Articles Comments

The Douchey DM » Adventure Design » Reactive Prep: Is Less More?

Reactive Prep: Is Less More?

SagaoftheInukai-150x150I received some feedback from the last L5R session that I’d like to share.

The player said, “I feel like the actions we take have a direct effect on the story.”

And they do. The basic premise of the story as it’s developed is this: the younger brother of a minor Daimyo, (Japanese feudal lord) finds himself lord of an unexpectedly wealthy holding. As his domain grows, he relies on three samurai (the party) who are his only blood relations.

My prep for this game consists of answering two questions:

  1. How will last week’s events affect the story/setting?
  2. How can I complicate the story this week?


Clearly, I can’t answer the first question until the previous session is over, and the second question often requires the context of what the party will do in the next session.

It’s kept me on my toes and it’s kept the players on theirs, as we both react each week to the other’s actions.

This style of game has done something else: it’s prevented me from over-preparing, because I can’t prepare. I come to the game with one or two wrenches in mind that may or may not come up, depending on where the characters are and what they’re doing.

Aside from the dramatic wrenches, I am mostly thinking about what transpired in the previous session, what the long-term and short-term effects of those event and how the rest of Rokugan will react.

And often, my plot complications (the wrenches) are often reactions to a previous session’s events. For instance, in the last game, I left them with a cliff-hanger: a samurai from a wealthy vassal family within the Lion Clan has arrived in the party’s valley to a) act as an emissary for his Daimyo and b) find husbands for his three beautiful daughters.

The result of all of this very reactive preparation is a story with turns and complications that  I don’t think I could have constructed myself.


Written by

Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of 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.

Filed under: Adventure Design · Tags: ,

4 Responses to "Reactive Prep: Is Less More?"

  1. BrianNo Gravatar says:

    You and I run the games we play in a like manner. I enjoined the talk on this topic in the recent podcast.

  2. hyvemyndNo Gravatar says:

    Congratulations, Stu. You’re following the Apocalypse World agenda of “Play to find out what happens.” I’ll get you to play/run a session of an AW-based game one of these days. 🙂

  3. JenniferNo Gravatar says:

    As both a player and a GM, I love this kind of game. When I play, it’s the best feeling in the world to see that my actions have consequences that influence much more than just my own story (good or bad, the feeling is still great). As a GM, I want to give my players that and apart from that, I could never prepare for all the stuff they come up with anyway.

  4. shortymonsterNo Gravatar says:

    Me and my Girlfriend live together, and shes in my current CP2020 game, so when we walk down to the weekly session, we walk together. She is often worried about how quiet I am, but I ended up telling her it was just because I leave a lot of the final planning for that walk down. I often only get player feedback – in the form of IC diaries and the such – the day before the game runs, so they serve as reminders for what happened the week before, and where the players will likely expect the game to go.

    It isn’t all based off this, but I’ve found after years of doing this, that keeping in mind the players’ expectations you tend to run games that have a better chance of connecting with the group. The basic plot is always in my head, but how I apply is always held off until I have an idea where the players will want to take it.

Leave a Reply