Fantasy Grounds Fridays Pre
  1. #1

    Session prep for running games in FG

    In parallel with my thread on organising myself to GM games on FG, here is how I go about doing my session prep efficiently for games in FG.

    It is inspired by the Sly Flourish "Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master" method. If you buy one book about DM'ing over and above the core rules, I'd recommend that one.

    Personally, I intersperse these weekly prep sessions with occasional weekend days "getting ahead of myself", where I rough out where I think the campaign might head over the next few months and craft things like major villains, set-piece maps for the big bad's lair, the sort of thing that's likely to occupy several sessions. I can lose myself in this for the whole day with little pressure and each one keeps me going for several months thereafter by adding individual weekly game prep sessions, which are often only 30 minutes or an hour, tops.

    Weekly 30-60 minute prep session:

    1) Read through your notes from last time. If you're following my recommendations in the other thread, that'll be in two places - a note which summarises the events of the session from the players' point of view, and some scrawled GM notes to self and dragged links in your "To Do" pinned story entry. I find it's nice to have all that inside FG already rather that on scribbled bits of paper.

    2) Go through the player characters. Take just a minute to bring up all of their character sheets (and revel in the fact that the players CAN'T take them home or spill diet coke all over them. Ah, the benefits of running games online!). It's very easy to miss out this step, but it's really worthwhile. If the characters have levelled up - have they got all their spells and abilities ready to go with draggable effects? Did they get an item last time which you need to build effects for? But beyond those boring steps, has it been six sessions now you've been meaning to have the Ranger's arch nemesis crop up, and isn't it about time the druid got a letter back from their sister, and wasn't the thieves' guild supposed to cause lots of trouble to the renegade rogue? At this point you have the current state of the game loaded back into your brain - how can you work in stuff that's important to the characters? Can a monster be a long-lost fellow-student of the wizard's master?

    If it's not right for this coming session, make a note of it - I use the campaign calendar for this, so I know when the blacksmith is going to finish making that sword.

    3) If you are running a commercial scenario, read through the story entries that are likely to crop up today. Do this with a view to how you're going to present them, how you could tailor them better to your group, fit in what was happening last week and stuff from the characters' backstories. Make a few notes on the stories as you go. If you are running homebrew, figure out the thing that is definitely going to happen at the start of the session, and as per the Sly Flourish method think of making it into a really strong start.

    Do we really need to play through the shopping trip or can we do that via Discord chat? Would it be better to leap right in to the start of the next exciting bit? Or if we're gong on a journey, what will make the first "what do you do?" question make the players stop reading twitter and throw themselves into the game? Can we cut to the action?

    4) Take a guess where the story and the player characters might go next. Rough out in very general detail what you think might be the very minimum you'd need to run that scene. For me, that all starts with maps, to which I pin a story which is often only a couple of sentences, an encounter or two with a few generic NPCs thrown in ready, and a Syrinscape sound mood link. If the players go there, I'm covered, but my total elapsed time for each potential scene is only a few minutes. I have an extensive library of maps from patreons etc. because this is so critical to the way I run games in a VTT; you might find you prefer theatre of mind and prepare the story entries instead.

    DON'T SWEAT at this stage. It is much better to have all the maps you think you might need ready without the frills like LOS walls than to spend half an hour on a map you end up not using. Sure, LOS is great for immersion, but it's much better to have the right map without it than no map at all. You're aiming for the framework that lets you improvise most effectively. What's the important feature of the map? Can you quickly throw together assets if you don't have the perfect map to hand? If it's a wrecked steam wagon, grab a generic canyon map and spend a minute googling for something to shove in as the steam punk gadget. You're aiming for 90% of the effect with 10% of the work, here.

    5) Make a single story entry for the forthcoming session and note down a bunch of interesting stuff that they might discover. (This is the Sly Flourish "secrets and clues" step). This could be places, people, information, items, spells, motivations, revelations - stuff that you think they might come across. Don't try to define how or where, it's far more important to have a couple of sentences written down and re-skin an ogre with a different token for the father of the villain than to waste an hour making up a new NPC from scratch. The important thing is to realise that having the villain's father show up is a possibility and interesting stuff might happen as a result.

    6) Think if there are any set-piece art works or handouts that it would be great to show. Prep a few quickly - Google search is your friends. About to reveal the big boss? Have a pic ready to show.

    7) Audition a few sounds and make a playlist. I do with Syrinscape, which I link to the maps, myself.

    This is enough to prep for a typical three hour session. Just make sure you can find it all again by pinning it to maps, making yourself a summary story, or whatever method you like the best.

    If you have more time, do this:

    8) Revisit the maps. If you're pretty sure that they are going to be used, prettify them, or buy a new map or assets if you're really unhappy with what you have to hand. Add LOS, add set dressing. FGU now has good map tools, so it's easy to turn a generic forest into the lair of the mushroom king with a few PNG assets sprinkled around. Add LOS, effects layers, mist, time of day, quirky little things which players might investigate and throw in pinned links ("this pool burbles like laughing gas - if you drink it, you're under Hideous Laughter for a round" is all it needs to say).

    9) Build loot parcels for big set-pieces that you're pretty sure are going to happen. Make them interesting - try to throw in at least one intriguing item per stash.

    10) Go back to your NPC ideas in "To Do", player backgrounds, your quick notes. Can you quickly reskin an existing monster to suit? Orc doing fire damage is a very quick way to create the army of very aggressive monsterous magma-men. Drag the orc link back to the NPC window to make a copy, click padlock to edit, change the name to "Magma-man", the damage type of the weapons to fire, maybe add fire to the immune or resist damage entry. Find a different token, drag and drop. Done. 1 minute, tops. Do the same with an ogre - "Magama-bossman". Does the NPC have the potential to be a recurring character? If so, it might be worth spending more time on them. But even so, starting with "veteran" or "noble" or "druid" can get you a long way fast.

    11) Think what might be useful if the players go off-piste from where they are now. Is there anything really interesting around? Can you grab a map and build a quick encounter with stock creatures reskinned that might really be fun? Do you have a map that you're burning to use that might fit in geographically or themically right now? Do you have a map in your head you can build? Or can tweak quickly? Or an idea that just popped into your head? You might not use it now, but if you just had a burning cool idea for a bank vault raid, make a story entry and find a map and an encounter with 10 guards and a boss wizard and who knows? The same thing that made you think about raiding the bank might just have occurred to the players over the last week, too.

    12) Step back.

    Have you done the minimum coverage to be able to run the things which have occurred to you? Are you unsatisfied with something? Yeh, but really so unsatisfied that it is worth spending the rest of the evening getting right?


    If so, get right on and build that lovingly-hand-crafted map, scroll handout and detailed family of NPCs.

    Otherwise - you're ready.

    Cheers, Hywel
    Last edited by HywelPhillips; May 9th, 2021 at 16:50.

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