Just after returning from Origins, DigitalKat posed a question to me. She's been up to her eyeballs with "real life" obligations recently--a full-time job, an internship on her days off, plus family and friend obligations. Prepping game for one group, let alone two or more, has been a huge challenge for her. She's written up some of her trials and tribulations here, where she describes how she manages to fit in her game-prep in the midst of her busy schedule.
|Just don't look up!|
Then again, don't look down!
While the summer affords me quite a bit of time to get caught up--I average about 4,000-5,000 words a day, if I spend a fully day writing--the school year often "interferes" with my ability to write. But, during the school year, this time is curtailed significantly, due to my obligations in the classroom! That said, I do manage to find times during the day where I can actually get some game-based work done!
Journaling and Silent Reading
As part of my daily teaching procedures, I begin almost every day with either a 7 minute journaling time or a 15 minute session of silent reading. While the benefits of reading and writing each day are well-documented, this has a multi-faceted benefit for the teacher. First, it establishes a gravitas and attitude in the classroom, allowing students to calm down and focus on something literary or philosophical, rather than their own items. Secondly, it gives me a time in which I can take attendance and take care of any outstanding issues, like make-up work or conferencing with individual students. However, while I keep my attendence software on one tab in my browser, I arrange it so that it only takes up half the screen, leaving the other half free for Word, Excel, or Publisher.
Writing during this period--under a massive deadline and in short spurts--usually doesn't net me much at each session, though tallied over a full day of 5 class periods, that's about an hour's worth of writing, usually totalling around 500 words by itself.
Hall Supervision and Prep
|What the Warlock's schedule|
is usually like...
Mondays, most days, I spend formalizing and submitting my lesson plans, then sending them on to my department head. Tuesday through Thursday, under normal circumstances, I spend my time either organizing my thoughts, taking care of e-mail correspondence, or actually writing. Fridays, though, is where the real "prep" takes place, as that's game night.
This time span affords me almost two full hours--with a glorious little break right in between, wherein I can get coffee--to focus on writing and the like.
Prepping for Game
Oftentimes, the amount of prep that I do directly relates to the type of system that I'm running. For a game like Savage Worlds or ICONS, I find that my prep is almost negligible. I'll come up with a few plot elements or ideas that I'd like to introduce, or spend my time focusing on elements actively sought after by my PCs. Oftentimes, if I have information that's privy to only one or two, I'll drop them a private e-mail during this time, providing them whatever info they've happened to stumble across. Unless it's something I'm likely to forget or if I'm juggling a whole pile of plot hooks, I often don't even have to write these down.
For a game like 4e D&D, however, I need a little more time and effort put in. Most times, this occurs through the (offline, of course!) Monster Builder. I start by filtering monsters by level and type, then see what kind of monsters might fit for the adventure hook I'd been planning. If there are some pre-built, or at least close in terms of level, I'll simply adjust the monster level, print and go from there. If not, I often take a pre-existing monster, re-flavor it (by changing names, adding or subtracting an attack or two, and adding in thematic items) and then print away.
Behind the Curtain
|Instant Gunslinger! Just add dice!|
You can do the same thing for nearly any system, once you have a handle on the math. For 4e D&D, it all starts with the base of 1/2 Level + Ability mod. If you had to build an archmage on the fly, start with his Intelligence score, perhaps something around a 22. Ability mod for a 22 is +6, to which you add half of his level. Is he trained in a given skill? Probably, if it's academic--give him that +5 bonus pretty indiscriminately. Now, how about some personality--let's make him a dwarf! He'll have slightly higher hit points and a slightly lower movement speed, as well as the rest of the dwarven traits--don't worry about those unless they come up. As for spells, pick a theme! Maybe this mage is all about manipulating fire or earth. You could give him a bog-standard "Flaming Sphere" and just reflavor it as a half-sentient earth elemental rampaging through the battlefield.
Obviously, these stats aren't concrete. They're meant to be "just enough" to get you through a single session or two. If you need more, that's when you can devote the time to putting forward a full NPC writeup. If this character is meant to be recurring, it's time to give him the full business.
A Major Mistake
I didn't always take the minimal prep route, truth be told. In fact, I used to obsess over game prep, particularly when I was in college. While working in an amusement park gift shop over the summer, I'd craft epic campaigns filling whole notebooks....only to have most of that material go either unused or underused. Plus, when I'd plot out the entire plot of the adventure, I'd end up denying my players the opportunity to go "off book" and improvise on their own.
It wasn't until I had almost graduated from Wittenberg did I finally realize this phenomenon. Actually, it was in one of my infamous "Blackfall" games--the epic Blackfall II, which spanned over 48 hours--that I finally divorced myself from my over-preparatory tendencies. With over 15 players and a co-GM at my back, we had to be ready to improvise at a moment's notice! Combat had to be fast and furious, to allow everyone an opportunity to shine--getting bogged down in minutia simply wasn't an option!
Everyone, however, has their own balance of preparation against improvisation. For me, I fall much further on the side of improv than I did even a few years ago, and my choices in games indicate that shift in philosophy as well. It's all a matter of what works best for you or for your table, as always.