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Does more #GM prep make your #RPG better?

Controversial answer: Yes, with just ONE qualification: Only if it's the *right* prep. That means I think every game, from Apocalypse World to Pathfinder, benefits from prep.

More in thread.
First of all, prepping a session isn't NECESSARY for the session or even a campaign to be good. You can run a good campaign start to finish with 0 prep. But prep helps. It makes improvising a lot easier if you have pre-built resources ready to hand. It keeps stories straight.
So 0 prep, you can do good. But without prep, there are things you have to work extra hard for in each session.

For instance, you and your players have to be REAL good at remembering names and story details from past sessions if you don't write session summaries.
Reading and rewriting your notes between sessions is a valuable kind of prep. You don't HAVE to rewrite your notes into session summaries for the players. I used to rewrite them into plot ideas for future sessions, in a google doc (worked OK). Now I rewrite them for everyone.
Another kind of prep is coloring in details. You don't WANT to color in EVERY detail of the world around the PCs and their antagonists - leave some to be determined by the needs of scenes during play - but there's a lot of value in taking TIME to think of details.
In the moment, improvising, it's hard to color in the world and also...
- Incorporate subtle genre references, reinforce genre
- Tie in story threads from previous sessions
- Foreshadow!
- Prepare handouts and player props, find reference images
I always prep the antagonists, who they are, what they have (people they control, places they can go, things they have), what they're trying to do, and how that ties in to the PCs' goals, passions, and motivations.
More deets on the antagonists: Always good (but leave some blank spaces)
More work tying their goals to the PCs' passions: SOLID GOLD! Yeah, you can do that in the heat of the moment, but you tend to forget a lot. 4 PCs = usually 8 or more things they care about. Easy to forget.
Rather, easy to remember the same three over and over. Hard to remember the other five (or ten or whatever).
Also, prep color! Running The Sprawl, reading cyberpunk novels, watching cyberpunk, SF, and punk TV/movies, reading about the abuses of shareholder capitalism, environmental degradation, and urban poverty all help me prep. That's prep! More=better
Last, some prep you do is JUST for you. When I was running Night's Black Agents, I spent hours wiki-diving into deep eliptony holes on my phone. 99% of what I learned about the Golden Dawn or ISIS or the origins of the CIA never got used. But here's the thing:
I felt more confident talking about these things at the table. The 1% I used was almost always the obvious stuff you read in that first paragraph on wikipedia. I'd have the same info whether I spent 5 min or 5 hrs learning about it. But I felt more confident because of the depth.
And that goes for whether you spend 5 hours thinking about the religions of your D&D world or 5 hours studying nightmare-related demons and international counter-terrorist operations. But do this sort of thing AFTER the other stuff!
The order of these tweets is about the order of importance:

1. Review last session and incorporate loose ends from it
2. Work on antagonists
3. Steep yourself in the genre for color
4. Geeky "solo play" stuff that the players will probably never see, but makes you more confident
Notice nowhere in here is "Try to figure out what the players are going to do and build cool, detailed encounters in an obstacle course that they will have to run through to do it." That's bad prep for a couple reasons I won't go into here.
Reviewing the last session and planning to address the loose ends from it is not "figure out what they're gonna do next and build an obstacle course for it" by the way.
During play, you improvise a lot, no matter HOW much you prep (unless you're totally railroading the players). That improvised stuff, as I have said, will not be as rich and connected to your other content as if you had prepped it. That's GOOD.
It's not good that it's not connected, tight story. It IS good that it's content that surprised everyone at the table, even YOU. If your game doesn't surprise you all the time, my #GM friend, it's gonna burn you out. You still need to do the work of making the world make sense!
You do that by reading your notes about the surprising, off-the-cuff stuff you did and figuring out how it connects to the stuff you've ALREADY done, and stuff you and the players are most interested in. (You find THAT in your session 0 notes and in their backstories/motives).
"When do I draw the dungeon?"

You do that in the antagonists phase. The dungeon is part of the "stuff" your antagonist has.

Review notes first.
Antagonist second.
Antagonist's *stuff* third.
Once you're on to this phase -- the stuff the antagonist has -- you're at risk of sunk cost fallacy.

"I did all this work drawing a cool dungeon! I even bought special terrain pieces for it!" not good enough justification to railroad the players into that dungeon.
However, if you're doing a good job making the RPG about the main characters, the PCs, then you don't NEED to railroad anyone.…

This is why that first step - reviewing your notes and tying stuff back to stuff your PCs care about - is the *first* step.
And also why, when you work on your antagonist, you tie their plans to stuff the PCs care about.

(I'd rather improvise a dungeon map and every single monster in it than improvise why the PCs should care about the plot. That is the MOST critical thing.)
The antagonist's plans are part of the "antagonist's stuff" step. And those plans and how they impact things the PCs specifically care about are probably the most important part of that step.
Keep in mind these are the ANTAGONIST'S plans. Not YOUR plans.

That's a key difference. Too many GMs prep THEIR plans, and when THEIR plans get disrupted by a spell they didn't anticipate, or players going "off the rails" they get flustered and sometimes try to railroad.
You WANT the players to disrupt the ANTAGONIST'S plans. When they do, you're never disappointed.
Say the PCs disrupt step 2, and step 3 was gonna be cool. You're not upset like if this was YOUR plan.

Show them how close they came to failure. "You stopped the villain a SINGLE STEP in her plan before she released the ghoul plague into Waterdeep! Literally seconds to spare!"
I mean, sure, ghoul plague running rampant in Waterdeep is cool.

But so is stopping it with seconds to spare!
Another thing about "prepping the antagonist's stuff" that's useful: If your PCs take things in a surprising direction, or eliminate the antagonist and never SEE their stuff... just give it to someone else. Give it to a DIFFERENT antagonist.
That's because...

CRITICAL PREP LESSON: Your prep is not "True Facts About The World."

RPGs are shared imagined spaces, where truth is just words you say. By definition, the words in your prep notes are not "Truth" until you say they are, during play.
So if your prep says "the Lich King has a dungeon full of medusas" or whatever, and the PCs kill the Lich King without ever seeing medusa dungeon, you can give the medusa dungeon to the Dragon Emperor. Just because some old prep said the Lich King owned it doesn't make it True.
It's not even a "retcon" (retroactive continuity).

It was never even "continuity" to begin with, because the players never heard that the Lich King owned Medusa Dungeon.
Some people call that "quantum ogres." I called BS on that a long time ago.

And now that I'm referencing other threads, I think it's time to end this one. Thanks for reading!
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