My Dirty Secret: A Man Named, Jason

Some while back I was running a game of Dungeon World for folks on Roll20. The game ran for a couple of months and for one reason or another it came to a ho-hum end. It wasn’t a well orchestrated, fictionally satisfying, cinematic climax. It just sputtered out with a whimper. People got busy. Situations changed. Sessions were skipped and eventually, the campaign fizzled. And ya know what, that’s okay. That’s not why you’re here.

That brief series of gaming brought about one of my most ‘oh damn, that’s cool’ moments – when one of the heroes crossed into a magical tapestry and took the place of a venerable saint to wrestle a vile black unicorn. Henceforth changing history as the character took the place of the honorable saint as the figurehead of a devout religious sect. But that’s also not why you’re here, not now at least. You’re here because you want to know my awful shame.

I, Michael the GM, was over prepping my game. A Dungeon World game no less – how salacious!

You know who I blame? Well, Jason Lutes, mostly. Perilous Wilds, his random table fed, exploration focused Dungeon World supplement is – addictive.

Time-frozen swamp, haunted by a luscious garden that creeps across the landscape? I got you, fam. A caldera, home to a violently reclusive cult of daring Lamplighters? On it, chief. A splendid mountain villa, once home to a line of erudite dwarven lords – now the site of a great betrayal and a mercury golem? Miles ahead of you, buddy. Suffice to say, once I started rolling up random locations, I just couldn’t help myself.

I was afflicted by the GM’s sickness – an incurable love for the lonely game.

So here I was, playing a weekly game of Dungeon World with a perfectly fantastic group of players. But was it all was all a thinly veiled excuse to noodle in an increasingly more convoluted Google Doc between sessions? I pecked away nightly, quietly interpreting dozens and dozens of d12 rolls – consulting charts and decoding the results in my brain. Answer questions that hardly yet existed, let alone been asked.

But what is the: Unnatural | Divine | Discovery | of a | Chaotic | Wisdom!

Harry Clarke Andersen

I was flagrantly defying the principles of the game that I espouse as the closest thing to GMing 101. I drew the map, but then, I filled in the blanks! Then I went back to add in the crosshatching.

But dare I say, where’s the harm in a small novella worth of game prep? After all, this isn’t the ‘allow me to regale you with my grand tale of intrigue’ type of GM prep. This is that good ish – the evocative prep that raises two or three questions for every one that it answer. The prep in a really sexy consistent format structure. The prep that gets you totally jazzed for what comes next. The prep that just begs for players to get involved to bring the beast to life.

And there it is – prep that begs to be played. That’s the redeeming quality, is it not? The hundred some odd pages of ideas and almanacs that I have squirreled away from this long defunct game are now – a corpse. When that Dungeon World game ended, the game prep went on the shelf and I haven’t fiddled with it since. To do it now would feel uselessly academic. The players, weren’t the excuse to prep – they were the catalyst. I may have been writing for me, but I was writing because of them.


Are you a habitual over-prepper? Are you seeking treatment or embracing your foibles? When has your need to over-prepare your creative pallet bitten you in the ass?

Oh, yes. Once more with feeling for Perilous Wilds – it’s worth the price of admission. I haven’t run a game of DW without it since first reading it. I like it so much I use PW rolled dungeons in my 5e game. Besides, Keny Widjaja’s illustrations are consistently dope.

Surrounding Demons by Spidol (Keny Widjaja)

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3 thoughts on “My Dirty Secret: A Man Named, Jason

  1. Do you still over-prep? I’d like to see some of these things you’ve made and never used.
    One thing though – daydreaming about possibilities is an important part of being a GM. Thinking about the game and what can and may happen? Yeah that’s the good stuff. Designing places with PW is pretty close to daydreaming, imo. As long as you’re not declaring it canon before it’s played, I see no problem in it.

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    1. I’m in an atypical place right now – I’m playing in more games than I’m running. My prep efforts are in a bit of a valley, The weekly 5e game that I’m running now falls into the “daydreaming about possibilities” and just trying to be prepared for the next session or two. It’s easier when the players get locked into a particular thing, like a dungeon, because then I know what we’ll be doing for a few sessions. When the reins are in their hands, there’s little point in planning. I think this light prep approach is in some ways a direct response to my over prep of the aforementioned DW game.

      Aside from the 5e stuff, the last game I was running – Stars Without Number. I think it’s safe to say that setting was over developed before players ever arrived. I had a lot of feelings on how that played out. There was so much that could have been conveyed to the players at any given time, because so much was established, but so little of it was relevant to the characters on screen.

      Walking the line between the two extremes is dependent on the system and style of play – and it’s something I bounce around with.

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      1. Yeah I definitely felt there was far more setting than we could have possibly used in SWN. I don’t think it was bad, I just think there was too much.

        Not being a part of the 5e game, it doesn’t feel like you prep much beyond the immediately useful stuff, from what I hear.

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