When you a prepare for your next session do you practise “salami tactics?” (Hint – this doesn’t mean you beat your player with Italian sausages…)
At first glance, a GM’s job is an intimidating, never-ending procession of time-consuming tasks. World building, stat block designing, dungeon preparing, session organising and more are all big jobs. Viewed as a whole, a GM’s task list can seem insurmountable.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. The following strategies can help you never fail to prepare again.
- Schedule Time: In conjunction with working in short bursts (see the next point) I also schedule time in my diary, around my family and work, to slave away on my campaign. Because it’s in my diary, I rarely get double booked.
- Work In Short Bursts: I’m a busy chap and often I can’t block out three-hour blocks to slave away at my campaign. Instead, I work when I can. This might translate to ten minutes sorting out figures while my computer backs up or 30 minutes spent working on particular stat blocks and encounters. It I have a list of things to achieve (see “Make Lists”) I don’t waste a moment wondering what I’ve got to do.
- Make Lists: I’m a huge fan of lists. They promote organisation and enable efficient working. For example, when I start to prepare a module the first thing I do is go through and make a list of stat blocks and figures I’m going to need. This makes searching through my figures boxes and stat block archive much easier and quicker.
- Use Salami Tactics: By managing tasks effectively and cutting each individual job down into small bite-sized chunks a GM can quickly and effectively chip away at his preparation. I practise the art of incremental preparation (or “salami tactics” as I once heard it called). This means instead of setting myself gigantic tasks such as, “read and prepare a 32-page module” I work on a series of smaller, easier to achieve objectives that as a whole comprise the bigger, more complex task. I find this much easier and far less intimidating to do.
- “Steal” What You Can: There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking elements of published adventures and campaign sourcebooks and making them your own. Maps, stat blocks, treasures and even whole encounters can be lifted wholesale, tweaked and then dropped into your own campaign. After all, for example, why design a gnoll fighter’s stat block when you’ve probably already got several examples in your gaming library?
- Design Only What You Must: For me, design is beguiling. I’d love to spend a day designing loads of background information for my Borderland of Adventure campaign, but likely a lot of that time would ultimately be wasted. If the PCs are likely never going to visit a certain town or city, why bother designing it? Instead, I focus on only the parts with which the PCs will likely interact.
- Prepare Only What You Must: The same is true for preparation. Sure, it would be nice to be able to sit down and prepare an entire module, but for many of us real life precludes such activity. Instead, when you prepare an adventure only work on the bits the party will reach. Of course, you need to know what is going on so reading the background, introduction and conclusion as well as any other relevant text is a great start. When it comes to actual encounters, though, I only tend to stay a session or two ahead of the players. Preparing the whole adventure ahead of time is pointless (assuming you can predict where the PCs will go next).
Help Fellow GMs
Do you have any other tips for incremental preparation to make a GM’s life easier? If you do, why not leave them in the comments and help your fellow GMs prepare better and prepare faster!