Preparation is key. Many know that good prep just makes the game run smoother, take less dead-end detours, and accomplish the ultimate goal: to facilitate a good time. Why would one ever rush something so important? Well, there’s this concept called procrastination and I’m certainly not immune. I’d be lying if I said that there weren't moments where I scrambled together a plot hook and gathered random game mechanics mere moments before call time. Planning weekly one shots as a method of keeping in touch with friends from four different time zones may have been a bit unrealistic…. Regardless, whether you forgot game night was around the corner or you’re looking for a way to cut down on the busy work, these are some methods and systems that may make orchestrating a game less of a pain and more of a gain. Use the Chaos to Your Advantage Who’s the drama? You're the drama. While some lapses in information reveal straightway the GM has no idea what’s going on, some missing details can add mystery and intrigue if you introduce it into your narration creatively: “The miniature dragon revealed that villagers had been acting strangely since the appearance of the ‘Fallen’ two nights ago.” Who are the fallen? Although this hasn't been established prior, this can now be attributed to any of the other characters at a point when you need to add ~spice~.
Be honest and open if there is no more information to be given and the Players and be comfortable understanding there may be dead ends. Being confident in your scenarios but also recognizing they aren’t boundless will allow for more worthwhile gameplay. See this as an opportunity to flex those improv and storytelling muscles. Trial by fire, jumping off the deep end can lead to some surprising results.
Use Absolutely Everything I like to put my existing resources in a blender and press Pulse. Make a homebrew Religion smoothie. Many 5E Adventures can be ripped apart, Frankensteined with another and put back together again. No resource needs to be used as originally intended and even changing one element can have very different effects. Make the villains the good guys, shift the tone, make items that were available to all available to a select character. Got a spare tablet? I’ve seen GMs use programs like Procreate to map out the setting, adding in details and markers while the PCs navigate the space, using it live in the game. Any similar drawing program can be a god-send for those quick visual aids and make it seem like you’ve had this set up from the get go. (Add a premade grid for keeping track of distance) Along with a folder on your computer of necessary stats, premade and homebrewed items, and NPCs, you’ll look like you’ve got everything well in hand. Don’t forget to use yourself as a resource, perhaps you have a knack for something that might come in handy. My friend regularly drafts floor plans for work so it’s safe to say they’re comfortable handling the maps and town layouts. Another is an accomplished musician so they make the mood-setting playlist. If you’re a little bit newer to running a campaign and need a few practicable resources to supplement your gameplay, checkout this post for those just entering the self-sacrificial world of GMing: Top 5 Tips for New GMs
Full Immersion This is a good switch to flip throughout the week if you know you’ll be prepping a game. Time spent watching sci-fi movies, reading fantasy novels, scrolling FlipBoard or Pinterest for unique architecture pays dividends. The surroundings flood me with information which I’m then able to remember right off the top of the head in the speedy prep sesh. An example of this at work: Playing Grand Theft Auto may have prompted me to implement a game mechanic where each time players engage in conflict throughout the village, I progressively fill a preset meter. When that meter is full, the guards (cops for GTA) are alerted and full-scale combat commences. If you need to describe something, pull from a place or character you’ve already seen. It will be more like pulling from solid memory instead of foggy abstract imagination. Let Your Players Do the Work For goodness sake, Delegate! Divvy up the chores. You may notice that roles amongst the players can actually form rather organically but a few ways you can delegate range from having a liaison between the GM and the players, vocalizing group action, or having a master of the maps - someone in control of placement, and pieces on the table. Players with responsibilities may have the added effect of making them more comfortable with acting out scenes if they’ve already been helping orchestrate. Besides relieving you from hours of talking, this allows the players to feel a bit more agency and in possession of more information than they may have. A Note on Not Beating Yourself Up Too Bad Worldbuilding can be an artform in itself. It provides the backdrop, the canvas and like any artform, getting it right takes practice, and a little elbow grease if we’re being honest. Don’t let that intimidate you, while GMing by its nature takes time, these few pointers can give you the upper hand moments before the game. If all else fails and if this is your first meet up, you can label it a ‘session zero’: a prep session for character sheets, tone of the game, and also a sly way to build a little more excitement for the impending game. Let go of the little inane details and know that adventure comes out of an understanding that the Players will ultimately decide their own plot, the GM facilitating the encounters or scenarios. Give it the good ‘ole “KISS,” AKA: Keep it simple, stupid! While this may give you an idea of how to gather your thoughts before the game, it is not exhaustive by any means. Check out more of our articles for other great ideas on saving time as GM.
What your best tip for cutting down on the game prep? Let me know in the comments below!