March 16, 2011

Vanir is Wrong Wrong Wrong!

Vanir of Critical Hits wrote a nice article yesterday (“By The Seat Of My Omnipotent Pants“) detailing his ongoing game, in particular focusing on his lack of preparation and its effect on his game. I suggest you read it, but in a nutshell he had claimed to have put off his preparation of the night’s game until the last minute and then sort of had to wing-it free-form. In the end it all worked out and people had fun but the core aspect of Vanir’s article is wrong. Yes, Vanir is wrong!

Vanir made a claim that he had not prepared for his game and certainly not enough. I will say that he had indeed prepared adequately and I will use his own words to expose his base lies. As I do this, I recommend you pay attention because there is something for all of us who GM in here.

“…I procrastinated a bit too much. By that, I mean that by about 2 hours to game time, I had managed to be indecisive enough to know several major plot points – just not the specifics or the order in which they would appear.”
2 hours to game time and you claim to have done no prep work and yet…you mention that you already had several major plot points. Sounds to me like you had already done some prep work. We’ll see if this bears out later.

“Not having any combat encounters worked out…”
Oops you got me there. No combat encounters built! Let’s see if this also bears out.

“I ended the last session on a cliffhanger, with the PC’s army’s camp under attack by a cement zombie horde.”
All the prep that you had already put into everything that led up to this cliffhanger was prep work. You had already designed the attacking army, you knew their compositions (undead) and from there it was easy to move forward. You already had a solid base to work from. Sometimes a DM will forget all the prep he has already done to get to where he and the campaign are, but it is all used in the story for that night.
This also slightly invalidates your previous assessment that you had no combat encounters built; you already know that the antagonists are undead so determining the type of antagonists is already done.

“When they got to the town, I decided to use another of the plot points I had picked out”
You were now using one of the plot points you had already thought about before the game began that night. Sounds like prep work to me.

“I threw up forcefields around the town and started dropping cement on them from the sky (the same process that created the zombie-producing block from the first session).”
Again, you used the solid base you had established in earlier nights of adventure to move this night’s adventure forward. See, you were prepping without even realizing it.

“I could hear Dave The Game’s voice in my head, Obi-Wan-style, saying “Matt…. say ‘yes’ to your players…””
And now here, you are bringing in knowledge you had gained before the night of the game. By reading and listening to other DMs you were in effect prepping for this night’s adventure. His advice allowed you to react to the player’s actions and keep the adventure moving forward. What would have happened if you had never heard his advice before? How would you have reacted? Maybe differently, maybe not as well. Very likely you would have tried to implement a solution you were not prepared to implement; instead you allowed the players to solve the problem, instead of you doing it for them through the story.

“But I did have KMonster open on my phone.”
No offense, but did KMonster suddenly leap onto your phone? No. You had gotten the app before the night’s game. Again, you had prepped before hand, this time in the form of an app you could easily use at the table. You knew how to use it; you were not struggling to understand it at the gaming table.

“…checked to make sure their abilities were mostly what I wanted.”
How did you know what you wanted? Because you had thought about it before hand, again playing off the solid campaign base you had already built.

Sorry, Vanir but time and again I keep seeing a multitude of ways you had prepped for the night’s adventure beforehand. Some may claim I am only playing a game of semantics here; that Vanir’s definition of ‘preparation’ is different than mine. However, I will say that every time you read a module, read a blog post on how to DM, print out a random table, every moment you spend thinking about your upcoming game, every minute you talk with others about your game are all moments of preparation. All that time not spent sitting at a table writing things down onto a piece of paper but still thinking about your game is still prep.

All too often we get it into our heads that we are not prepared unless we have everything written down, especially in a form we are used to seeing in a published adventure. We dwell on a lack of precise detail- what color are the chairs in the room? – how high are the rose bushes? etc. I say prep does not need to be done to that extreme to be prep. I will go further and say that those levels of details are not needed to be prepared or to run a good game. Prep work does not require every detail to be written out ahead of time. Most DMs are more prepared than they realize and if they only realized this fact, they would be a lot more relaxed.
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