GM Preparation – Part 2
So, Part 2.
There are many tools a DM/GM can use to help them prepare their adventures. More importantly, these tools help the GM deal with the destruction a determined set of players can bring to a campaign simply by going of on a tangent, splitting up or generally acting stupid in the face of plot. I think preparation begins with the choice of game and setting. As the GM, are you familiar with it? Have you played/run it before? Are you planning on using a module or coming up with your own campaign within a well-defined world? A DM setting out in an unfamiliar world needs to get reading. This article assumes a good level of familiarity and a tendency to run your own games.
Campaign. Generally an idea and a setting mesh together and an overarching idea for a game is born. This could be as simple as heroes rescuing a kidnapped princess. Or it could be a bit more complex or specific. Often reading through setting books a particular location or hook stands out to me as one I could use as the crux of a campaign (more on hooks below). This becomes the core of your campaign and the axis about which all other parts of the story spin. The players should always have this in mind; you need to make them want to complete the quest. If the end goal is not interesting or compelling your players are more likely to wander off the beaten track.
To this end you should give your players a heads up of the type of campaign you want to run and a suggestion of where it might lead. Don’t give it away, but don’t let the players create a set of rural characters for an urban campaign. This will help you in the long run. If the characters are better suited to the quest you will have an easier time as your goal and theirs will be closer aligned. A player that does not feel included or useful is a sad and potentially dangerous thing. Additionally as the GM, you are not really doing your job properly. Players may have a strong character idea in their mind before you even talk campaign, just check it fits and if not help them adapt it to your game.
Hooks. These are interesting or strange facts/events/places that beg for foolish players to explore them. Whispered rumours in taverns, a hole in aerial photography databases and so forth. Essentially the overarching campaign plot is a giant hook, but along the way it can be tempting to throw in hooks for side or sub plots to entice the characters or flesh out the world. Some bold GMs go for a ‘sandbox’ approach, with no solid central campaign and a whole host of little hooks for the players to explore or not.
The key to hooks is not to make them too obvious or so subtle that they’ll be missed by treasure hungry players. What can work well (and takes a bit more prep) is to have a few hooks that seem to head off on tangents, but actually are all symptoms of the same problem. When the separate threads weave together this can create a really strong sense of the world for players. Whatever you do, don’t have a strong campaign and then constantly throw tempting hook after hook in. You’ll never get to the goal!
Maps. Maps. Maps. I can’t say it enough. Maps are amazing tools for GMs and players alike. The GM can use it as a framing device for the campaign, setting out the area of adventure. It provides instant world information for the players, which can be carefully seeded by the GM. Also as the players continue their adventures this can be added to or changed. This can create a developing world, which is very engaging for players. They are opening up the world before them. Just remember you don’t need to be a map making expert, these can be basic. It’s just a really good idea to let players know where things are in relation to each other.
Key Locations. Its a very good idea to have some info on those special places that will prove to be key backdrops to the plot of your story. If you lay out a map with some interesting towns/tombs/systems/buildings on them, the players will want to go there at some point! Their characters might even actually know a bit about these places (if their particularly renowned or the character is a local). Preset adventures are great in that most key areas are highlighted. If it’s your own world you don’t need to fully know every nook and cranny, just to have some good points. What do they look like, the mood of place, the smells and sounds.
Scale. So Maps are a great idea as are Key Locations, but you need to keep a close eye on your scales. Make sure that the spatial scale works. How long does it take to walk across the kingdom? How many light years will the crew need to cross? It’s a matter of space and time. Think carefully before setting a time limit on a mission. The King might want the orc raiders slain within the week, but if the orc camp is ten days travel to the east something hasn’t been worked out. Or the King doesn’t know the size of his kingdom (perhaps a hook in and of itself?). Maps should help with this. So will thinking out key locations and hooks.
These points are mainly about bringing plot and world together. As a GM I try to keep these things in mind as I prep and run my games. I hope they help you.
Part 3 will go into NPCs and events.