An rpg prep checklist needs goals and techniques

Conjecture — A good handy guide to GM prep moves needs to have, for each move:

  • A goal, desire, or applicable situation — when should you use this? When is it worthwhile?
  • A name of the move/technique — as a reminder for moves you know well
  • A brief summary/prompt set — so you can do it there and then, from the aforementioned handy guide, if you’re moderately familiar with the technique

For example:

  • Goal — Create a session-length linear dungeon with a dependable emotional payoff
  • The Five-Room Dungeon Model
    1. Entrance And Guardian
    2. Puzzle Or Roleplaying Challenge
    3. Red Herring
    4. Climax, Big Battle Or Conflict
    5. Plot Twist

Given such a guide, if you’re prepping and don’t know what activity to do next, you can look down the list and pick a technique that corresponds to your immediate goal.

(Edit 6 June 2020 — I now call these (goal, method, prompt) instances “goal-method cards”)

Contrast the above with my my session prep checklist — it’s a big list of “maybe…”, but it doesn’t tell you when you might do each thing, or how you might do it. Unsurprisingly, I’ve drifted out of using it.

  • If there’s no goal or desire, when do you know when good to do it? It demands too much executive function and creativity for mundane, time-limited prep.
  • If there’s no specific move/technique, how do you know what, specifically, to do?
  • If there’s no summary or prompts, you can always look it up, but it’s probably a missed opportunity.

Expertise, after all, is knowing what to do, when. Prep guidance that maps goals to techniques could be a good step towards building prep expertise.

More examples:

  • Goal — Improve your intuitive feel for your setting or situation
  • Cordova’s 7-3-1 technique
  • 7 people/places/events, each with:
    • 1 motivation
    • 3 sensory details
    • 1 mannerism
  • Goal — Convince players that they genuinely have significant choice
  • Give them some kind of map (geographical, r-map, …) with several clearly denoted interesting things and ways to get there that make them mutually incompatible

Note how that one isn’t a reference to a specific technique, and so doesn’t have a summary or prompt set. That’s probably fine for some moves.

Note how that last one has two possible goals. And note how the goal is carefully written — a front isn’t strictly a plan, it’s merely what’s going to happen unless the PCs do something to change it. It’s how that plan is going to pan out, given everything else (except the PCs).

  • Goal— Show the passage of time, or make the world seem to exist beyond the players, or fill a dramatic vacuum
  • Advance a front
    1. Update world state
    2. Find a way to tell the players about it

You can have overlapping options in your set. Trick there is probably to write the goals in ways that shows what each option is good for. E.g.

  1. Level 1 — name, one-sentence summary, CR, three themes
  2. Level 2 — Perilous Wilds work-up
  3. Level 3 — Topological map, key room features, encounter table/roster
  • Goal— Prep a dungeon so that it teaches about its unusual features as they are introduced, and builds to a climax
  • McDowall’s three-step dungeon method
    1. Introduce First Concept
    2. Introduce Second Concept
    3. Challenge involving both concepts and an additional twist, typically with a reward.

Yet more examples:

  • Goal— restock a dungeon
  • Dark Heart of the Dreamer restock method method
  • Goal — support player choice (and in the process provide some foreshadowing and anticipation)
  • Give the players a map with some useful detail on it
    • (can be a literal map, or something more abstract like an r-map. What matters is that it allows players in some sense to act on it, e.g. by navigating it (“what if we went there?”), by combining elements (“what if we set her against him?”, by changing it (“what if we destroyed that bridge?”), …)

You can have moves that you recommend based on how the game is working in play:

  • Situation — The players seem really confused about basic elements of setting geography
  • Make a large map, visible in the play space at all times
    • e.g. the laminated A3 city map from my Immergleich game
    • e.g. a map image as your Roll20 main playspace
    • e.g. prompt the players to scrawl a dungeon map (and give them the tools to do it easily)

… or just how the GM feels about the game:

  • Situation— you’re feeling confused about all the characters and places and ongoing events in your game
  • Make a relationship map

Individual goal-technique-reminder sets can fit on cards, real or virtual. Then, you can make yourself a sheet or a screen or a whatever you want. You can include just those techniques you want to be reminded about. Like the set in this blog post, but exactly the ones you want or need.

(Edit 3 May, 25 May — If you want to see what this might look in ready-to-use form, have a look at my example goal-method card-set.)

What I’d really like to know is if anyone has written up a technique set in the form I describe here. If they haven’t, I’m going to write one; if they have, I’m going to study it (but probably still write my own). If you know of one, scream like a ghost in the comments below.

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