More Prep–More Props

I am a terribly lazy GM. If possible I try not to do any prep at all and usually rely on my improvisational skills to run my games. But this had led to a certain problem. I am not sure if my players have noticed yet, but I definitely feel it: the game is often not as exciting as it could be. Back in the day, I created cool props (like newspaper clippings, maps, etc.), prepared complex plots, and came up with memorable NPCs. I still do this, but on a much reduced level. Especially my weekly game could need some more “flair”, if you get my drift.

Recently my friend Marcus posted about his upcoming Fallout-themed Savage Worlds game. Wow! Check out the photo below and tell me that’s not totally awesome!


The character sheets look like the Pipboys from Fallout, he created Nuka Cola bottlecap (for use as bennies) and if I am not mistaken he even aged the deck of cards to look like they were from a post-nuclear-war era. This level of dedication and preparation immediately lifts the game to a different level. I am pretty sure most players honor such dedication to the game and it also should help to establish immersion into the setting.

If I am looking at my game sessions, this is what they are most lacking. Yes, my players are enjoying themselves, I usually do so, too, but I am sure things could be so much more awesome. There are a lot of reasons why I haven’t done that much prep work (or created props for that matter) anymore: work, family, the house, my mental health, computer games … But I think some more prep work and perhaps a few more props will help to improve my GMing and make our games much more memorable.

Of course not every game needs custom bennies and aged playing cards, but sometimes a simple handout prepared before the game can make a huge difference.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

7 thoughts on “More Prep–More Props”

  1. I too consider myself to be lazy but because of our groups set up I do get to do lots of prep. We only meet three or four times a year so doing prep is a way of keeping the game alive in my imagination.

    I have a gaming love affair with postit notes. For the lazy GM getting the core of everything you need to run a NPC on one of those little squares of yellow is an achieveable task as opposed to being faced with a blank page of paper.

    If you can read my terrible script this is an example of how I prep my NPCs

    I may have as many as three post-its on their character sheets, one with how to play them, one on their tactics for the first two or three rounds or how they intend to escape (if needed) and reminders about favourite spells or items they are carrying and so on. The intention is that I could run at least the first three rounds of a combat without having to even look beyond the front of the character sheet. This feeds back to what you were implying about winging it a bit during the session.

    Another old school tried and tested prep thing is aging sheets of paper by soaking it in tea and then drying it out. You can prep many sheets at once and keep them for future use. They go through printers OK so the aging can happen long in advance.

  2. For me this has changed though the years. I’ve always done improve at the table, if I script out everything the game is less fun for me. Years ago it was all seats of my pants with very little notes, as I progressed, I began to take notes and refine my prep style. These days it goes something like this:

    Heavy campaign prep before the game starts, maps, handouts on locations and NPCs, religions, economy, calendars, etc.; I also sketch out possible plots and adventures, interweaving character background and plot. These are not written in stone but more of a flow chart of interconnected ideas that get shuffled around once the game starts.

    I try to do session summaries, or invite players to do so through incentives, and maintain a folder with NPC, antagonists and location images. Most of my prep is in the form of setting up encounters) not all combat, some social or role-playing) and then doing a bullet pint rundown of what may happen on the session. Most of the times half the bullet points are not touched upon, some get reused, some get discarded, but since I do all of it electronically I always have them for future reference.

    As far as physical props go, I do handouts, maps of important places, perhaps a letter here or there, but there days it’s most electronic documents that get sent around. At one time I tried to do big props. Vials with colored water for potions, plastic swords for magic items, aged maps, but they took time away from writing and actually preparing for the game, so they fell by the wayside…

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