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GM’s Journal – Don’t Fear the Prep

In the GM’s Journal we will discuss all things role playing. From tips for running a successful table to reviews of various systems, you’ll find it here.

What if I told you that there is something that even Game Masters dread? A four letter word that makes them sit straight up in a cold sweat the night before their next session. Something that makes them question their very existence. What is this four letter word you might ask?

Prep.

Now, if you had to ask yourself, “what is this prep you speak of?” Then you do not know fear. . . Not yet at least. . . (Insert maniacal laughter).

Now that I have frightened you, let’s jump right in, shall we? I hope you brought your notebook, class is back in session, and there will be a quiz.

Let’s start with what prep is. Put simply, prep is anything that you do before you sit down at the table to run your session. But what does that entail and how do I do it? Well in short, there isn’t a good answer. My advice is to prep according to your play-style. The advice I will be giving today consists of some tips and tricks I have picked up along the way. In this post, I will be focusing on prepping from a prewritten module, like the ones we run at The Malted Meeple. How to prep for a homebrew campaign will be the subject of future blogposts. Now then, let’s get to it!

Read that Module: Seriously!

This sounds like a no-brainer and I don’t mean read the module at the table as your players arrive. Make sure that you have read the module enough in advance so that if you have questions you can ask your fellow GMs before your session begins. Also be sure that you have read ahead so that you know the major events and plot points. This way you don’t have to end the session early because you didn’t think that the players would get that far. For me personally, modules are my evening reading. Some people read novels for pleasure, I read modules. Let’s move on.

Arm Your Self. . . With Knowledge!

I would like to begin with the following advice: make sure that you are familiar with all of the basic rules of whatever system you are running. After you have read through the module, you will need to familiarize yourself with the major plot twists, NPCs, and monsters that they will inevitably battle. I sometimes make flow charts of events to keep everything straight. Next, you will want to look up the statistics of your monsters and NPCs. If they have any spells, abilities, or traps, then you should familiarize yourself with how they work. I recommend reading up on anything you feel unclear about. My rule is: if my party can conceivably interact with this thing, then I need to study it. Is your party about to have their first space battle? Better brush up on those rules!

Hitting The High Notes

I highly recommend taking notes when you run. This will keep you from flipping through the rulebook and keeps the game moving along. When I compose my notes, I usually begin by writing down all the major events that I plan to cover for that session. I also include any important notes from the previous session.  I write down any significant rules for my monsters and NPCs and jot some short notes to remind myself of their spells and abilities. I make sure that I write notes about the environment so that I can include it in my descriptions. I also write down any roleplaying notes I have for the NPCs that session. Does this NPC have an accent? What does he want? How does he view the players? Thinking about things like this can turn a boring box text into a memorable encounter. It seems like a lot, but your players will thank you.

Material Components

The last thing I do to prep is to make sure that I have everything I need at my disposal when I am at the table. I make sure to pack all of my books, GM Screen, and notes. I take whatever miniatures I might need for the session along with my battle mat and maps. I make sure that I have plenty of pens, pencils, and markers to share, and of course my lucky player-slaying dice! You don’t have to have everything that I listed above. You might need more; you might need less. The important thing is to make sure that you have everything together when you run. You don’t want to keep your players waiting!

Final Thoughts

Prep is a very important part of running a game and it starts long before you sit down at the table. Hopefully now, prep isn’t nearly as scary as you thought it was. It can be difficult from time to time to prepare for those wily adventurers. (We all know how they can be!) But this is how I handle prep and the method seems to work for me.  If you have found a way to prep that works better for your play style, fantastic! Tell us in the comments! We would love to hear about what works for you!

See you at the Table!

Meeple Karington Hess - Small

Karington Hess is a lifelong gamer whose passions for hospitality and all things game-related led him to Ravenwood Castle, where he served as an Innkeeper before joining The Malted Meeple. When not pouring beers, crafting milkshakes, or teaching boardgames, Karington can be found behind the DM’s screen, weaving intricate stories for his fellow gamers.