As a GM, There are lots of reasons you might want to spend time on prep. I’ve sketched out below what I think are the major ones.
Prep as support for play
I.e. your motivation is to prep so that your game is good when you run it
This is the healthiest relationship, both psychologically and for the health of any game community who sees you at work. It’s the one that best matches the ostensible goal, so least likely to be distorted by motivations that aren’t obvious.
Prep as pure leisure
e.g. you love drawing detailed maps with shading, 3D effects, etc
This is healthy
Easy to combine with support-for-play if you set a low bar for “enough” and know how to get there (then you can leisure on from that as much as you like)
Can have distorting effects when presented as, or taken by observers as, necessary (or even desirable) prep for support of play — it’s likely to have lots of elements that are fun/pleasant/rewarding but which don’t serve play
- e.g. if you share your lovingly-shaded maps online, others (especially inexperienced others) may think that you’re doing that for game-beneficial reasons
Prep as meaningful pursuit of excellence or expertise beyond the immediate needs of the game
e.g. you want to get really good at understanding how medieval societies worked
This is potentially very good for you, as it’s much more valuable beyond the game than any other type
But there’s probably a higher-than-average risk of it slipping into obsession (see below)
Prep as support for writing and publishing
- e.g. you’re simultaneously prepping this for play (this very afternoon) and for putting up on Itch PWYW (in a few weeks time)
- (credit to /u/Boogdish on /r/rpg for pointing this out)
- Perfectly healthy, as long as your motivations to write and publish are healthy
Prep as external social competition
- e.g. to produce the best artefacts to show off online (or indeed to the group, thus looking better than another gm there)
- Not necessarily unhealthy per se, but again it’s not the same thing as support for play and may encourage behaviour inconsistent with that
- e.g. when you’re competing online by sharing beautiful maps maps, you may misleading others into thinking that the return-on-investment of that for the actual play experience is high than it is
- NB if you are motivated to compete in terms of game experience for your players, I think that’s prep-as-support-for-play, not what I mean by as-social-competition here.
Prep as obsession/perfectionism
e.g. you can’t rest until you’ve made a detailed keyed map of every dungeon or city that you think the players might visit this session
The book “Never Unprepared” looks like a manual for this, apart from the bit at the end
Can be a symptom of other anxieties, can be a symptom of being too inexperienced or untalented for the crowd who are playing.
You should try to wean yourself off this. If you can’t, maybe get therapy — after all, this probably not the only area of your life where you’re conterproductively perfectionist
(aside — /u/pichenette on /r/rpg made the general point that it’s unhealthy to do lots of rpg prep and then get angry when the players don’t care. So the amount (and type) of prep you can healthily do is limited by what/how much the players will care about, and how much you will care if the players don’t care.)
Anyone disagree with my comments on those motivations? Anyone think I’ve missed a distinct, important motivation?