Sidebar: Building a Better GM: A Challenge (Part II)

This is my second post in response to ckutalik’s challenge Building a Better GM.

My friend is fond of a quote by Steve Martin, from the movie ‘My Blue Heaven.’ “It’s not tipping I believe in. It’s overtipping.”

This pretty well sums up how I feel about game preparation. I don’t believe in it. I believe in overpreparation. What that means is that when I run a campaign, I don’t just slap together some stat blocks and call it a day. I write fully fleshed out campaign modules- complete with tactics, sidebars and yes, even flavor text. This may seem like a lot of work to many people, and some might even find it a little constraining. I think that’s a perfectly legitimate opinion, if that’s how you roll. However, I don’t usually think that well on my feet, and I often find that I fumble things when my players do something unexpected. Taking the time to write my own modules actually gives me time to think through some of the many potential actions that players might take, and to come up with ways to address those actions. It also gives me an opportunity to create some truly unique encounters that I wouldn’t be able to come up with on the fly.

To give you an example, one encounter that always sticks out in my mind is oen that I ran for a Ghostwalk campaign. During the encounter, the characters are in a carriage that gets ambushed by a group of goblins. The goblins kill the driver, and take control of the horses. As I was running this encounter, one of the players, who was playing a ghost at the time, managed to escape from the carriage by going incorporeal, and tried to spook the carriage horses, in the hopes that it would give the players an opportunity to escape. The action left me a little dumbfounded for a moment, and I started desperately trying to think of some rules to handle such a situation. That is, of course, until I read my module and noticed that I had actually written in rules for just such an occurrence! That forethought on my part allowed me to run an encounter that was incredibly cinematic, and one that I doubt would have been half as entertaining if I hadn’t.

Of course, I don’t just overprepare for the adventures I write myself. I also overprepare when I run published modules. For example, when I ran Expedition to Castle Ravenloft I did a lot of research on Strahd, so that I could get a sense of how to run him tactically. I also bought a CD of Halloween music and used the songs to create two soundtracks: One for background music, and one specific for encounters. Since I was running a two-night campaign, I rewrote large chunks of the module, moving encounters around, so that I could run the ones I thought were most enjoyable, while skipping the ones I didn’t want to use. Finally, since I was planning to use character death as a way to heighten the sense of horror in my campaign, I created character sheets for PCs to use, so that they could rejoin the game as quickly as possible should their characters die. I feel like this overpreparation on my part helped create a truly satisfying, and truly terrifying adventure for my players.

Now again, I realize that overpreparation isn’t for everyone. In fact, I’ve known GMs who are at their best when they run things on the fly. As I said, though, I’m not that kind of GM, and I feel like overpreparation is one of the best things I can bring to the table.

What kind of GM are you? Do you overprepare, or are you the sort of GM who likes to run things on-the-fly?

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