Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Prepping for a Game

I have found over the past 8 months, with the addition of a new child, my prep style for games has radically changed.

The thing I used to do was put in a massive amount of prep work up front. I'd build the world, create NPCs, build plot lines, and have everything in near-publishable format before we took off. I'd even create stat blocks and tab monster entries. Then, after the game got started, I let the world take care of itself. Because I had put so much time and effort into the NPCs and the world, I created whenever the PCs did something, it was very easy to figure out how my world and cast of characters would react. My session prep, then, was to just take a few notes about what the various factions of my world would do.

Now, it's much different. Now, I literally can't put in the intensive prep work up front. So it has to be spread out over the course of the campaign. Plus, there is a lot of re-reading the rules and refining my knowledge of how the game works.

In my past two campaigns, I had about a week or two to put something together resembling a campaign. What I came up was a very rough, very bare skeleton for a campaign. Basically a very broad and open-ended outline. On that outline were what I thought the major events of the campaign would probably be (subject to change, of course), and most importantly, the major themes of the campaign. Then, I start filling in the world and campaign outline in-between games. It's very different for me but I'm getting used to it.

Something new for this game...I now extensively email my players about their characters' agendas and what they want to get done. This sort of happened on its own. The Rogue Trader player, Matt, started emailing me with orders he was giving to their entourage. I would respond back and then we would see his orders carried out during the course of the next session.

However, now that emailing habit has started to spread to the other players. I find it to be tremendously helpful in maintaining interest and momentum for the campaign. When I've tried to do this before, it's usually failed. People are busy with their own lives, etc. I'm not sure why this campaign has provoked this much outside-game buzz. But there you go.

Something I've always done is to write notes on what they did last session and consider how it will affect the game world. Then, I bullet point a few things that I definitely want to happen in the next session, usually as a direct result of what they did previously. But I allow room for them to change.

One more thing, and this is big: I am constantly prepping certain big scenes or big reveals in my head. Cutscenes and set pieces, if you will, that will come up later in the game. I even have them set to music. I don't know when they will come up, but when the PCs do something that I think warrants the big reveal, then I'll whip it out, perhaps tweaking it for their specific actions.

What about you all? How do you prep for a game session? I'm curious to hear.


  1. For my Rogue Trader game, I borrowed a starmap from an oldish computer game called Frontier, which saved a lot of time, as it came with planetary systems, habitable worlds, etc all built in.

    I looked at that, and picked out points of interest. Any worlds capable of supporting life got some features, as did others with interesting stellar features.

    I also came up with a list of ideas, set pieces, and so on, and then cross-referenced, so Lifeform A and attendant Situation B could go on Planet C, and so on.

    (I'm being vague because one of my players has discovered this blog!)

    Then I pretty much dropped my players into it and let them go where they wanted.

    These notes weren't in any great detail. I have a notepad, and each system gets one or two pages of notes at most. I find that doing much more than that means that it's more than I can keep in my head at the table, and stuff gets lost, even if I wrote it myself! However, I find it much easier to improvise based on initial notes, so that's how my current format has arisen.

    One thing I realised about halfway through is that the RT stablocks are unnecessarily bloated, particularly the skills and talents. Unless there's a very good reason not to do so, I reduce NPCs to a single statline, assume they've got any skills they might reasonably have, and perhaps jot down their main attacks, including any bonuses they might get from talents, powers, etc. This works much better.

  2. Wow, Kelvin, you made up your own sector of space? Impressive. I don't think I would have dared to do that. :)

    About the RT stat blocks. I've found that all you really need for most RT bad guys are their WS, BS, Wounds, and Armor. Most of my stat blocks consist of these stats and little else. Truly nasty bad guys can exploit some Talents, but they don't need many to be formidable.

  3. How do you guys handle combat whilst making it fair and with enough crunch, but at the same time keeping the flow and making it fun and (perhaps) cinematic? I find I have trouble keeping track of the initiatives of everyone, ammo and the wounds of all the disparate attackers, even when we're using minis. Also, have you had any space combat since your initial "tutorial" abstraction, WfG? When I sit down and read the rules it all seems easy enough, but when during actual play, I can't seem to make it flow naturally somehow. I used to feel that Warhammer Fantasy, and by extension RT, were fairly straightforward being percentile based systems-- one would think it's much easier to make stuff up on the fly. The only difficulty was maintaining consistency and keeping things fair for all. But, for some reason I haven't felt comfortable with this in RT.

  4. For me, I'll say again that most minions only need a handful of stats. The four I mentioned above. As far as tracking wounds, that's pretty easy. If my minions have about 10 wounds a piece (which is fairly average in this universe), then the math is very easy to do in my head when they take damage.

    As far as tracking initiative and wounds - if you are having a hard time with that, do yourself a favor and do what I did. Assign someone the role of Combat Ninja during the session.

    The Combat Ninja is just one of your players whom you've asked to help you. They write down the initiative, and keep track of the bad guy wounds. If you don't want to announce how many wounds each bad guy has, just have the CN keep track of how much damage each respective mini has taken. The point is, when you employ the CN, you shouldn't have to write anything down. You just run the table. It's extremely useful.

    BTW, I personally don't find it helpful for the bad guys to keep track of ammo. Most combats we've had have only been a few rounds - not long enough for anyone to run out of ammo on my side of things.

    With ship combat, I will whole-heartedly agree that it is a bit complicated. We've had a few ship battles now, and what makes it difficult is that the ships have to move each round. And if you have several ships on the board, it can get sticky.

    Combat was not hard at all when it was just three ships on the board. It was hard when there were six to eight.

    We're fortunate to have some players who know the rules pretty well, so everyone sort of contributes here. It also helps that the rules are similar to Battlefleet Gothic, so if you know the BFG rules, it helps with the space combat.

    The tough thing about it is this - while it can get complicated, I still like the RT space combat rules a lot. They're a lot better than most of the space combat rules out there I've seen.

  5. If I may weigh in on the question, I too ignore ammo in most cases. If it's a low-ammunition weapon, such as a melta gun, then I will take note of the ammunition, but for the standard bolter or lasgun, the magazine is big enough to last for the length of the average RT combat.

    As for space battles, I use the RT rules as is, apart from positioning and movement, mainly because my group doesn't have the table space for such battles.

    Instead, I use a modified version of the range bands system from 3:16 Carnage Among the Stars, and it does the job nicely.


    As for the starmap, I did have help, as I got a computer to generate the basic layout, but yeah, I didn't really want to use the setting from the book.

  6. To follow up, as I realise the previous comment was a bit vague, making up a sector of space is not so different from making a hexmap in an old-school D&D game. Just draw out your map, add a few points of interest, work out the local "terrain", stat up some monsters and npcs, then let your players loose!

    You can see the map here.

    Jon, one technique I found useful for running large fights was to lump the opponents into one "mob creature". So instead of having ten opponents with ten wounds and two attacks each, you've got one big opponent with a hundred wounds and twenty attacks. It's much easier to manage, although it's a technique better suited to imaginative play, rather than with miniatures and battlemats.

    You can see further discussion of this technique here.

    As for more individual opponents, I've moved to a very simple statblock, as mentioned above, and I don't worry about details too much.

  7. Thanks for the insight and suggestions, guys. This gives me some renewed excitement for running the game again. I've been running the adventure that comes with the GM's toolkit, the one with the Whisperers. Even though it's quite a short story arc, I had trouble keeping it all in my head and so found running an open system somewhat daunting. I don't like to have to look stuff up (and I hate reading descriptions of places aloud), it interrupts the flow as far as I'm concerned. So I've been outlining my adventures in a format that I can refer to quickly during the game. Lately, when I've been planning my own stories, I tend to do the same. I think about each set-piece or key scene (I tend to get little vignettes in my head as I go throughout my day), and lately I've been trying to spruce up my descriptions by remembering the five senses-- and for each signature NPC they meet, I have one or two adjectives which reminds me what kind of voice and persona to put on when meeting them.