Full-time DM, Part-time Prep

Rune

Once A Fool
Lesson 9: Keep notes during play.

This is going to seem obvious, but it is really important for a consistent, long-running campaign—especially one light on preparation. When you make up something (like an NPC's name) or something happened that you need to remember, write it down! Don't write down everything—just the important things. Make sure you keep these notes organized with the rest of your campaign after the game is over. Peruse these notes occasionally to refresh your memory and draw inspiration from them.

The time you save not having to remember things could astound you.
 
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Rune

Once A Fool
Lesson 10: Don't use weird names.

That last lesson leads into this one. Don't use weird names. Just, don't. Seriously, how are you going to remember Xian'thrak'halitosis when you need to without looking it up? That's just wasted time. Bob's no good either, because it tends to break player immersion, but at least you can remember it.

Try simpler (even, occasionally, real) names and, especially, titles. Not lame titles. Evocative ones. What's the difference? Well, that's just something you'll have to figure out for yourself.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Lesson 11: Most battles should be skirmishes.

If your players want to grind out combat after combat, you should seriously consider letting one of them DM, or pick up a published adventure, because combat prep requires time and lots of combat prep requires lots of time.

Therefore, battles should fall into two categories: minor and significant. Minor battles should never be long, overly complex, or unavoidable. Use weak enemies, sparse (but interesting) terrain features, and multiple ways to succeed or to bypass the conflict.

Significant battles, on the other hand, should be significant. Use difficult enemies, complex terrain features, and awesome imagery. Give these combats the love they deserve; they should be the focal point of the session, after all.

The minor skirmishes leading up to such a battle should be easily forgettable, but should serve an important function—they highlight just how epic the major battle is and help it be all the more memorable.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Lesson 12: Listen to the players.

I don't just mean listen when they're talking to you (although, obviously, you should). Listen when they're talking among themselves.

Listen to their conjecture. Incorporate it into the story (with some twists, of course). This will give the players a sense of satisfaction for being right, and gives you access to a valuable resource: other people's ideas.

Listen to their plans (when they discuss them openly). This will give you an idea what you need to prepare for in the near future. Don't use this information against them (much), or they'll just stop talking in front of you.

Listen to their conversations. This will give you a better understanding of what the PCs want out of the game, and what the players want. This, in turn, will help you focus on what preparation you ought to be doing and what isn't so important.
 
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Rune

Once A Fool
Lesson 13: If the question is, “Can I do [something that's cool],” the answer is “Yes!”

Simple, right? But it is the most important lesson. You've got enough work to do, let the players bring the Cool. They'll be energized and excited about the game, and all you have to do is let it happen.

If it's cool, find a way to let it happen.
 


scourger

Explorer
Good advice. I had to DM Omega World d20 and Savage Worlds to really get some of these ideas, but now I spend much more time thinking about the cool story of the game than mechanically preparing the next inevitable combat encounter.
 

Alarian

First Post
Lesson 4: Get your players to do the work.

Now that you've got an idea what kind of mechanics you're going to support your campaign with, it is time to start in on the setting. And, you know what? Your players can—and should—help with that. What you need to do is provide incentive to do so.

This is how I do it: Whenever a player takes it upon himself to do something outside of the game that could potentially enrich the play experience (make a map, NPC, prop, or whatnot), I award a point that the player may use with any PC in any game I run to alter fate in some way--turn a hit into a miss or vice versa, turn a hit into a crit, throw in a plot-twist. This awards the players according to their initiative (as opposed to the PCs' initiative :p) and has the added bonus of helping the entire party be more survivable.

It comes down to this: The more minds that are excited about the campaign setting and actively working to embellish it, the richer it will be—and the less work you have to do to get it there, the better off you will be.

I used to award exp bonus's to players who did this in my long time ongoing campaign. I had a list of things that needed work as well as areas that players could create with minimal input from me that I would update as time went on, and it worked quite well (I always had final approval of course). Until... One of my players had gotten a new job assignment and he had a few weeks off of work between his old assignment and the start of his new one. Unbeknownst to me, he went to town. We played every other week and I showed up for one of our sessions and he had pretty much written a books worth of material. It was obvious he has put an insane amount of work into it and it was all really good and it was going to add a lot of really good and valuable material to the campaign, so there was no way I could renege on my ongoing rule. I reluctantly awarded him an insane amount of exp (we had a set formula for how much you got for what work was done). With the exp award he leapt ahead of everyone else in the group. and pretty much stayed ahead of everyone else for the rest of the campaign (several years).

What I took away from it was we added limits to how much could be awarded at any given time as well as a maximum bonus you could receive based on the levels of other players.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Ahnehnois said:
Sorry I interrupted your string of posts there; didn't realize it was still going.

Don 't worry about it. I appreciate the feedback and I have links to all of the lessons in the first post, anyway.
 

Rune

Once A Fool
Good advice. I had to DM Omega World d20 and Savage Worlds to really get some of these ideas, but now I spend much more time thinking about the cool story of the game than mechanically preparing the next inevitable combat encounter.

I know what you mean. One thing I've found is that, once things get rolling, if you've established good characters, the story pretty much creates itself. Especially if the PCs made mistakes along the way (and they do!) that they eventually must correct.
 
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