How to prepare a session

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This is basically what I'm wondering. Session preparation is pretty essential to a DM, and while, ofcourse, everyone does it their own way, I was hoping I could get some tips and tricks from people here on how they prepare their sessions.

Here's what I do:
I use Google Docs to write down everything because it's accessable from everywhere that has internet (so, basically everywhere).
- First I write a short summary of what happened last time(s), because it generally helps to remind players of what they're actually doing, and next to that it's a great way to ease everyone into the game. Just like TV series do with "Last time in TV Show".
- Then I write down what I want to achieve as a DM in the session. I.e. I could want the players to have gotten a McGuffin, gotten a quest, exit a dungeon, etc.
- Then I write down how I expect the session to go. Example: House of Duke --> Kobold Dungeon --> Reward --> Impending Doom
- Afterwards I write down some details about every one of those chapters. I also write down flavortext and stuff in here. Example: "As you enter the duke's manor, you notice that it's quite a mess, as if there has been a struggle here. When you investigate further, you find kobold footprints that lead towards the east."
- In these details I also write down all the encounters, any custom monsters or monster modifications, treasure, etc.
- I also like to write down short summaries of important NPCs to help me roleplay.


So how do you guys prepare your sessions? Do your preparations change when you use premade content? What tools do you use? Do you do everything digitally, everything written/drawn or a combination of both? Do you prepare your miniatures in advance? Do you have any ideas on how I could improve my preparation?
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So how do you guys prepare your sessions? Do your preparations change when you use premade content? What tools do you use? Do you do everything digitally, everything written/drawn or a combination of both? Do you prepare your miniatures in advance? Do you have any ideas on how I could improve my preparation?



My preparation rituals pretty much mirror what Chris Perkins suggested in a recent Dungeon Master Experience article though I probably write a lot more "boxed text." I just like to write. That's something I'm moving away from since bulleted lists both save time and help you pare down information to players so they can better understand things by focusing on what's important in the moment. Then just add embellishments on the fly or when responding to questions. I've come up with much better ideas that way than if I had written something down beforehand and stuck to it religiously. 

I find I'm almost never happy with premade content, so I end up tearing it apart and reworking it. It may as well be an original adventure by the time I'm done. Sometimes I find it's just easier to write up my own stuff these days than to strive to stay somewhat true to a published mod or the like after hacking it up and sewing it back together again.

All of my stuff is done digitally since I now run games online.

Your preparation sounds just fine provided it's useful to you to get your game moving. I would definitely recommend the "less is more" approach to notes and the like. It's been working for me.   

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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I do most of the following prior to each session:


  • Write a half-page to page and a half summary of the previous session, which I, or a player if I'm busy with other things, reads to the group

  • Have at the very least three encounters set up that may not be written into the published storyline, this way I can throw them in at the opportune moment. This way I'm ready with a list of monsters in case the PCs do something unexpected.

  • Have files on my laptop open such as the downloadable content on the SRD website, so I can quickly Ctrl F names of weapons or armor and I can read the stats quickly.

  • Use a dry-erase blank plastic map so I can quickly set up or get rid of buildings, forest pathways, or whatever is necesasry for the PCs.

  • Have a massive pile of Lego figures and goblin miniatures to act as NPCs. My PCs all have their own minis.

  • I have four cups I use as dice rollers, which helps keep the dice on the table rather than falling to the floor.

  • Have an iPod with various fantasy soundtracks playing in the background, but accessible for me to swap the song if it isn't fitting


Basically all my stuff that I use consistantly is either on my laptop or in my books. Since I don't knw all the rules yet, I am heavily dependant on the accessiblilty of the information of the SRD and the On-Screen-DM-Screen I use. 
Currently DMing a 3.5e AoW game one night a week. Players are almost through Three Faces of Evil. If you are considering beginning this campaign using this edition, I can help.
..hey eldrazor, how YOU doin'..

..(deep breath), (exhale).. ..I have only been DMing for about 15 years or so, and I started out planning ahead, spending off times writing, and plotting and scheming ---typo maybe.. ..I have read all the mundane and major room lists, the forest, desert, and arctic charts.. ..I use an ipad and an ereader for easy access and then..

..finally it dawned on me.. ..my best encounters, RP'd or Battled, or puzzled have all been to some extent an extension of my own experiences.. ..I know I have never been to the city of Sigil a curved donut of a city, but I have seen buildings constructed on hills and slopes and valleys.. seen how the yard is encompessed in a brick wall two feet above the sidewalk.. ..where the walk slopes down and the yard slopes up, I have never been to the plane of mechanus, but I have cleaned the inside of a box fan in the summers and the space heaters in the winters and can imagine what a world built of logistics could look like..

..if I could give you just one piece of advice, love the game.. ..like you would love a women when your not around her.. ..when you walk into a mcdonalds, or wal-mart, or a dunken donuts, what sights or sounds or smells do you notice first but most important what thoughts do they invoke..

..when you go "home" wherever that may be, what is the first thought on your mind, comfort, escape.. ..refuge, retreate..

..when you can fully describe your own life, you can then fully describe someone elses..



..good luck to you and all your experiences..


..had to edit this about 20 times.. ..I kept getting weird errors, sorry to anyone who may have read this..
A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men. - Willy Wonka
I used to setup my DM screen (home brewed with initiative counters along one side), folder of quest, folder of npcs, folder of...  The list went on and on.  Now I am using DM Battle screen and Obsisidan Portal and it seems to be working well (on my laptop).

I have entered brief descriptions and goals for each scene into Obsidian Portal and I actually run the game from there now.  Inputting information can be a pain at times, formatting in wiki textile is cumbersome, but it is accesiable online and is easy to navigate.  I post the last adventure recaps to the logs page for the players to read before they come to the game.  Its the only place I list the experience they get, so if nothing else, I know they've opened it.

I picked up the three box sets of tiles when Borders went out of business, so I use this with my battle mat.

The most important aspect of getting ready for me is to re-read what I have written before the game.  Prepping to run a game is just like prepping to run a business meeting or to give a speech.  I often write the scenes several days before we play and its amazing how fast I can forget the details.  I've noticed that if I scan the material right before we play my ab lib skills are much more keen.

 
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