Thursday, November 20, 2014

What's your GM pre-flight checklist?

My guide booklet for Con of the North just came in the mail yesterday! Now the real preparation begins. In addition to picking out the games I want to play, I'm also running a session of Rad Astra X-plorers, (page 65 for those of you planning to make the con).

I purposely left the listing in the book a little vague so I'd have a chance to stew on some ideas for a bit. It's time to start writing up the rest of the adventure in earnest. In the past, I've winged it bigtime and that has had mixed results.* So this year, I want to get serious and be more strategic in my plans. Here's my checklist for Con of the North 2015...

2-3 months before:
  • Sketch out adventure ideas (plot, main NPCs, featured aliens/monsters)
  • Scout for artwork
  • Order any supplies
1 month before:
  • Finish writing the adventure (playtest if possible, but usually isn't) 
  • Re-read rules (hey, it always helps!)
  • Codify house rules into a document for myself at the table
Couple of weeks before
  • Assemble player aids (mini rules booklets, character sheets, extra dice, golf pencils, etc.)
  • Dig up minis and extra dice
  • After (at least) a few weeks of not touching it, I'll re-read my adventure and make any last minute tweaks
  • Re-re-read rules and my house rules
Around this time I also start thinking about important things for the players to know once they sit down. This is really just an introduction of me and my gaming style, since we're usually strangers and most haven't played X-plorers.

I'm big on prefacing expectations. I'm looking for maximum FUN, not to punish them with a lot of rules memorization. We're here to create a shared adventure (me with them, and them with the other players). Likewise, it's good to explain what's expected of them: work with each other, XP is rewarded for roleplay and involving others, be nice/don't be a dick). So really, just some "ground rules" for the table.

Night before:
  • Pack up all game materials for transport, including:
    • Game manuals
    • PC aids (character sheets or booklets)
    • Writing materials and dice
    • Miniatures (characters, ships, scenery)
    • Sketchpad
    • Hand sanitizer (Don't laugh, I get a lot of "Thanks for having this!")
  • Review convention guide book and driving/parking directions
  • Re-re-read the rules
  • Try to get sleep, which is impossible because it's almost TIME TO PLAY! 

What about maps?

One thing you'll see right away---there is no map. I've not been good about using them. Tactical maps might serve a purpose, but honestly X-plorers works well without having to parse out every square inch. I've taken to using line-of-sight and just estimating move spaces. So far all my players have seemed to dig on that approach. Still not sure if I'll use one this year. If I have time, I could whip up something basic.

What do you do to prepare for games you run?

What about you folks? I'm especially interested in hearing about how other GMs get ready to run their games at cons--or any "big" events you might be planning in your campaign.

*This year was a catastrophe. Lack of sleep and having an infant made for a horribly underprepared GMing experience. One I won't again repeat. #GMFAIL!

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