[generic] RPG a day lockdown #84 - no prep

#2
I once, decades ago, was pressured into making up a Golden Heroes scenario on the spot. (It was a mix between Flash Gordon and Barbarella.) I stressed for the entire time I was running it, thought it was cr@p and - despite being told that everyone loved it and demands that I run a sequel -I’ve never done it again. (As far as I can remember.)

What I DO have, now, is a number of lightweight sets of game rules and a series of scenarios in my head that I’ve run before that I can “reskin” to other settings pretty much on the fly. I’d be happy to do that.

I do a LOT less prep these days than I used to but I do need to have at least an outline written down before I start. And if I don’t SEEM to have one written down that’s because it’s written down somewhere, so the prep was done, but I just don’t happen to have it with me at the moment.
 

ltd

Rune Priest
#3
I always try to do some. Even a a low-prep game like 3:16 I'll sketch out a brief paragraph for each planet/mission describing what's happening.

I usually enjoy it but can become a burden. I packed in RPGs for a while because I was always the GM and I burned out preparing an adventure more or less every week . The whole thing became a chore which isn't what gaming's about.
 
#4
I echo what Simon said. I can improvise a whole adventure but I don't enjoy iy. The players seem to enjoy these improvised adventure as much if not more, but I find it more stressful and oddly unsatisfying. The thing is when I prep, I am rarely happy with the first idea that comes to me. I generally find if I think about the situation longer, I find deeper connections or more original twists. It is entirely possible that means more to me than the people playing the game, but there you have it.
 

Nathan

Rune Priest
#5
The vast majority of my games are off the cuff with very little prep. I create the barebones of a story and allow the players flesh it out. My games are heavily player driven and the majority of the people who have played in my games have said they thoroughly enjoyed it. I never find myself getting flustered or overwhelmed at all and I go with the flow.

I feel that plot driven games have some rather large drawbacks. The biggest I have experienced for myself is with some GMs who have completely lost it when the players go off the plot. As soon as the GM has run out of story they are at a loss of what to do and it is bloody obvious. At that point Players then lose interest in the game and start to become restless.

In my character driven games, the players actively are trying to create situations they can role play through. In some sessions they have decided to forgo the story completely that week in favour of some side story of their own creation. They have even created NPCs and thrown them at me to run or taken on the role of NPCs in scenes they are not involved in. My games have become very interactive.
 
#6
In my character driven games, the players actively are trying to create situations they can role play through. In some sessions they have decided to forgo the story completely that week in favour of some side story of their own creation.
That sounds cool.
How do you cope when Player A wants to do a completely different side story to Player B? For instance in one game I played in, one player wanted his PC to create great art and hobnob with the upper classes, but another wanted to hunt down and destroy every member of a particular street gang. Those aims didn't really overlap much. (Context: it wasn't a sandbox game, so we also had a demon-thing to thwart, which was the GMs story arc).
 

Guvnor

The Guvnor
Staff member
#7
Session Zero @Stronty Girl ?

I can't do it. I always over prep.
What are truly really try to do and now that I'm older, is be willing to simply sacrifice or myprep if the game table just goes off in an interesting direction.
 
#8
I can handle it rules-wise, but I sometimes struggle pulling thoughts on an adventure. I mean, it's doable, but my brain doesn't work that way. I have some basic stuff that I can recycle, but I'd rather have a little time—even just a half-hour breather. I mean, it was like running Girl Underground; that was improvised, but with material gleaned from the character gen process. That was neat; create characters, tie them to the setting; create something from all the nibbly bits of personality and motivation.
 

First Age

D&D h@ck3r and Hopepunk
Staff member
#9
My instinct is to prep, and have plenty of material to fall back on, even if it is not hugely fleshed out. I can get by with bare bones notes, especially if the system lets me do that.

I've gone prep very light from time to time and it has often worked really well, but not without me worrying about it before the session.
 
#10
There are only two circumstances in which I've run a game with no prep at all.

One happens reasonably often, where I'm doing one of those no-prep, make it up as you go along story games (usually Intrepid or Fiasco, which are also shared GM games, so I'm facilitating rather than running). It's ok, but I do tend to feel that the stories are a bit mish-mash, as we all try to lump together our various ideas. One of those games did give me The Great Martian Tripod Race though, so all is forgiven.

The other was a singular occasion at one of the BRS Cambridge cons, where I had inexplicably acquired a copy of the old D&D module Temple of the Frog and was running it sight unseen for a group of my friends, as a Star Wars adventure using 1st edition WEG Star Wars. It was quite late at night, and those were the only rules to hand that we were all familiar with, IIRC. Went remarkably well, up to the point that our host's wife demanded that he stop making all that noise and come to bed.

Oh, happy days.
 

Nathan

Rune Priest
#11
That sounds cool.
How do you cope when Player A wants to do a completely different side story to Player B? For instance in one game I played in, one player wanted his PC to create great art and hobnob with the upper classes, but another wanted to hunt down and destroy every member of a particular street gang. Those aims didn't really overlap much. (Context: it wasn't a sandbox game, so we also had a demon-thing to thwart, which was the GMs story arc).
Funny you should use that as an example, but I did have a similar situation with one player being a nobleman who liked to hobnob with the rich, and another a streetwise thief who preferred to hang out with a street gang. The simple solution was the thief was in the employ of the nobleman. It’s a ploy straight out of HBO’s Rome. I had a overall story arc with some ancient evil spirit trying to resurrect itself and in the end, both the nobleman and thief knew that they had to work together, along with the other characters, to thwart it. They both shared one ultimate goal, but both could pursuit their own agendas on the side.
 
#12
What's prep? ;)

Seriously though, I can and have pulled a game out of my arse so many times I've forgotten the details of most of them. Many of my most memorable gaming moments have been a spur of the moment riff off what the other players are doing at the table. Here are some thoughts on it:

1. There is no such thing as no-prep.
Even the true masters of improv are lying. I went to see Andy Salztman at a comedy cafe doing his improv show and I was disappointed that he was simply swerving material from the Bugle to fit the audience's suggestions. I'm also aware that all imagination is merely a chimaera of your own experiences. Everything we imagine is based on 'X but with Y' or 'X and Y, but with Z taken away' etc. So when we no-prep, we are just leaning on our decades of inputs and pulling inspiration from them. You don't need to 'improvise' a space fighter battle, because we have all the images and tropes already there in our head. We probably have a verbal shorthand for things too. When we say 'flying through the explosion' we know what we mean. So don't feel like you're creating an Eighth Great Story when you're actually just doing the Chewie Maneuver again.

2. Meticulous Prep sets you up for failure.
If you have everything prepped, with hours dedicated to executing your plan to the fullest, the best you can achieve is the plan. Every deviation means you have wasted time and effort. This is why, I believe, some GMs will drag their players back onto that railroad - not because they don't know what to do, but because they need to stick to the plan! They've made the plan, godammit! The plan will be executed! This denies the other players their agency within the game.

3. None of the other players has to do it.
Remember, the person in the GM seat is a player too. Only they get to plan what happens in traditionally structured games. They are active, the other players are reactive. Now, think about it another way. What if the players were a little active and reactive, and the GM was both reactive and active? The GM reacts to the players' ideas and the players have some real agency in steering the game. Not wanting to blow my own trumpet too much, but this was the aim when I designed Duty & Honour. The GM gets to set the Military Mission, but the other players set their Personal Missions. The GM is then beholden to present them with the opportunities to fulfil those missions. Both sides of the table are authoring, thinking, reacting and acting. It's more dynamic.

In the last few years, I have struck a balance. I love running written adventures for the first time in my life (Symbaroum, Nights Black Agents: Solo Ops) and I love running games that are generated on-the-fly (Monsterhearts, Blades in the Dark). I'm running Barbarians of Lemuria at the moment and my prep is finding about a dozen evocative images around a certain theme and then fitting them together into some sort of story as we run along. It's a challenge that takes you to places you probably would never have imagined if you spent time pondering.
 
#13
Session Zero @Stronty Girl ?
I once was given a lift somewhere by the two guys who do most of the GMing for that particular group (I only play with them now and then). They spent most of the journey whinging that even when they do a session zero or extended email conversation to get buy in for the next campaign, the following always happens:
  • The player who always wants to murder-hobo swears that he won't this time - he really wants to play a ballerina who loves kittens in the proposed Being Kind to Animals RPG. A session or two in, his ballerina has stabbed two rival ballerinas and is trying to buy a sniper rifle.
  • The player who always wants to create great art and arse about swears that he won't this time - he really wants to play an ice-cold, hard bitten veteran of the Third World War in the proposed Radioactive Psychopaths RPG. But he spends all his xp on flower arranging and spends all his downtime teaching kittens to write haikus.
  • The player who is a rules lawyer swears he won't this time, and he doesn't even own a copy of the system. A session or two in, he's brought his brand spanking new copy along and is telling you about subsection 3 paragraph four of the parallel parking rules...
 
#14
I have zero faith in session zero. I find keeping flexible and adjusting as you along (both from GM and player perspective) works better for me than trying to fix everything before you even start. I know I discover what I want to play as I play. And even among the same set of players, what they are in the mood for can vary from week to week.

I also finding time to play is difficult. I'd rather spend that time playing rather than discussing how to play.
 

Guvnor

The Guvnor
Staff member
#15
I like to prep random tables and generators and use packs of cards. I increasingly "prep to be spontaneous".
It's not easy sometimes when the players want to be railroaded. However when it does it's a joy.
The problem with riffing from experience is that after a bit people can notice you use the same chords.
 
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