Here’s a confession: I’m terrible at preparing adventures. I have great ideas, but my follow-through is mediocre at best. The result is that I am often scrambling to prepare an adventure for a system I don’t know mere hours before the game. I’m pretty good at improvising so usually I think I put up a decent front, but – as convention season approaches – I want to spend more time actually working on my games for more successful adventures!
My first step is to pick a system that will best suit my idea. As a general rule, I rarely have a system in mind when I a hook pops into my mind. I have to think about it a bit before I decide what game will suit the story.
Second! Outline the Point A and Point Z of the adventure. Where we’ll start. And where I want to end up. I fully recognize that the players will routinely go off the rails between Points B and Y. I will, of course, have plans for the in-between, but I can’t get too shook up about it because, you know, it’s rarely going to follow the path I set.
Step the third – with the story roughly in place – I need to take more time to understand the rules that are going to help me tell that tale. I often go into a game with only the player’s perspective in mind. I know how to roll the dice and add the numbers to calculate an attack… but I don’t take the time to understand the resolution mechanic on the GM’s side.
As a result, I’ll fumble my way through combat with the “That’s lots!” rule: If the player tells me their attack and I think to myself, “That’s lots!” they hit. It’s a great mechanic for a fast-paced, rules-light adventure, but a pretty sucky way to actually enjoy a system.
Finally, I’m going to spend more time with my characters. All too often, I’m hammering out characters at the very last second, leaving my players with two dimensional, sub-optimal characters. I want to put together characters with personalities. I want the players to know how and why they’re connected to the other people at the table. I want the mechanics to be sound and their abilities to be kickass.
So, GMs. What am I missing? What’s your process for the best possible adventure?