View Full Version : How long do you spend preparing for a session?

2007-01-28, 05:06 PM
For all those DMs out there, how long do you spend before each session you run? I spend anywhere from 15 minutes (if I'm running a low-combat session that I can basically make up on the spot) to a few hours (if I need to map out a dungeon or create enemies with class levels or what have you). What do other people do?

2007-01-28, 06:39 PM
For my Homebrewed campaign, it can go on all week. There's never enough time. A prewritten adventure, maybe an hour tops. On the other hand, I have run plenty of games with no preperation at all. Ideally, I would like to have eight hours to prepare for a session.

2007-01-28, 06:50 PM
For me, the more prep the better. Sadly, I do not have infinite time, so I end up winging it more often than I'd like. Then again, some of my better games have been "winging it" games.

Often, before starting a campaign, I will spend a great deal of time (on the order of weeks-to-a-month) prepping a backlog of general, yet theme-consistent, scenarios and situations that I can pull in when I need them.

2007-01-28, 06:56 PM
I wing it almost all the time but the group I DM won't let me do anything but DM. I guess it works out just fine without preparation. And so far I've managed to have fun I've only DM'ed for just over four years so maybe they'll get tired of it.

2007-01-28, 07:31 PM
Do you mean actively preparing or letting the subconscious take over?

I'm a bit of a perfectionist; I put a lot of attention to detail, and what I know I'm going to do I try to do well. But my group is unpredictable, to say the least, so I leave myself a lot of winging-it room (on weeks when I'm feeling good about it) or sometimes just come in knowing nothing but how the currently active NPCs work and then pull something out of someone says (we've had one or two weeks like that). Usually, though, I devote about three or four hours a week to active planning (working directly with my "assistant", choosing text colors for my NPCs and/or sketching them because I'm bored, diagramming conspiracies and statting and backstorying interesting characters and magic items), but most of my time is more inactive: everything from being advised by a fellow gamer outside the actual group (can technically count as active planning, but isn't always) through going over scenarios in my head as I'm trying to fall asleep, and right the way down to hearing something in class or having just finished a book and getting a burst of inspiration. It can't be quantified, but it all adds up.

I actually spend more time prepping for social things than for combat, partly because I'm playing a classless point buy and don't need to worry as much about which feature works best with what--it's just what likely has access to things that do what to its dice pool, and I've been known to come up with internally consistent new magical abilities in the middle of a fight--and partly because my group's likelier to talk than fight anyway. On the other hand, the PCs have just stepped into Celestial politics, and that's required me to come up with plots they might stumble into, massive numbers of new NPCs (complete with their own text colors for ease of recognition and so I don't have to say "X says" every time I'm using multiple NPCs at once), motivations of preexisting ones (what do you do when the confused holy warrior jumps up on a stage and starts yelling to his god that they should have words? Particularly when the god's ten feet away?) A lot of it, though, I make up on the fly. Half-formed NPCs who develop nifty quirks and personalities the moment they interact with the PCs, plans that get scrapped midway and have to be rewritten, and occasionally backpedals out of dead ends, sometimes my fault and sometimes my players'. ("Wait a minute, you recruited who now?" ...or worse, "You just told HIM that you know THAT?!")

The Glyphstone
2007-01-28, 07:34 PM
Not nearly enough, ever.

2007-01-28, 08:34 PM
I spent a week. That's why we have our session every week, because that's how long it takes me to prepare, usually.

2007-01-28, 08:45 PM
Depends on how plot-heavy or important the game's going to be. If it's a one-shot game or something combat heavy, I'll spend maybe an hour picking foes, building bosses and roughly mapping the dungeon. Plot-heavy games tend to take longer (anywhere up to half a day), as there are more angles to work out and more places it can go wrong.

2007-01-29, 10:18 AM
Hard to say. Especially considering the incredible ability of my players to do virtually nothing to progress the story while still doing enough things not to warrant a push. Sometimes something I wrote in under 30 minutes lasts 3 weeks, and sometimes we have to quit early because they have done everything in my adventure that took several hours to write.

2007-01-29, 10:22 AM
If by 'preparing' you mean 'thinking off and on about what you'll put to the players', then I spend weeks preparing each session (we alternate between campaigns in my group).

If by 'preparing' you mean 'writing up statistics, maps, and likely dialogue'... on average 2 hours.

One day, I need to stop procrastinating so much.

2007-01-29, 10:32 AM
I put in about 3-5 hours into "hard" prep, such as drawing up maps, statting out NPC's (longest part), or mapping out a particularly intricate plot. Plus 2-3 hours of writing up world trivia - historical or geographical details of the region the group is visiting, particulars on a given religious cult, or bits of arcane lore.

The "soft" prep which involves running possible scenarios through my head, developing NPC personalities and mannerisms, and visualizing the places the PC's are likely to visit goes on through the week whenever I have a chance to daydream for a bit. That ends up being about 10-20 hours.

Even with all that, I usually wing about 75% of the session, since I have to account for unexpected PC actions, or cases where the logical chain of events I've put together during the week turns out to have a missing link somewhere.

2007-01-29, 10:36 AM
Usually 1-3 hours, depending on how much social interaction is going to be involved--the more social interaction there is versus straight-up combat, the more planning I put in. Fight planning usually consists of "Hmm, what's a good monster to throw at them this week? This one has a CR in about the right range and it fits the theme. Oh, and let's have the fight on a rope bridge, because rope bridges are always cool. There we go, all done!" Social planning involves a lot more "Okay, this is what this guy wants, and this is what this guy is up to, and these people over here are out to get the PCs because of this obscure reason they haven't found out yet..."

I wing it a lot of the time, though. Players are too unpredictable for me to try to plan everything out in advance... it's gotten to the point that even when the PCs actually follow a path I expected them to follow, I make stuff up on the fly because I didn't bother to map out all the details of that path.

Of course, that's just adventure prep. Homebrewing rules is another matter. But that's more a way for me to entertain myself than anything else.

2007-01-29, 10:50 AM
I usually spend about 2 hours. That includes time to make dungeons and decide how to move the story along.

Right now, I call those two hours "History Class and Psychology Class."

Ah, the joys of easy classes this semester.

2007-01-29, 10:59 AM
I spend a great deal of time on prep, most of the time at least a week my latest adventure took two weeks to finish, but that is with work/school ect.

2007-01-29, 11:01 AM
Depends on the type of adventure, but on average 1-2 hours, not all at once though

Oddly, when I'm forced to wing it my players seem to enjoy it more...

2007-01-29, 11:05 AM
Usually 2-4 hours/ per session of real planning. Which includes mapping things out, creating or upgrading bad guys, making magic items. I usually spend another couple of hours just running scenarios around in my head as well but his is done during commutes or laying in bed before I fall asleep etc.

Dairun Cates
2007-01-29, 11:10 AM
Take how long it takes for my PC's to derail that night's plot. Express that time as a fraction of an hour. Invert the fraction. That's how many hours I spent preparing.

Still, usually 2-3. I can make characters lightning quick if I have the idea in head and I usually like to have a few spare characters here and there in case my players "surprise me" again.

2007-01-29, 11:13 AM
I'll spend several weeks or months preparing the main NPCs, enemies, locations, and plot trees. Once that's in place, I'll generally only plan out 4-6 hours of gaming at a time, generally 1 or 2 combats, roleplaying, Skill challenges, treasure, and perhaps some riddles/puzzles/clues/etc. Once what I've written is played out, I'll sometimes wing it. But I always try and end sessions by prompting the PC's to have a conversation about what they want to do next. With their plot decisions made, I'll end the game session, and it generally only takes me a an hour to plan out next week's session.

When I was younger and had more time (ie, time spent sitting in classes), I spent massive amouts of effort writing out my campaign, elaborate dungeons, detailed backstories, etc. But the more I DM'd, the more I learned that it usually went to waste. Players appreciate and need a DM that is prepared. They enjoy different encounters, instead of repetative encounters. NPC's that have a reason to exist and act are a lot better the soulless robots who deliver plot hooks. And they love having choice, insted of railroads. But beyond that, they're not reading a book. They're not going to figure out your elaborate fluff, and even if you read it to them directly they won't remember it in most cases.

2007-01-29, 11:26 AM
Perhaps an hour most of the time. Often less. However, while I was in convalesence at Ft. Jackson (5 months!) and was relieved of duties during that time, I spent my free time prepping the campaign I'm currently running. I'd write up NPCs, (a bunch of miscellaneous ones i can just drop in wherever we need in the game), make large and small scale world and area maps, do solo testing for the validity of my house rules, and came up with the overarching plot, as well as a "choose-your-own-adventure-style" prophecy tree that encompasses pretty much any of the PCs likely actions to major plot points (very Terry Goodkind there).

So my campaign has something like 600 hours (easy) put into it before the players picked up their dice to roll characters. This helps greatly. :smallsmile:

2007-01-29, 11:34 AM
Probably one hour of prep per hour of combat; one hour of prep per two hours of non-combat.