If you’ve ever obsessively stalked me, you may have noticed an interesting pattern. Here at my bio, it states: “Matt fights on ongoing battle with GMing ADD, leaving his to-do list littered with the broken wrecks of half-formed campaigns, worlds, characters, settings, and home-brewed systems.” And every year, I post a “garage sale” article of the campaigns that I thought up but never actually used for one reason or another. And of course if you just browse my general article list you’ll notice two overarching themes: Articles about making yourself a bunch of unnecessary work and articles about streamlining and simplifying other aspects of your work.
And so, after only twenty-four years of GMing, I finally had my Eureka! moment last week when I was having a flash of inspiration about yet another campaign I will never run. I thought: “Man! That seems like a Lot of work.” That’s when it hit me. There’s a LOT of work in GMing and the more work involved, the less likely it is that the work will be completed before the initial “honeymoon” rush of excitement about the campaign fades. The more work, the more likely a GM has of contracting GM burnout, the more likely they will just not bother, and the more likely that real life constraints will impact prep time.
Thinking on this problem, I realized that I had been working at making less work for myself with templates and similar approaches for years. What if, I wondered, I simply disallowed myself from doing too much work? What if I allowed myself only the bare minimum? This would necessitate a streamlining of my prep, cutting it down to the bare essentials. No longer would I have to worry about the population density of goblin tribes, because there just isn’t room for that in my notes! Thus was born the One Page Prep System. The One Page Prep System is simply this: You are only allowed to prep a single side of an 8.5 x 11 page for each session (or the electronic equivalent). This means you essentially are limited to a 5 room dungeon every session and NO campaign prep, because there simply isn’t bandwidth for anything more.
But, I quickly discarded The One Page Prep System (though you’re welcome to use it if you like) in favor of The Two Page Prep System. I probably don’t have to explain how that one works. Here’s why I like the Two Page Prep System better. First, it gives you more to work with while still not being an overwhelming amount of work to do. Anyone can knock out a pair of pages in a few hours. Second, it gives you more flexibility. While my general approach is to use one page for campaign prep and one for the session’s adventure, if I wanted to run a larger adventure, I could dedicate both pages to the adventure, and skip campaign development. If I wanted to re-use old material (the last session ended on a cliffhanger or the characters are revisiting an old location for example) I could devote both pages to campaign development.
Expanding the Two Page Prep System, either because your system is more complex than mine (I’m using Microlite20 Legacy RPG specifically for it’s simplicity), because you’ve “outgrown” two pages, or because you need, want and can handle more pages is easy: Add more pages! However, be sure to create essential pages (necessary to the session) first. That way if you decide you’ve had enough, you can just walk away, no regrets.
Here are scans of my startup prep for my current campaign (I’m actually running it! I’ve had a session! More on the way!) so you can see the system in action. Click through for larger size.