How do I prep?

Over here, here, Shawn wrote:

How do you prep and run so many different games? I’m blown away by planning & running one game every other week or so! I mean, my group seems to have fun (they keep coming back, which I guess is a good sign), but I’m so fatigued. And that’s, as I said, just one game.
So, how is it possible to play out so many different games?

Well, there’s a couple parts to this:
One – system: Right now, most of the games I post about are Heroquest or some other Indie system — these systems are, by and large, pretty easy to prep, because most mooks aren’t fully statted out — they’re just as statted as they need to be for the encounter. For a guard, I might just write down “Guard. Sword and Shield Combat 2W” and just let everything else default to base NPC levels. If I want to give him a bit more depth or a weakness, I might add something like “Loves sister, 10W; Like his booze, 5W” and so forth. A very simple system to prep, but one with real depth if I need it.
Aside from that — there’s a nice little eight-page booklet with typical attribute ratings for everything from fighting a godling to doing a running broadjump over a shrubbery — so you can adlib a lot of stuff.
Adlibbing a lot of stuff is important, because of point two.
Two: There is no Plot
By this I mean I don’t try to “run a scenario” — which I’ll define as “First, the players will go here and talk to this guy, then they’ll go here, and find this thing. If they find it, they’ll be attacked by these guys… if they don’t, they’ll have this roleplay encounter, THEN be attacked.’
Ugh. That’s work, man. Secondly, it’s not interesting to me.
So instead of writing a scenario, I set up a situation.
Take a look at my current Spring Fountain situation here.
Now notice this really important part in the player guidelines:

Your character concept needs to include ties to three of the NPCs listed below, and it’s important that something is at stake in the relationship.

Now, if you go and look at the six characters I have for that game, you’ll see that most of them went right along with that request — at least to the point where each player has at least two NPCs, preferably three, that they give a rat’s ass about — either in a positive or negative way.
THEY care. Not their characters. Yeah, their characters do also, but it’s cool (and potentially useful) that the PLAYERS care.
After that, all I have to do is provide Conflict and play the NPCs as they would act in the situation that we’ve created.

Conflict breaks down into Goals (stuff you’re trying to achieve), Doubt (about when, whether, and how Stakes will be won), and Cost (to achieve the Stakes).

Every PC has at least three goals already (from those relationships)… probably more… before they even begin play. They quickly accrue more. The system and the situation provides the Uncertainty, and the Player decides whether the Price is worth it.
How do I set up Stress? Before the game I scribble down about three Bangs for each character.

A Bang is when a scene is introduced which requires a choice from one or more of the players..
“You’re a holy knight, and you just met a pack of hobgoblins looking for a fight…” is not a Bang.
“You’re a holy knight, and the pack of hobgoblins you’re chasing splits up, one group carrying away your church’s holiest reliquary, the other group leading a chain of slaves that includes your sister…” That’s a Bang.

So, like I said, I write down a couple-three Bangs for each character. Here’s a sample from the last session of Spring Fountain:

Emilie — Female squire
1. Status as Squire called in to question (How?: Serge makes it clear in a private conversation that there is no way Emilie will continue to be the squire for the new Baron of Trymirwall; she can do well enough to be reassigned or poorly enough to be tossed out on her ear. Her choice.)
2. Collete asks Emilie to let Guilbert “distract himself” — if Guilbert’s less viable as an heir, people will try harder to bring back Eustef.
3. Guilbert is about to do something politically disastrous in public.

These are actually pretty weak examples, but they’ll do: one and two are really just two parts of the same Bang, and 3 is really just a catalyst forcing action on the facts within 1 and 2.
Actually, 1 and 2 don’t have to be ‘nothing’ bangs — you might toss #1 out there, and the player might decide to slap Serge right there — you never know what bangs are going to really take off and which ones are going to go ‘eh’.
And that’s fine. You’ll probably only use half of the little bangs you wrote down with each session anyway… THERE WILL BE TOO MUCH GOING ON.
Why? First Bang goes out there… you play your NPCs… dig right in and play the hell out of them in that scene.
Not to deliver information — not to sell fucking equipment — play them like people who WANT things. Write down what they want. Make sure they try to get it.
I don’t mean “My daughter is missing and I’ll pay you 1000 gold to go find her.”
I mean “Listen, my daughter’s shacking up with Sir Nobbs, and I want him beaten fucking senseless; and if you do it, I will MAKE SURE your brother doesn’t go to prison for that mix-up last night.”
The character then does something. This causes the NPC and other NPCs to decide, based on the new situation, what they want, and from whom. THEY GO AFTER IT.
Next player. Next bang.
Throw out a few bangs… then just play the NPCs some more… when things slow down, throw another bang out, and keep playing the NPCs.
The second time around the table, don’t give themplayers bangs — ask them what scene they want. Who are they talking to? Who are they mugging? Who are they poisoning? Who are they bribing?

So… how do I prep?
1. A situation: that means a nest of intra-related NPCs that you’re going to ask your players to tie themselves into at at least one and probably several points. This will take some time, but it’s really just setting up the setting, and you only have to do it once per campaign. (Hell, once per two campaigns when you just rename everyone and run a second campaign with the same NPCs — see Xian Quan.)
2. Look at the characters, scribble down some bangs for each one. Two or three is fine.
Be ready to play your NPCs like crazy, and have a list of standard resistances/challenges at hands for when the players come out of the blue and say “I want to wrestle that greased pig!”
That’s it. Thoughts?


  1. Hmmm.
    Actually, those are all great ideas… I’ve been coming to the “there is no plot” point for some time–I’m not nearly as disciplined about it as you.
    I define what I do as “presenting a situation” — and lately it’s been “Say, what would be cool, fun to play, and let each character shine in a different way?” Which, on the surface of it, is not nearly as specific as Bangs. I’ve been reading on/about them (Loove the Forge, by the way), am running Riddle of Steel, which pretty much points you at issues to explore for your characters… but I can’t get the “story must happen like plot: X, Y, Z” schtick from my head.
    I think, frankly, that what I’ve been doing less of is developing the beginning situation. I always have a general idea of what’s gonna be happening around the party (for instance, this weekend’s fun-fest involves the party dealing with the death of their (npc) leader and the ramifications of that fact, given that the party desparately wants to return home, and are in possession of the Campaign-Ending Plot Device Object.), but I of course don’t know what the party will do, hence much in the way of winging.
    Now, in a perfect world, I’d have all the defining situation stuff down on paper (better writeups for npcs, poss locations, something like bangs) — but lately I’ve just been coming to the table with something like the above jotted down, and a brief set of notes about what the group was up to last time. Hmmmm.
    It’s more work to wing it without a little more planning. That’s what I’m getting. Hmmm. Thanks for the links, Doyce — I’ll check ’em out and keep moving forward.

  2. My ‘situation prep’ is really just setting up a good relationship map — about which you and I know you can find a lot more on the Forge. Thus, I do a lot of prep, but it’s all front-loeded effort that get’s immediately used in the chargen process by everyone else — the best part about it is that I don’t really need to remember every stinking thing about it after that, because they players and their characters are reminding me of the people in the r-map — at least, all the people in the map who have now become Important, by virtue of being important to the PCs.
    So yeah — setting that up — deciding what those people want from the players (Dogs in the Vineyard has an EXCELLENT system for setting up a new r-map — a town for every session, by the way, and you should buy it anyway for a number of other reasons) — that’s the major prep.
    After that, you just get to play those NPCs.

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