Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Old School DMs: How Do You Prep For Running a Game?

The blog has been fallow recently, but I'm back and so here's my initial return post. Hopefully some people are still paying attention. Anyway. . .

I'm interested in hearing about how old school DMs prep for their games. In the comments please answer the following questions:

1. How much prep do you do for a typical session? How much time?

2. What materials do you have in front of you at the table?

3. How much do you actually have written down vs. what's floating in your head?

4. Have you found this changes over the course of a campaign?

Edit: Added the "How much time?" part to question 1.


  1. 1. As little as possible, but still maybe too much.

    2. Ahh...there's the "too much". I ran D&D last Sunday, and worked on a scenario for the two weeks before (I had to plan ahead because of scheduling and etc.). In those two weeks, I made use of:

    - The D&D Rules Cyclopedia
    - The AD&D World Builder's Guidebook
    - Gary Gygax's Extraordinary Book of Names
    - JG's Treasury of Archaic Names
    - AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide
    - Google Image Search keyword "appalachians"
    - Pens, pencils, notebook, binder
    - Green Tea With Lemon

    3. That's where 'm getting better. I write down a bit of stuff, yeah, but it's mostly to make stuff up as I go along. In other words, brainstorming. In the end, the stuff I write down ends up cementing as a (sort of) clear idea in my head, which is what I run with.

    4. It's been so long since I've had the luxury of an actual campaign that I sincerely do not remember.

  2. 1. It goes by locality, not session. I will work to prep a locality and its NPCs, then I can coast for several sessions as the PCs explore the area. For my current campaigns I could probably run the next 10 hours with almost no prep work.

    2. As minimal as possible: Map, pencil, dice, scratch paper, beer, and a few key reference sheets. I go back and forth between having a DM screen and/or miniatures. I never have rulebooks or computers in front of me.

    3. I have annotated maps and key NPC names (and some times motivations) written down. The rest is in my head (including monsters stats).

    4. I get lazier over a campaign and write and prep less and less. This never seems to affect game quality, though. As long as I have at least a sparse map and some NPC personalities ready to go everything seems to work fine.

  3. You can download my game notes to see what I use. I also have a photo of our game table where you can see what else we have on hand. :)

  4. I usually do an average of 4 hours prep per session, but that depends on what is going on in the game.

    At the table I have with me my screen, a few pages of extra tables and my notebook. Within easy reach are usually MM1, MM2, Fiend Folio, Unearthed Arcana, DMG, and PHB.

    I tend write down a lot, but try to keep it in note or list form to minimise the reading I have to do on the day, but I'll have plot notes, stat blocks, rumours, NPCs, and so on.

    Often how much I write directly relates to what's going on in the game, but my notebook is often filled with sub plots, and tangents to take the players on, or notes on events nearby in case my players take me on tangents.