#12rpg Question 8: Talk about your typical approach to preparation for running an RPG. Is there a particular method you generally follow? What use do you make of published setting or adventure material, if any?

First off, go read Paul Beakley’s post for this, as he encapsulates a lot of great advice he’s doled out in the past, and which I try to follow.

Second, let me start backward and say that I am neutral-to-hostile on published setting and adventure material. There are good products in these categories and there are bad. The good stuff helps save me time — of which, as a parent, I have little to spare. The bad stuff I just try to avoid.

And as for setting specifically, I’ve come to realize that most games don’t need really need “settings” per se. So much of their setting and situation is built in that I find any big infodump of surrounding color largely useless. I’d much rather just create what I need, be it as lonely fun or as a group at the table.

Otherwise, I lean toward published settings that were created organically and, well, have stood the test of time: Glorantha, Tékumel, Middle-Earth, the Champions universe (up to a point), and takes on real-world history. Sure, (e.g.) Eberron is pretty cool, but it’s also a crass commercial artifact. And, well, eff that.

As for prep itself — and I mean learning the game well enough to run it without anxiety — I try to approach a given game as a “project.” I try to genuinely study the rule text and read useful commentary about it. I will read, re-read, take notes, and create cheat/summary sheets. Then I play the game, de-brief, and work on what needs work for next time.

I have not done “prep” in the D&D sense of scenario-writing in a very long time, save for the one-shot brainstorming that I do for my Chicago Gameday events. But I’m not going to share any of those techniques with you as I totally suck at it and my results are awful, so nobody should be emulating me in that regard. This is something that I need to work on, and it’s another reason why I am not wholly averse to published adventures. I think you just need to find the good ones.

I’m looking forward to the answers to this one, as I feel like I could do a lot better in this arena. I spent a long time learning bad habits, and then a long time breaking them. Now I hope I finally at a point where I can proceed with​ a clean slate again.

12 thoughts on “#12rpg Question 8: Talk about your typical approach to preparation for running an RPG. Is there a particular method…

  1. I like your answer, Mark. I don’t feel like writing a full response to the prompt, but I’ll say that I have more success creating initial messy situations and basic character motivations than anything else — especially for heavily Nar-leaning games. But even for something more squarely in the D&D style, I’m big on minimalist prep work. This plays to my strengths in picking up what the players seem most interested in, and then improvising. However, my style has a downside — namely, I tend to rely heavily on the “keep throwing more and heavier shit at the players” style of GMing. That can get tiresome real quick if I don’t ease up and let the players start solving things before the entire thing becomes an exercise in frustration.

  2. < ![CDATA[I like your answer, Mark. I don't feel like writing a full response to the prompt, but I'll say that I have more success creating initial messy situations and basic character motivations than anything else -- especially for heavily Nar-leaning games. But even for something more squarely in the D&D style, I'm big on minimalist prep work. This plays to my strengths in picking up what the players seem most interested in, and then improvising. However, my style has a downside -- namely, I tend to rely heavily on the "keep throwing more and heavier shit at the players" style of GMing. That can get tiresome real quick if I don't ease up and let the players start solving things before the entire thing becomes an exercise in frustration.]]>

  3. Mark Delsing, I’d say it’s a potential downside in all styles of play. But it’s something I’ve been working on to combat. The key is in recognizing when enough is enough. Every story has an arc, after all, and I need to be more aware of the table’s progress thru that arc.

  4. < ![CDATA[Mark Delsing, I'd say it's a potential downside in all styles of play. But it’s something I’ve been working on to combat. The key is in recognizing when enough is enough. Every story has an arc, after all, and I need to be more aware of the table’s progress thru that arc.]]>

  5. I basically have two prep modes: Fight Set Scene vs. Narrativism. If the game requires consideration towards encounter balance, environment, etc. – then I spend time coming up with good locations for exciting fights and most of the time is spent map-making and putting together encounter stuff. If the game doesn’t, then I just focus on whatever the core conflict is, build NPCs with motivations aimed to cross with the player characters’ motivations and go from there.

    I do usually have to do regular rules refreshing because my brain doesn’t have the capacity it once did to quickly and easily absorb rules at the drop of a dime. Cheatsheets become useful for myself and to the players, so I always make those as well.

    I usually make a 1-2 page setting cheatsheet as well, so players can either a) not have to read a setting if there is one, b) know which part of the setting to focus on if they did read it, c) get us all oriented towards the same fictional elements if there isn’t a setting.

  6. < ![CDATA[I basically have two prep modes: Fight Set Scene vs. Narrativism. If the game requires consideration towards encounter balance, environment, etc. - then I spend time coming up with good locations for exciting fights and most of the time is spent map-making and putting together encounter stuff. If the game doesn't, then I just focus on whatever the core conflict is, build NPCs with motivations aimed to cross with the player characters' motivations and go from there. I do usually have to do regular rules refreshing because my brain doesn't have the capacity it once did to quickly and easily absorb rules at the drop of a dime. Cheatsheets become useful for myself and to the players, so I always make those as well. I usually make a 1-2 page setting cheatsheet as well, so players can either a) not have to read a setting if there is one, b) know which part of the setting to focus on if they did read it, c) get us all oriented towards the same fictional elements if there isn't a setting.]]>