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What do y'all do to prepare for a session?

INeedNoSaltINeedNoSalt with blood on my teethRegistered User regular
System agnostic, but I'm curious about what you DMs and STs do especially before settling in for D&D or a White Wolf kind of game. I'm used to running my games online, play-by-post, so prep is pretty different: You have no time crunch so you don't have to select the most useful stuff to have on hand, and there's no limit to how much you can have on hand anyway.

Now I'm trying to do more in-person gaming and I'm struggling to keep everything organized and ready to go when it's time to sit down at the table and play. I have an easier time with D&D kind of stuff (I've got my dry-erase markers and grid mat, I've got print-outs of my bad guys with their abilities, usually a notebook with maps and things like that prepared, miniatures or tokens, etc) but I run D&D games that are pretty dungeon-crawly. What's a good way to prepare for a session of a game like Exalted or Vampire, where keeping track of lots of people with competing motivations is key?

If you bring lots of reference materials, how do you keep from bogging down the game to actually use them? How do you organize your reference materials to cut down on that?

Thanks I appreciate your input!

ArcanisTheImpotent

Posts

  • ArcanisTheImpotentArcanisTheImpotent Registered User regular
    edited April 9
    hello this is a topic very near and dear to me

    to start with, I use a digitized note-taking medium (OneNote). i'm also doing a complete 100% homebrew with the goal of doing that quintessential nerd thing of running all my games forever onward in it. OneNote is also 100% free and has a browser based version AND a mobile version so i'm basically always with my notes/compendium where-ever i go. the rest is google-fu and copypasta'ing/direct linking stuff as i need it into my Session Notes page for the night.

    here's a link i have found very helpful:

    https://gnomestew.com/prep-lite-philosophy/

    to discuss the main topic: how do we keep track of a lot of actors in a big web of intrigue?

    the key for me has been to focus on a few simple qualities for each "agent" in the "game" (agent & game are the words i'll use for the actors and the concept of intrigue/interactions going forward, respectively) and make sure i have them written down in a place that i can refer back to as needed to react appropriately. the qualities i focus on:

    (optional) accent/voice/oral posture: this is purely my own thing. if you don't do amateur thespianship don't worry about it, but i find it can inform your decisions a lot if you are adopting unique mannerisms. example: "High, lilting RP (received pronunciation). Smiles and fidgets a lot."
    impulse: stealing from apocalypse engine here, i find it useful to put down some vague impulses like "to preserve, to destroy, to obfuscate". i see this as the important signpost for authentic character reactions. this kind of is the "how" an agent does things.
    goal: this is simple--some kind of measurable objective (it can be short or long term). this, combined with impulse, should be enough to dictate how you have characters react; ideally the goal is directly tied to / related to the game. this is the "why" an agent does something.
    (optional) faction: this is to remind you of any organizational ties they may have. useful if there are also factions as agents within the game.
    location: where they are (usually) at. it's easier for me to keep track of people by assuming they are mostly static, so putting where they tend to be found is useful for when your players are bebopping around, because you can have them run into these people organically.

    the cool thing about this is you can take that format and apply it to factions too.

    i keep the above stuff mostly in my long-term reference materials for notes, just because i can always refer back to it. however, sometimes it's useful to keep things front and center in the main session notes if you know those agents are going to get a lot of screen time that day.

    the other thing that's very important to me in terms of session notes is having something ready to go that will allow snowballing if your protags aren't driving the action. from my own notes in spoiler tag (my players don't you look at this you know who you are):
    Scenes:

    Step 1 is to see what they would like to do first--if they have some goals, then we should touch on them

    Removal of the guards now that Lethian has agreed
    Introduction of Elyssa - I'm not sure how to squeeze this one in.
    Introduction of Fayra - Introduction perhaps during some of the "proving ground" activities?
    A game of sport with Gaerlan and Haelon - Archery? Hunting wild game? Maybe even hunting monsters together? (author's note: i actually ended up deciding on the fly to mash this all together and it worked out wonderfully)

    Revelation of the forces arrayed & the problems
    -- Derro encampments. South. Hook: A village about four hours south of the city called Shadebranch was recently attacked; they could investigate why (this could lead into a small excursion into the Underdark)
    -- The Ruins of Ithel Garan. Northeast. Hook: Ellestriel asks them to get one. Scouts have reported activity at a long-abandoned elven outpost from more prosperous times, back when Tenestras maintained an active army.
    -- Fomorians. The Hedgerow. East. Hook: strange dreams around the city plaguing children that show grotesque, huge figures running roughshod; the smell of rotten meat; a circle of mushrooms. The Speakers of Autumn know the location as does Ildaer, Elyssa, and maybe Fayra(?)
    -- This could be related to the Feywild seal? If the Winter King is in league with the elemental princes that could be an interesting twist. Maybe The Winter King worships Yan-C-Bin?

    Lethian’s sparring with Galinor
    Aistryl and Konstantin’s jam session
    Merethiel and Lethian
    - Merethiel and Lethian and Elyssa?
    Ildaer and Kasimir?
    Kasimir’s PACKAGE from Fairwicke. This is maybe too much but we'll see how the session goes if I want to fuck with Alton or not. If I do--it's a small package containing Alton's spice kit. Leather satchel, a little dirty. Filled with vials of spices… and piece of paper with the words: "It's important one makes new friends" written on it.
    Player-driven stuff
    - The materials from Gaerlan's father for possible Tailoring Apprenticeship

    A midnight shadow - Silhouette of the dragon flying overhead. This might occur on the "final night" depending on how the pacing of the session goes. If they're still in the city then this is a good way to end the session and open the following one with an attack (this will lead them on an inconclusive investigation)

    as you can see I have a ton of stuff outlined there, just highlights of ideas that could be thrown out at any point. i have all the reference material for my various agents ready to go, so when the time comes if i decide to invoke that scene, i can just refer back real quick and focus on the actual play in the moment.

    hope that helps (also i hope your games are going rad buddy <3)

    ArcanisTheImpotent on
    INeedNoSalt
  • ArcanisTheImpotentArcanisTheImpotent Registered User regular
    edited April 9
    thinking about it, i should add a field that talks about existing relationships to other agents. i haven't done that yet, but it is probably worth including, but i feel like maybe that's ephemeral stuff that doesn't necessarily need to be called out within the session, unless maybe we are prone to forgetting such things (as GM)

    ArcanisTheImpotent on
  • INeedNoSaltINeedNoSalt with blood on my teeth Registered User regular
    I'm prone to forgetting a lot, lol. I usually expect my memory to hold up better than it does at game time, so keeping better notes to start with is probably a good idea. I think I can be prone to over-prepping if I do that, so I guess I should keep the light prepping philosophy in mind to deal with that

    I appreciate your agent note format and I'll probably work from there to get my notes together. I'll get in the habit of just designing notecards for everyone that's important probably, and maybe start pre-generating small-time NPCs so I don't trip over myself trying to do it on the spot

    In-person gaming really makes me appreciate how much easier it is to GM in an asynchronous format (even if asynchronous games have less resilience.)

    ArcanisTheImpotent
  • ArcanisTheImpotentArcanisTheImpotent Registered User regular
    the quote "Relative to the viewer: create as much pre-work/do as much preparation as you need, to hit the bullseye of exactly just what you need to know to make improvising what you don't know easy" (this was taken from an interview that collegehumor did with matt mercer) really resonates with me. link provided following for the whole conversation (it's centered around worldbuilding, but i honestly think the same principle can be applied 1:1 to session prep)

  • ArcanisTheImpotentArcanisTheImpotent Registered User regular
    bumping because maybe others can weigh in on their prep styles? i am always looking for ways to streamline my own process

  • SleepSleep Registered User regular
    edited April 12
    About 4 years ago I started a game with literally no prep outside the scene I wanted to start with... I've been makin shit up for 4 years and my players keep comin back.

    I'll admit I think about my game and game world daily, but I'm running like 4 main plots in the world that the players are interacting with from multiple characters, one of my players is working on a campaign in my setting based on a throwaway character he had make a hard heel turn, and balancing all of that plot shit is most of the time I spend thinking about it off the table. Less the mechanics of the next session and more figuring out why anyone is doing anything, what world history and local governments are like, what the cosmological implications of the setting are, what the bad guys are plotting. More big picture stuff about the setting in general rather than designing the encounters im definitely going to use.

    As far as session by session prep goes...I kinda don't do any for the most part. I get a rough idea of where the player characters need to be by the end of the session if they need to be there for plot reasons, and then we kinda figure out what happens along the way to them getting there together through the course of the session. I may have a monster or two in my back pocket that are relevant to the current storytelling and I'll call audibles on em to switch it up on the players, but rarely do I totally know all of the encounters for a night when me and the players hit table edge. I just figure out how to cram skill challenges into whatever the player characters are trying to do and try to make sure at least 1 combat pops up per session.

    Like if you check the 5e thread i just put a session report in there and that entire session came straight outta my but after only 3 of my players could make game. I had a combination of premises to throw down to set the scene we rolled in on, knew that I wanted to use flame skulls in this forest, and decided due to the presence of the professor that I'd throw a set of modified nothics at the party to call back to the professor's main adventures.

    Sleep on
  • evilthecatevilthecat Registered User regular
    The burocracy of it all
    Sooo for the current campaign I'm running I'm trying to use note taking software to streamline what I'm doing. OneNote is my App of choice and so far it's been more a boon than a burden, primarily because once I sit down and start writing ideas I can generally create more than I wanted to and use whatever I can't fit into the current goings on later. The notes/templates I always use are: a log, which I write in as the session progresses and a simple "goals" page that contains what I'm wanting to do with the session and ideas on how to get that done. If the players derail that with their own plans, fine!
    With regards to reference materials: I'm DMing a 5e game. That system isn't as rule heavy as others. I (think I) know all the rules and in cases where I don't I'll just side with the players. The only time I'd consider opening a book to check on something mid game is if the consequences of whatever is going are too severe or can't be retconned somehow. Otherwise the books just kinda sit in a corner.

    Onto session planning and prep!

    Planning:
    1. The big and little picture
      First I go over what's going on in the world. What are my main story beats and how are those going to progress over the next session. The world will move on regardless of what the players do, I need to be aware of what my main actors are doing. I then move down towards the players' short-term future and beyond: what are they currently doing? How is that going to affect my world? What is the goal of this particular session (how are they arriving into it, where do I want them to end it?). I'll consider what each element I'm planning on using in the session contributes to the story or the entertainment of the evening.
    2. A different point of view
      I often find that it helps to approach what you're planning from a player's perspective. I briefly run through the session as a generic adventurer to see if it all makes sense. I worry that me knowing everything will inevitably lead to the player's lacking information to make fair decisions.

    Prep:
    1. Adapt and generate
      After settling on the story, exploration and social elements of the session I'll adapt material that I already have or generate something if it isn't already done. Often I'll either need to add/remove fights, dungeon bits, NPC exchanges in order to have a nice rounded off session. Stopping play in the middle of a fight is meh. People will come back in a week's time and have forgotten what's going on, what their resources are like and who they should be killing.
    2. Practice dialogue
      I find that NPCs are super duper important to get your players invested in the world. They're information carriers. I'll go over dialogue in my head and in front of a mirror to make sure that the bits I know will be used are on point. This also helps me flesh the NPC out and make it clear to me what they'd say, what not and where their loyalties lie.

    I'm forgetting something, it's late and I'm tired.
    With regards to an intrigue heavy setting: You'll never need more than a few bits of the big picture to run a session. Ultimately, no matter how many NPCs you have, you can almost certainly divide them into factions. I'd let the players do their thing and then evaluate how their help/murderhoboism advanced/stagnated the goals of the NPCs (and associates) they interacted with. Rinse/repeat until the balance between the factions has been upset to such a degree that the playing field shifts.

    tip.. tip.. TALLY.. HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
    SleepArcanisTheImpotent
  • Rhesus PositiveRhesus Positive GNU Terry Pratchett Registered User regular
    This:
    4yja0pjatvu1.jpg

    Although this is more of a living campaign plan

    However, visualising where the campaign is at the moment allows me to plan for upcoming events

    For example, the left hand side is looking a little low on connections, so I should devote more time to the two players on that side

    Also, to get it out of the way: Pepe Silvia is an upcoming NPC with information on the bad guy at the top of the board

    Vanguard
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