Thursday, March 13, 2014

What We Actually Prep: Play on Target Podcast Ep. 25

We continue to press through technical difficulties to bring you another episode of Play of Target. This week we drill down and look at what we actually and really do to prep for a game session. What kinds of tools do we use, how much time do we spend, what do we actually focus on? We discuss what works for us and why. Importantly we address in part how that has changed for us as we’ve gamed more. I’m pretty happy with this show- though we’re still getting some of the sound levels worked out. I think it offers some good and useful advice.

During the show I mention my prep worksheets. One of them is the Episode Worksheet from Ashen Stars which is easily adapted for other games. You can find that here as page four of this set of reference charts from Pelgrane. I’ve also done a generic version you can find here. Another sheet my current version of the Trinity planner (which I’ve talked about in an earlier post). I found this online years ago and I haven’t been able to locate the original source-  give me a heads up if you know. I also mention the “Three Things” sheets I use from time to time. You can see examples of and discussion about those here. Here's a copy of that you can download; I usually fix it font-wise so it fits on two pages. As I mention in the podcast, I try to confine myself to a single prep tool or sheet for any session. Rotating through them hits on different themes. I keep myself moving fast and don’t spend more than an hour on them.

I’ve also been trying out some of the Fate campaign prep tools. The Community Fate Core Extensions page has several I’ve used for other games. Ria Hawk’s Faces sheet is a useful prep tool- especially if you know the game will center on interaction with key NPCs. While I might not use the aspects in play, coming up with them gives me a handle on presenting the character. I also write in a few other related NPCs names and concepts in the far right of the description box. I also dig Ron Frazier’s Scenario Worksheet and I’ve tried used it when I’ve had to come up with a one-shot from whole cloth. It doesn’t exactly do what I want for week to week prep. My new go-to sheet is Sophie Lagace’s Adventure Worksheet. That’s really useful and helps me think about potential scenes- especially for mysteries or sessions where the group has split up. I can draw arrows between the scene boxes to show spossible flows of action. I’m not using it for strict Fate, so I skip the Approaches and Vitals sections. But everything else works because it forces me to boil things down to a good aspect or tag line for what’s happening. I try to distill the essence of what’s important about the scene/conflict. As with my other tools it keeps me from doing too much work.

Going back and rereading the Fate Core discussion of campaign prep has made me think about issues in campaigns. When you’re building a collaborative game in Fate you come up with two issues for the world. These can be current issues (things facing the world right now) or impending issues (future threats which might arise). I like this concept for two reasons. First, it makes me generally define the point of the game. Sometimes in world building I lose sight of that. This brings me back around. I run many campaigns. Some use a collaborative building process (Last Fleet, Relic Hunters), some I build and present to the PCs (Libri Vidicos, OCI), and some fall in the middle (Firstwave, Changeling Lost Vegas). The issue structure doesn’t lock down or railroad the players. They can react and shape the campaign- dealing with the threat, looking for alternatives, ignoring it in favor of short term gain.

Second, Fate says come up with two issues. I initially thought, whoa, that’s too few. But two issues means that I need to define those at the broadest level. Stories and plots can rain down from that. I have to think about how incidents I bring to the table fit with those. I’ve often over-complicated campaigns with too many plot threads and issues, each given the same weight and importance. Eventually I stitch things together, but more often than not I find myself with unresolved interesting bits at the end. I’m not saying this will fix that, but it does give me a decent rubric to organize. Also the focus on two issues may move the game forward- giving the players a clear challenge they can overcome, rather than moving the goalposts. Players need a shot at larger-scale victory. That doesn’t mean just winning a fight, but actually doing something significant to their adversaries- something which shows they have an effect. I’ll point to Sam’s suggestion about players defining their goals at the end of a session. I hadn’t done that, but it seems pretty brilliant. You can shape the issues to how the players see them at the table.

If you like RPG Gaming podcasts, I hope you'll check out Play on Target. We take a focused approach- tackling a single topic each episode. You can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the podcast's page at