View Full Version : [Any] Tips for lowest prep

2011-03-18, 01:04 PM
I am an experienced GM who has run long campaigns in detailed homebrew worlds. I currently don't run any games, but want to.

The problem is that I'm starting a blogging career on top of my 40 hour normal job, and time is really at a premium. If I run a game, I have to do it with nearly zero prep time.

I have a plan that might allow me to do that:

1. Use Castles and Crusades ruleset for minimal rule time and quick monster creation

2. Run a game where the point is exploring a wilderness area (exploration is the goal instead of a central plot or BBEG)

3. Players can go anywhere, but have to let me know one week in advance which area they want to explore next time.

4. I take one weekend to make the encounter charts and maps for every explorable location, so it's all ready in my toolbox before the game even starts. Thus there is very little additional prep needed before each week's session.

I'm interested in feedback on that plan AND tips from fellow GMs/players on how to save time or make do with less prep.

How do you minimize prep time for your games?

2011-03-18, 02:06 PM
This may not be useful for you, but heres how I do it.

I play a system that puts a tremendous amount of the prep and worldbuilding on the players. Burning Wheel requires me to come up with a strong conflict and a rough sketch of a world before the first game. The players, once they discuss my rough sketch with me, come up with three Beliefs each. Usually, these Beliefs are structured so that there is one about another player, one about the conflict at hand, and one about an ethic or a world view they wish to espouse or pursue.

I then work to challenge those beliefs, by introducing NPCs and sitautions that make things interesting.

Along the way the players can use two different features of burning wheel, a stat called Circles and a set of skills called Wises, to introduce setting details and npcs. Circles allows them to look for certain npcs as they desire, with failures leading to GM determined complcations. Wises work in a similar manner, but with facts and setting info.

After a few sessions, I have a pretty fleshed out game world, populated by both friends and enemies of the PCs and full of details that either I came up with or the players added. I do veto stuff that is not in my general vision for the setting, but I tend to be pretty accomadating.

My total weekly prep is about 30 or so minutes per 3 hours of play. Inital conflict and world sketch might take a couple hours, but it is a one time deal, more or less.

Of course, this is sort of Burning Wheel specific, but I have used similar principles for other systems as well, with some success.

2011-03-18, 02:13 PM
I'd say learning to do things on the fly is the best way to minimize prep. If you can be confident that an idea and the principle actors is enough for you to fill in the blanks during game, you'll prep more efficiently and focus on the things that matter in the big picture, rather than burn a lot of time deciding what feat an NPC the party may never fight should have or what this particular section of corridor should look like.

Along those lines, mapping is fun, but dungeons are actually fairly high-prep things, at least for the initial outlay. A game that focuses on dungeoneering may end up going counter to what you're trying to achieve.

Things you can easily do on the fly:

- NPC conversations, interaction with the party

- Weird things with simple (internal) gimmicks, for the party to mess with. E.g. a cavern whose walls are made of a weird rock that forms frost-rime in the presence of very bright light, etc.

- Environments to be explored. Don't think map, think 'four features that look interesting to investigate, one of which is a dead end, one or two of which lead to a little neat thing, one or two of which lead to progression'.

- Little clues for the PCs to understand the situation. Think 'this is what's going on, what are four minute consequences of it?'. This could be things like 'an aboleth lives here, so that means water and cthulhu, so: A moist fetid wind blows out of this cave, you can see a single-file well-walked path worn into the greenery (where the aboleth slaves have been treading in lock-step), etc, etc'

- Monster/NPC combat stats. This is a matter of taste and the particular set of players you have, but the biggest tip here is, don't bother with constructing them from HD, feats, etc, just have a vague idea of where the numbers should be for the role you want the creature to play in your game, and then only detail the numbers that are central to the thing's schtick or very characteristic by being extreme. E.g. 'all monsters of this vague type are considered to have +15 to all of their saves and stats roughly in the 20s, but this guy is slow and lumbering so his Reflex save will be a +2 and a low Dex and touch AC'

2011-03-18, 02:24 PM
4. I take one weekend to make the encounter charts and maps for every explorable location

That sounds high prep to me. Could you cut back on any of that? I usually skip making maps entirely, but that may not be an option in an exploration based game.

My best prep tip is to recycle as much as you can. A 4e encounter takes me about 10 minutes to set up because there are plenty of enemies available for use. I wouldn't run a system as hefty as 4e without electronic resources though.

My next tip is to plan and run multiple plots at a time. This is counter intuitive because you'd think that this would increase the complexity of what you have to do. But that's not the case and here's why.

Every minute that you run a plot, there's a chance that the players will diverge from that plot. Small divergences are to be expected. You'll simply show that plot from another angle than you'd originally expected. But if they stray far enough, you have to have some other plans ready. That's when you start writing up contingency plots. Then you run those plots longer and more contingency branches develop.

But what if in a 6 hour game session, you only advanced each plot by an hour? They wouldn't have a chance to diverge as branch as much. Give them just enough time in the plot to reach and make a decision. Then switch over to a different plot.

Here's an illustration I did a while ago to show what I mean:



In the single plot version up top you have to have material prepped for each and every branch. Most of your contingencies will go to waste. Now consider what that map would look like if each branch had 3 or 4 decisions.

For parallel plots, you prep for a decision and a little bit after it. You don't have to see as far into the possibilities. And you get back much more game for all your prep work, because less of it goes to waste.

Finally, I don't really spend a lot of time sitting down and wondering what to do with game. I just dump a sentence or two into my game file in my dropbox whenever it pops into my head. When it comes time to write game I look through my ideas and go with whatever is appropriate. This eliminates the writers block phase of prep, since I never have to hunt for ideas. I already have them waiting for me. This technique works best when I have 2 weeks between game sessions. 1 week seems to be the amount of time it takes for all my good ideas to manifest, and then I have another week to write them up in a playable form. Any longer than that and I have so much time that I never feel the need to get any writing done.

2011-03-18, 02:37 PM
...and here I was going to recommend Paranoia. :smallfrown:

I mean, c'mon, the players do 90% of the game for you, when you run it right! :smallbiggrin:

2011-03-18, 02:44 PM
1. Pick a low-prep system.

2. Use prefab adventures.

3. Grab a megadungeon kit.

4. Get good at improv.

Totally Guy
2011-03-18, 02:48 PM
Lowest prep game I know is Inspectres.

It turns the whole Player/GM thing on its head. The players determine what's going on when they find clues. So for a GM you just have to come up with a initial problem and then improvise everything else along with everyone else.

2011-03-18, 02:50 PM
Glug speaks the truth. I love inSpectres. Good game.

2011-03-19, 11:28 AM
Wow, I am really impressed with the ideas so far. These are great suggestions. Thank you!

2011-03-19, 11:42 AM
Yeah, any game that puts some narrative control in the player's hands reduces your prep time by that much.

2011-03-19, 12:48 PM
I don't know about the others, it seems like a matter of personal taste, But I also use Rule 3, and I think it's just common sense.

As far as being crunched for time. I would say to ease development time to use the FR stuff as it's a really well developed game world. Or rather was, as near as I can tell wizards has spent all it's time since buying TSR pouring oil on the FR then burning it by inches. (But hey, the outdated material is way cheaper on amazon!)

2011-03-19, 01:37 PM
-Use name generators. Liberally.

-Instead of miniatures, use coins. For my group we use pennies for hostiles and nickels/dimes for friendlies. Easier to transport, among other things.

2011-03-19, 02:14 PM
One helpful tip for prep: Spend a few hours making some common monsters. Two or three varieties of hobgoblin (standard and subchief, maybe with shamans). A couple orcs. A few different treasure loadouts for different treasure types.

Then, when your party encounters a party of hobgoblins, you can vary what you throw at them. A squad of hobgoblins and a subchief. Three shamans. Heck, these have just bribed an ogre. Or these are in the trees with bows.

It lets you be somewhat spontaneous, but does all the work for you. Because C&C is so basic, you can also switch things around... these have hammers, these have swords, that one has a spear.... without changing numbers at all.

2011-03-19, 03:22 PM
It lets you be somewhat spontaneous, but does all the work for you. Because C&C is so basic, you can also switch things around... these have hammers, these have swords, that one has a spear.... without changing numbers at all.

Or if you do want them to play a little differently, you can make a general template and leave a variable or two open. To use D&D terminology, make an NPC but leave a feat blank. If you have 3 guys, give one of them power attack, one combat expertise, and the other point blank shot. Now these 3 guys will play differently, but you only had to do the math once.

Fouredged Sword
2011-03-19, 10:12 PM
Use Mutants and Masterminds - there is a setting for midevil games. You can basicly make it all up as you go along. Foes fall when the players roll well or after a particularly gruling battle. Minions drop like flies, villians drop when dramaticly convient. Characters have skills and powers set on the fly. U have a game that I run and I literaly fill out sheets as things come up. Just "oh he probobly knows something about the local area - his ranks are 4 now, scribble scribble."

Also a good method is to give a foe a damage amount, a four saves, and a range increment, and something special (status dealing power, teleportation, ect.) then just run with it. You really don't need more for anyone who won't get more than 1 sesion of face time, and if they do get that then there is plenty of time in next sesion to write the stats down as they come up.