Let me know if this situation sounds familiar to you: You’re the DM/GM for your gaming group and you’ve just wrapped up an adventure, and you have at least a whole week until the next one. You’re committed to planning well in advance and making sure you’ve worked everything out well in advance of the next adventure. You sit down the next day, or even that very night, and start the adventure planning process. Maybe you start with a recap of the last adventure, or by listing the continuing plot seeds from the previous sessions and loose ends. Over the next few days you stay on track but before you know it the next adventure is looming and you feel like despite your best efforts the game is still not as ready as you feel it should be. Stress builds, you think about postponing the game or suggesting you all play board games instead, but you hunker down and keep planning. The day of the game comes and you’re still not “ready”, you should have started even earlier and planned more in advance!
This situation has happened to me plenty of times, and I’m willing to bet it’s happened to many of you as well. I stopped the anecdote there intentionally because that is where it can branch in several different directions. If you’re particularly stressed (most likely by things other than the game you’re running, even if you don’t realize it) then you’ve already postponed the game or suggested something else to do instead. Maybe you sat down to watch some TV in the morning and held out to the very last moment, then just as your friends arrive and everything is being set up for the game you pull the plug and suggest something else. Maybe your players are fantastic (like many of mine have been in the past) and offer you so much encouragement and potential disappointment that you get a second wind (pardon the unintentional 4e pun) and run the game you’d been planning. Or perhaps you decide you’ve planned about as much as you ever manage to plan and go ahead with the adventure, improvising and winging it to the best of your potential.
The Genesis of Adventure
If you’re anything like me than all of the above situations are fairly familiar to you. No matter how much I prepare, plan, or plot there is a decent part of me that feels unprepared for running any given RPG session. I’ve had to cope with and adjust to this fact and in the end it has led to me becoming more comfortable at winging adventures and doing my own share of improvisational DMing. However, as I’ve gotten more experience at this process I’ve noticed some striking similarities to other processes that I’ve learned and read about. Specifically, my advice today relates the process of planning and running an RPG adventure to the process for generating ideas. Even more specifically, in the process of generating ideas one of the most important steps is taking time to relax, distract yourself, and partake in other activities and let your unconscious mind take over the process.
You might have noticed in the stories above I included one of my personal favorite activities before running an adventure, which is watching TV or a movie the morning of the game. Often I spend the night before I run a game getting my preparations sorted out (most of the time this is even the first I’ve planned for the game anyway). Once I’ve processed the relevant materials for the game and brainstormed some for how I think the adventure will progress, I then have the entire night of sleep and the morning after to let my unconscious mind take over the process. The result is that by the time the adventure is set to begin I feel wholly unprepared and am ready to ‘wing it’ but if I really sat down and reflected I’m much more prepared than I realize. My mind has been working on the various elements of the adventure while I’ve been distracting myself and it generally makes for a better adventure as I can come up with things on the fly that are new to me at the same time as they are new to my players.
The Importance of Relaxation
The most important part I’m trying to stress is not to spend every last minute up until your adventure begins trying to cram and get those last minute preparations together. Give yourself at least a half an hour, though preferably more like 4-6 hours, to give up the reigns of planning to your unconscious mind and I am willing to bet you’ll come up with ideas a lot more easily than if you spend all of that time actively hitting your head against the wall trying to get things together at the last minute. This can be as simple as making a list of the major NPCs, locations, or quests and reviewing it before you go to sleep or watch a movie. You might find yourself making connections or coming up with new possibilities out of the blue that you never would have thought of if you’d be actively “planning” during that time.
If you’re not that into procrastination like I am, but you still have trouble preparing for your adventures, then go through this kind of process every evening, sleep on the ideas, and do some quick planning in the morning when you wake up. Then go about your day normally, and come back to your notes in the evening again. If you go through this process over the course of a few days in the week or more between your game sessions, you should be able to generate some interesting ideas and even develop them more fully than you would if you just sit down for the same amount of time at once.
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