Airas Chronicler – Session 10
A behind-the-scenes, slice-of-life series based on the trials of a new Game Master.
One of the biggest problems I’ve been trying to work though as a new DM is over-prepping for sessions. To prep for my first session I wrote about ten pages of possible content. In speaking to other newer DMs- this problem seems to be pretty consistent across the board. With new campaigns especially, you’re excited and passionate – you have a way you want to see things play out and then your players interact with that plan and change everything. No session has ever gone like I had thought it would, despite my best efforts.
I personally have never regretted the amount of prep I’ve put into each session. It makes me feel prepared for anything. Yet I kept receiving the same advice from more experienced DMs and after finally listening I decided to let go a little. I ran a session where I did a fraction of my usual prep. I jotted down a few notes, some encounters, some general stats and that was it. The entirety of my prep took up one small page in my notebook.
It was honestly one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done as a DM. I let my players’ actions drive mine. I let them tell me just as much of a story as I was used to telling them. I let things drift away from my original intentions and sat back while they fought to work their way through problems they themselves had created. It was entertaining for all of us.
I think with prep there is going to be a balance unique to each and every DM. I know I feel more comfortable the more I write. I like to think through each situation and tend to write a lot of ‘if, then’ scenarios. I like having a guide when things go a way I hadn’t exactly intended. However – a mostly improvised session was crucial to my growth as a DM. It taught me a lot about what you can create when you aren’t ready for it, when you didn’t know the answer to every question. It allowed me to let my characters get involved in building the world with me, rather than everything being set in noted stone.
Even thinking back on my creative process since I first started this campaign, I realized how much of it was built on improvisation. Key elements of the story came from my players asking questions I hadn’t been prepared to answer or taking paths I hadn’t lined out for them and I think that says a lot about how unique and special of a game DnD is. It’s built to be a story you tell together, you with your players – not you alone.
I will probably never fully stop over-prepping for my sessions, but I also know that I can make it work with or without those notes and that is an extremely satisfying realization.
Good luck out there DMs, stay chill and don’t worry so much. Everything is going to turn out just fine.