My Basic Session Planning

Before we get to today’s post, a little Extra Life update and reminder. I am currently just over a third of the way to my $1000 goal, which is excellent! Thank-you to everyone who has donated or spread the word, your support is going mean the world to sick kids at the Stollery. If you’ve been waiting, now is your chance. I posted in September about my Extra Life plans, and you can check out that post for details and how you can donate and get involved. Now, on with the post!

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I know there are Game Masters out there that don’t do a lot of prep between sessions. I respect GMs that can work completely on the fly, because I am not one of them. While I have gotten better at improv over the years, I still need to do a minimum amount of prep in order to feel confident going into a session.

The very first thing I do is go over my session notes from the previous session. I’m looking for anything I said I’d have done by next session (XP totals, treasure lists, and so on). I’m also looking for any NPCs I might have to prep, and any indications of where my players are going next. Sometimes that’s straightforward; they’re still in the dungeon, so they’ll stay in the dungeon. Sometimes they have a bunch of options, though, and hopefully I noted which one they were leaning towards at the previous session.

Once I’ve gone over my notes I start putting together the things I might need for the session: NPC stats, location info, results for Knowledge checks. I read over the next portions of the adventure a few times to get familiar with them, assuming I’m using a pre-written adventure. If not, I review my adventure notes, and fill in any blanks I might need for the next session. I also assemble the physical items I’ll need for the next several encounters, like miniatures, maps, and player handouts. I like to have those things ready to go so I don’t waste playing time fumbling or searching for them. This also helps maintain the illusion of always knowing where the players are going.

I usually prepare one more encounter than I think I’ll need, and often two. Sometimes the players go in a direction you weren’t expecting and it’s great to be prepared for that. And sometimes the players breeze through an encounter you thought was going to take longer or be tougher. Either way, it’s good to be ready with the next, or alternate, encounter so they aren’t waiting for you to catch up. This is where I often dig into my collection of free encounters/adventures from DriveThruRPG or elsewhere, so I have something quick and low-prep.

About an hour or so before the session starts I prepare the playing space. I anoint the four sacred corners with the sacrificial blood…just kidding. A little Old Gamer “D&D is satanism” humour. But I do tidy up the play area, removing any distractions. I set up my end of the table with all my GMing tools close to hand. I set out the players’ minis, the map sheet we’re using, and character sheets if I held on to them. And I set out the snack bowls so we don’t have to waste time hunting for those later in the game.

One thing that I started doing fairly recently, I pre-roll about 15-20 times on a d20 (assuming we’re playing Pathfinder or D&D; I pre-roll for other games as appropriate) and note the results. This speeds up things like NPC/monster saving throws, skill checks, and surprise attack rolls a great deal. I use the same numbers for player checks when I need the check to be secret; for instance, an elven character’s Perception check for a secret door. This is useful, because sometimes you don’t want to give the game away by rolling a d20. Some players can’t help harmful meta-gaming, and pre-rolling avoids that issue.

On my laptop, I open up the PDFs of all the resources I’ll need during the session, and bookmark the pages I’ll need for reference. As part of my NPC prep I’ll have noted any spells and abilities that were not familiar to me, and I’ll have those pages open as reference. If for some reason I’m not using my laptop (rare, but it happens), I use sticky notes to tab all the pages I’ll need as reference. Either way, I want to cut down on the amount of fumbling through books I have to do during play. Not only does it cut down on wasted time, but you come across as a more confident and in-control GM.

Once that’s all done, I’m ready to play! I sit back, sip my coffee, and wait for the players to arrive.

What’s your prep routine like? How much time do you put into your session prep? Talk to me in the comments.

Creating a Library, No Big Deal

On Facebook yesterday I mentioned that I’m going ahead with an idea I’ve had milling about for a while now. I’m creating a roleplaying game library, mandated to collect, preserve, and share tabletop roleplaying games, as well as documents associated with the hobby. I’m not the first person to have this idea. Alexandria RPG and the Play Generated Map and Document Archive are both examples of what I’m trying to achieve, and they aren’t the only two. Which may beg the question, why? If things like this already exist, why start another one? Well I happen to have a few answers to that.

First, I don’t happen to think redundancy is bad when you’re endeavoring to preserve the history of something. Roleplaying games as an industry-supported hobby have been around for over forty years, and I plan to keep enjoying them for at least the next thirty. There is a wealth of knowledge, lore, and folklore tied up in all the time that all the people involved in the hobby and the industry have expended. It would be a little foolish to think one person, or even dozens of persons, could collect and preserve it all. Just by living in a different geographical location from other librarians and conservationists, I have a chance to collect and preserve a different set of materials, obviously with some overlap.

Which brings me to my second answer. I spent a good long while looking, and I don’t think there is anyone else living in Canada doing what I plan to do. If there is, I’d sure love to talk to them, but if so they are keeping a very low profile. And I think having a Canadian library for my hobby could be a good thing. Yes, mostly because I live here and this is where all my stuff is. But it’s unlikely that US-based groups doing this sort of work will make the trip up to many Canadian events, unless they’re just over the border. It’s just not cost-effective. And maybe this is a bit paranoid, but given the political and social climate in the US right now, I don’t think it could hurt to have a collection of this information outside the US.

But lastly, it’s something I’ve been doing for a while anyway, without what I’m now realizing is the very important public engagement portion. I’ve collected roleplaying material for a while, and I have a bunch tucked away on shelves in my game room, with a bit more tucked in boxes awaiting the light of day. And that’s all well and good, but at the end of the day these are games. They are meant to be out where people can read them and play them. I want people, at whatever point they entered the hobby, to have a chance to experience a bit of what the hobby was like before they joined. Or have a chance to see the hobby from someone else’s point of view.

So a few things are going to happen over the next while.

  • I’m setting up a not-for-profit Society, called the Canadian Library of Roleplaying Games; as small as this is now it’s going to grow, and I need a framework for that growth. A NFP Society is also the first step to attaining eventual charitable status, which I think will help us in getting larger donations of gaming material down the line. As it stands, a Society can’t issue tax-receipts, so all I can offer folks for donating material to me now is my winning smile.
  • But having a Society means I can officially donate my personal library of material to that Society, which will form the seed of the collection.
  • I’ve started on a website, and I have Twitter and a Facebook page in place ready for the official launch. The website is going to be a key player in all this, since that is where the collection’s database will live. I know some thing about creating a database and I’ll need to learn a whole bunch more, as well as finding like-minded volunteers to help out.
  • And then I want to get the collection out in front of the public, so I need to decide what that will look like and figure out the logistics. Currently I’m one guy with shelves of gaming stuff and no car, so how I get to events and which events I attend are non-trivial issues.

But for me, all of that is the first part of the fun part. I’m excited to get this project started and you’ll definitely be hearing more about it as I move forward. And if by any chance you’re interested in helping out, whether with time or a donation of material, feel free to email me at canlibrpg@gmail.com. Don’t be put off if I don’t know how to use you quite yet, it’s early days and I’m still figuring things out myself.

RPGaDAY Thirty-One

What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

On a personal note, I’m excited by the prospect of more and regular gaming. The groups I play with and DM for have become much better at scheduling, which means a regular gaming schedule overall, which means more games getting played every week. Currently I DM for two groups and play in two others, which averages out to three games every two weeks. I have two other groups for Pathfinder which I need to get back on track, though I might be switching at least one of those groups to another game system. That would get me up to two games a week with a nice balance between running and playing. That would leave me room to run the occasional one-shot game for systems I like and want to try out.

As for RPGs as a whole, I’m looking forward to seeing how the industry will continue to change in 2018. Live-streaming games continues to be popular, led by Critical Role and Maze Arcana, and that has had a huge impact on the popularity of Dungeons & Dragons, and other games to a lesser extent. I’m curious to see if that popularity continues through another year, and what effect that will have on the industry. Paizo just released Starfinder, and the response has been strong so that seems poised to impact the industry. But sci-fi games have always been a harder sell than fantasy RPGs, so how big that impact will be depends on how well Paizo develops it going forward. And digital tools and supports continue to develop for tabletop gaming, so I look forward to watching how that affects my hobby in 2018.

In the meantime, I have the rest of 2017 to get through. This is the final post for RPG a Day 2017, so we return you to our regularly scheduled 2+ posts a week. So stay tuned!

RPGaDAY Thirty

What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?

Let me start by saying what genres I’m tired of seeing mashed in RPGs: anything to do with zombies or cthulhu. Zombies are well over in my opinion. They’ve been done well once or twice, but now it’s time to move along. And I love cthulhu (Ia! Ia! Ftagn!) but if we need horror and dread there is plenty in our own world to use without dragging poor Cthulhu out of R’lyeh all the time. If you want cthulhian dread, play Call of Cthulhu or Trail of Cthulhu.

It’s not really a genre as far as I’m aware, but I would love to see more social consciousness and awareness seep into gaming. Science fiction and fantasy, as genres, have always been at the forefront of challenging social norms and pushing boundaries in what we believe is possible. I’d love to see games which, instead of focusing the players on imaginary issues, directed them toward solving real issues we face now. Maybe that’s why I’m burnt out on Cthulhu in games; it’s something unknowable which man cannot possibly stand against in any meaningful way. But there are tonnes of things against which we can make a stand, and making games to demonstrate that may be one of the best ways to show folks that they can do something in their real lives.

Don’t worry, I don’t think that means that we leave off killing goblins, or zapping…space goblins (maybe I need to examine my anti-goblin attitudes). And I’m not advocating some sort of “educational game” like Social Consciousness RPG. But why not some games which deal with issues of race? Or poverty? And hey, maybe they’re out there and I just haven’t seen them yet. That would be amazing to look forward to, so please share any that you know.

RPGaDAY Twenty-Nine

What has been the best-run RPG Kickstarter you have backed?

One I’m currently in the throes of, the Reaper Bones 4 Kickstarter. Every time Reaper runs a Kickstarter for their new Bones line of miniatures, it is is like getting a birthday present that keeps getting cool stuff added to it. Okay, and you have to pay for, but still. Every campaign starts with a $30,000 goal which gets blown by in minutes; with a little less than a week to go, they are sitting at $1,820,275.

Their method is simple. To get the core set of miniatures, the buy-in is $100. That sounds like a lot, but wait, there’s more! The base set usually starts with about 25-30 miniatures, ranging in size from the standard character size minis to large minis like giants and such, to huge minis like a 13″ tall dragon. As the campaign goes along, Reaper alternates between adding minis to the base set and releasing add-ons which can be added to your order for the listed price. Currently, at $100 the base set gets you 125 miniatures, plus a package each of 1″ and 2″ round bases. And there is every chance another dozen or so miniatures will be added to the base set before the September 2 deadline, so even with shipping that works out to less than a dollar per miniature. On miniatures which would retail between $3 and $15 in stores. How can I not back this Kickstarter?

Definitely check it out, it’s a very impressive campaign and it draws me in every time they run it.

RPGaDAY Twenty-Eight

What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your group?

Depends on the group. One group is packed with Old Gamers, so we tend to a lot of quotes from Eighties and Nineties sci-fi and fantasy movies (Ice Pirates, Ladyhawke, Time Bandits), with the standard stuff from the Indiana Jones and Star Wars franchises. Some of my younger groups, however, tend to quote from Harry Potter or the latest Doctor Who. And then I’m a big fan of new series like Killjoys and Dark Matter, so I’ll quote them when the opportunity presents.

I find every gaming group has their own list of favourite quotes, and that can tell me a lot about how I’m going to fit in that group. Not so much the quotes themselves, but how members of a group react if you don’t “get” the quote. Because it’s a form of shared communication within the group, how the group treats outsiders really comes through in how they treat you as you learn the special codes and phrases. I’ve sometimes pretended not to understand a movie reference, just to see their reaction. And I’ve left groups where this stuff was meant to be a gatekeeping device. I only have so much time to game in a week, so if a group thinks I need to pass some sort of quiz to play with them, I don’t need to be there.

RPGaDAY Twenty-Five, Twenty-Six, Twenty-Seven

What is the best way to thank your GM?

Be a good player. Show up on time, shut off the electronics at the table, and pay attention. In combat, be ready when your turn comes around so you aren’t slowing things down. Your GM puts in a bunch of work behind the scenes which you will never see. Thank them with your attention and good behavior.

But I’ll also accept an ice-cold Crabbie’s ginger beer or three.

Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

Pathfinder RPG, just by sheer volume of useful sourcebooks and gaming material. If I wanted to start another Pathfinder campaign, I’d be literally spoiled for choice because I’d have a sourcebook and probably an adventure path to support me where ever I set the campaign in Golarion. Heck, I could start the campaign on another planet in the solar system and be okay, because there’s a sourcebook for that. And that doesn’t include the very useful flip-mats, magnetic combat pad, miniatures (paper and plastic), and the many other support products they have available. You could start a Pathfinder campaign with very little advance preparation, and that can be a godsend for the busy GM.

What are your essential tools for good gaming?

Having just said how much I love the many tools available from Paizo for gaming, I’m not going to back-track a bit and say: nothing. There is no piece of equipment, really, that I absolutely must have in order to run a game. Obviously, if I’m just playing then I need whatever the system requires me to have to play. But if I’m GMing, I can do that with nothing more than paper and a pencil (I don’t include those as tools, because I have them around all the time, even when I’m not gaming). I can ask a few questions to get an idea of what the players want to play, a few more to get an idea of the setting and tone they want, and we can go.

Flipping the question a bit, and assuming I’m already in a campaign for something, then my answer is also: player buy-in. I’m willing to tweak things to better fit my players and their characters, but I need my players to trust me and buy-in to the world I’m creating. If I don’t have that then the game isn’t going to be fun for any of us, and I’d rather just play a boardgame.