D&D 5E DM Prepared one page of notes.

Psikerlord#

Explorer
I like the flexible dm style too, it makes the most fun games, imo, for both players and dm. I think spending some prep time thinking about cool npcs is always helpful. There are some excellent online tools that gel with the improv style - Donjon has random inn generators, npc generators (inc names and descriptions), pocket treasure, all sorts of stuff. You could easily print off a random npc list actually if you dont want to generate an npc etc on the fly with a laptop or tablet at the table. I added the random trap tables from dmg to my dm screen, too.
 

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Kaychsea

Explorer
I've just finished a five session (4 hours each) CoC campaign based on a 4 generation family tree I jotted down on the train to the first game.

Everything else was off the cuff. Although I did write it down as it was going down as it were.
 

FormerlyHemlock

Adventurer
I find it helpful to write down names for NPCs so that I'm not coming up with them on the fly, and also to sketch out some interesting encounters (room that smells like blood; murky fountain with a water weird; storage room full of animated skeletons). In an urban adventure I sketch out plot threads based on which factions are up to what.

I'm still learning, and I find that the hard part of improv is giving guidance to players how to pursue a plot thread. "Great, I'll take the mission to solve the murders. What do I do now?" "Ummm." I may know what is causing the murders, but figuring out how to get the players pointing in the right direction is something else. Last time I tried this the players wound up chasing a red herring into a dungeon of undead, which is basically a way of giving up on the mystery. When they get back to town they will discover that the murders have escalated a bit... (Rakshasas, vampires, and Cthulhu cults are now all operating simultaneously, and killing each other.)
 

trentonjoe

Explorer
These are my notes from my last game.
 

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DM_

First Post
I'm beginning to be able to pull off this style, I find the difference in prep works out amazingly for my table. Far more direct interaction with simple notes.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
I sometimes just wing entire sessions. But we normally don't runs something that has plot points that need to be hit or anything like that. More location based adventuring. I think its why adventure paths rub me so wrong.
 

Herr der Qual

First Post
When I DM my only major planning happens at the start of the campaign, I dream up some cool NPC's of varying level and roles (with lots of random rolls to give me some playing in-character challenge), I draw up my original game path idea, they will be hired by this guy to go do this. Then the random improve begins, the first time I ever DM'd the group took a total alternate root to what I was expecting and I had to flush like 5 hours of prep down the drain. I also try to set up a unique homebrew world for them to inhabit, my current project is Ravenborne. After this initial set up prep, I run them through my only 100% designed dungeon, the level 1 icebreaker, from then on, I let them encounter NPC's and brainstorm quick ideas for what they want to pursue, my icebreaker always has loads of loose ends for them to attempt to tie up! I can quickly get them on path, and the things they do, the way their characters come to life, their passions and goals are enough fuel for my brain to come up with interesting story arcs that can keep the whole party entertained, I include lots of brain teasers and logic puzzles and award them XP based on their performance dealing with them, as constantly just hacking up monsters gets to be mundane.
 

DM_

First Post
When I DM my only major planning happens at the start of the campaign, I dream up some cool NPC's of varying level and roles (with lots of random rolls to give me some playing in-character challenge), I draw up my original game path idea, they will be hired by this guy to go do this. Then the random improve begins, the first time I ever DM'd the group took a total alternate root to what I was expecting and I had to flush like 5 hours of prep down the drain. I also try to set up a unique homebrew world for them to inhabit, my current project is Ravenborne. After this initial set up prep, I run them through my only 100% designed dungeon, the level 1 icebreaker, from then on, I let them encounter NPC's and brainstorm quick ideas for what they want to pursue, my icebreaker always has loads of loose ends for them to attempt to tie up! I can quickly get them on path, and the things they do, the way their characters come to life, their passions and goals are enough fuel for my brain to come up with interesting story arcs that can keep the whole party entertained, I include lots of brain teasers and logic puzzles and award them XP based on their performance dealing with them, as constantly just hacking up monsters gets to be mundane.

Oh very nice! Do you have any recommendations on good ways to involve logic puzzles into the game? What was your favorite puzzle and how did the players solve it? To keep this on topic, do you remember what notes if any you had for it?
 

Stalker0

Legend
As real life has taken its till on my prep time, I plan much more big picture and don't sweat the details.

Sometimes this leads to my best games, as it lets the players direct the general flow
 

Stalker0

Legend
One other note, I plan more now as the campaign goes on, and less at the beginning.

At te beginning I let the pcs find their footing and see where their interests lie and then start planning more around that.

I start with an end goal, but keep the details loose
 

Herr der Qual

First Post
Oh very nice! Do you have any recommendations on good ways to involve logic puzzles into the game? What was your favorite puzzle and how did the players solve it? To keep this on topic, do you remember what notes if any you had for it?

There are several ways to bring them into the game, my personal favorite is a bit cliched I'd expect but I still have the most fun with it and it gives me a lot of option for how I go about the puzzle. I love to have them in buildings preferably in situations like this:

"You after passing through the illusory door you come upon the ancient ruins of a tower, magestic with intricate stonework accomplished only by skilled elemental magics the tower is stunningly designed with features seeming to defy architecture and gravity...
Upon entering the tower through the door you enter a room that seems much too big for the exterior size of the tower..."

From there I usually insert either a guardian type character who would be nigh impossible for the party to defeat had they come specially equipped to fight this foe, he announces his presence in a grand or commanding way and maintains a non-threatening posture and declares they must answer his questions (all riddles) to pass.

Or my more common one is I will think of an abstract puzzle including features like multiple doors, trick mechanisms, or secret devices with a secret operating mechanism with a cryptic hint! I sometimes include ciphers and/or anagrams into these puzzles.

My favorite puzzle was the characters entered a temple upon entering there was a circular symbol on the floor divided into a center and 6 rings, each pointed to a door, except for the largest and most ornate door which had a strange mechanism on the front of it that no rogue could pick. There was a cryptic hint scratched into the stone wall by a man who appeared to be recently deceased, although these were lost ruins, there was not a spec of dust to be found and everything glimmered as if it were build yesterday. The cryptic clue hinted at the order the doors must be unlocked in, however they could enter and pass through every room without going in order, it just wouldn't complete the puzzle. Each door was one color, behind each door was a small antechamber with a small puzzle to open the second set of doors, which were actually a portal spell etched into the stone. After completing the initial puzzle they would step through the portal to discover themselves in a strange land, each one being the ideal environment for one type of dragon. Each of these dimensional spaces had One adult dragon, matching the color of the door. They could either kill each dragon or find a way based on it's nature, predicament or by playing it's game receive a part of the key, upon gaining the piece they would be instantly teleported back to the room where the pieces of the symbol on the floor that pointed at the door they just went through and would turn to face the grand door. It took them two sessions to get through all of it. It was fantastic watching them work together to get things done, they were so busy trying to solve the problems that they forgot to argue, once, for each.

I speak two and a half languages, and am fluent in 5 alphabets, so when I write out notes on design elements of puzzles, or riddles and such I write them in a language unfamiliar to everyone in my party or an alphabet unbeknownst to them. Sorry for the long drug out post, I know they can be a drag to read sometimes. Cheers!
 

S

Sunseeker

Guest
I spend more of my time prepping thinking of cool :):):):) than actually writing it down. My notes are usually just some random stats (if I custom-make something) or reminder notes.
 

Herr der Qual

First Post
Forgot to mention how the players solved the puzzle, they completely messed up the hint about the order of the doors, each dragon had a particular attribute, black = dishonour, Blue dragon = Vanity, Green dragon = Manipulation, Red dragon = greed, White dragon = Vengeance, Silver dragon = Virtue, Gold dragon = pleasure.

They went through the black door first (it was supposed to be last), but they got the rest right, they saved their own bacon accidentally by helping the Black dragon escape his dimensional prison, but he was trapped in the chamber full of doors because it was also a dimensional space and he was the subject of a dimensional seal, anyways, they went through the rest of the rooms and managed to figure out how to bypass all of the dragons without having to kill them (kudos!), upon returning from the final dragon, the Black dragon attacked them in a rage that they had not found him a way to escape, they narrowly defeated him, and because he was the last dragon slain, the puzzle was complete, because as it turned out with the way I designed the puzzle the Black dragon was the only one that had to be destroyed. That temple was enough to earn them a level up, and through the door they found an epic gift that was necessary for them to complete their quest.
 

Unwise

Adventurer
Yikes, I feel bad now. I seldom have any notes at all for a game. I quiet regularly run games without even having a plot, or any ideas to work off. I literally make things up as needed. The players think it is a sandbox and they have a lot of freedom, little do they know I am not so much being accommodating, but rather just making stuff up as they go.

Most of the time I have a good idea about what the PCs need to do and why, but that is about it. It is probably more like 15 years since I actually wrote up an entire dungeon and populated it with monsters and treasure. I have used published adventures before, but tend to make them go off the rails a bit every bit as much as the players do.

The funny thing is, all of our games tend to be part of large sweeping campaigns rather than small adventures. It is rather common for me to only begin to find out what the campaign is actually going to be about 3 adventures into it.

In some games, I even set myself little "DM traps" to test myself. Like I will include something odd, like the fact that only a certain players smells something weird in an area. Without having any idea why myself, just trying that I will come up with something cool when needed. Pulled off well, it looks like a lot of prior planning was involved. That particular example ended up turning into a pretty character defining trait, led to him joining a secret society and ultimately played a significant part in defeating the BBEG.

Some games don't lend themselves well to this style of play, like 4e and Shadowrun, but 5e seems built for it.
 

Inchoroi

Adventurer
Man, I couldn't ever do what the OP's DM did. I need to have details, sandbox-y plots, adventures, awesomesauce stuff at my fingertips.

...probably why I suck at writing adventures, and why I'm running Rise of the Runelords in 5e. At least its an awesome campaign. I really have a fun idea for a campaign, too, but blegh. I try writing it, and it falls apart on me.
 

That kind of approach probably works very well in 5e, but I think it works even better in 13th Age, a game where an experienced DM can come up with game session after game session using nothing else than the 13 Icons and loose notes.
 

Epic Threats

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