Monday, March 7, 2016

All the Game Prep Ever

I'm running five games right now, plus occasional one-shots. If that seems nuts, well, it is. Let's take a moment to ruminate on that.

I've always dedicated a lot of time to running games (start the clock on "always" when I was about 18 or so; I ran games occasionally in high school, but my freshman year in college was when I started to meet a lot of other roleplayers and it wasn't uncommon for me to run games four nights a week). For a while it was mostly Chill, but I'd routinely buy other games and we'd try them out. So I'd run or play Shattered Dreams, Nightlife, Paranoia, Toon, Earthdawn, and lots of others I can't even think of right now. Sometimes we'd just play a game once and then gravitate back to stuff we liked more, and once 1994 rolled around and Wraith: The Oblivion came out, then it was down the rabbit-hole that was the World of Darkness.

World of Darkness, in both incarnations ("classic" and what's now called Chronicles of Darkness), was great for the GM who likes to run multiple games because they could all take place in the same universe. That was harder with OWoD, since the cosmologies weren't really designed to mesh, but it didn't get too crazy until Demon: The Fallen by which point I had pretty much stopped running connected games. It was nice, though, if I had a random group of people one night and folks wanted to play but we didn't have a group of characters for those particular players to be able to say "OK, make Mage characters and let's pick a city." And bam, new chronicle, another entry in the binder.

Now I don't run as much WoD, though. I'm not running any CofD games at all (for now, though we'll get back around to Promethean at some point), and I'm just running Changeling: The Dreaming as a playtest for the 20th anniversary edition. Since my priorities have shifted from "be an expert in WoD" to "play lots of different games to broaden my horizons as a designer," I'm running, at present, a Fate Core game (Atomic Robo), a PbtA game (Epyllion, or rather, the Epyllion ashcan, since the main game isn't out yet), a Gumshoe game (Night's Black Agents), and a lighter, beer-n-pretzels game (Feng Shui), in addition to Changeling.

Epyllion is nice because it's zero-prep. I wing it every session, and that's the way PbtA games work. But the rest of the games require varying degrees of prep. Feng Shui is simple enough in play, but it's got a lot of backstory and since it relies on combat, I have to have opponents statted. Night's Black Agents is Gumshoe, which is a heavy-prep game (though this particular game has been going long enough that I can wing it a little) because you have to know what clues are around for the PCs to find. Changeling, sadly, is more prep than I'd like. It used to be that I knew WoD so well that I could whip up stats off the top of my head, but even if we weren't doing a playtest with some revised rules, it's been so long since I ran an OWoD game (that last one was Demon, which wrapped in...jesus, late 2004, by the look of it?) and I largely (and deliberately) put the system out of my head when I started developing/writing for NWoD that it's weird to be running it. Doesn't help that the players, by and large, aren't familiar with it and, I think, would rather be playing it in NWoD/CofD. Atomic Robo is Fate, which means that I know the system, but it has several cool little subsystems I need to get familiar with.

And all of this is on top of the fact that the groups are very different. Atomic Robo is perfectly able to improvise and buy in with no trouble. Feng Shui has a bit more trouble with that. Night's Black Agents is finding their feet in the game, but it's taken three years and some switches in players and characters. And so on.

Time was that I had no trouble keeping up with game prep, but then again, time was that I a) had more energy and b) had more time, somehow. My day job used to afford me occasional opportunities to work on not-work, but it's gotten more intense this year, and it's sapping my energy. I'm getting older, too, which doesn't help, and then there's the freelance work.

What I am saying? I think what I need to do is set aside a day a month, to do some extensive game prep for what I'm running. One day may actually not be enough, but I have a day today (yesterday, really, but I was sick yesterday which totally pissed me off, and led to me taking today off work). In the interest of not making this post any longer, and in making it easier for players of the respective games to avoid the posts in question, I'm gonna make separate posts for each of the games (less Epyllion, because again, no prep).

First up, since I'm running it today: Changeling.