So the first session of my Summer Holiday (Monday) Weekly Game Night challenge has been and gone. As I previously mentioned, I only had one session pre-prepped before I began the challenge, and there are 5 more potential sessions before the kids go back to school … so what to run!!!?
But then that’s the whole point of the challenge! We have time to game, as it’s the summer holidays, but if I can’t deliver the sessions, we can’t game! I accept that work pressures might mean that some Mondays I might have to say: “Sorry, I’m not ready for D&D tonight, lets break out Dungeon Command or Castle Ravenloft or (… substitute any number of games we never get time to play …).” Realistically however, I want this to be the exception rather than the rule; the underlying goal of this challenge is to play more D&D!
Traditionally, my DMing has been in what I call ‘burst mode’; I spend a considerable amount of time prepping an adventure, and then we play it over multiple sessions. Once we’ve finished that adventure, there is a significant hiatus while I prep for the next adventure. This break can last from several days to several months, depending on a host of factors generally not connected with gaming (work, kids’ activities, etc., you know the score …).
In this case however I have a time-box: once the kids go back to school, time for gaming will again be at a premium, so I want to maximise what is available. Essentially, this means preparing a session to run every week, regardless! Scary – at least for me – I realise there are many of you out there for which this is the norm, and I give you full respect! But for me, and my schedule, help is required!!
My main sources of help are a book I bought earlier in the year: Never Unprepared: The Complete Gamemaster’s Guide to Session Prep, written by Phil Vecchione, and Chris Perkins’ peerless (and sadly now on hold…) column on the Wizards’ website: The Dungeon Master Experience. Both of these publications offer a wealth of ideas on how to run regular campaigns, so if they can manage it, surely I can for 6 weeks…
So let’s look at the state of play: last Monday, the first holiday session took place in which we pretty much finished off the adventure ‘Storm Tower’ from Dungeon 166 (written by Chris Perkins in fact!) Nothing more is prepped, so before next Monday I need to be ready with another session. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to write a whole adventure in this time – I’m not crazy! I’m using a published adventure (Thunderspire Labyrinth in fact), but I obviously need to prep it: integrate it into my campaign, prepare maps etc. So I still need to be pretty efficient.
In Never Unprepared, Phil Vechinone talks about the five stages of prep: Brainstorming, Selection, Conceptualisation, Documentation and Review. The first three cover the creative phase of generating fantastic ideas and then organizing them into an (hopefully) awesome session, while the latter two cover getting everything prepapred to actually run the session.
As I’m running a published adventure you wouldn’t expect too much brainstorming etc. to be required, but actually I always end up changing quite a lot of the background, hooks, running order and even encounters to fit into my campaign. On the documentation side, it still takes a reasonable amount of effort to produce printable maps, get tokens sorted, prepare role-playing notes etc.
To keep this manageable, my target is to finish the first three stages a whole week in advance. In practice, finishing Conceptualisation means that I have produced a one-page (-ish) session outline (I stole this from the Dungeon Master Experience!). At this point I know exactly (within reason and notwithstanding PC actions of course…) what the session will encompass, what encounters and adversaries need to be prepared, and so can I use the week leading up to the session for specific Documentation and Review.
Of course, as I’m running a two week cycle, but a weekly session, this still means I have all five stages to cover – but I’m doing them for different sessions. As I crunch through the documentation for the coming Monday, I’m also looking forward to the next session but one. Sounds tough right?
Well, one of the other key lessons of Never Unprepared is working out your personal timetable so that you can make the most of any available slots for prep. I commute to work by train each day, and this is an ideal ‘creative’ time, which is far less computer intensive than documentation (i.e. mapping, compiling monster stats for encounters etc.). So my plan is to work on the ‘next but one’ session during my commute, coming up with ideas, making notes on my iPad, and typing up the session outline. At home, I can concentrate efficiently on the documentation for the upcoming session with the right tools around me: computer, all my rule books, printer etc.
Sounds fine in theory, doesn’t it!? Will it work …??
I’ll let you know