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  1. #1

    Preparation vs Improvisation

    Hi guys,

    What types of DM are you? Do you prefer to prepare lot of stuff or do you improvise most of the time? As a player do you prefer masters with lot of material prepared or just theater of mind approach + improvisation?

    I usually prefer the fist choice. As a master I like to prepare all the main maps where the player will possibly go. Fantasy Grounds help me a lot in this ( maybe it could help more but that's not the actual topic :P )
    I believe that if the player are welcomed with a customized dungeon map for their adventure/campaign they will be more involved in the adventure ( not all of them of course ).

    For the last 5/6 sessions I spent some hours preparing a map for a dungeon. I'm running a Storm King's Thunder campaign on Fantasy Grounds and I like to show to the player a more polished scenario compared to Random Encounter ( they are useful of course in some situation but they don't fit well ).

    This is the creation video of the map:

  2. #2
    Improvisational hands down. It's down to how much time you have for prep, and in the case of maps, how long your players will interact with that area to make it worth while. You might spend an hour in a room creating the desk with candles, the broken chairs or tables.. and your players will walk in, kill a few things, perhaps ponder the nature of the setup, then leave. The video game era has depreciated the effort and wow-factor that detailed maps have.

    For my evenstar campaign, I do have a large number of prepared maps which illustrate hallways, shop fronts, derelict asteroid mines etc.. but they're mainly mono or duel texture based. That meaning I just drew an outline, fattened it with a texture, and then put in a floor. I may paste in a few assets here and there but I never spend more than an hour creating a encounter map unless it's a large dungeon or crawl situation which in Sci-fi is rare. It's even rarer for me given that they have a space ship and constantly roam among the stars.

    Bringing up the previous point, player mobility and options will determine if you can afford that kind of prep time. If your players never visit the zone, then those maps become pointless unless you steer them to it, or recycle it for a future encounter. I tend to create maps for what I believe my party will encounter within the next 2 sessions or so. Sometimes I'm caught off guard, as in a sudden skirmish that occurred at Haven-5, a night club. In these events, I'll draw out a quick lay of the land and everything is fine.

    The whole game is very imaginative, so your players typically are in it for the experience and the mental images your descriptions evoke. I'd rather have a descriptive GM as opposed to a Map focused one as it lets me paint a mental picture which I can clarify with a few questions. For combat, a rough drawing is usually needed else it becomes a he-said-she-said the orc was X or Y. Outside of that is the realm of role-play and imagination.

    In addition, as a GM or a Player, you feel you have more options. I told my Evenstar players early that they can do whatever they want in my world which really has opened them to new tactics and ideas. Now they're not world destroying murder hobos mind you as they're classy folks, but they aren't limited, in what they can do by my lack of maps. If they want to storm the central docking control station, so be it, I can draw the map and conjure the significant NPCs on the spot if needed.

    Improvisation however is a skill you learn by practice, and often difficult for new GMs, so maps are the safe route. I'd just say be mindful of the amount of freedom you give your players else it can quickly spin out of the prepared space.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Ken L View Post
    Improvisational hands down. It's down to how much time you have for prep, and in the case of maps, how long your players will interact with that area to make it worth while. You might spend an hour in a room creating the desk with candles, the broken chairs or tables.. and your players will walk in, kill a few things, perhaps ponder the nature of the setup, then leave. The video game era has depreciated the effort and wow-factor that detailed maps have.

    For my evenstar campaign, I do have a large number of prepared maps which illustrate hallways, shop fronts, derelict asteroid mines etc.. but they're mainly mono or duel texture based. That meaning I just drew an outline, fattened it with a texture, and then put in a floor. I may paste in a few assets here and there but I never spend more than an hour creating a encounter map unless it's a large dungeon or crawl situation which in Sci-fi is rare. It's even rarer for me given that they have a space ship and constantly roam among the stars.

    Bringing up the previous point, player mobility and options will determine if you can afford that kind of prep time. If your players never visit the zone, then those maps become pointless unless you steer them to it, or recycle it for a future encounter. I tend to create maps for what I believe my party will encounter within the next 2 sessions or so. Sometimes I'm caught off guard, as in a sudden skirmish that occurred at Haven-5, a night club. In these events, I'll draw out a quick lay of the land and everything is fine.

    The whole game is very imaginative, so your players typically are in it for the experience and the mental images your descriptions evoke. I'd rather have a descriptive GM as opposed to a Map focused one as it lets me paint a mental picture which I can clarify with a few questions. For combat, a rough drawing is usually needed else it becomes a he-said-she-said the orc was X or Y. Outside of that is the realm of role-play and imagination.

    In addition, as a GM or a Player, you feel you have more options. I told my Evenstar players early that they can do whatever they want in my world which really has opened them to new tactics and ideas. Now they're not world destroying murder hobos mind you as they're classy folks, but they aren't limited, in what they can do by my lack of maps. If they want to storm the central docking control station, so be it, I can draw the map and conjure the significant NPCs on the spot if needed.

    Improvisation however is a skill you learn by practice, and often difficult for new GMs, so maps are the safe route. I'd just say be mindful of the amount of freedom you give your players else it can quickly spin out of the prepared space.
    I agree with you 100% on "Don't railroad the player". Actually the Storm King's Thunder ( a d&d 5e, forgot to say ), is full of free roaming. When I know my players are going somewhere in particular I tend to prepare that stuff.
    I still remember the first time I prepared an entire village and they steer out from it. I was upset but at the same time, after the end of the session, I felt proud of giving to the player the freedom to choose.

  4. #4
    Zacchaeus's Avatar
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    If I were to spend that long creating a map with that sort of detail then the players are sure as hell going to visit that location whether they like it or not
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  5. #5
    LordEntrails's Avatar
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    As a DM, I love to prep. It's creative, it's enjoyable. Its awesome when my players go somewhere, do something and I can pull up a beautiful map detailing the furrier's shop, or the inside of the volcano, or where ever. When I can pull up and show them a portrait and have a name and detailed personality. Etc.

    But, I rarely have time, or the focus for that much anymore. So, I have to improvise often.

    As a player, I love it when the DM can provide the same level of detail that I would enjoy creating. But, I know such takes a great deal of time, and often times we (the players) go off an tangents that there really was no reasonable way a DM could have prepared for it.

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  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Zacchaeus View Post
    If I were to spend that long creating a map with that sort of detail then the players are sure as hell going to visit that location whether they like it or not


    Quote Originally Posted by LordEntrails View Post
    As a DM, I love to prep. It's creative, it's enjoyable. Its awesome when my players go somewhere, do something and I can pull up a beautiful map detailing the furrier's shop, or the inside of the volcano, or where ever. When I can pull up and show them a portrait and have a name and detailed personality. Etc.

    But, I rarely have time, or the focus for that much anymore. So, I have to improvise often.

    As a player, I love it when the DM can provide the same level of detail that I would enjoy creating. But, I know such takes a great deal of time, and often times we (the players) go off an tangents that there really was no reasonable way a DM could have prepared for it.
    Same feeling. When I draw a map it actually help me creating the story. Why there's a carpet here? What's the meaning of this room? Does it make sense to have spiders in this dungeon?

  7. #7
    I dislike battle maps on a conceptual level.

    As a DM, I find it frustrating and immersion breaking to tell players the fight will be here. No convenient way to adjust it if they want to lay an ambush or open fire from extended range. Recall that in D&D 3.5, fireball had a range in the hundreds of feet.

    I'm increasingly find of more abstract range bands or similar mechanics that avoid the 20x30 combat box.

  8. #8

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    So... you are a true artist. Amazing map, and amazing process!

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by seycyrus View Post
    So... you are a true artist. Amazing map, and amazing process!
    Lol, thanks. I learned how to do maps just to master my adventure.

    Quote Originally Posted by Black Hammer
    I dislike battle maps on a conceptual level.

    As a DM, I find it frustrating and immersion breaking to tell players the fight will be here. No convenient way to adjust it if they want to lay an ambush or open fire from extended range. Recall that in D&D 3.5, fireball had a range in the hundreds of feet.

    I'm increasingly find of more abstract range bands or similar mechanics that avoid the 20x30 combat box.
    The problem is: I prepare maps for villages too. So the fight could be anywhere XD.
    I think the issue for me is that me and my players are videogamer first. The more information we have ( description + visuals + sounds ) the better we are immersed in the game.

  10. #10
    I'd just advise not to work too hard on maps given how much the tide can change in terms of party direction unless it's an adventure path or a hard rail. There's always the art of the 'illusion' of choice that can be employed tacitly, I use it at times to steer plot but it's very marco-scopic. In other words I have plans for the end or series of endings but the means are up to them.

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