We all wish it could be easier…

One of the less commonly talked about parts of prepping is the initial prep that happens before the campaign has even started.

Sometimes it’s just jotting down ideas, reading the module, or other times creating new rules to experiment with in the new game.

Regardless of what it is, this pre-campaign prep leads up to the actual beginning of the game. It lays out expectations for the players and helps the Dungeon Master understand what type of game you’re about to run.

Today we’re going to talk about this pre-game prep as well as give some advice for how you can streamline your pre-game experience as a Dungeon Master and even as a player.

Defining Pre-Campaign Prep

I’d say that pre-game prep is anything to do with the game before it’s being played. Such as, the number of players at the table, the schedule, what type of adventure you all want to play as well as all the rules you’ll be following.

For example, your group may consist of 4 players who can all play every Sunday and you’ve decided to play Out of the Abyss with a new set of homebrew rules.

You can start prepping afterwards, but here are some ways you can approach preparing your next campaign.

Communication is Key

Don’t keep your players in the dark, tell them everything! If you want to try a new ruling, discuss it with the table, don’t just implement it without everyone else knowing.

If you’re a player, ask your DM questions about the sort of game your about to play so nothing comes as a surprise to you. Maybe the character you had planned for your next campaign isn’t going to work in this setting.

Choosing Your Adventure

Once you’ve got it all sorted, the Dungeon Master can then start the real pre-game prep.

In this case, reading the module/their notes and creating a summary for the players so they know what characters to make.

In addition, sharing and discussing homebrew rules with the players before making them official.

If you’ve ran a campaign previous to this, sharing feedback amongst the group may help you narrow down your options. Maybe there was a homebrew rule the players really didn’t like or perhaps they want a lot more combat in this new campaign.

Create A Summary or Reference Document

Creating a summary for your group will help you track anything you’ve implemented. I took this approach in my Curse of Strahd game.

I first sent players a summary for the type of module we’ll be playing.

After discussing ideas with the group, I created a Google Doc explaining the rules including character creation as well as my own homebrew rules.

I personally think this is the easiest way to give out all that important campaign information. Additionally, the document can always be used as a guide or reference.

Write A To-Do List

There are always little tasks you need to complete before the game even begins, such as making your character. For DMs, that first Intital chunk of prep that includes collecting art, battlemaps or even just reading over your notes.

Split your preparation up into tasks or subtasks. If you need to do Session 0s for each of your players, making “Session 0s” your main task and each of your players the subtasks.
Write your list however you’d like and don’t feel like it’s set in stone. You’re allowed to change anything on the fly.

Organise Your Notes

Regardless of the adventure you’re running, you should find some way to organise your notes and prep. Even some of my players make notes before the game starts.

Always remember there’s no “right” way to organise notes.

Personally, I have several Word Doc files in different folders, but some people can find this messy.
I know some people use OneNote to organise their ideas under sections.

However you take notes, start organising your thoughts as soon as you can. Your future self will thank you immensely.

Prepare for Your Session 0

You should make note of important things to mention at the Session 0. If you’re creating characters, bring up what’s allowed and what isn’t. Here’s a little list of things you should try to bring up:

  • An overview of the adventure
  • Character creation rules
  • Additional rules
  • Changes to existing rules
  • Expectations for the setting/adventure
  • Themes
  • Uncomfortable subjects/triggers

Making people feel comfortable at the table is the most important thing to do (this applies to both players and DMs).

Once again, don’t feel like this is all set in stone. If you’re using a rule and later in the campaign players aren’t loving it, have a discussion about it.

Final Thoughts

After preparing for your Session 0 and going through with it, that’s all the pre-game prep done!

All that is really left to do now is actually schedule and play the game. And at that point, all your preparation is actually in anticipation for the campaign to start.

Those are all the main, obvious ways to prep for your game but if there are any others, I’d love to hear your input.