Trains and Games

As I write this, I’m sat on a train just south of Doncaster, on my way to the Dragonmeet convention in London. I’ve been listening to The Smart Party podcast say that everyone who’s been a guest on their show will probably be there, and they’re probably right. I’m helping on the All Rolled Up stall selling gaming accessories and Cthulhu Hack goodies, but I’m most excited about the chance to catch up with lots of friends.

Indulge me while I talk about my dad. My dad liked trains. He liked traveling on them, he had lots of books about them, he built little model kits of them. He’d go to model railway exhibitions held in community centres and hotels and wander round stalls and buy models of locomotives he probably didn’t need. He had mates that he would go round to and look at their models and talk about obscure branch line developments. He had hundreds of train magazines, some in languages he couldn’t read. He had more model kits than he could hope to build, and had prized models of locomotives and carriages that he’d display on bookshelves next to his stacks of books about trains.

As a kid I remember traipsing across cities every holiday, in search of model shops he’d heard about. When he died, a specialist second hand bookstore held an advertised event to sell his railway books, “from the collection of an enthusiast.” It was a proper hobby, and he treated it as such. He must have spent a fortune on it, and I’ve no doubt it was all money well spent.

Does any of that sound familiar? Hobbies are ace. Don’t feel bad about investing time and money in games you might never play, or accessories you might never use at the table, or reading blog posts about the best ranger builds in Pathfinder. If it gives you pleasure it’s enough. You can always flog it on eBay. Treat it like a proper hobby, and cherish the friendships that you make over a cocked d20.

I’ll be on the All Rolled Up stall – pop by and say hello.

Review: 7th Sea, Second Edition

7th Sea, Second Edition, is a trojan horse RPG – a hippie-smoking narrative indie game disguised as a big-budget trad game. Even its pseudo-European setting and swashbuckling, piratical leanings imply it will have rules for swimming, climbing rigging, initiative even. And it doesn’t, really – it has one unified resolution system for everything. It’s beautiful, fast-playing, and very, very good.

The Fluff – “Are we doing accents?”

In the pursuit of high-stakes swashbuckly pirate action, 7th Sea sets itself in a squished up map of Europe where each nation in Theah is very easily identified as its real-world analogue. Even the map is recognisably European, so if you can’t work out that the red-haired kilt-wearing barbarians of the Highland Marches aren’t Scots, you can check an atlas. I’ve no problem with this – and it is of course just an iteration of the setting of the first edition, which was apparently a much-loved aspect of the game. I’d expect a good deal of outrageous accents in play if I’m anywhere near the table.

The setting descriptions in the rules are a bit, well, basket-weavey. I’m not sure if I really needed to know what the average Castillan peasant eats to jump into the game, and it feels rather like a potential barrier to play rather than a boon; I found myself skimming once I’d worked out it was Spain, and then coming back to find the adventure hooks hidden within the descriptions of fashions and history. And this is the first bit where it comes across as a traditional game; there feels like an expectation that you should read the 96 pages of setting chapter before you start creating your character, even though there’s probably no need at all.

It’s worth giving a shout out to the system’s alternate settings – The Crescent Empire, which is the near / middle East analogue, is out now, and offers an inventive take on Arabian Nights-style swashbuckling, and New World – Jaguar Knights and pseudo-Aztec sacrifices and Ifri – their Africa – are lined up for release. I’ve only really dived in The Crescent Empire, and it really is impressive – and probably merits a separate review which I’ll get to soon.

The Crunch – Ready you magnetic fish!

As I said in the introduction, this is the most indie you’ll find in a shiny 300-page hardback. You roll a pool of dice, count Raises (which you make by summing dice to 10), and take action in order from them. That’s how you do everything. Action Scenes see you act in order of the number of Raises you have at each turn, Dramatic Scenes use a more narrative initiative order (as in, one determined entirely by the GM as suits the fiction). There are no difficulty levels, and an implication that players might try to use whatever combination of Trait and Skill they like to accomplish their task, under some negotiation with their GM.

One wrinkle is that every challenge or scene seems to be bespoke to the specific situation, and there’s advice that the GM will pre-plan these out, which makes it seem more complex than it is. What 7th Sea really needs is some general examples of, for instance, a shipboard battle, a tavern brawl, a chase through alleyways, a high society ball – that the GM can quickly grab and pick options from to invent scenes on the fly.

At every turn, it feels like there’s more to the system – and many of the early commentators on the system I think were disappointed in this – but, brilliantly, there isn’t. PCs have various Advantages that tweak the rules in certain circumstances, but like Fate’s Stunts, they are exceptions rather than interfering with the core mechanic. Even duelling, which adds the most additional rules, really just allows you to zoom in on the action in a combat sequence. Villains have two stats and one dice pool, and  groups of mooks – Brute Squads – just have a Strength.

The sole exception to the unified-system appears to be magic, which is specific to each Nation and both game-breakingly powerful and awesomely cool. You won’t be slinging spells regularly, but you can be sure that if there’s a magic-user in the group they will have additional – and very flavourful – ways to interact with the story and bring trouble their way.

The One-Shot

In fairness, there are a couple of cool things about the system which I don’t think translate well to one-shot play. Firstly, the experience system (such as it is) is player-specific multi-step Stories that are collaboratively written and plan out what the PC needs to achieve to get his next XP boost. The villain rules have resource management stuff for the villain to try schemes to raise his strength and an economy for sending stuff after the PCs. I can see an awesome game (not a one-shot) where the players just arrive with their own stories and the GM plays his villain’s schemes and gets in the way of them – but I’m not certain how that would work for one-shot play, although setting it up in a similar way to player-led PBTA might work.

These are the pregens I’ve made up for this game, and they give a fair indication of how straightforward the system would be to grasp for players – although you want to ensure that a player who is happy to get to grips quickly with additional rules and exceptions takes any PCs with magic or dueling. The setting is certainly easy to grasp, and the unified system will certainly make sense – but, as with everything, watch out for players who are drawn to a big hardback book expecting more rules than they find!

I’m looking to tidy up my own quickstart adventure and post it on here, and I might even have a bash at some generic scenes for the game and put them out there – but in short, this game might be my new hotness for a while.

Running Blind – Prepping a One-Shot for the First Time

This Sunday, at Go Play Leeds, I’m set to run 7th Sea 2nd Edition, John Wick’s game of fantasy swashbuckling set in the pseudo-European world of Theah. I’ve never run the game before, and I haven’t played it either. Normally I’d always say that the best prep for running a one-shot is to be a player in said game – it’s much easier to learn a system by doing than it is to read the rules. Not having had this luxury, I’ve had to find my own way with the game. I’m just about ready, and I thought I’d share my tips for prepping a game you haven’t played before:

Start with the Pregens

I started by creating my pregens, trying to use my own guidelines here but also ensuring a simple concept to bind them together. I’ve gone for a ship’s crew, seeing them as a roving band of ne’er-do-wells not restricted entirely to piratical interests but also unaffiliated to any nation. I had a few ideas about core archetypes – so I have a big bruiser, a quick duelist, and a socialite – and can hope they fit together.

Generating a party not only familiarises you with the resources on the character sheet (7th Sea 2nd Ed has a good skill economy), but it helps to have internalised them, so you’re not looking for the right skill or power at the right time. On my pregen sheets, I give brief rules for each advantage and/or power, and writing them down helps me learn the options my players have.

EDIT: I’ve added a link to the pregens to the downloads page, or you can find theme directly here.

Know the Rules

Some folks would say to read the rulebook cover to cover, but I’m not sure how useful it actually is to prep from cover to cover. Generally I think you need to know what you need to know well rather than knowing everything well; depth is better than breadth of knowledge in this case. I’ve read (in this order) the resolution mechanics, the character generation chapter, skimmed the GM advice section, and then followed character generation, while skipping back to the backgrounds of the Nations of my characters to check that my concept fits. Much of the rest of the book I’ve skipped, and will absorb further down the line.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this approach for every game, but also that’s probably what I do for every new game. I try to make sure that I know really well the stuff I actually have to know. I’ve ignored, for instance, the ship combat rules for now – I’m going to run that like a normal Action Scene, and lots of the GM rule sections on stuff Villains can do between adventures.

Keep It Simple

My adventure plot is pretty straightforward, and is structured using the scene resolution mechanics presented in the book (note that I’m planning one of my short reviews of 7th Sea soon after I’ve run it, but in a nutshell, I’m convinced that this is a loosey-goosey narrative indie game disguised as a mid-90s trad game, and disguised really well) tightly. There’s a fight scene, a sandboxy high society party for them to investigate in, an infiltration and a final confrontation.

As always, my starting scene is heavily framed and launched (in fact, it begins with the PC’s ship being boarded and in the middle of a pitched battle) and the options spread out from there. There’s some collapsible elements to allow for how much time is left – I’m not sure how quickly the game will play out, and at least at Go Play I’ve got a good amount of time to play with – I can take anywhere between 3 and 5 hours and there’s no session following my players have to get out for. My structure was scribbled out on one page of an A4 notebook, and while it took a while to get down in between reading and thinking about the game, it was an important step before I started my prep proper.

Bash out a Draft

After this, I’ve actually written out in Word what I want to happen at each scene. By forcing myself to write this up – which I wouldn’t do for, say, 13th Age, or a game I’m more experienced with – I force myself to actually consider the structure and order in which I introduce and teach the game. So far my draft runs to just over 2000 words, which is probably my norm for a fully-formed con game draft for a new game; I’ll add a few notes to it as I get ready for the actual game and tidy it up, it’ll stay around that mark in terms of length.

Come Clean

I’m running the adventure on Sunday, and I’ll share my prep after that. I’ll be telling the players straight up that I’ve not run the system before, and that while I’ll be the main arbiter of the rules, feel free to pipe up if I miss something. We’ll muddle through, and I’m confident that the bits of the game that I’ve prepped will work. The bits I’m missing out – which include the Story system, which I’m going to replace with an alternative XP system – are all easily missed from a one-shot.

So, now I need to have another pass at my adventure and get the last bits of laminating done. After I’ve run it, I’ll share my prep on here, as well as the pregens I’ve created for it. How does your experience of prepping a new game differ from mine?

Ready, Set, Game! – in Search of the One Hour One Shot

Earlier this year, in preparing to fulfil my regular gig as D101 Games‘ stall monkey at UK Games Expo, I sketched out a demo adventure for the Fate game Hunters of Alexandria. It was designed to play in 30-45 minutes for 1-3 players in a crowded convention hall, and although it never got the chance to hit the table at the Expo, it’s just been released as a free download. It’s made me think about an idea I think we should all try to make happen – the One Hour One Shot (1H1S) RPG Game.

At the same time, Baz from the Smart Party podcast has been mulling over some prep for a 1 hour demo of Blades in the Dark… I can’t give you more details but watch out for it, because what I’ve seen of it looks really good!

Why?

The key resource that keeps the RPG entry point high for the casual potential gamer isn’t money (you don’t even need to have your own dice) or exposure (pretty much everyone knows what D&D is these days), it’s time. How can you sell a hobby that involves 3 hours of your time every week? Even if you’re going to restrict yourself to one-shot / episodic games at conventions and meetups like Go Play Leeds, this means an informal commitment of one 4 hour session every month. That isn’t easy to get your head around if you’re not sure if you’ll like the game.

At the same time, more people are playing board games – and geeky board games – than ever before. I have seen copies of Pandemic on the shelves of some of my least geeky friends’ bookshelves; board games are mainstream now.

Also, aren’t there lots of games you want to try out? If you allocate even a short, sharp 4 hour session to each of them, you’ll be here forever working your way through them. One hour, though – even the busiest gamer can spare an hour, surely…

How?

At the moment this is early in the design stages, so I’m not exactly an expert, but I’ve got a few ideas of how the 1H1S game might look:

  • simple, grabby pregens that give an easy idea of what they can do in the setting and game
  • a really tight structure – 3-4 scenes that showcase the setting and what the PCs do
  • an opportunity to learn the rules. Think about the first level of a well-written videogame, and how it teaches you to jump and move around before you learn to shoot; an attempt to walk through the core mechanics in a logical way
  • leave them hungry. Add hooks to further adventure, an obvious way out that they can lead on to if they want more. Aim to leave them wanting to know what else happens to their character, and how they can continue the game
  • really clear social structure. Some of this will come out in the way the GM (who we’ll assume has played RPGs before) presents it, but also with clear guidance. The social setup of a tabletop RPG is arcane if you haven’t played one before, and your players need as much help as you can get. Even games that explicitly spell out the social structure of play such as PBTA games get misinterpreted, and we’ve all been in games where the loudest player gets to hog screen time

What next?

Well, I guess the next step for me is to actually get on and prep some 1 hour demos. I’m confident that Bite does what it says on the tin and is a possible model for Fate or similar games, but I’d like to write the same for some of those games I haven’t played enough of, too – especially ones with interesting rules twists like 7th Sea or Dogs in the Vineyard. What else is out there? Have you run any 1H1S games, succesfully or otherwise? Let me know in the comments!

Counters and Cards – how to run a great Fate one-shot

A couple of weeks ago I went to Furnace, the original and biggest RPG con based at The Garrison Hotel in Sheffield, UK. One of the games I ran was a Justice Society game using the Fate system – to be more precise, a modified version of the Dresden Files Accelerated system. I thought I’d give a run through of how I go about prepping – and running – a Fate one-shot.

Before you play: it’s all about Aspects

Make sure that your pregens (if you’re using them – Fate is also great for semi-finished pregens that the players can add Aspects and skills to as they play) have Aspects that are both broadly applicable but also able to be Compelled. Players should never look at their sheet and struggle to find a relevant Aspect unless they are operating well out of their comfort zone and PC skill set – and even then there should be Scene Aspects they can use. Don’t over-think Aspects, just make them descriptors of character traits and abilities – hopefully with a negative side that can be Compelled to earn Fate points.

In terms of props, you’ll need some sort of counters for Fate points (see later) and some kind of cards for Aspects and Boosts. You can using ordinary Index Cards or Post-its, but the wipeable index cards from All Rolled Up are a re-usable solution as well.

For each scene in the game, design two or three Scene Aspects and have these pre-written up on cards before the game starts. If you’ve got them pre-written you’ll be much less likely to forget to put them on the table when the scene starts.

For your named NPCs, make sure that their Aspects are also broadly applicable so you’ll be able to use them at the table without having to think too much. You should be using these Aspects to survive the players initial attacks and force them to use their Fate points and Aspects to beat you, so make sure each named NPC has at least one Aspect that they can use to defend or avoid damage.

While you play: it’s all about Fate points

When running the game, as GM you should be focusing play to keep a steady flow of Fate points between the players and GM. How can you encourage players to spend more Fate points? Well, here are four ideas that I try to use:

  • don’t make the players roll for anything that isn’t important. If a roll isn’t going to be worth investing a Fate point in, it’s an unnecessary roll. Simple investigation, get-to-the-next-scene filler, can just be given to the PCs with necessary roleplaying – it doesn’t need an Overcome check to find a clue unless that clue has some danger attached to it and meaningful (and exciting) consequences for failure
  • give meaningful difficulties. Overcome should be at an absolute minimum of Fair (+2) difficulty – and often I’ll bump them up to Great (+4) if players are going to work together on them. Likewise, named NPCs should be tough enough to present a decent challenge – let the PCs eat up mooks but make the named NPCs memorable
  • refresh Fate points frequently. In a one-shot I also usually offer a free refresh about halfway through the session when the PCs reach a place of safety; they can return up to their refresh (note that this is especially useful in high-powered games where some PCs might start with a Refresh of 1 or 2)
  • model spending them. Remember that the GM starts each scene with one Fate point per player (note that this does vary in different flavours of Fate; but it’s one per scene in Fate Core). You read that right, every scene. With this in mind, you should be spending them immediately to resist the PCs efforts initially – this will also provide challenge and pace the scenes – don’t worry about this becoming predictable, as Fate dice are swingy enough to add some unpredictability to this

While you play: it’s also all about Aspects

As well as using PC, NPC and Scene Aspects, both you and the players should be using Create Advantage to make their own Aspects they can then get a free tag on to their own advantage. To encourage them to use this part of the game, you can

  • make Create Advantage relatively easy. I keep the difficulty for Create Advantage down to +2 normally unless they are actively countered by an opponent, so that it becomes an achievable option to use an action on – if a player is using their turn to create an Aspect, they should have a good chance of succeeding
  • model the behaviour you want to encourage. Show the players how easy it is to use Create Advantage by having some of your mooks do it to set up the big bad; after seeing you do it, they are much more likely to realise how powerful it is
  • don’t be shy of making Defend difficulties high. With a couple of well-placed Create Advantages, players can easily be rolling with an initial +4 without even tagging any of their own or the Scene’s Aspects, so you don’t need to be shy about having  opponents with, say, Superb (+5) resistances. Don’t make these always the case, but if you want to push the players to use all the resources at their disposal, these can make for decent fights. Remember that Fate PCs and named NPCs are pretty resilient if you negotiate Consequences that aren’t always a hindrance – and they don’t have to be.

So, a few guidelines to how to set up and play a Fate game one-shot, and to encourage the table to engage with the key bits of Fate that make it different to other RPGs out there. If all that sounds like a lot to remember if you’re running Fate for the first time, start by just getting counters for Fate points and cards for Aspects and Boosts – just having these out in front of the players is a big incentive to see them used. Is there anything I’ve missed? Does different advice apply in different genres?

By the way, if you want an example of a quick-play Fate adventure set-up, it’d be remiss of me to not recommend my own Bite of the Crocodile God, a short (as in 30-45 minute) adventure for D101 games’ Hunters of Alexandria, a swords-and-sandals monster-hunting Fate game.

Review: Starfinder – or, how I learned to stop worrying and love d20 again

I’ve been sniffy about Pathfinder for years, and I have to admit it’s jealousy. I played, and ran, a ton of D&D3.5 back in the day, but Pathfinder’s release coincided with me finding other gamers to play with whose tastes were broader and more in tune with my own expectations of gaming – I was discovering Fiasco, playing Spirit of the Century for the first time. Why, I asked myself, would I ever go back to counting squares and moving minis? And it simmered inside me as I watched game store shelves groan under their beautiful books with their great artwork and, and… And so many Pathfinder players seemed to play only Pathfinder, I couldn’t help but feel a bit above them – what did they know of shared imagined spaces, or GM-full improv techniques, or the freewheeling narration of 13th Age between-combat montages?

But last week, I bought Starfinder. And it’s great. So many of my feelings towards its fantasy forerunner, I realise, are unjustified. So, if you’re like me and haven’t touched d20 with a bargepole since you started buying FATE dice and freewheeling narration, here are 5 reasons you should give Starfinder a whirl:

1: The gonzo gauge is carefully calibrated

Okay, science fantasy is inherently gonzo. Do you come down on the He Man side (for which you’ll be looking at Master of Umdaar as the ideal game), or do you try for mystery and technology and magic as interchangeable (it’s post-apocalypse, but Numenera is probably the gold standard for getting this right). Starfinder walks a careful path between these – yes, it’s got magic and technomancy and priesthoods and, er, space goblins, but it’s also got a consistent background that makes these fit together in a somewhat-logical way.

Paizo did excellently with Pathfinder in reinventing a kitchen-sink D&D world in Golarion, and by setting Starfinder in Golarion’s far future they leave the door open for Pathfinder monsters to be used/adapted as well. They have space-elves, space-dwarves, and such, but wisely put them at the back of the book, leaving their more sci-fi themed races at the start. There are half-human Androids, insectoid Shirrens, and anthropomorphic rats called Ysoki, among others. The Ysoki can store small items in their cheek pouches; they do bring to mind the legendary Giant Space Hamsters of 2nd Ed. AD&D’s Spelljammer setting (talking of gonzo…), and for me that’s a good thing.

2: Everything else in the game is carefully calibrated

When Paizo set out to make Pathfinder, they took D&D3.5 and fixed it, trying to make it smoother and cleaner. Smoother I’m not sure, but it is perfectly balanced. They’ve changed a few things in Starfinder (like having Hit Points and Stamina Points, and giving equipment levels) – but it all fits together lovingly. Yes, there are those that will obsess over builds, trying to find the most powerful game-breaking character, but the fact that this generates so much discussion just goes to show how tightly balanced it generally is. While it’s not quite mastery-proof, with a little common-sense it looks to be very difficult to accidentally generate a significantly sub-optimal character.

And the classes look fun. There are Solarians, who generate spectral weaponry and armour, and Mechanics who all get funky drones to follow them around and do their bidding. It’s fantasy, so the Mystic and Technomancer are classes too. PCs get to choose Themes as well, which add another layer to the character so that several different options exist for similar characters.

3: You don’t have to use minis and count squares

This is one of the best-kept secrets of Pathfinder. It is entirely possible to play Pathfinder, and by extension Starfinder, without using miniatures or a grid. Just replace it with, well, common sense. A rough idea of encounter ranges helps, as does players who are happy with this approach, but it’s easy to negotiate, for instance, how many opponents are in an area of effect attack or whether you are flanking an opponent.

Obviously, you lose a bit of tactical grit if you do this, but you have to make the judgement that you do gain a bit more narrative flexibility with this system – I guess it goes down to how you picture a combat in your mind, and having minis and squares can help that in some ways, or hinder it in others. But genuinely, if the grid is the problem, trust me and try it without.

4: You can totally use minis and count squares

If you haven’t seen the Pathfinder Pawn collections, they are a great idea. You get a box of thick card standees with bases, and Paizo has started producing Pawn sets for its Adventure Paths as well… so if you want to run through one of its campaigns you can get the standees for everything the PCs are likely to face in the adventure. It’s cheap, easy, and all you need is one of those roll-up latex mats and some OHP pens and you can get your mapping on. The first Pawn collection for Starfinder is out now, and I’m sure Paizo will continue to support them. Worth noting that you can get the Pathfinder ones pretty cheap on Amazon and Ebay if you keep an eye out for them.

5: It can be played one-shot

The default play style for D&D 3.5, and by extension Pathfinder, was the long campaign. The progression from 1st to 20th level was carefully mapped out, and for me this meant that one-shot play was off the table. Another factor was the general encounter approach – which focused on lots of small encounters to wear down player resources without many big, dangerous fights.

Just a few tweaks can make it much more one-shot friendly though. Getting rid of the minis and maps helps if you’re cool with that, for a start. Reducing the number of fights, and making them each more challenging, is a good idea, as is having plenty of skill-based encounters – which of course is a little easier in a science fantasy setting than a dungeon-crawling fantasy one. I’d also ditch 1st level too; the sweet spots for one-shot play are about 3rd-8th level in D&D, and I’m sure Starfinder will be the same. You can, of course, use the collapsible dungeon advice from this blog to make sure you keep to time, and I’d recommend following the advice for crunchy games here.

So, you can probably expect to see some content for Starfinder appearing on here. I’ll begin hawking it at conventions, and Go Play Leeds – and especially at North Star, a newly-birthed Science Fiction RPG con in Sheffield next year. What do you think? Have I been charmed by the high production values and anthropomorphic hamsters? Or is there something in this? If it helps, the .pdf is only $9.99 at the moment from Paizo… although you’ll want the big, shiny print version once you see it.

The Process of Prep – Three Stages

I’ve been doing some thinking lately about how I tend to break down prep for a new one-shot game. I’ve come to think that there’s a fairly common process that produces the best results, and when I don’t follow it I don’t end up with a convincing finished product. This usually means that my creative juices fizzle out and I end up wasting whatever time I’ve put into the project already. So, here are the three stages:

1: Cogitation

This is usually done in an armchair or sofa, with a cup of tea (or something stronger) and some source material – a supplement or reference book, or even the RPG rules I’m using. I spend most of my time here reading and thinking, and avoid making too many notes, but I do sometimes jot things down if I can’t remember links. These are always pretty rough, and usually on whatever scrap paper is to hand.

For simple settings or areas, it’ll just be subheadings and bullet points. When I ran Vampire Dark Ages set in Constantinople, the labyrinthine factions of that city led to a mind map over an A4 sheet that laid out everything. Either way, this is something I do with a pen or pencil, never on a laptop or tablet.

2: Imagination

Following the first stage, I’m ready to actually get an idea of the one-shot and what it will involve. This is usually done at my desk, or dining table, with a notepad and pen. I’ll look at, and think about, my stage 1 prep and try as early as possible to constrain what the game will be about – even if that’s just one monster, NPC, or area I want to feature.

In a game of Ironclaw I’m half way through prep for, it was a rumour of a buried sword in some dangerous swamps; in an Eclipse Phase game I ran at the Furnace convention a few years back, it was the conceit that all the PCS would shift morphs half way through the session into combat-ready synthetic bodies.

Once the constraints are set, I sketch out areas, encounters, and possible threads, writing them down into the notebook. This stage is written neatly, and in one of several notebooks; where stage one is often scruffy, this is neat, and sometimes colour-coded. These are notes that I save and look at again.

I also sketch out what I want my pregens to look like at this stage, so I can make them on autopilot in stage 3.

3: Preparation

This is when the laptop comes out. I take all the stuff from stage 2 and try and work out how it interacts with the system. This part can feel like the heavy lifting, so I try to have done all the creative work first so I’m just building with system now. Obviously with some systems this is easier than others, and it’s independent of the complexity of the system; 13th Age, for example, is a very crunchy system that gives lots of support to make this stage easier.

I’ll make pregens here, usually last, and then do a quick stress test if there’s time that all of them have plenty of stuff to do in each scene, and modify them if necessary.

I’ve found that by breaking down my prep into these three stages, I stand a much better chance of completing my prep to the point where I have a finished one shot ready to go. What are your creative methods?