I’ve been thinking about prep vs.

I’ve been thinking about prep vs.

I’ve been thinking about prep vs. improv lately. I’ve played a few DW sessions and GMed one for some new roleplayers. The game I GMed went relatively well, but I found myself having trouble thinking on my feet every time the players wanted to know what to do – I got great feedback from you folk after the fact, but I can’t help thinking that especially in the case of players who are looking for “the point of all this” a slightly more directed adventure might have been better. 

On the other hand, the DW text clearly states that you are playing to find out what happens, and certainly not playing to play out a pre-planned story. That said, there are GM moves that involve exploiting your prep. I know the prep can be ideas, fronts, dungeons, etc, but I’m running a one-shot soon for another new group who are very excited, and I I’ve been brainstorming some aspects of what is essentially an adventure/mystery. Now I don’t know how it will play out, and the types of characters who experience this setting will certainly change it, but to some extent I’ve thought up a possible villain, a thematic dungeon (full of blanks), and a few other locales or things that I could imagine happening.

My question is, am I disobeying the central tenets of DW if I give my players agency but also portray them in the midst of this adventure I’ve planned? I guess I’m wondering where the line between too much guiding and adventure fronts lies. I have some monsters, some settings, some events, and some locations planned. Some of them the players could absolutely influence, but others (like confronting the villain, or exploring the cave that the evil that is plaguing the town comes from) I guess I feel it would be strange to avoid. 

Any thoughts on this? 


Lots Of Prep

16 thoughts on “I’ve been thinking about prep vs.”

  1. In my opinion, “playing to find out what happens” does not mean you can’t preplan certain elements. Starting play with a villain, a dungeon (with blanks), a few locations, and some monsters statted up is not a bad thing.

    What _is_a bad thing is if you plan out how these elements will interact and resolve themselves. Knowing that your Big Bad is trying to summon a Demon Prince is fine. Planning out exactly how they do it and what happens after they accomplish their goal is not.

    “Playing to find out what happens” means you set things up, put them in motion, but ultimately don’t know where they are going to go. This allows the players to have a huge impact in the story (which is the whole point of playing), rather than being put onto a railroad.

  2. This is kind of what I’ve been thinking, but was concerned after reading the “thou shall not tell a pre-planned story” in the book, along with reading people’s accounts where the only prep is “you slam the door behind you – who is chasing you? Why?” 

    While I respect the ability to spin an epic yarn from just those little seeds, I think I just (at least now) need some motion or events in the world to fall back on to create a rich world for my players.

  3. You can have prep; it’s written in the book as well. You can have a villain or a horde of orks,  and you must play those dangers towards their objectives, following their instincts. This is different from telling a preplanned story. If the villain want to destroy a town and the players do nothing, s/he destroys the town. This is not a preplanned story, it’s a Doom coming true.

  4. I too can not simply “wing” a session of DW (or any of the PbtA games) yet. I write down notes for myself, stat out monsters and major NPCs, write down custom moves, draw out maps, and do lots of prep before a game.

    However, all of that prep is disposable. I think that is the key here. Do as much prep as you need to make yourself feel comfortable running the game, but don’t set anything in stone. If through play you “discover” that the villain has a different motivation than the one you initially wrote down, then use that one instead.

  5. One page dungeons are a great source of inspiration and can give you direction when you need it.

    It might also be useful to have adventure moves you can draw on like “reveal the true power behind the throne” or “tear down the status quo” for you to show the world in danger or what crises are coming to a head.

  6. I think I’ve got it – my prep wasn’t too exhaustive but it was too static. I need to make sure things are fluid and in motion – and that everyone has a motivation beyond “be a roadblock for adventurers.” Time to consider what the perpetually young master wizard who lives in a perfect copy of his childhood home that he has created on a glassy lake in a cavern is after.

  7. 2 motivations immediately spring to mind for a perpetually young wizard:

    Maintain your youth – at great cost to others.

    Finally find the release of death from eternity.

  8. What Christopher said. I do wing whole sessions, but it doesn’t always turn out as well as it might have had I prepared a little. You just need to find out how much prep you need to be comfortable and at which point your GMing suffers from lack of prep. That’s how much prep you do.

  9. Back in the 80’s when I first started gaming I pretty much ran various D & D modules, some were good, too many felt like a guided maze or a series of hurdles that playfully railroaded the action.  While I didn’t mind that when I was maturing my GM style, by the time I got to college I had opted for a complete sandbox with numerous options set before the players.  The first couple of adventures took more prep as I had no way to anticipate what the players might want to do, but after a few adventures I had a good feel for where it was going and what the players desired. 

  10. I agree with what everyone is saying but I’d like to add this. Another aspect of having something prepared is the type of story you want to tell. Like Fabian said, zero prep can lead to some under performing sessions where nothing awesome takes place. A little prep can at least create a framework to work within without ever relieving the players of their creative agency.

    I am quickly starting to lean towards establishing a framework prior to my games. My sessions are very hit and miss so far, largely based upon what is being introduced each session by my players.

  11. My advice: moves. Make a crapton of custom moves. Write an entire adventure in moves, if you can.

    That doesn’t exactly solve your problem, but the move is the foot soldier of the “play to find out what happens” agenda. If you have enough custom moves, you bust them out when the players trigger them and all of a sudden, they’re exploring the world (by discovering and triggering moves) and you’re playing to find out what happens (by following whatever happens when the move is performed).

    And remember, a move doesn’t have to be “When you do this, roll +stat and pick from below.” Your moves aren’t like that. Theirs don’t have to be, either.

    Here’s an example I’m pulling off the top of my head…you mentioned earlier your game had an un-aging wizard, right? Let’s say the wizard has a journal. When the players find the journal, hand them this:

    “When you open (name of wizard’s) journal, choose one from below:

    -It’s a confession of a crime he did in the past

    -it’s a spell that allows the caster to defy aging

    -it’s a map to his secret hideout”

    Do that as little, or as often as you want. You can have notes an ideas for all three options, or you can make them up on the spot, or you can put it all on the players (e.g. “YOU tell ME what crime he did!”)

    Try it sometime. It might even work!

  12. Think SITUATION, not Resolution.  I personally voice my GM content as stake questions. So if I really really want a certain  antagonist / dungeon / cool event in play, I give them a motivation  / want / need that connects with player flags identified during chargen and ask a stake question about them that will get answered in play. That way it mechanically stops me from pre-determining the outcome of our adventure ‘path’.

    Also, just start in media Res. Best immersive tactic ever. Just cut to the good stuff from the get go.

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