Here are some tips as you try to find this delicate balance at your game table.
Prepare only what you NEED to be successful.You need to balance game mastery with a player mindset when you are a DM. Don’t get lost in the details of world building, plot design, puzzles, hooks. Instead, focus on the foundation of a great roleplay session and what works with your players. For example, if you are building a mysery for a group of murder-hobo, short-attention-span players, you are all going to have a bad time if your game plan is extremely detailed, and resoution of key plot pionts that are overly dependant on recognizing very subtle clues that, if missed, mean no second chances and TPK (total party kill)!
Prepare less and more accurately.Preparing less doesn’t make you lazy, makes you more flexible and let’s the players steer the ship. Preparing accurately let’s you focus on the main pillars that you need to hold the tent up. Give the players the wheel and let them set the tent on fire and crash the car into a tree (as they want to do).
Know and review your characters and what defines them.I always keep a spreadsheet or a page dedicated to the ‘overall of this character’, basic stats so I don’t need to ask for them, names of player and character. Constantly tying the player to the character and knowing what their strings are can empower them, pull them into role play and let them shine.
Make a flexible outline.Your outline should be short and have three layers.
- The high level plot – Think of this as the “season” of your show “The necromancer that destroyed the kingdom 200 years ago is back, and your group is the only ones that know”.
- The mid-level plot points – Think of these as an “episode” of your show: There should be 3 to 5 medium plot points. “The cursed book that can stop him is currently in the swamp of sorrow / This Necromancer is currently enthralling the princess into doing his dirty work / etc.” These medium level plot points should be a 1 to 2 sentence plot of an episode.
- The low-level outline – Think of these as scenes, broken up by commercial breaks. This lowest level of the outline should be the details of important locations, NPCs, and events that will unfold. They use this to guide your group through their journey however they see fit. Keep a record of the details, these NPCs and Locations will keep the world and situation alive.
Create a strong start!Hitting the players with something epic out of the gate will get them invested. You need to give the players the answer to the question: “Why do I care about this?” Hitting them hard up front will push them into an area where they connect with their group and their characters. You are in a situation where you will die if you die if you don’t work together… GO!
In conclusion…In conclusion, it will take time and practice to find the best balance between preparation and on-the-fly game mastery, and it will be different for each RPG group of which you’re involved. Don’t be afraid to seek feedback from your players on what you can do to help them maximize fun at your game table. And always remember: Keep your table inclusive, exciting, and keep empowering your players’ voices!
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