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Advice to Gamers: December is Prep-Month!

Yeah, this is a little late, but I’ve seen several blog posts by frustrated gamers who can get games going in December. Take some advice from a long-time gamer.

This doesn’t go out to the younger members of the RPG community, who are unfettered by responsibility. Enjoy your youth. Play often.

This is for the rest of us: the parents, the mortgage-payers, the gainfully employed (or furiously looking), those of us with familial obligations. Write-off December as a month to play. You’ve got Christmas trees to secure, decorations to get out of the attic, presents to buy and wrap, lights to hang, Then you have to put all that crap away.

This is not to say you don’t get some free time. But ask yourself this: honestly, how likely is it that the rest of your group will have free time at the same time as you? That’s right — not likely.

Instead of making futile attempts to play, how about this: game prep.

If you’re a GM there are several things you can do:

  1. Start writing plot hooks and story lines. You always need new plot hooks. How often do your players go somewhere unexpected, and you’re left flat-footed? Now you can introduce plot hooks when they jump the rail — maybe they lead to your grand meta-plot, maybe they’re just diversions.
  2. Design combat encounters. Really challenging ones with interesting terrain and well-thought-out villains. Then run those encounters with appropriate-level PCs and see how difficult they are. Then fine-tune them.
  3. Come up with some detailed NPCs. Really meaty NPCs, with all sorts personality and real desires and interests. Hell, write backstories for them that you can weave into the plot when the time is right.
  4. Flesh-out some cities. We all (or most of us) have cities on our maps that are nothing more than a dot and a name. Take some time and add some detail and flavor. Name the taverns, the innkeepers, the nobility, the constabulary. Come up with some quirky local traditions. Write up some detail on the local crime syndicate and the merchant class. Detail some of the peasants and shopkeepers. Give the boy who works in the stable a name and a background.
  5. Revisit your current campaign. See if you can make things more interesting and more challenging. Are you too predictable? Turn the players’ assumptions on their ear. Do you normally run dungeon crawls? Try an adventure transplanted from another genre. Design a hostile extraction. Task the party to plant magical bugging devices in the rival King’s bedchamber. Have the party come upon a town that’s beset by orcs — have the local beg the party to help them defend their city — give them an Alamo to defend. Are you running a superhero game? Have the party stumble upon the abandoned base of a supervillain, and turn it into a dungeon crawl, with traps, danger-room automatons, maybe even the ghost of the supervillain.
  6. Prep a game for a con. If you have a local convention and you don’t run games at it, consider doing so. Most cons need volunteer GMs. Maybe there’s a system you want to run, but your players aren’t so keen. Well write-up a four-hour one-shot for your local con. Most convention organizers are delighted to have new GMs run games.
  7. Give yourself a break. Watch some movies. Read some novels. You never know what inspiration you might find for your campaign.

If you’re a player, there are ways you can occupy your time as well:

  1. Have you considered GMing? Do you typically have one GM in your group? Offer to run a one-shot. We can all learn different GMing techniques from each other. If you group’s GM never gets to play, he or she might enjoy the break. Even if they say they don’t need a break, some time spent on the other side of the screen can do them some good. They may see things in your GMing style that they like and adopt those techniques for themselves. Prep the game, make sure you know the rules well enough to run the game.
  2. Make a back-up character. We all know that death is unpredictable and sudden. Design a back-up character (or two). Throw them in your game night folder. Flesh them out with back stories. Then, if your main PC suddenly meets with an untimely demise, whip out your back up and wait for the GM to introduce your new hero.
  3. Re-familiarize yourself with the rules. Not all of us can have encyclopedic knowledge of the rules. Read through them again. Check the definitions of your character’s skills, powers, advantages, etc. Maybe there’s something your entire group’s been doing wrong (or not according to the rules, at least). We’ve discovered more than once that we weren’t playing according to Hoyle.
  4. Read a game book. (this goes for GMs as well) Did you ever pick up a game book that looked interesting, but you never got around to reading it? I have a couple of those. Pick ‘em up and read ‘em. It may give you the impetus to run a game — or cajole your GM into running it.

I leave you with some doggerel:

Twas the night before Christmas and across the whole mat
Not a creature was dropping, not even the werebat
The party was assembled, in a line, but not clumped
And the enemy AOE mage was hopelessly stumped.

Gorim in his hauberk, and I in my cloak
Were coughing and hacking from the hell-fire smoke.
When what to our war-weary eyes should emerge
But a fiery Goristro with an unused power surge.

He was a funny old chap, with a tail like a phallus
And he inquired as to why we’d invaded his palace.
“A night such as this,” his voice booming like thunder
“we should all be in bed, in deep winter slumber.”

Our bard, he spoke up, with out consultation
“We just thought we’d decorate for tomorrow’s celebration!
Our rouge has a bag of holding ‘neath her shawl,
With jewels and baubles for to deck this great hall.

“‘What a surprise,’ we though ‘should you wake to such wonder!’
We’re here to bring joy, certainly not to plunder.
So what say you, great demon? No need for concern,
We’re all are just here to do a good turn.”

Fates be praised, the bard rolled a crit,
For demon’s eyes, they teared up, just a bit.
And his face it contorted into what looked like a grin
And our cleric muttered that we’d burn for this sin.

“Allow me to help,” his voice shaking the walls,
“I’ll make kettle corn and candied eyeballs.
I’ll call forth my minions, they can help us as well.
If we all work together, this hall will look swell.”

The rogue eyed the bard, with murder in her eyes,
But she dumped out his bag of unusual size,
And we spotted some things as they spilled on the floor
That we didn’t recall splitting from our adventures before.

As he eyed the rogue’s plunder, our wizard, he spoke
“Have your minions bring stockings all hung from a rope,
For our rogue she brought gems to put in each one
So each will have presents, at the dawn of the sun.”

The rogue didn’t speak, as if choked by a bridle
But her face gave away, she had thoughts homicidal
When the decking was done to our bedrolls we laid
And we each took a watch, for the rogue had a blade.

The demon he stopped, as we laid down to sleep
And said, “thank you all, for coming to my keep,
And I’ll rest well this e’en, knowing there’ll be no fight
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Written by

Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of DoucheyDM.com. He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.

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