Monday, April 18, 2016

On Game Prep

I'm back! Master of Dungeons is back again, with hopefully pseudo regular updates to help you to achieve the respectable title of Master of Dungeons. This week we discuss how you don't really need to prep for your game sessions. This has been discussed previously on the blog, most recently in this Quick Tip about DMing and Improv.

I'm a big advocate of improv as a DM. I see far too many Dungeon Masters spend hours and hours prepping a weekly game of DnD. This is fine, if you enjoy preparation, but it is completely unnecessary. I cringe every time I see a DM burn out from session prep, and cause his campaign to fizzle out, because it is completely unnecessary. Not only will overly prepping your games cause you to start dreading your favourite hobby, but it doesn't improve the game. If anything it limits it by causing you to railroad your players, else your preparation be for nothing.

I'm not saying you shouldn't have a basic idea of what you want to accomplish in a session, or in a campaign, but that is the sort of high-level preparation you can do while commuting or waiting in line at McDonalds. Complex maps and encounter preparation, and just generally planning out everything that will be done in a session is completely unnecessary.

In the blog's first ever Online Tools post I wrote about Kobold Fight Club. This website is the single greatest tool in a DMs toolbox. Before each session I muck about in this tool, writing down a few enemies that are a good level for my players level and numbers. I write down about how many of that enemy would make a good medium or hard encounter, and the page number. You can filter based on type or keywords, so it is effortless to create a handful of easy encounters in minutes. 

Kobold Fight Club is the easiest way to create encounters for your games

Sunday morning I had a session to run for my secondary group on Roll20, we hadn't met in three weeks and the group was just travelling without much planned. I was able to create a nice four hour session using only Kobold Fight Club, the Dungeon Master's Guide, and my own improv ability.

I hadn't run a dungeon yet with this group, so fifteen minutes before the session I thought this would be a good time for one. I searched the easy to use Roll20 site for a small dungeon map, although you could find one anywhere online. I decided that this dungeon looked like it might be occupied by undead, so I needed a reason for the players to enter the dungeon. 

I flipped through a couple NPC ideas I had rolling around in my head and landed on Professor Cogsworth, a gnomish professor who studies engineering and the manufacture of extravagant artifacts. I decided that he might have a brother, who is also a professor of sorts, but studies magic instead of the physical. Perhaps Cogsworth had come across some sort of magical question and needed to talk to his brother about it. His brother of course had a sort of magic laboratory in an underground dungeon because it had the proper combination of ancient arcane runes and triangulation of ley lines. 

The party would encounter a strange cart, it would stop in front of them and attempt to hire the party to investigate his brother's laboratory. Cogsworth had seem some sort of skeletons and gotten spooked and he needed the party to clear the place out and help his brother, who he assumed had been gnome-napped. For good measure I threw in a weird nerdy professor mixed with a stuttering yoda speech pattern, and he felt like a full-fledged NPC.

In the dungeon, I used the highly useful Random Dungeon tables near the end of the Dungeon Master's Guide. I tweaked each roll as I saw fit to better match the visuals and style of the dungeon and my group. Kobold fight club help me quickly populate it with Ogre Zombies, Gargoyles and Spooky Skeletons, and the party found a pair of true-sight glasses before nearly dying to Yellow Mold.
I actually lied to you at the beginning of this session, I said it took me only 15 minutes to plan a 4 hour session. In actuality the dungeon was only half-finished, so it only took 15 minutes to plan 2 sessions. Try out this kind of planning at your table, and I guarantee your game will be just as fun, if not more, and you'll save yourself the headache of planning a long session. Don't be afraid to tweak any results from a random table, and if you have any spur of the moment ideas, throw them in. Improvise, and have fun.