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Wednesday 20 May 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: RPG Prep Time Advice

In general, "more preparation" does not equal better. It takes a spectacular combination of GM personality and GM competence matched with particular expertise, matched with the absolute perfect group of players, in order to make a "high preparation" game worthwhile; or indeed a very particular kind of campaign to make "high prep" necessary.

The Pundit's advice to GMs is this: Prepare for your adventure only the absolute minimum that is necessary.

The more you "prep" the adventure, the more the chance that you will end up railroading or falling into the masturbatory hideousness that is storytelling. The "minimum that is necessary", however, will vary depending on which game you are running and what kind of campaign you are running with each game.

Still, "prep better", not "prep more". And what you ought to prep is the situation, the premise for the adventure, with something that outlines the basic things you really need to have happen in that adventure (which is why the Roman game is so high-prep, there are so many things that have to "happen" in each adventure), and keep the rest totally open. Its not your job to fill in the blanks, that's the players job, and they must do it however they want to.

If you're doing too much more work than your players, then chances are that you're not giving your players room to shine.


(Originally published: February 4th 2006)


  1. I would also add, “do the prep that you enjoy”. You can never prepare everything, so why not focus on the parts you enjoy? Maps, or backgrounds, or even monster names. This way, if the players never get to see it, you still enjoyed creating it.

  2. Prep better. Word! I found that Phil Vecchione's _Never Unprepared_ guide to session prep was helpful in determining the best way for me to prep better.

  3. "Prep better" is an unhelpful platitude. You might as well say "don't work harder, work smarter!"

    There is a big difference between preparing situations and preparing stories. DMs should not prepare stories - you're right that the players should create those - but creating settings such as towns, lairs and dungeons, and filling them with beings who are in conflict, or potential conflict, with each other and the PCs, tends to enhance the world and make the game better.

    1. Prep your adventure the absolute minimum that is necessary. Look at what's really needed: the places, NPCs, and a few other things. In every case ask whether what you're prepping is really needed, and especially whether its going to potentially get in the way of player agency.

  4. All I prepare is maybe a map or two of locations that will likely be used and some notes about what and who is there. Takes like 30 minutes and is usually the least interesting part of the game to me. What comes up in the course of play is more fun and could not be planned.