It’s not just about writing notes…or is it?
Preparing for your upcoming game is probably the most important to step to actually playing it. Regardless of the system, you may need to spend some time lovingly prepping for your game.
I’ve seen a lot of people online talk about how they don’t prep for the games they run, or that they do minimal prep and improvise their way through. I got thinking after posting this Tweet:
Now, I think the majority of these people do prep to some extent, but what they consider to be prep is just notetaking.
Preparing for a game isn’t just “writing just down”, but I think in recent years it has been seen as such. The idea of writing down has become unappealing because of this notion. Not everyone has the time to write down all their ideas.
I’d argue that writing is only a small part of the prep work, and you don’t need to write down every single waking thought about your plans for the upcoming session.
Are you thinking about the next session, reviewing your plans in your head? Have you come up with a cool NPC idea? That seems like prep to me.
So, I’m going to (attempt) show you all the ways you can prep for your games. I’m going to try and cover all bases, but if there is any other way you prep for your games, I’d love to hear about it!
Learning the System
You need to learn the game before you can play it. I’m not asking you to become a master at it but spending time reading over the core books can really help.
It goes without saying that this sort of prep is usually done before you fully get into playing the game. However, it’s always useful to go back and read the rules just for a refresher! Maybe you will find something you haven’t encountered before, and that may give you ideas for the next sessions you want to run.
Learning the system doesn’t mean just reading the books, you can also search up questions or watch videos to refresh yourself on certain topics. There are a plethora of videos, guides, and forums that most likely will have the answers to your questions!
Making or Setting Up Maps
Making your own maps can be a time sink and isn’t necessary if you’re doing theatre of the mind anyway. On the other hand, finding maps your game can be a difficult process too. But they can turn out pretty and work better for those who may be confused by descriptions or just need the visual aid.
It just depends on your group really. Personally, I really using them in my games but finding one that’s perfect takes time. I have my own Pinterest board full of maps that I can use in my games.
If you can draw your own maps, go ahead! Thinking about the elements of your next encounter is certainly prep.
Creating Creatures or Mechanics
Creating creatures or mechanics includes monsters, enemies, traps and even puzzles. I think this takes the most prep because you have to balance them as your doing it as well.
Should this monster be this strong or, is this puzzle going to be too easy? These are all very common questions.
Refining this process only work with practice. You prep, you play and then you see where your shortcomings and successes are. There a lots of encounter builders online that can help, but I recommend Kobold Fight Club.
Building Your World
Worldbuilding is often considered to be “anti-prep” since it isn’t considered actually prepping for the sessions to come. However, knowing your world can really help with your immersion as the arbiter of the game.
This includes creating NPCs, writing plot hooks, creating locations, dialect, mannerisms, lore etc. The list goes on!
Sometimes, it may be wasted but it’s for your personal enjoyment. I think I’m lucky enough that I have players who want to know exactly how my world operates. Others don’t have that.
You, the DM/GM, decide how much you want to world build. If you’re doing major worldbuilding you are prepping but remember you should not let worldbuilding consume your preparations for the upcoming session.
Finding the Perfect Music
I find that ambiance can make or break some sessions. Not every DM/GM uses music, but I think it can really heighten the atmosphere if you do.
Often, I just use tracks from games or shows that I like. It also gives you something to associate certain ideas with. If the players hear a grand, brooding theme, they can feel that boss coming without you even saying it.
Prep doesn’t need to be a great big eldritch tome of detailed notes, drawings and carefully made maps. It can be, but that might not work for you. It can be a few sticky notes on pages or getting through a backlog of D&D videos.
You should try other ways to prep before denouncing it entirely just to find out what works.
Preparing for your game is important for the way you and your group want to play. I think nearly everyone does some form of prep work before their session, even if it’s just thinking about the game just a little.
I intend to provide more inspiration, resources and tips on a weekly basis so subscribe for more upcoming content.
And may your rolls be ever in your favour!
I am the type of person that needs a lot of notes because it makes me feel confident. I rarely use them because that is the nature of the beast, but I like to have them on hand. I also like to practice my fights because I am not very good at wargaming and I find that when I don’t practice, I don’t use half the skills on the stat block and the fights are easy. You are right, it is important to prepare but everyone does it differently. Thanks for sharing.