I have noticed that in my games, I tend to ‘plan ahead’ quite a bit.

I have noticed that in my games, I tend to ‘plan ahead’ quite a bit.

I have noticed that in my games, I tend to ‘plan ahead’ quite a bit. The worst thing I notice I have been doing is to try to solve the situations I come up with in advance for my players. Apparently I want to make sure there is an solution to the problem I put in front of them, I know what will happen if they do X, ask about Y, etc. This may be something I carried over from my D&D GM’ing.

To clarify: I’m not talking about the larger scale dangers/fronts or first sessions, but the smaller things that happen a dozen times during a session ‘along the way’. Before they enter a room, examine an object or get into a fight, I feel like I should know everything there is to know about it. This can easily lead to railroading or me forgetting to ask questions.

This feels very much against the spirit of ‘playing to find out what happens’ of DW, so i’m trying to get myself to stop this! That said, i’m not the best at improvising interesting encounters on the spot. Dungeon starters solve most of that for first sessions, but they don’t really help me after that.

How much detail do you guys&girls prep for your encounters/dungeons/rooms mid-campaign? And how do you go about creating interesting scenario’s for your players, while leaving room for their creative input and ‘playing to find out what happens’?

17 thoughts on “I have noticed that in my games, I tend to ‘plan ahead’ quite a bit.”

  1. I have found in dungeon world that pre planning is the very worst thing I can do to a game. Every bad game I’ve gmed was one I’d spent time prepping. Every good game was one I’d let unfold on its own

  2. I prep in the style of Sorcerer: using “bangs”. A bang is some event that starts “with a bang” and the characters MUST react to in some way, even doing nothing counts. I keep a list of these (a “bandoleer of bangs” in Sorcerer parlance), written between sessions based on where I think the players will go.

    So, say you left you players off with them entering the Town of Thorgiton. I might note:

    – A woman stumbles out of a doorway into the street, a man behind her has a club in his hand, ready to strike.

    – A group of fisherfolk dock their boat for the day, unloading the nets and detangingling two sloppy waterlogged corpses from them.

    – The Jaunty Harp advertises a performance of a fine harpist from out of town, with the name of someone the PCs know as the lead performer – they are definitely not a harpist.

    These are just things that occur and they don’t need to. They serve to give you a feel for the town but also to give you ideas to play with. None of them have “solutions” or “causes” or any such thing – we find that out in play

  3. The point of prep is to shore up the things that you can’t (or won’t, or don’t want) to just make up (or ask the players to make up) during the sessions. Everyone preps differently, prepping different things and to differing levels of detail.

    For example, I like to prep name lists and maps and some high-level elements about what they might find in each room/area/place. Like “old workshop, inhabited by OCD ogre, stacks of hoarded junk all over.” I don’t generally get into any more detail than that, because I don’t feel the need to. I can conjure up the details I need (like what exactly is stacked there, where the ogre is, how it’ll respond to the PCs, etc.) on the fly. But that’s me.

    If you’re finding that you’re “overprepping,” maybe try scaling back what you prep. Or, if you find that your prep doesn’t leave enough room for questions or surprises to you, then work questions and surprises into your prep.

    Like, instead of detailing out everything that’s in the room, detail out key things that must be true about this room based on your vision of it. “Large, vaulted ceilings; crumbling and rotten; fancy furnishings in ruins.” But also plan out the questions you’ll ask. “You recognize the cracked and crumbling tile work, Bard, as the work of a famed artisan from ages past. Who’s work was this, and what made them so famous and sought-after?” “Thief, the lock on this door is old and somewhat rusty, but still a work of wonder. It reminds you of another lock you’ve encountered in the past… what was that lock, and what did protect?”

    Also, maybe try forcing yourself not to come up with solutions by writing stakes questions instead. “Will they trigger the trap? If so, how will they disarm it?” “What will set the ghost off? What will calm it down?”

  4. Over-prep is my curse and my joy. Right now, I run just one game played annually over a long weekend. Breaks between sessions are long enough to BBQ and play a hand or three of MtG; not sufficient time to digest or ruminate on recent events in order to pose new challenges or threads of fiction. So I build, revise, and scrap ideas, scenes, moves compulsively over the rest of the year in preparation for that mega-session.

    As I write that out, it sounds like it could be railroad-y. I assure you, it’s not. Think more like hex crawl, or *crawl.

    Very simply, I grew up with flowery AD&D boxed-text and don’t trust myself to provide a similarly rich experience on-the-fly. So I prep two sorts of tools and details, similar to Jeremy Strandberg:

    1) collections. Whether it’s lists of names[1], weather conditions, interesting bits of local history, or magic items. These are bits and bobs that I like and want to have on hand.

    2) encounters. The ever reliable Owlbear den, a field a wildflowers bent away from the sun, a ships hull in a landlocked pond. These are more like inspiration and a form of shorthand. Swap out those flowers for underground mushrooms.

    But the point is that these things are like Dungeon Starters, writ small. Scene starters. The principles of the starter are still there: evocative description, questions not solutions, and dome supporting bits. Keep them in your back pocket and remix to taste.

    Heck, I’m technically running Keep on the Borderlands under the hood but DW has allowed it to be one so much more.

    [1] The Story Games Names Project is in my top ten of best RPG purchases: http://www.lulu.com/us/en/shop/jason-morningstar/story-games-name-project/paperback/product-3594462.html

  5. We were discussing this over in The Gauntlet (slack). With Jason’s permission (and Ferrell’s, tacitly), I’ll paste in their words, “the 7-3-1 method”:

    [starting W/ Jason, alternating w/ Ferrell]

    It’s kind of a generic prep exercise that fits into most game situations. It’s pretty simple…7: Prep seven NPCs, locations or encounters; give each a motivation of some sort; 3: give each three descriptive notes you can present at the table (sensory things); 1: think of one voice, sound or mannerism you can physically portray at the table. Ideally, these seven things are elements you can kind of air-drop anywhere, which helps with thinking of things on the fly, as well as giving the session a sort of sandbox feel.


    Fierce George

    Gold rings on ever finger, smells of soap and wax, Big booming voice

    Clenched teeth when talking

    I am often complimented on my ability to think of things on the fly, but in fact, it’s just I did 7-3-1 beforehand (or some version of it) and so I always have some reasonably fleshed out things I can pivot to, if needed.

    what’s great is that you can halfway through the session go “crap, they’re interested in this thing… ok i’m just gonna re-write this NPC name and boom, we’re good to go still”

  6. It feels like your asking, more specifically, about prepping answers to problems. If you feel you are leading the players too much, try this: create a room with a problem. Thats it. Nothing more.

    It sounds weird at first to not come up with the answer, but honestly you won’t need to. The game is designed to have 40 ways to get passed a locked door. You don’t even need to put any energy towards conceptualizing a key. The players will do what they think is cool first. Players never try a method that they don’t want to see succeed. Here are some examples of easy, non-prep problems:

    A bridge is out

    The door opens to a near bottomless pit but the exit can been seen on the other side.

    The woman you need is in a coma.

    The villain has fled via horseback.

    The boss is protected by an antimagic ritual.

    The bestiary page is ripped out.

    The lever is split in half.

    The Wiseman doesn’t speak your language.

    The ex machina is broken.

    The flashlight is out of batteries.

  7. I used to prep the same way, and found it very stressful that i never had “enough” time to prep. I cured myself of this by running some games where we went in with nothing more than some randomly chosen prompts I couldn’t plan for before play. Those sessions ended up being some of the most fun and memorable.

    Now, I’m not saying you should do this for every game – it’s best for wacky one shots, not serious campaign play – but it’s a good exercise to break a stressful habit. Once you see firsthand that your players can be trusted to face (or cleverly elude) any challenge, no matter how unpredictable, it’s a lot easier to think of prep in broader strokes, like with fronts, or with the various tips offered above.

  8. One important thing to note: amount of background information and railroading are two completely different things. You can be as detailed in your prep of background info as much you want, if that is your style. This has nothing to do with “Play to find out what happens”. Railroading is what happens when you script a plot that basically pre-establishes what the players will do even before play. That’s how you get 200 pages campaigns like Masks of Nyarlathotep. The player’s choices have already been written ahead of time. The whole Story is already written even before starting play. It means there’s no room to “find out what happens”, room for the players and GM to build the story together.

    Regarding what Jeremy Strandberg said above:

    “”You recognize the cracked and crumbling tile work, Bard, as the work of a famed artisan from ages past. Who’s work was this, and what made them so famous and sought-after?” “Thief, the lock on this door is old and somewhat rusty, but still a work of wonder. It reminds you of another lock you’ve encountered in the past… what was that lock, and what did protect?” “

    The above is a good example of what DW specifically goes for and a very cherished way of playing DW here at the Gauntlet. Strictly speaking, you don’t need to do it. The answers to the above questions can be part of your prep, as background information. They are not “story” or “scripted plot”. So it’s up to you and your play group to find the middle ground on how many of those prompting questions the group feels comfortable with. It has nothing to do with the principle “Play to find out what happens”. The latter refers to the fact that these games support “Story Now” as opposed to “Story Before” (a pre-established plot that dictates what the PCs will do).

    You should prep has much or as little as it is comfortable to you. And you should use prompting questions for the players (see above examples) as much or as little as you and your group like. The game system will deal nicely with any of those options. Just keep in mind that what you SHOULDN’T under ANY circumstances do is to plot the story and what will happen ahead of time (no railroading). As for background information, it’s irrelevant if you pulled it out of your ass 5 seconds ago or 5 days ago. Or if the GM did it or the players were prompted by the GM to contribute directly through answering a couple questions. THAT is a matter of play style. Some groups go strongly in one direction, other go for the other. There’s no right or wrong here, just what people prefer. Just DON’T railroad. Play to find out what happens!

  9. >>>Very simply, I grew up with flowery AD&D boxed-text and don’t trust myself to provide a similarly rich experience on-the-fly. So I prep two sorts of tools and details, similar to<<<<

    Let me give you one player’s perspective on those text boxes. I absolutely LOATHE them!!!! In our recent Dungeon World/Pathfinder game, our GM read one of those flavor boxes off because he was using a module from Pathfinder. It totally broke the verisimilitude for me. And it wasn’t even well written. For something that was supposed to be read out well, it didn’t flow at all. He has read about 3 or 4 of them and they have all been “meh”. Now, we are playing Pathfinder and he does like them… so I am willing to listen… but I don’t like them.

    I’m sure other players would disagree with me, as it is one of those “taste” things. But I really, really hate them. I think the GM’s words and descriptions have always been more evocative.

  10. Those are some very helpful responses, thank you for taking the time to write that down everyone!

    I think i’ll go nuts for once and will actually try to run the next session without any real prep. We have established a setting and I have a general idea what is going on, so hopefully it won’t be too difficult to simple come up with problems (and stop there, as Andrew Huffaker suggested, possibly com).

    Aaron Griffin I like your bandoleer of bangs, that should not really take much time to come up with and at the same time make it easy to make sure I don’t have to sit there saying ‘uhhhhh’ half of the session!

    If that doesn’t work (for me), the 7-3-1 approach that Charles Gatz mentioned might be a good middle ground.

    Lots of great stuff to work with <3 Bring on more Dungeon World!

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