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ThenDoctor

How do you prepare for a session?

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All in the title. I've been experimenting with how I prepare running sessions in various ways from completely free form to very detailed notes.

 

I've yet to find the middle ground that works for me, so I began wondering what other people might do.

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First of all, I make up the basic scenario. If it means running a homebrew adventure/campaign, I will read my notes over and over again, think about how the various NPCs would act if the players did X, see what ideas I can come up with how the players might derail the plot. All of this is usually a few hours before the actual session. Up to the last minute I'm sitting at my PC and mobile, see if any of those *censored* thinks it's funny to do a last minute cancel again.

 

I then prepare eventual handouts and get my big suitcase of gaming-equipment ready and start heading to the location. On the way I tend to read up those last few rules I just remembered I might or might not need during the session. When I arrive, I start building up my GM-Screen and Laptop, get my dice and notes ready, hand out the character binders (yep, we're using that 40-pages Character Folio) and wait for the players to hand me a beer. I then drink a bit and start the session with "Let's see how I'll kill you today. *Playername*, can you remind us of what happened last time?"

 

Methodically, how I prepare depends on what I want to run. For longer Campaigns, I tend to make a lot of notes about what happens when and why, who is up to what and why while also maintaining notes on how the PCs influenced events. I tend to go over these notes over and over again, in order to maintain continuity during my campaign (which is the most important thing for me when GMing, trying to depict a world that is alive and having things happening besides the PCs). For a more One-Shot type of session I usually roughly make up what happens, maybe what scenes I want to show them and how I can connect them and otherwise just wing it. 

 

Reminds me of that one time when we decided to play a short session of "The Pool" once. I just said "Okay, everyone, write 50 words about your character, it can be ANYTHING, I'll see what we'll make of it." It was a hilarious(ly awesome) fustercluck. One of the most awesome but most exhausting session to GM.

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I try to visualize the important scenes that I am planning to present to the players, either by downloading images or just spend some time imagining them, Maybe I am a visual person, but it helps me tremendously to deliver better immersion. I also try to write down the motivations of my key NPCs, not just for documentation, but also for forcing me to be clear about them - as it happens many times the motivations require a background story, which I can then hint at through rumors etc.

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Most of my time ends up going into creating either player aids to help them remember rules, or at least the rules I would like to make relevant in the session, and general aids for myself. A good rule of thumb is to spend some time creating "encounters" for the players. These encounters should be general things that can be added into any campaign or story, with more being added all the time.

 

Combat Encounters

First, create the location of the combat. List out some key features of the location, with an eye toward features that will be relevant for the combat. Things like your robot factories, crowded city streets, prisons, etc. Have the location be specific enough to give you ideas, but generic enough to be repurposed when necessary.

Once you've got a location, make up some generic NPCs that can be fought in that location. Things like factory workers, gang members, corrupt cops, etc. Keep more of an eye toward having a balanced/interesting combat with the NPC stats, and remember that they can easily be reskinned. Give them some kind of special ability/equipment that applies to the setting, such as activating robots, hiding behind bystanders, or using shock weapons.

Finally, make a list of some different goals that you can assign to the combat. These should be either destinations to be reached, countdowns to beat, or specific thugs to take out. Maybe your goal is to reach the control room of the robot factory and hack the computer before cops show up, or to capture a running gang leader while his gang covers him, or to escape from the prison and find your equipment that's been stripped from you. Keep an eye toward goals that can be accomplished without just killing everyone.

 

Keep in mind that this kind of encounter can also be used for a stealth based encounter, allowing you to have specific ideas on what kind of security and problems to present to players. And of course it can always turn to combat.

 

Non-Combat Encounters

These are going to be a lot more loose, but you'll divide these up into Investigation Encounters and Social Encounters. Both of these will keep the same basic beats as the other encounters, with you creating a general setting (along with key features of that location), NPCs populating it (possibly using the disposition rules from the book), and goals for the setting, such as finding out a clue, convincing an NPC, etc. You'll want these to be even more generalizable than the combat encounters, given how many different non-combat scenarios you'll face. For example, you might make an investigation scenario taking place at a murder scene containing a gruesome dead body, an incompetent adeptus arbites junior officer getting in the way, with the goal of finding the information they need before the senior officer comes in and kicks them out. Or you could have a social encounter taking place in a noble's manor in which your players must attempt to convince a noble of heresy within his subjects while being argued against by the noble's assistant.

 

Once you've written out a bunch of encounters, you can start slotting them into your games whenever they'd fit, adjusting minor details on the fly, but having written down all of the actual rules you'll need. This means including Example Difficulties and Skill Rolls, Relevant NPC Stats, and even examples of rules that might come into play, such as falling damage or stealth rules. Then all you have to do is re-skin the encounters as needed and once you've used one go back and modify it a bit based on how players did it so it can be even better and so you can use it again without it being the same thing.

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I prepare my own adventures in a if you want to call it so wave form. I work out the fix points in detail, written describtions of them and important locations included. The in between I cover with simple notes... I gave up on anticipating my players' behavior.

This way we have the right mood in important situations and my players feel free in acomplishing their missions. I also prepare two lists, one with names and jobs, the other with clues.

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My style of preparing for an adventure is simple: I make brief notes about key elements to the story, develop a surplus of characters that may or not may be used, and focus most of my time on misc. elements such as hand-outs, background music (I play alot on Roll20), and what not. 

 

An example of what I'd write down in advance of my adventures (dark heresy specific):

 

1. The problem that needs to be solved, in an objective statement. Example; "The Lord of XXX was murdered, causing a war between his family and the XXX family. The murderer has yet to be caught or identified, and needs to be brought to Imperial justice before the minor war breaks out into a larger conflict."

 

2. 1-4 leads/evidence that tie into solving the mystery."Rat-catcher XXX heard  the gargled screams and pleas for help from Lord XXX the night she was murdered. He chose to flee, because he feared he might be cast as the guilty party. As he left, he noticed another man, cloaked in a scarlet hood with an ouroborus tattoo on his left arm."

 

3. (Optional) 1-2 Red Herrings/Distractions. "Servant XXX, who served under Lord XXX, has recently joined with a new to the hab-sector but influential cult. In his chambers there can be found subtle chaos-influenced paraphenalia. The servant was also not shy in sharing his disfavor and wishes of misfortune upon his lord after he had been publicly ridiculed and shamed by her."

 

4. The truth of the situation. "Guilder-Merchant XXX arranged for the murder of Lord XXX, not out of spite or jealously but as part of his simple and brutal business acumen. Lord XXX was a strong opponent preventing his arms trade from flourishing in XXX district. Now, with the two families fighting and militias being formed by influential nobles, his guild has been making tremendous swathes of profit. However, he did not expect the chaos cult of XXX to take advantage of the situation as well, drawing the attention of higher authorities."

 

Apart from this sort of tentative outline, I make about two dozen characters that can be used or recycled for further adventures. I generally think of the sort of characters that might pop up, but knowing our players they can go in the 'wrong' direction and end up somewhere completely different than anticipated. 

 

For the above outline, I'd make a list of characters such as:

 

- Lord XXX of the Noble House XXX (Slain, motivation of the Investigation)

- Lord XXX of the Rival House XXX (Blamed by former Lord's family)

- Servant XXX (Chaos initiate, not yet 'in the know' about his cult.)

- Rat-Catcher XXX (Public servant, was on the premises of Lord XXX holdings the night of the murder)

- Preacher XXX (Face of the Cult XXX. Currently subverting the Imperial Creed and arming a commonners Militia. Taking a strong and influential hold on Lord XXX's family and resources).

- Guilder-Merchant XXX (The man responsible for orchestrating the war. A devout Imperial, but less scrupulous in business.)

- Hired Killer XXX (The killer. He has long departed from the district. But he made no effort to mask his trail, as he has a distinctive tattoo).

- Enforcer XXX (Assigned to review the case, but due to political connections has intentionally overlooked/mishandled the case. Has ties with the trade Consortium.Primary antagonist to the investigators.)

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A very easy trick I use to keep my NPC's personalities, and descriptions straight is to use characters from a movie or television series as the base models, sometimes I don't even change the NPC's name (usually just for supplemental characters).

For example I am currently using Breaking Bad's Saul Goodman, as my slimy Underhive armsdealer, complete with Huell and Kuby as bodyguards. This way I am very familiar with the character's personalities, and just by the names, my players instantly have a clear mental picture of who it is they are dealing with.

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What do I do if I find time to prepare a session?

- have a list of names for random npc at Hand the characters might Need [i am bad at having names]
- have a cheap table at Hand to give them Features or even better, pre-role Features for their description

- think about the Environment the characters are in and prepare some descriptive elements. Things they see and hear that have NO relevance for the adventure/Mission as such but add to the atmosphere

- think about what might happen next (in the modul or in the sandbox/the Situation the Players are in) and re-read the regarding rules (if necessary) and/or come up with ONE "Focus on character X" Scene / interaction for each character


- think about the xp the characters might earn for X (if that is used)

- if I REALLY have a lot of time, prepare a Soundtrack. But seldomly happens
- if I am GOOD i prepare minor hand-outs with things the characters can "learn" from Investigation roles...so the Players Need to talk among another in-game. :)

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I usually play ready made adventures so I make sure I'm up to speed reading through the encounters I have planned for that session a few times and taking notes of vital information.

 

I try to have a soundtrack ready and appropriate sound effects for some scenes

 

I try to create a few floating encounters to use if the pc's stray to far from what is written in the adventures, I also try to have some encounters focused on the various pc's skills so that everyone has something to do

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Well, first I decide what is the overall mission, what it the big bad guy/plot, and that is keep to myself, then I do the large work of ensuring that my world is alive and feels like the PCs interaction with it has a deep impact from time to time. To me, flexibility is key.

 

I usually have 3 enemies prepped, they aren't all always used, though it allows me to keep the players in suspense, such as the discovery of Tech-Heresy and an evil Xenos cult, now I have the choice of giving them two enemies or merging them together, depending on how the session progresses.

 

Then I go down and make NPCs (good/evil) and give them motives and place them into my world/plot, so when the PCs meet them, I know what they are like, where their allegiances are and their motives/personalities; I usually have a sheet with their name and 3 bullet points to outline them.

 

I ask my PCs to keep their own notes of what happens from session to session (and since we use Roll20) as it also helps me keeping track of everything that is said and how far they have progressed (plotwise)

 

I only plan 1 session ahead of myself, given the unpredictable nature of Players, it is hard to keep them on track, and therefore I adapt to their nature from session to session, making up events to get them back on track, keep them interested, and sometimes drop red hares towards them which will send them in circles.

 

And that is usually how I prep for my games. Keep it vague enough for flexibility and know your NPCs and the overall goal, from there it comes down to how you want to pace it from time to time.

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I pick what Missions I want to do in the session and make sure I have the story plotted out correctly. I have a binder to organize all my NPC charts, plus separators for different reasons. I also prep everything the day before with sticky notes on my binder to do a quick check to make sure i got everything (book, dice, pens papers etc.) Also i stay relaxed before going to the session like trying to visit friends if im not all business I feels like I can start the game easier. Plus when we start the session we typicly just do a high and chat for 15 or so minuets just for the group to settle down. When we do play I will ask if everyones ready. More or less thats how i start, then we kinda jump right into the game. Oh big rule to start make sure everyone has their drinks and snack Before you start talking because it gets annoying when players leave the table to get something in the intro or exposition because then you have to hear "sorry i didnt hear what you said or, can you repeat that" it just slows game time

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