How to be Prepared?
What are your tips for people on here on How to be as prepared as possible for a new campaign starting, as a gamemaster?
What are your experiences from being (or not being) prepared for an adventure? How do you handle it? Do you wriite your adventures beforehand? Are you just very talented at pulling solutions and interesting hooks out your nose as the story progresses?
I like to be prepared as a GM. It makes my job a lot easier and helps build confidence in the setting.
Normally, my settings are sandboxes, and usually published ones, so I have a lot of material at hand, which helps. I have a document that covers the major NPCs of the game and what they do. That helps if the PCs ask about such and such a place or who can do something. I also have brief notes on most of the places in the setting. T^hese normally cover half a page or a couple of paragraphs and this helps if the players ask about the place or want to go there.
Probably a third of my scenarios are published ones, a third are ones that I have written or have downloaded from the web and a third arise from encounters or from the players deciding to do something. Where I have a published scenario, or one downloaded from the web, I tend to use parts of the scenario and allow the players to digress quite a bit, sometimes they come back to the scenario after several sessions, sometimes they don't. I never stick to a scenario and always have a way to get out of the scenario or a way to get back in to in.
I tend to be good at thinking on my feet and at moulding and merging scenarios together, which does tend to help.
Another thing that helps is to have some kind of metaplot, or things that will churn away and happen if the players don't do anything about them. This helps give a framework to the campaign and provides background events that the players can interact with or ignore. It sometimes helps drive the campaign along if it gets a bit quiet.
It also helps to have several plot lines on the go at the same time. They can chug along independently, interact or become so intertwined that they become merged into a single plot line. It gives the players something to aim at as well, and avoids the "what can we do now?" effect, which sandboxes can suffer from.
I like to have two or three things on the back burner I can shoehorn into the game whenever I feel it's appropriate.
Enough familiarity or self confidence to bluff the players into believing you're familiar with whatever they're wanting to explore.
Ability and willingness to think on your feet and improvise ad infinitum.
If you use published stuff, ignore any and every little thing that you want to. It's your game.
Always remember that it's a game and it's supposed to be fun for everyone putting in their time. That includes the GM. If you're not having a good time, you're doing something wrong.
Everyone can get overwhelmed from time to time with paperwork and maintaining logical consistency, but that stuff isn't really the draw for most of us. My main goal is to have everyone assembled to demonstrate their buy in at least a few times a session. If people are laughing, or talking over one another trying to formulate plans, heatedly arguing over some point of minutiae I don't even remember, namedropping some NPC for one reason or another etc then I feel like the game is a success.
As lame as it sounds, I think that what it boils down to for me is having a positive attitude/self confidence when I GM. I run the range between 100% improvised to 100% written in cramped longhand in the notebook. There is no real style of preparation that I always default to. My main thing is to go into the game knowing I want it to be fun for everyone.
Being prepared certainly does help me, personally. This is where published scenarios are good, but I need to read through them several times so I know the scenario backwards. Then I have to be prepared for it to go off in a totally different path to what I anticipated, and just kinda follow it from there. Having NPC cards often helps, just jotting down their names, personality traits & motivations, possibly one or two defining skills but I don't worry too much about actual game stats for them, I can easily wing that if need be.
I tend to run published campaigns these days, but I also write in sideline-scenarios or plot hooks about 20% of the time, especially if I can relate it directly to character backgrounds. Keeps things more personal to the troupe that way. Sometimes I blatantly rip off hooks from other scenarios (sometimes other genres as well), and work that content into the current campaign setting, and I think I'm not likely to be the first to do that.
Sticking firmly to the plot has its merits if the session is derailing too much, but otherwise I tend to follow the characters whims where I can, as railroading gets pretty boring with a bunch of mature gamers who don't want to dungeon crawl too much any more. Depends on whom I'm gaming with I suppose,
Being prepared for the session is the biggest help, but being "in-the-zone on the day" is the most important thing really. I try not to be fatigued if possible, otherwise my ability to banter suffers. The main thing these days is staying awake long enough after work to thoroughly read the darn scenarios...
I've rarely run published scenarios, at least not as-is, because my high school through post-college players always had access to the same gaming materials as I did. But I have combined scenarios, taking the situation from one and tossing in the main villains from another, a cool building map from a third, plus bits from a favorite movie or old-time radio show. I may not know what the ending will be, but I usually have two or three set-piece locations in mind and a general idea of what the Big Bad is up to. I've usually statted up the main villain and his immediate henchmen. I've rarely tried to run a scenario purely on-the-fly; the only time that has really worked for me is in a superhero game, since an average session was a knock-down brawl anyway. My players weren't much into detective work or sneaking around -- they just wanted to swat somebody! Good for a Marvel Comics feel, bad for Agatha Christie-type crime busting.
With my wife and kids, I usually run a scenario I've written for a magazine or contest, improvising NPCs and situations between the main events. Again, the success of improvised sessions has varied widely. In one game, the kids were happy to explore random islands while searching for lost fishermen. In another, examining an alien spaceship was utter failure, the family just wasn't into it. The best sessions have been the ones where they didn't necessarily follow my (unwritten) script but got fully into their characters.