My session prep checklist

I have made a checklist for session prep (Word version). I haven’t used it much yet, but my hope it is that will do two things for me:

  1. Remind me to check things I tend to do badly. E.g. I am bad at giving out any treasure at all, even in games that need it and have guidance about it
  2. Give me ideas to try when I’m happy with my basic prep but want to improve it more

Because there is so much of the latter, I’ve split it into two parts (levels 2 and 3), with the second part containing things that are less important, more advanced. They’re the kind of thing I’d spend time on for a published adventure, but usually wouldn’t for a single session.

This checklist is explicitly for me, and only contains things that I have problems with and things I don’t always think to do. You’ll notice level 1 is missing a lot of basic activities. This is because I find them easy and natural (or don’t give a fuck about them, so don’t do them).

This list is not meant to help a rank beginner do this well. They would probably want something different, something more basic. And, as usual for checklists and processes, it’s no substitute for expertise — it just gives you reminders to use the expertise you have.

Question for the crowd — Does anyone else have an analogous list, in that it’s specific to you, that it only includes things you don’t instinctively do? What’s on it? How do you organise it?

Related question — What do you tend to miss when doing session prep? What do you do to remind yourself?

Three things, Christmas Eve 2019

Landmark, hidden, secret — a classification scheme for information in game situations that might help us better decide what to tell players, and when — https://diyanddragons.blogspot.com/2019/10/landmark-hidden-secret.html

Michael Prescott explains why you probably don’t need to use the OGL, and probably would be unwise to use the DM’s Guild or similar DriveThruRPG programs. “… That last one is so mind-bendingly overreaching that it’s comical. You’re giving them permission to negotiate for you, with themselves. It’s like the devil wrote it.”http://blog.trilemma.com/2019/10/compatible-with-dungeons-dragons.html

It looks like real-world archery is much harder at range than typical rpg archery. Given that long-range missile fire is hard to make fun, it might be worth trying some harsher range modifiers — https://deltasdnd.blogspot.com/2011/03/basic-d-on-archery.html

Three things, mid-December 2019

Justin Alexander has a good article on why GMs shouldn’t fudge rules and die rolls — https://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/43708/roleplaying-games/gm-dont-list-9-fudging. He doesn’t mention that fudging subtly corrupts you, giving you a sordid aura and making you more likely to do murders, but I presume we all know that by now.

Alexander also has a has a plausible conjecture for why most realm/business/tavern management etc subsystems fail — because they tend to be closed systems, rather than integrating naturally with the main loop of the game — https://twitter.com/hexcrawl/status/1185260871062183936?s=09

Finally, Patrick Stuart has been looking at the OSR-space and has concluded that BX/Moldvay D&D is the common language that makes most of it work — http://falsemachine.blogspot.com/2019/11/the-bx-commons.html. This aligns with my experience — I see reddit and blog posts by people playing OD&D, but they’re rarely the people who are writing things I’m interested in. And I don’t see much about Holmes, Mentzer or AD&D at all.

Collected advice on adventure design

I am writing some OSR-type D&D adventures that I intend to publish, so I have gone looking for advice on doing that. Below, I have collected links. I have also included some summaries, but honestly in the eyes of posterity they are more for my benefit in writing them than for you in reading them.

How I Write an Adventure, by Arnold K

https://goblinpunch.blogspot.com/2017/01/how-i-write-adventure.html

That’s prosaic, principled, but realistic — I can believe he actually works like that. My summary:

  • Write ten adventures at once, gathering and filing ideas as they come to you
  • Run them early — that will give you ideas and show you problems
  • Have a (short) list of themes, be strict about cutting stuff that doesn’t fit
  • Don’t commit to anything until late on, especially not to a specific map
  • Focus on making interesting snippets – you can integrate them later
  • Iterate your design, culling weak (or unthematic) bits ruthlessly

How I Make an Adventure by Patrick Stuart

Continue reading “Collected advice on adventure design”

How I GM and how to play in my games

People have asked me how I GM. People have asked me how to play in my games. By a kind of ontological fusion, this document answers the questions of both groups. It’s amazing.

There is no “plot”, and we are intense

The heart of my method is improvising — I am making this shit up as we go along. That’s my default position. My default model of “run a game session” is that I have no plan or knowledge of what will happen. The players could do anything and it might seem reasonable for anything to happen. That is where I start from, and any prep work I do to is to support that. This is probably the key to my success.

There is thus no “plot”, ever. You are free. But that comes with responsibility — as a player you must make the game work. Good drama has ongoing themes, good drama goes somewhere. So you need to have direction, to be going somewhere, and to stick with that at least some of the time. You need to try to change the world, or at least try to change your position in it.

Example If you start out looking for your brother, you should keep looking for him until you have good reason to give up.

Side-jaunts are not a problem, just so long as you get back on track eventually. But my runs are usually short — 10–12 sessions is typical — so “eventually” is quite soon.

Continue reading “How I GM and how to play in my games”

Three interesting things I have read, late October 2019

Paul Beakly on improvised game design:

Basically if you’re ever creating a system of resolutions that orbit an outcome, rather than directly resolving the outcome itself, that’s improvised game design.


Two interesting videos on medieval lighting technology:

  • A broad overview by Shad M Brook introduces the idea of “rush lights”, the pith from meadow rushes that’s been soaked in tallow. I’d never heard of these before, but apparently there were the best light source most peasants could get.
  • Jason Kingsley tries to make rush lights, and shows that it was harder than I assumed after the brief description in the other video.

James Introcaso says We Can Do Better Than Boxed Text. And he’s right.