High Yield Prep Techniques

edited February 2012 in Story Games
This is a spinoff from a few recent threads. Share your high yield prep secrets here.

By high yield I mean any of the following:

- Cannot, or at least is unlikely to, go to waste.
- Has a relatively large effect for a relatively small effort.
- Has a HUGE effect, not matter the effort.
- Is actually done during the previous session, but prepares for some future session.
- Not prep as such, but a technique that makes prep more effective or ensures that it isn't wasted.

Both GM and player prep methods welcome. Both "pre-campaign" and "pre-session" prep welcome. Obvious things everyone probably already knows welcome.


  • Make A Cheat Sheet
    I find that making a cheat sheet for the rules I'm going to use is a pretty good way to check that I've internalized them. That I end up with a cheat sheet is a bonus. In this case it's really the trip that matters, not the destination.

    Disconnected Elements
    By disconnected elements I mean thing like character backgrounds that don't really tie to a specific present, locations that might be anywhere, incidents that could occur in a multitude of times and places. Connecting them up on the fly is easier for me than coming up with something exciting on the fly. These things can be just a few words. Since they're disconnected they cannot easily go to waste -- and even if I for some reason never use a given element, if it was a single sentence to start with... it's not like it's a big deal.

    Session Kickstarts
    If last session ended in a situation that isn't charged or clear, having prepared a solid kick to start of the session can be golden. It can be something happening that demands immediate action, or just fast-forwarding things a bit so that a couple of loose ends are tied up so that time isn't wasted chasing them.

    Making Connections
    Deciding that A and B are connected -- once both A and B are already in play is possibly a dirty trick, but it saves a lot of work. :)

    Hand Out Handouts
    I seldom make handouts, but when I do I want the players to get them. So I make sure they do. "This arrives in the mail." Whatever.
  • Ask Your Players

    End of each session, take a moment to ask your players:
    -What did you like?
    -What confused you?
    -What do you want to see more of? Less of?

    Alternatively, you can email your players in-between sessions and ask, "Give me 2-3 things you want to see next session."

    Integrate their feedback into your prep for the next session.
  • I have focused on some advice for Burning Empires. Make the villains and push their player crushing agendas. Some games are more adversarial than others but it usually works well. Sometimes I'll make a "character" for an organization showing an example of the organization and pushing organizational goals.

    Once in a while I show the players what the NPC is doing (assuming they aren't directly interacting with the NPC).

    - Don
  • edited February 2012
    Name lists. To have on hand for everybody, in case they need a name that's evocative and fits whatever you are doing. This is part of a "setting and situation cheat sheet" I guess. I don't think the larger concept always qualifies for inclusion in this thread, but name lists - definitely.
  • Creating maps during play means that they are then prepped for any further session where that location is used. Having created those maps provides incentive to return to areas so that you can take advantage of the reuse of maps and other types of location-specific prep.
  • Ongoing, updated and well annotated relationship map. Huge help for the kind of game I prefer, and helps me in so many ways. It keeps me focused on the human component, and it helps me generate new situations on the fly.
  • Name lists and handouts are two I use. I used about 50 names in a recent Mutant City Blues campaign and the list was an invaluable record of who was who.
  • Oh! On the names list front, I have that, and some paper standees with a bust shot on one side. When we meet someone, I write their name on the side facing me, and point the bust at everyone else.
  • A good effort-to-yield ratio can be accomplished with regard to NPCs in adventurey-type games by prepping who they are, not what they will say. This allows you to extrapolate their responses to players on the fly relatively easily, and is much less work-intensive than trying to prepare their responses to expected stimuli (which may or may not even come up).

    Name lists are also awesome.
  • Harlequin: where do you find the pics from? I could really use some tips on that front. When I've had pictures they've paid off, but I haven't learned the knack of finding them.
  • edited February 2012
    For fantasy, I look through lots of SCA photos and cut out individual people in costumes. (I usually do some photo manipulation afterwards so I'm not just using their image or the photographer's photo).
  • Posted By: nikodemusHarlequin: where do you find the pics from?
    well... the game I'm currently running is Jadeclaw, and they provided 50 pictures with the game, but they're all anthro. I can send them your way if you're interested?

    Usually I hunt pics down on Deviantart. Just hit some keywords like "paladin" or "assassin" or such. Or "character sketch." If that doesn't work, I start searching for emotions. It takes some good old fashioned searching, but occasionally I hit upon a cache.

    And I always crop to just a bust shot. It just seems to work out better.
  • Haw, I'm going to go with the one I've been riding like a whatever-it-is-you-ride-hard: buy an adventure module that does all the boring bits for you. They're cheap, the yield is about 1 h/$ from the average module, and that is if you're already pretty seasoned about prepping adventures. You can afford to pay a dollar instead of sitting down and doing boring prepwork for an hour.

    Of course the above only works if you play something where you can get adventure modules compatible with your game's style and method from the marketplace for cheap and with good quality. The only game that has had this feature to my knowledge is old school D&D - adventure modules for other games tend to be shitty because they don't reflect the reality of how the game is played, or try to give you content without having useful tools for transmitting it.
  • Plot Hooks
    At the start of any campaign I ask the players a lot of questions about their characters. A lot of them are the same questions, but some are tailored to a specific character. I also ask a few questions to the player to see what they actually want to see happen. I take all of those notes and write a handful of plot hooks for all of them.
    Some of the base questions:
    • Talk about someone you are are really close to
    • Talk about someone you never get along with
    • Someone you miss
    • A place you really want to visit
    • Something you want to accomplish (in game, and with the game)
  • AW style countdown clocks. Make sure they are profound so the players will want to stop whatever is going on or at least profit from it.
  • All of my favourite high-yield prep techniques are based on some combination of relationship-mapping and character "Flags".

    Although some games have that built-in, like Dogs in the Vineyard. Prep for that game has never felt wasted for me, and it's incredibly efficient in terms of time-spent-for-your-bang-in-return.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: Jason MorningstarName lists.To have on hand for everybody, in case they need a name that's evocative and fits whatever you are doing. This is part of a "setting and situation cheat sheet" I guess. I don't think the larger concept always qualifies for inclusion in this thread, but name lists - definitely.

  • Thanks Buzz. Also individual lists as .pdf or .txt files.
  • That book is always on the table when we play these days. :)

    ...but yeah, making lists beforehand would be even better.
  • I sometimes draw a few cards using this technique I made up, and just jot down a couple of things about what that suggests to me, like:

    "Twists the rule that women are supposed to be modest - a flirt?" or;
    "embodies the rule that men are supposed to provide for their families - lots of children, maybe a hunter?" and so on.

    I just use the ideas as soon as an NPC who could fit the description comes up. It helps make minor NPCs who are interesting and tied to the setting. It's also a good way of giving weaknesses or complexities to major NPCs.
  • Simon, that is an awesome technique!
  • (Lots of good stuff here, really!)
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