Today, I’m mainly going to be talking to the players at the RPG tables around the world. Here is some advice to you on how to prep for the next RPG session in your campaign. (Note: There are tidbits for the GMs out there as well, so don’t skip the article just because you’re a full-time GM.)
Read the Backstory
One of the most important documents you’ll receive from the GM at the start of a campaign is the brief backstory the GM has put together for you and the other players. The GM has spent their precious time putting this together, so pay some respect to their efforts and read the document.
A note to GMs: Keep your backstory as tight, concise, relevant, and short as possible. While I’m imploring the players to respect your time and efforts, do the same for them. They don’t need a sixteen page treatise on the evolution of the Elvish language you’ve created specifically for the campaign. To be honest, try to keep your relevant details down to two pages. The rest of the world can be explained in-game during exploration and adventuring.
Read the Current Story
If there is a note taker in the group, and they have the ability to share those notes between sessions, then I highly recommend a review of the latest entry of notes the night before (or morning of) the game session that’s coming up. This will allow for the quick recap that happens at most sessions to run more smoothly and be even more quick.
Of course, if the note taker can’t easily share those notes, then it’s incumbent on the note taker to refresh their memories beforehand in order to provide that quick recap before dice get warmed up and rolled.
I’m certain you’ve seen the phrase “system mastery” thrown around quite a bit when it comes to GMs and their responsibility to know the rules, subrules, mechanics, and subgames within the main game in order to run a smooth set of sessions.
For you players, I’m going to advise you to shoot for that same system mastery, but I especially want you to focus in on becoming an absolute expert in everything your character can do. Know your perks, flaws, feats, skills, abilities, spells, powers, stats, equipment, and so on. If you have to, make quick-reference cards for the more detailed or involved items. You’ll find that in making the cards, you’ll be getting closer to that system expertise. Yes, you’ll tend to lean on the GM for advice on how things work, but keep in mind that they have many other concerns at the table beyond how one of your feats or attacks works.
Level Up Your Character
Most games and GMs assume the level up process happens between sessions. This is not always the case, but we’re going to run with it for this section. If you’ve obtained enough experience points, achievements, character points, or whatever it is to measure a significant power up in your character, then take care of that between the games. Don’t show up at the next session and delay the game for everyone else while you figure out what goes up or what new abilities you get. That’s just plain rude and a waste of everyone’s time.
Stay in Touch
With modern technology, it’s super easy to stay in touch between sessions. My personal favorite is Discord, but there are many, many other platforms out there allowing people to connect virtually and asynchronously. If you’re in the midst of gaining system expertise or leveling up your character, this is a great communication method to ask questions of the GM or the other players if you need something clarified or if you need advice.
Along the same lines of staying in touch, when it comes time to arrange the next game, be responsive (within reason) to the “Are we playing Saturday afternoon?” questions and similar things. Don’t leave your group hanging. Let them know you’ll be there. If you can’t be there, let them know as soon as possible. This will allow the group to create plans for an alternate campaign, a one-shot, a board game, or just to cancel completely.
I’ve touched on this already, but if you are unclear about an aspect of the setting, rules, house rules, other characters, or anything printed in official (or GM) materials, get on your Discord channel and ask some questions! Doing this between the sessions is a great chance for the GM to do some additional research, if necessary, and get back to you with a fully-formed and well thought out answer. Yes, sometimes questions come up midgame, so ask those during the session when there is a lull or break in the action. However, if your efforts at system expertise have exposed a flaw or loophole in a house rule, bringing that up while away from the table (or perhaps, at the end of a session) is best.
What other prep do you GMs think players should do? If you’re primarily a player, what prep steps do you take to get ready for a game?
As a player, I made myself a checklist document for both pre- and post-session. Some of it depends on how we’re playing; lately and for a while online so pre-session includes things like open game day browser tabs (Roll20, D&D Beyond char sheet and spells page, etc.), get paper documents to hand, get dice and tray to hand, get snacks and drinks, REVIEW character sheet and previous shared session notes.
Post-session includes update character sheet(s), put things (like dice & tray) away, markup my in game notes so that they can be used to update char sheets with things like renown, personal treasure, people/monsters/businesses my character encountered. I am also the party hoardsperson so I update the party hoardssheet. Lastly is contributing to updating the party’s shared session notes.
Those are great checklists! Thanks for sharing your process with everyone. That’s great stuff that you do for yourself and your group.
Along the lines of reading up on background, if there’s a campaign wiki, player’s guide, or other set of documents that detail characters, locations, and the like please read up on what you’re likely to be involved in next session. Yeah, reading through a 100 page book detailing all the major characters in a city is a lot of work, but if you know you’re going to the governor’s banquet next session, maybe read the entries on the palace, the governor, the other members of her immediate family, and the like. If you’re getting into conflict with a gang, read up about them and their turf. Players can’t be expected to know everything, but the less of the setting that needs to be filled in during play, the more we can actually accomplish.
Also, figure out what you want to do. This varies heavily depending on the GM and the style of game they’re running, but knowing the things you personally want to accomplish as well as what you think the party should do next can be incredibly helpful. The sooner you talk about this with one another, the more time the GM has to prep interesting content or fill in some of those vaguely-sketched out details.
I completely agree that having a plan or goal or set of motivations for your character is vital for assisting the GM in hooking you into the storylines and arcs that they create for the group as a whole.
For the research side of things…. I think that’ll depend on your style of character, style of table play, and the feel the GM is going for. If the entire group is a collection of “poor dirt farmers” that are unexpectedly invited to visit the governor’s banquet, the group probably wouldn’t have a lick of knowledge about the nobility, so doing reading as a player might provide spoilers or “meta game” information that might reduce the fun. Again, this all comes down to the style of play you have within the story you’re telling at the table and the game play approach the group takes.
Thanks for the comments!