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D&D General Prep is Not Play. . . Or is it?

I don’t know…I think it could be play OR interrelated hobbies. I played less than I would have liked in 2019/2020…but developed a new hobby of making scenery and painting.


here’s my modular foam dungeon. I have 5’, 10’, 20’ and 40’ and 100’ sections of walls.

it took a lot of time to make and I enjoyed it. It was specifically for D&D. Was ir part of D&D?
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
How about you? What's your relationship to game prep (of any kind)? And do you find it to be "play" and fun diversion?

Prep is only occasionally a fun diversion, for me.

Most often, due to time constraints in the rest of life, it is a thing I have to wedge in a bit here, and a bit there, as best I can, in order for the game to run. I simply do not have time to make preparation an additional arm of the hobby. There is no space in my life for extra arts and crafts, or drawn out mathematical analyses to do detailed design on individual encounters.
 

Prep is not "play" as I would normally use the word. Let's not get into an "are tacos sandwiches" discussion--the purpose of words is to help us categorize things, we select those categories, not objectively enforce them from on high.

Certain aspects of prep work are genuinely enjoyable in their own right. Speculating about where things might go, trying to devise monsters that are interesting and engaging, trying to solve a conundrum a player has dropped into your lap, etc. And I have zero problems with saying that prep can be a form of pure entertainment all on its own, rather than mere "work" one must do. Prep can be fun.

But "fun" is not the same as "play." Almost anything can be fun--even legitimate, actual work can be fun (and that's a lovely thing, when you can find it). For me, though, "play" requires a bit more rules, albeit "rules" understood in a relatively loose sense. Prep work doesn't really have rules, because you can do more or less whatever you want as long as you do the effort to make it work. It's pretty close to unrestrained creative freedom.

You mentioned "it doesn't have a win condition, but neither does D&D," and what I'd say there is that you've misidentified one common form of the (soft-definition) "rules" that turn things into play as the ONLY form of "rules" that work. A win condition is great because it's very simple, and thus enables a wide variety of forms of play (e.g. when animals play with one another, the common win condition of "hold the dominant position" is the "rule" that makes it into actual play--but note how incredibly loose and flexible that "rule" is, hence my repeated use of quotation marks on it.) When you're at the table playing D&D, you don't have unrestrained creative freedom, because there are both hard rule rules and soft best-practices "rules" that heavily constrain your behavior. (Of course, the fact that I think this applies to the DM is a separate and EXTREMELY TEDIOUS argument I really, really don't want to have, so if you disagree, please let us NOT drag that into this thread too.)

As a different example of "rules" that don't strictly involve "winning," consider things like a group engaging in improvisational jazz music. I would absolutely consider a group of musicians showing off their skills to be "playing" (and not just in the pedantic sense of "playing music," I mean engaging in game-like behavior), even though there's no real win condition besides getting the most admiration from your peers. Instead, the point of play is to show off technique, and it is that very technique which forms the "rules" of this kind of play. Hanging out with your buds and cracking jokes is another example, where there is no real "win" condition, but there is a goal (elicit lots of laughter) and certain "rules" (acceptable forms of comedy, puns are terrible terrific, whether impressions or references qualify, etc.)

I 110% believe that you have a TON of fun doing at least some kinds of prep work. But I'm not really convinced that that prep work counts as "play" in the way most people would consider "play" to work, in much the same way that if you asked someone to give you that sandwich, they would be very confused if what you meant was the hot dog in front of them.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I guess I have a broad definition of "play" and the rules of play are so broad as to be non-existent or so idiosyncratic they can only be iterated not recreated - as when kids play "pretend" or smashing matchbox cars.

I do agree that some "work" can be "fun" but is still not play - but some work (as teaching does, as many creative jobs do) require play.

I do always look forward to prep and try to do at least a little bit 30 minutes to an hour everyday - whether it is just priming minis so they'll be ready to paint when I have more time or going through the cardboard and foam I collect to see what is actually worth keeping to reading a module in bed before lights out to consider if I want to run it.

At times in my life when that stuff was not fun or a priority I just kind of stopped doing that stuff because it ceased to be fun for that time, for whatever reason.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think the question of whether "prep" counts as "play", in general, is largely pointless.

Prep can include painting miniatures, drawing maps, writing notes, rolling up NPCs, etc. Some of that probably counts as playing in the same way that playing with Lego counts as playing; some of it probably doesn't.

But does this sort of prep count as RPGing? My view is that it doesn't - it's not playing a RPG - and that was the point of my comparison to costume design.
 

I think the question of whether "prep" counts as "play", in general, is largely pointless.

Prep can include painting miniatures, drawing maps, writing notes, rolling up NPCs, etc. Some of that probably counts as playing in the same way that playing with Lego counts as playing; some of it probably doesn't.

But does this sort of prep count as RPGing? My view is that it doesn't - it's not playing a RPG - and that was the point of my comparison to costume design.
but costume design, set design, and playwriting are essential to the production of plays. And editing, lighting, and postproduction are essential to producing movies. Just as writing a play is a worthwhile creative endeavor even if it never gets performed, painting some miniatures is a worthwhile hobby even if they never get used. right?

Anyway, I think the more provocative question is, could prep be play? How could we 'game-ify' world building and adventure building? Like I said upthread, games like the quiet year, the ground itself, and thousand year old vampire have shown that world building and solo character building can be games by themselves. What can we adapt to more general rpg prep, if anything?
 

pemerton

Legend
but costume design, set design, and playwriting are essential to the production of plays. And editing, lighting, and postproduction are essential to producing movies. Just as writing a play is a worthwhile creative endeavor even if it never gets performed, painting some miniatures is a worthwhile hobby even if they never get used. right?
I'm not making any judgements as to what is or isn't worthwhile.

But designing a costume isn't performing a play. Nor is making a costume. When it comes to RPGing, play is about people sitting around a (real or figurative) table talking to one another about what certain imaginary people are doing. That's the core of RPGing, and where the creativity of the hobby/artform (if one can call it that) is located.

And while I'm not making judgements about what's worthwhile, I am making a judgement about what's valuable in RPGing. A focus on prep, rather than play, as the site of creativity for the hobby strikes me as undermining what is distinctive about RPGing as a creative endeavour - the collective, spontaneous creation of a shared fiction using war- and boardgame-style rules rather than simply conch-passing.
 

I'm not making any judgements as to what is or isn't worthwhile.

But designing a costume isn't performing a play. Nor is making a costume. When it comes to RPGing, play is about people sitting around a (real or figurative) table talking to one another about what certain imaginary people are doing. That's the core of RPGing, and where the creativity of the hobby/artform (if one can call it that) is located.

And while I'm not making judgements about what's worthwhile, I am making a judgement about what's valuable in RPGing. A focus on prep, rather than play, as the site of creativity for the hobby strikes me as undermining what is distinctive about RPGing as a creative endeavour - the collective, spontaneous creation of a shared fiction using war- and boardgame-style rules rather than simply conch-passing.
I have mixed feelings. I mean, I think that's basically true, but a lot of my rpg youth was spent in "lonely fun." There is a speculative aspect to that fun, where you are preparing and planning things for use in play, and thus imagining what play will be like, and engaging in that imaginary. It tracks with the overall speculative character of fantasy. Same with purchasing rpg products that you may never use. So I would agree that the most distinctive thing about the hobby is what happens at the table, but there is a mode of creativity that the hobby inspires that cannot be reduced simply to "prep" as a sort of rote homework. Especially for young people.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
For me, I’ve had feasts and famines in terms of gaming- number of groups I’m in at the same time, the frequency of play, etc.

And one thing I’ve noticed about myself is that prep- in all its forms- is play. Sure, some prep is more tedious than others. And some prep I absolutely suck at- miniature painting, I’m looking squarely at you!

But even though I haven’t tossed dice in anger since 2016, I’m still worldbuilding in multiple systems. I’m still designing PCs/NPCs in various systems. And I’m still helping others do likewise.

Pretty certain that if I wasn’t having fun doing so, I wouldn’t be doing so.
 

pemerton

Legend
I have mixed feelings. I mean, I think that's basically true, but a lot of my rpg youth was spent in "lonely fun."

<snip>

So I would agree that the most distinctive thing about the hobby is what happens at the table, but there is a mode of creativity that the hobby inspires that cannot be reduced simply to "prep" as a sort of rote homework. Especially for young people.
I have enjoyed, and still enjoy, doing things on my own - writing up NPCs and monsters; or designing starships for Classic Traveller. In the past I also used to draw maps, or write up world histories and the like.

That doesn't change my view, though, about what RPGing is!
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
By strict definition, I’d say no, but it’s no less fun.

In my opinion, “cooking” or “baking” would not be defined as going out to buy fresh ingredients to stock your fridge, spending the day searching bookstores or the internet for new recipes to try, and watching videos of how to make a specific dish. However, it carries its own fun, sense of anticipation, and payoff for when it comes time to actually get in the kitchen, pull out the mixing bowls, and fire the oven.

Did the person who spent the entire day preparing to bake, “bake” that day?
 


Richards

Legend
If I can get my son to hunt up his digital camera, I might be able to post some pictures of the hand-crafted monster minis I've made for our past several campaigns. That's always fun, too, and although it takes a fair amount of time to do so it's usually worth the effort.
So my son hunted up his digital camera and although I'm not much of a photographer, here's the kind of stuff I occasionally get up to.

First up: a garrison tower keep I made out of cardboard for an adventure two campaigns ago. This tower has been used at least once in my two subsequent campaigns and I think in two of my younger son's campaigns as well.

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Then, realizing how easy it had been to make a tower keep, I made four more and connected them with cardboard from the backs of old desk calendars. I added stairs, some buildings for the interior, and I ended up with Vandergrotten Keep, which the PCs in my first campaign with my current group - Wing Three - had to attack. (They were successful and as a result it was renamed as Battershield Keep and became the headquarters for the PCs in my second campaign with my current group - The Kordovian Adventurers Guild.)

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At the end of the Wing Three campaign, the PCs ended up fighting off enemies on The Low Planes Drfiter, a paddleboat run by a mercane trader while on the River Lethe. Here's the paddleboat I made out of black poster board:

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The Wing Three PCs had one week-long adventure on the Elemental Plane of Earth, where they plane shifted an entire magic tower run by dwarven miners (and secretly run by mind flayers). Here's the Black Tower:

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On a smaller scale, here's the Daern's instant fortress I made for the Kordovian campaign:

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Finally, here's The Planar Scout, an experimental vehicle crafted by an Archmage allied with the Wing Three PCs:

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Johnathan
 
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Richards

Legend
That last post was long enough, so I thought I'd do a separate one for some of the creature "miniatures" I've made as well.

First up is a purple worm. We play using the 3.5 rules and I dislike the fact that they'd have all purple worms fight while coiled up so the entire creature fit in a standard square shape. I decided I'd rather have an "uncoiled" worm so I could decide which squares were threatened by the worm's head and which could be targeted by the tail spike. Here's the second appearance of the purple worm, in a recent adventure in my son's Raiders of the Overreach campaign:

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And here's how I made it: the "connected" purple worm next to the "unconnected" pieces to a larger, "voidspawn" purple worm I used for an adventure in my Kordovian campaign:

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Next up is a zygomind, a Pathfinder creature made up of a coral-like structure. I made this out of pink construction paper:

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I made a couple more creatures from the Pathfinder Bestiaries. Here's a stone colossus I created for use in a Wing Three adventure. The torso and head were mounted on a paper towel roll, so they could turn a bit to either side as needed.

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And here's a wood colossus that I built for an adventure I sent my Kordovian PCs through:

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Finally, here's the walking brain I made for a Kordovian excursion into Gamma World. The "brain" was fashioned out of pink construction paper and mounted on bendy straws for the tentacle-legs that supported it.

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Johnathan
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I don't see any downside to calling this play, at least for the DM. It's not exactly the same as game play, but it's related, and I don't find a lot of use in being precious about gatekeeping the notion of what and what isn't 'play'. If it's related to the hobby that's good enough for me. YMMV

That said, I'd have a different response if we were having some sort of philosophidemical argument about the nature of RPGs or whatever. For common usage, I'm fine with play. It's in the same ballpark as char gen for players IMO. I've built literally thousands of pieces of scenery for tabletop games though, so my perspective here may be somewhat non-standard.
 

Iry

Hero
For some people, it most certainly is Play. For others, it is something decidedly less than Play. Personally, I used to enjoy building flowcharts, designing devious traps (ala Grimtooth), setting up engaging scenes, listening to countless hours of music to find just the right song, and hand drawing dungeons and trying to get them published in Dungeon.

Now? I just don't have the time. I think my game is less glorious than it could be, and that gnaws at my pride. But such is life!
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
So my son hunted up his digital camera and although I'm not much of a photographer, here's the kind of stuff I occasionally get up to.

<SNIP>

That stuff is awesome! You should consider making an instagram acct and snapping more/better pics of this stuff for sharing, there is a huge DnD makers community on there that I've been really enjoying sharing pics of the stuff I am work on with.
 

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