We’ve all been there. The week leading up to our session is incredibly busy and before you know it, it’s game night. This happens all too frequently to me, and I’d say I’ve gotten pretty decent at it. So today I want to share my techniques for prepping a session in 30 minutes or less.
Detail Your World
The more you know about your world the easier it is to create games out of thin air. By having a well-prepared world you are able to react to the players much more successfully. If they decide to go to the forbidden forest, and you already decided ahead of time that the forest would be full of spiders, there is no need to be scrambling for forest monsters when they show up.
Giving a lot of depth to your NPC’s can also help your adventures out in many different ways. Instead of thinking of the barkeep as a quest giver, he/she is instead a person who instead has an agenda. This agenda can help guide you for when your players go off the “rails”, or you start a session with nothing prepared. The barkeep isn’t telling the players to go kill rats because that’s what you have prepared, instead, the barkeep is hiring the players because he has a rat problem. This is a very subtle shift in mentality that does a lot for the world that isn’t immediately noticeable.
Thinking Outside of the Game
If you want to become a master of planning sessions in no time at all, you need to start thinking about your sessions away from the gaming table. Whenever you have a little quiet time such as in the shower, or while driving to work, you can take a moment to consider different options that the players may take. Talk to yourself about what things they may be facing in the future and take a mental note of it. This way when you actually sit down to prep, you’ve already gone through possible outcomes the players may have attempted and can start focusing on the main prep.
A word of caution with this method is to not plan based on what you think the players are going to do. Players tend to do things that you never would have thought of (it is 4-6 minds to your 1) and if you plan the session around their hypothetical adventure you may find yourself lacking in content when they go somewhere you didn’t anticipate. Instead, try to go back to point number 1 and build the world where they might explore. Instead of planning a path through the forbidden forest, you are designing the whole forest.
Broad Strokes Before Details
When you only have so much time to prepare, it’s important that you cover as much area as possible. Honing in on small details that your players may never come across just isn’t worth the time. If you decide that the regent is connected to the cultists, that’s a fantastic thing to know, but there’s no need to figure out the exact details surrounding it. It is much easier to come up with details in the moment that are more meaningful to the players because you will be discovering it at the same time they are. When they talk about how the regent might be connected, you can hear what they are saying and add details that make the most sense.
The same is true for designing locations the players might explore. While spending a lot of time on the boss fight to make it as exciting as possible is a good thing to do, in this scenario, you only have a half hour to prep. Figure out what monster(s) are going to be in the boss room and move onto the next room. When the players eventually arrive at the boss room, you can add more details on the fly such as what the terrain looks like, and what the attitude of the boss is. You can use the previous rooms to help inform you of the details in the final room.
A lot of the prep that goes into 30-minute prep happens before I even sit down. I try to think about my world and the characters in it as much as possible. If I can devote a little bit of time to worldbuilding each week, it makes the actual preparation for sessions that much easier. I also like to think about what my players may be interested in exploring so that when I do sit down I can prepare things that they would like. When crunch time does roll around, the main thing I try to do is basically create an outline. With the general ideas in place, I can then run a session and add details when the players arrive. Thank you all for reading, I hope you all have a great week and an amazing Tuesday!