Preparation? No, Triage

Monday, 13. September 2010

Fame and Fortune is running this months RPG Carnival, with the theme being preparation.  A lot of times it’s either all or nothing depending on what you’re running and how long you’ll be running it for.  It’s a very good test of storytelling ability to be able to run a good game on the fly.  I can only do it part of the time, and the rest really prefer to get some proper preparations in.  This leads into questions such as…  How do you spend your time setting up for a game, how much is too much, looking at a variety of variables depending on the game you are running that include but are not limited to…

- complexity of game system (compare 3:16 with D&D 3.5 with high-level Rolemaster)
- session duration (D&D Encounters vs. tournament vs. an evening’s gaming)
- if the game is a one-shot or part of a campaign
- nature of the setting (pre-generated module vs. self-created sandbox).

I think it’s a good start if you want to try and quantify everything, but is really overkill. I can simplify how this works to 1 simple word.. “Triage.” Time is limited, and no matter how much time you have available eventually you can only get so fine in the amount of detail given. Depending on the setting and your style of game play you might not even want to get ridiculously detailed. Having another book to look up information from (this time your self created module) can really stifle game play.

With that in mind there are 2 things you need to put in place before you really get started.
1) Your style of Game play (Noir, Mystery, Action, Horror, etc.)
2) How much time you have (or want to spend) to prepare
Once you’ve figured those out, you can get started on the next process. You’ll have to budget enough time to get the first 3 steps done or you’re really going to be winging it.

1) Overall Area Map – This doesn’t have to be detailed, it’s simply a sketch of major points of interest in the area your campaign is being held in. Cities, Kingdoms, Spaceports, Dungeons and the like.
2) Roughing in the Major areas – You are going to go into a little detail with major NPC’s, Organizations, and the overall “feel” of each major area. You’ll be able to build more detail later, this is simply setting up framework to run a campaign.
3) Probable Plotlines – Since you should already have an idea of how you are going to run the campaign you now need to populate it with some motivations between characters and organizations, who hates who, and what the current happenings are in the area. With this in place it becomes very easy to wing it if your players decide to do something completely different. However, you are also set in case they decide to run with whatever your plot lines are.
4) Minor Map areas – Continue filling in your map with minor areas of interest. Your plot lines should help direct what some of these might be (Towns in duress, druid circles, crashed spacecraft, etc)
5) Familiarization – Make sure you have a good feeling about being able to describe all the major areas that might be visited, how you are going to describe them, points of conflict and so on. Understanding what you’ve put together at this point to make it run smoothly is more important than adding more detail.
6) Minor NPCs and events – I put these after familiarization simply because they’re simply filler for you to pull from for personalites, enemies and the like.
7) Additional detail work – Self explanatory, and can be repeated ad nauseum.

This entire process should give a pretty good breakdown of putting together a campaign within some time frames, and whats actually important to your running it. Its possible to get as detailed as you like, but the major elements are the most important part and are what need to be there first. After that, everything is just feelings and filler.

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5 Responses to “Preparation? No, Triage”

  1. Don Says:

    One of the things that helps me prepare is having all the information regarding my campaign available to me. To this end, I’ve created a wiki for my campaign (I use, but there are others). I made a decent generic template that is good for NPC’s, events and places, and update it as things progress.

    The big advantage is being able to search for things and “google” your own campaign world. The down side is it does take a commitment of a couple hours each session to enter new info and update the info on subjects the recent session affected.

  2. Grey Says:

    Hi Don,
    Thanks for posting. The wiki creation article probably deserves a topic within itself. I’ve heard of people doing this, as well as using some of the other commercial services for it but haven’t actually done so myself. How available is the information for you offline however?

  3. Greg Christopher Says:

    Did I tell you about my impressionistic module concept, Grey?

    If not, e-mail me for the secret scoop on this “in-development” concept.

  4. satyre Says:

    Cool article – the triage idea is something that I probably need to put some more time into using. :)

    On the wiki front it depends if you’re using an online wiki like Obsidian Portal or something like Tiddlywiki which is a single, self-contained web page you can slap onto a flash drive or SD card.

    I’ve found TW really useful if you have a few spare moments to put something towards an established game.

  5. Grey Says:

    Hi Satyre,
    Yeah, I liken most work to Triage actually, you just have to get the core points done and then everything else sort of falls into place. It’s probably better not getting it done if you’re going to have to half ass it and just wing your writing anyways.

    TW sounds very, very good actually. That was going to actually be my next project was finding a self contained wiki, but you just solfed it. Thanks!

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