Planning vs. Riffing: On Being Over Prepared

GothmogIV

Adventurer
Friends, I am beginning to plan a sword&sorcery campaign using the Dungeon Crawl Classics rules, with a little bit of their Lankhmar stuff thrown in. One of the things I keep telling myself is to not over plan, and to let some of the story occur naturally. There is a certain amount of randomness built into this rule system--the magic is super swingy- but as far as letting the sessions move in directions I have not already planned for...I am not so good at this. I want my players to have agency for sure, but I live in GM terror of not being prepared for something, and for that under preparation to slow the game's pacing. Like if all of a sudden the players go 'off map' and do things I haven't anticipated--encounter a monster, say--I'll have to stop and set that monster up in a location I had not considered.

Even typing that makes me sweaty.

I am curious about how others deal with this at their table. Do you just riff on what's happening as it happens, and adapt on the fly? I can't imagine mysefl being good at that, but I know people do it. Any advice is most heartily appreciated. Just as an FYI, I have been a GM/DM for more than 40 years!

Thank you, community of nice people.
 

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There is never too much prep. You can discard (or recycle) what isn't needed, but improvisation generally shows through, and threadbare.

While every GM must improvise when players do strange and weird, if not outright vulgar things, the key is knowing your players, and to lead them through the center of your well-defined path while preserving the image of free will. The best path to that, is by giving them a personal interest. Greed and petty-mindedness work best, I have found.

With free art so readily available on the Net, I assign an image to every major and most minor NPCs, including some unassigned NPCs as well, so as to hide the fact the players are leaving the planned areas. I find that choosing visibly arrogant or hostile images help spark the players' various biases.
 
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overgeeked

B/X Known World
Awesome. More DCC love. Good luck with the game.

The swingyness of DCC can definitely cause problems for heavy-planning referees. I’d suggest grabbing Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master by Sly Flourish and/or checking out some of his videos on YouTube. It’s a masterclass in improvising at the table.

Improvising can be scary, but it’s not nearly as hard as most people seem to think. Every referee improvs. So take an honest assessment of what you can normally do well on-the-fly and start there. What you’re looking for is the weak spots in your improv abilities and prepping to improvise.

If you’re bad with names on-the-fly, generate a list of names ahead of time you can use. If you’re bad with improvised maps, start collecting maps. If you’re bad with detailed NPCs, generate a list of drag-and-drop NPCs you can pull from.

As long as the PCs have goals, all you need to do is come up with some reasonable opposition to their goals. With that in mind you can really follow the players anywhere they go.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
. . . I live in GM terror of not being prepared for something, and for that under preparation to slow the game's pacing. Like if all of a sudden the players go 'off map' and do things I haven't anticipated--encounter a monster, say--I'll have to stop and set that monster up in a location I had not considered.

Even typing that makes me sweaty.
Try an exercise: play a session with zero preparation. For everything that you can't make up on the fly, ask a player to make it up. It might hurt a bit, but maybe you'll learn something, or maybe the next time you try it, it will go better.

By the way, as long as you don't say, "um, I didn't prepare that," most PCs won't know that you didn't prepare it.

I am curious about how others deal with this at their table. Do you just riff on what's happening as it happens, and adapt on the fly? I can't imagine mysefl being good at that, but I know people do it. Any advice is most heartily appreciated. Just as an FYI, I have been a GM/DM for more than 40 years.
I make up some things , and I relocate some other things that I had planned. And I ask PCs for some things. It seems horrible before the game, but it works out fine just about every time.

+1 on the list of random names on standby.
 

TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
I am curious about how others deal with this at their table. Do you just riff on what's happening as it happens, and adapt on the fly? I can't imagine mysefl being good at that, but I know people do it. Any advice is most heartily appreciated. Just as an FYI, I have been a GM/DM for more than 40 years!
I virtually never prep, unless I have a fairly complex encounter planned and I'm worried about nailing all the details. But I generally just show up at the table, review my notes from the last session, and go from there.
 

Xamnam

Loves Your Favorite Game
By the way, as long as you don't say, "um, I didn't prepare that," most PCs won't know that you didn't prepare it.
One session, I was asked for the name of a rock troll bouncer. Names are my improv kryptonite in particular. Panicking, stalling, I look across the table, one of my players had a can of Canada Dry with the label pointed at me.

"Name's Candy, now why are you back here?"

It wasn't until after the session finished that they told me how clever I was to make a rock candy joke, at which point I felt obligated to tell them I Keyser Sözed it, because I knew we'd all get an even bigger kick out of it.

We can't help but know everything we do, but players will both give us more credit than we deserve, and not look into things nearly as much as we think they will.
 


Voadam

Legend
For monsters use stat blocks out of the book you have at hand and reskin narratively to fit the moment. An ogre can be an owl bear or a beefy bouncer.
 

Great thing about a game like DCC is no expectation of balanced encounters. Prep can just be knowing where some stat blocks are and being ready to sketch out a quick map if its really necessary.
 

GothmogIV

Adventurer
Yeah, DCC is a different bird for sure. I've run it a few times, but this will be my first long campaign. I'm trying to let the game's mechanics and vibe guide my creation. Key word: WEIRD
Awesome. More DCC love. Good luck with the game.

The swingyness of DCC can definitely cause problems for heavy-planning referees. I’d suggest grabbing Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master by Sly Flourish and/or checking out some of his videos on YouTube. It’s a masterclass in improvising at the table.

Improvising can be scary, but it’s not nearly as hard as most people seem to think. Every referee improvs. So take an honest assessment of what you can normally do well on-the-fly and start there. What you’re looking for is the weak spots in your improv abilities and prepping to improvise.

If you’re bad with names on-the-fly, generate a list of names ahead of time you can use. If you’re bad with improvised maps, start collecting maps. If you’re bad with detailed NPCs, generate a list of drag-and-drop NPCs you can pull from.

As long as the PCs have goals, all you need to do is come up with some reasonable opposition to their goals. With that in mind you can really follow the players anywhere they go.
@SlyFlourish is the man. I use his concepts and stuff all of the time!
 

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