Sometimes a GM’s job can seem overwhelming – after all there is so much to do. Generating stat blocks, preparing an adventure and designing a campaign world can quickly kill even the most organised GM’s free time…
Like all GMs, I find getting enough preparation time to keep ahead of the players in my Borderland of Adventure campaign a constant struggle. I previously talked about both tips to help prepare modules quicker and better and general prep tips for the busy GM, but sometimes you just need a plan. As people who know me will attest, I’m at my best when I have a plan of action – I hate wasting time. That’s why I’ve recently been developing and testing a new planning and preparation tool I’ve snappily called Three-Tier Design.
Three-Tier Design enables a GM to prioritise what is important for an upcoming session or adventure and to use his preparation time as effectively as possible. As its name suggests, Three-Tier Design comprises three distinct facets:
Tier one items are absolutely critical for the success of the session or adventure. They comprises stuff with which the PCs are virtually certain to interact. For example:
- Tier one items could include the villain, his guards, the main locations in a dungeon and a unique magic item or two.
- Other examples include the village inn (where adventurers normally stay), the clergy of the local temple who are available for spellcasting services and more.
- A GM should concentrate on preparing all tier one items before moving onto tier two.
Tier two items are those the PCs will probably encounter during an adventure or session. For example:
- Tier two items could include random encounters, minor NPCs in a town (perhaps skilled craftsmen, a couple of thieves and so on), world building elements such as interesting rumours and legends leading to alternate adventures, nearby locales of interest and more.
- Most GMs can improvise tier two items if necessary, but may need to note their details after the fact.
- A GM should concentrate on preparing all tier two items before moving onto tier three.
Tier three items are those the PCs are unlikely to encounter, but that the GM wants to design anyway. For example:
- Most GMs are inveterate world builders. Tier three items mainly comprises items that add depth to the campaign but which the PCs are unlikely to encounter directly.
- For example, the political machinations of a kingdom’s ruling elite could subtly affect the PCs, but the PCs are unlikely to ever come into contact with the nobles themselves.
- Other examples of tier three items could include detailed timelines of the campaign area, stat blocks for NPCs important to the kingdom (such as the king or a legendary wizard) the PCs will never meet and so on.
- Think of tier three items as a GM’s guilty indulgences.
Remember when planning your design time that new items will undoubtedly appear in the tiers as the campaign develops or the PCs’ adventures progress. That’s absolutely fine. It’s also absolutely fine to re-designate tasks from one tier to the other as the PCs’ goals or progress changes.
Help Your Fellow GMs
Do you have any more preparation tips for time-crunched GMs? If you do, share them in the comments below and help your fellow GMs prepare better games today!