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Philotomy

How do you prep?

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When you're prepping an adventure (for your own use, not for publication), how do you approach it?

Do you write everything up like the (excellent) descriptions in something like Snake Pipe Hollow? Or do you just make a few notes? How complete are the stat blocks you use when you prep? What do you consider essential, and what is just extra work? Sandbox? Storyline/Plot? Or Just Situation? Do you tend to make maps, or use a flowchart, or just have events and wing the physical locations? Do you write up separate NPC lists (especially combat lists)? Et cetera.

Just curious about how much variation there is in peoples' approaches.

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For me it depends on how much time I have. I try to write up as much detail and info as possible, but the time constraints of a weekly session tend to limit what I can accomplish before gaming night.

I usually start with an idea or two, then put together a short (2 page or so) storyline, with another page or so for game stats, and a map. At one time I focused heavily on the NPC stats and tactical stuff, but over the years, that's changed to focusing more on the story, and even the dialog. In play the bad guy's lines tend to stick with the players and is more important than his actual stats.

But if I got time for prep work, I'll use it and write up as much as possible.

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I tend to get a plotline together so I know who is doing what to whom but after that it gets a bit less firm. What I do is cut and paste a few stat blocks into a document for the likely creatures/monsters so I have a reference sheet rather than having to do lookup in a book. I can also check off hits etc., on this semi-scrap sheet as needed. Personalities I tend to outline in terms of motives traits etc., often without a full stat block if I don't think combat is likely - If it does happen I can usually fudge the stats quickly enough.

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For me, it's a one page of bullet points, perhaps with a little bit of description for major ones.

Any NPCs are statted up in very vague terms (HPs, weapon skills, basic spells) as they probably won't last more than a couple of rounds anyway.

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Bullet points.

I have a few episodes, most of them connected by storyline. They are triggered during play by being at certain places, meeting certain people, and so on. The rest is filled in by the players during play. I think this makes the most entertaining adventures, since the players have very big impact on the story, and I do not really know what is going to happen.

To do this, I need quite a good grip on the city/environment the characters are in, to be able to improvise. It´s therefore best if I have created the environment myself.

I don´t like railroad-games.

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I try to end every game session with a little Q&A with the players so I can be certain where they are planning to go and what they want to do during the next session. For me this is an important step because I've been burned too many times by planning out one thing and the players decide they want to do something else entirely come game day. Far better to be sure than to assume.

Aside from that I'm fairly prep-lite these days. Mostly just a few bullet points to highlight whats important. However, I do spend a lot of time between sessions thinking about descriptions of scenes and NPCs, but I rarely write any of it down.

I recycle NPC statistics shamelessly and as far as I'm aware my players have never noticed. Its really the little details that make the NPCs memorable and that is the kind of thing I think about while I'm at work, watching t.v., or whenever.

I only use maps if I'm expecting a lengthy and tactical combat. Short combats are usually just TotM. I also recycle maps shamelessly, but may change some details to help make the area a little more memorable.

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I tend to work out the overall aim and plot and sort of bullet point it. Then focus on campaign critical sections with a lot more detail, sometimes plotting out conversations that important NPCS have, or catch phrases, or affectations. Once I know this I almost always look at the map and try to anticipate what might be in some of the locations that the players can get to that are outside the scenario. A detailed map can offer all sorts of unexpected adventure. I have an excel sheet for generating random monsters and people stats so most things get statted, but I also churn out lots of stats that I only might need.

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When you're prepping an adventure (for your own use, not for publication), how do you approach it?

Do you write everything up like the (excellent) descriptions in something like Snake Pipe Hollow?

Sometimes, not often.

Or do you just make a few notes?

Yes.

How complete are the stat blocks you use when you prep?

Complete enough that I never wonder what an NPC has to roll.

What do you consider essential, and what is just extra work?

Knowing how the setting works, and who the NPCs are, including their plans. The rest is extra work.

Sandbox?

Basically, yes, though to me, that's the same as Situation;).

Storyline/Plot?

No, unless the NPCs having plans and pre-determined relationships counts as a plot.

Or Just Situation?

See "Sandbox";).

Do you tend to make maps, or use a flowchart, or just have events and wing the physical locations?

No maps except those I find with Google.

Flowcharts see limited use. But mostly, physical locations are described according to what I think makes sense IC. OOC reasons don't come into play.

Do you write up separate NPC lists (especially combat lists)? Et cetera.

Yes, but as I use simplified NPC tracking method, a score NPCs easily fit on half a page. That's complete with major Passions.

Just curious about how much variation there is in peoples' approaches.

Well, the variation is simply enormous:D! I know full well many people prepare in quite different manners.

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Depends. I love to hack stuff together for BRP and scribble down write ups in various notebooks which I then strew around in hard to find places. I occasionally like to read published adventures and will sometimes even study them and run them as is. All that prep work is just to keep me encaged with ideas though.

I used to really over prepare for game time. I started picking up short cuts here and there. Some things can actually be traced to sources, like a thread Shannon Appel once posted about his Young Kingdoms game over in RPGNet or Charles Green's mook rules from Gods of Law. A bit that Moorcock wrote about his process of churning out books in a ridiculously short amount of time.

A lot of this is informed by my experience doing story telling structured improv theater (as opposed to jokey 'Who's Line is it?' stuff) and the process of making no budget short films. Mostly, this is informed by the realization that I have a wife, children and obligations that are just going to eat up prep time.

For a game I often just take a simple premise, one or two sentences at the most. Then I write down a list of names, places, phrases or unexpanded upon ideas and inspiration words and roll with it.

When an NPC gets introduced I might flip through the book to find someone from the Digest or I might just give them three skills and a descriptor like Strong, Smart, Devious, whatever. I assign skill % in the 30, 60, 90, 120 range usually and select HP and Damage Bonus if there's a fit. Everything else can be determined retroactively if the NPC actually becomes someone important.

I use a very simple metric to make up Sorcery spell effects as needed in the game. Again, something that can be figured out retroactively in case the players want to emulate the effects of the big bad guy. Unfortunately, I'm not nearly as comfortable with the other powers systems. If it's not Sorcery, I need to spend some time to get my head around the ramifications. I plan on rectifying that soon with the Magic/Wizardry rules though.

When needed, I pull up a blank map. I think it's incredibly fun to discover the story with the players and to challenge myself by incorporating the lists that I have made. Ultimately, I think taking in the players at the table and building on their enthusiasms and fears is a fun place to be. Letting go of my preconceptions on how a session is going to run and enjoying the ride is a tough thing to do, but worthwhile, I think.

Then there's the whole concept of rping being a shared medium. Often times, it's not necessarily what happens at the table that is important but rather how it's talked about afterwards. Players remember strange things and remember them differently. Embrace these stories and let them become the game narrative.

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I haven't got the whole "lazy GM" thing down, although I'm trying to learn. Rarely run sandbox games, although I have winged it once or twice. I tend to have a specific situation and/or set piece or two in mind, and I usually fully stat the major villain and his most common minions. For a plot I often mash together bits of a favorite movie and/or novel, and a pre-written adventure I have mouldering in my closet. I then add a map for said climactic set piece pulled out of an old gaming magazine or module, downloaded off the Internet, or appropriated from a museum or mall brochure or a house beautiful newspaper special section. I don't have time to attempt plan out all contingencies as I did before I got married and had children, but I usually have a pretty good idea of what the Big Bad is up to.

The labor involved in doing this, of course, depends on the game system I'm running. It is a lot easier to throw things together on the fly with Mini Six or Mazes and Minotaurs than it is with BRP or Hero System. (Sorry you CoC and RuneQuest grognards, but distributing 250-400 skill points with BRP is for me as much work as fully statting out a Champions character built with a similar number of points.)

Edited by seneschal

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Thanks what FOES and FANGS were for! I recall when I used to run at conventions. Another GM and I would alternate as to who would write which adventures (we were the two guys familiar with every RPG at the time, so we wound up writing and running all the non AD&D stuff). One year I spent time and typed up an adventure (pre-home computers). The next, he gave me a two page adventure outline with notes, a map, and a couple of photocopied pages from Foes and RuneMasters for the bad guys. I doubt he spent 1/20th the time I did, but his adventure was at least as good.

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Preparations ...

I usually begin with the adventure's basic theme.

It is 1197 and Robert de Plancy, an Occitanian adventurer, wants to conquer the island of Selonia

from the Moors.

Then I decide how the player characters could become involved.

They are the household knights of Earl Miles of Dervy, who is married to the half sister of Robert de

Plancy, who begs her husband to support Robert's expedition with money and troops.

Next I add a few other important nonplayer characters required by this background.

Here we have Sir Athelstane, younger son of Earl Miles' sister, who will lead the few surplus knights

the Earl is willing to contribute to Robert's expedition. We also have the Sheikh of Selonia, currently

on campaign in North Africa, his young wife left behind on the island, and her brother, the marshal

of the island's defenders (names to be added).

All these characters get a few notes on their important motivations and skills, but rarely more than a

sentence or so. The fine details are added as needed once the game has started.

Sir Athelstane is brave and an excellent fighter, but he is also arrogant and rather stupid, likely to

make very bad tactical decisions.

Finally I need a first rough map of the island of Selonia. It will also get more details during the game.

A modified map of one of the Canary Islands will do.

That's it, now the players can generate their characters, and from here on the setting develops as a

cooperative endeavour, with me reacting to the players' ideas and adding what they consider neces-

sary for the activities of their characters.

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It is 637 and Robert the GM, a part time adventurer, wants to come up with an adventure in time for the 8 o'clock gaming group.

Rip off a movie, preferably one the players aren't intimately familiar with. In this case, it is Doctor Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, an obscure Sixties Vincent Price spoof of the James Bond mania of the time. A mad but gifted and ambitious inventor plans to make himself insanely rich by seducing the world's wealthiest men with his irresistible bikini-clad female robots. Enthralled by the "assets" of their alluring new wives, the plutocrats will sign over their monetary assets, which the android brides will then pass along to the not-so-good doctor. Getting the players-characters involved: the adventurers are contacted by a relative of one of Doctor Goldfoot's targets concerned that this whirlwind romance doesn't bode well for the rest of the family. Or the wealthy mark could be a friend of the PCs, or even one of the PCs. Stat up the Doc and his sexy cyborgs, throw in a map for his laboratory/swinging Sixties bachelor pad and lair, and you're good. Works well for multiple genres, since every society has rich men to seduce, and even fantasy and historical settings have assorted golems, magical servants, and clockwork humanoids. You can play it silly, as the movie did, or play it straight. Follow-up: the sequel, Doctor Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, had the Doc re-wiring his robots as walking bombs to assassinate important public figures. One kiss and BOOM!

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I'm thinking that a GM rushing to create an adventure at the 11th hour could make for a good RPG in and of itself. THe PCs could play little angles or devils that sit on the GM's shoulder and prmot him with ideas and suggestions.

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Here's an elaborate amount of prep that I used to introduce a new player to a long running RQ campaign. The problem I was faced with was that the old players had learnt a lot about their clan and there was now a lot of history and information which could be valuable to the new player and character...

I present Virannas Saga (download pdf)

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I usually start my prep work before the campaign even begins- I like to do things like write up templates for stuff so that I don't have to worry if players derail plot (and it keeps my plot recording down to notes, paths, plot threads, and skill/trait checks dotted through those as well!)

This is standard practice whenever I use any system that supports that practice. In most non-class systems, you can create a few templates and suddenly be able to do well while playing hard/fast with the rules.

Unfortunately since my BRP stuffs aren't here yet (Mail Ordered it all, CoC aside.), I need to wait before coming up with templates, as most of my settings have some kind of mystical/sci-fi abilities!

But in CoC, I should be able to just write up the adventure, select an appropriate bestiary monster during that, and fast-judge skill ratios when players haven't encountered the enemy yet.

Edited by Link6746
Clarification

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