GenCon from Wednesday, August 15th through Sunday, August 19th — two trips in a row makes for a busy month! As before, there will be a new post every day, but I won’t be able to respond to comments or reply to emails. I’ll be back with a full report next week — have a good time without me! — Martin

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#1 Comment By Frost On August 15, 2007 @ 8:01 am

I set aside at least one hour on game day for refinement prep. During that time, I’ll look for things that could use a bit more attention. I’ll make or refine props. Make sure I’ve got stat blocks for all the encounters. If I come across a feat or spell that I’m not completely sure about, I’ll print it out from the SRD.

If there is any time left over, I’ll draw out the first encounter area on my flip mat and then review the adventure.

#2 Comment By Sarlax On August 15, 2007 @ 8:36 am

I’ve got a 30 minute drive to our gaming area, which is usually followed by a 30 minute wait for dinner and chat to catch on each other’s weeks. By the time we begin, it’s been 90 minutes after I’ve left my place. I put a lot of that time into thinking about the game I’ve prepared for the evening.

I run through the major encounters in my mind, thinking of ways they can end up differently than how I’ve imagined them. I’m usually doing this as I listen to some instrumental soundtrack such as Gladiator or Lord of the Rings (both of which, by the way, I find to be excellent ways to get in the right frame of mind – as those battle sequences come up, I automatically begin thinking of how those challenges will be resolved).

By the time I’ve finished driving, I’ve usually dropped, added, or completely reworked at least one encounter in my head. Once we sit down to play, there’s a chance I’ve done that again with another. It’s like writing a paper; at the last minute, I always give it another read and I always find something that I can do differently, and better.

It’s really very important to go through this final stage of prep. An adventure, like an essay or piece of art, is effectively a submitted work: you’re ‘turning it in’ to your players and hoping you get a good grade (that your players have fun). Unlike writing and art, though, it’s rough getting your work as a game master peer-reviewed. Your players can’t edit your adventure before they’re in it and even other GMs don’t know your world and players well enough to be perfect editors. At best, you can solicit feedback from your players at the end and use that information to go through an informed self-editing process the next time.

#3 Comment By Carolina aka Troy Taylor On August 15, 2007 @ 9:00 am

My “refinement prep,” which I’ve always referred to as a mental “rehearsal” takes place the night before I game.

The one thing I always focus on is NPC dialog, or if the session will be combat heavy, npc/monster tactics in a crucial battle.

Oh, and picking just the right mini from my collection to represent the little beasties.

#4 Comment By Yax On August 15, 2007 @ 10:12 am

I ask the player to tell me what happened during the previous game. It gives me a good idea of what they liked, the clues they missed, and how pumped up they are.

#5 Comment By bignose On August 15, 2007 @ 4:52 pm

Before leaving to go to the game (or while waiting for players to arrive), I make sure that each prepared NPC has a distinctive voice — and I actually perform each voice with some typical dialogue a little to make sure I can do them without cracking.

I also make sure I have the opening scene rehearsed, and (where it makes sense) the final scene we’ll do that session. The latter is far less predictable of course; but the former is essential, to give the players the best chance to get into the game session.

#6 Comment By Martin On August 21, 2007 @ 7:37 am

Oooh, mental rehearsals make a lot of sense — I don’t think I’ve ever made that connection before.

Sarlax, any interest in turning your comment into a guest post (or in letting me use it as one without any expansion)? Drop me a line if you’re interested.

#7 Pingback By Using TT to Prep for a Game: A Case Study – Treasure Tables On September 6, 2007 @ 8:32 am

[…] I’m doing OK on budgeting my time so far, and I’m printing off sheets, creating the soundtrack and doing other stuff in parallel with reading the book and doing more general prep (plus using my mental back burners). I’m also setting aside time this Saturday (the game’s in the evening) for refinement prep — a stage I forget, of put off until it’s too late, all too often. […]