My Prep Dilemna

As anyone who has gamed with me will tell you–when it comes to running RPGs–I like to do my prep, some people can pull off amazing sessions with little to no prep and that’s absolutely grand, more power to them, however, I’m not blessed with a particularly good memory so it buoys up my confidence to know that I have notes prepared concerning what has already occurred in a campaign and what might be about to occur. However, this has left me with something of a dilemna recently when it comes to the prep for my Heart of Darkness Star Wars campaign and my Dungeon World campaign; both campaigns are recorded on my Youtube channel meaning I’ve got the actual play videos that I can refer back to in order to update my notes.

The main problem is the amount of time that this takes; my sessions tend to last 3-4 hours on average with the Dungeon World game running weekly and Heart of Darkness running bi-weekly, this means that on a week when they’re both running I have potentially up to 8 hours of footage that I have to listen to and make notes on. It’s enjoyable to playback the sessions because I pick up all those heroic and amusing moments that have a tendency to slip out of your mind when real-life stuff starts crowding in, but it’s a serious investment of time when I’m doing nothing other than sitting in-front of a computer with my earphones in, time I’m not spending with my wife, or making videos, or even reading books.

I’ve been struggling to keep my prep up for the past few weeks and have just about managed it, but it’s pretty much eaten up all of my free time and has left me quite tired. At the moment I can only see a few solutions:

  • Cut down the amount of games I’m running. I don’t really want to do this since I enjoy both my games and think that you only really improve as a GM when you’re actually working at your craft.
  • Take more notes during a session. This is a possibility but–although I’m quick at typing–I doubt I’d be able to keep up with all the stuff going on during a session, and I find it difficult to concentrate on anything else whilst making notes, I could see this having a detrimental effect on my ability to run a game.
  • Get the players to make the notes. A possibility, but it relies on finding someone enthusiastic and reliable enough to do it, there’s also the distinct possibility they may miss stuff they consider to be unimportant when in-fact it might have a deep significance to the game.
  • Use transcription software. Given that I could rip the sound from the video file, transcription software is a distinct possibility, although I would still have to sort through the resulting output since such software isn’t 100% reliable.

So I thought I’d throw this open to the wider role-playing community, to see if you have any suggestions regarding a way to solve my prep dilemna; if you do please post them in the comments section of this page.

6 thoughts on “My Prep Dilemna”

  1. I know the problem. Our game sessions tend to be even longer (around 6-8 hours). So even if I would record the session, I would never be able to listen in. You can however play the video in double or triple speed, to fast-forward to the sections where your memory gets foggy.

    For me, I decided to take notes in a small book. Whenever my players start to discuss their next action (and that’s basically what they do all the time) I quickly write short notes (bulletpionts). By this I now have something that resembles a diary – I like flipping through it from time to time. “haha, right, that was when they fell off that cliff – hahahaa”

  2. What I do for my games is write anything that I think I can forget…like names.
    After the game I will write about half a page to a page of notes on what appened in the session.

    So with my actual game notes and this summary I can go back and check the events of the last couple of session if I need to…without investing to much time in the process.

  3. Here’s a few ideas. The first would be to break down prep over several days in the week. For example:

    Monday: Brainstorm: 30 min each, throw ideas around, taking notes, no filters, pure train of thoughts, bounce ideas with another GM
    Tuesday: Analysis: 15 min each, what work, what doesn’t, time to trim the fat
    Wednesday: Documentation: 1 hour each, stat time!
    Thursday: Review, 15 min each, preferably a day or right before the game.

    Total Prep Time: 2 hours per game. Adjust these time to suit your preferences. You can double the total that for a comfortable 4 hours each, or the golden 1 hour of prep for 1 hour of play.

    Other ideas:

    – You want to optimize and use your time efficiently. Set a time limit for prep. An alarm is good. Having that countdown may motivate you to make smart choices.
    – Don’t write recap. Let a player do it at the beginning of the session. Players talking about the game will set you back in the right spot.
    – Use bullet points for minor details.
    – During the session, leave a physical notebook near the computer. When you write notes, use mnemonics shortcuts, small words, no full sentences (let the brain do the rest later).
    – Read Never Unprepared (again and again). There’s plenty of wisdom in that book.

    I hope it will help a bit.

  4. I have NPC, Fractions and Places prepped before 1st session. With mission and motivation I know what NPC is going to try and why.
    With that after each Session I have to write down changes after PC interaction and I note what problems I get in mind for each Player character.

    For each session one player volunteers writing a log. It’s more like a story with funny details.

    Thus even when playing something different for half a year we can start where we finished.

    For log, NpC and Places we use obsidianportal. My personal notes I do with Google keep. Prep is in Google docs then.

  5. -> Get the players to make the notes. A possibility, but it relies on finding someone enthusiastic and reliable enough to do it, there’s also the distinct possibility they may miss stuff they consider to be unimportant when in-fact it might have a deep significance to the game.

    My last session I asked if one of my players could take notes for me (dealing with a repetitive stress injury in my primary hand) and reading the notes from the player’s perspective was actually multiple times more useful then from my own. I was able to pick out a few things I miss-communicated and was able to then see what was deemed important by the player.

    I would say if you have a willing player, it is worth it even if you take your own notes.

We love hearing what you think, however any spam or abusive posts will be ruthlessly removed and deleted, as will those that ramble off topic.