I'm honestly not sure how much prep I do for a game. I almost never play online campaigns and with the community I play with (mostly semi-strangers or acquaintances in a lot of the games) asking about the prep or even questioning the GM is looked down upon, so I could be overpreparing or underpreparing.
Most of the time however, I'll prepare the local area map with the several villages or equivalent the party might go to, with things like a few important places per area and important figures with a name and a (albiet cliche for most NPCs) personality and some situations to either act as a side story or a hook for quests
I'll make a quick list of any loot that might be found during the next session and, if I have time or the inclination, one or two other ways a certain problem might be resolved.
For a 4 hour session I'll probably do something like 1 hour of prep and have a decent think about anything that might come up.
My first one I planned tons, characters, lines for said characters, everything. Needless to say, come the actual session I railroaded horribly and my players weren't happy.
Session two I planned a end to the mini-plotline where we left off last session and made a few scenarios and NPCs. It was OK, players certainly had more agency, but we had to cut it short (which was good, I was running out of material) and i was still a bit rigid with my plans.
Session 3, last Sunday, I walked in completely blind with some stats made up (statblock? Is that the right word?) and winged EVERYTHING. Best session yet, all my players loved it, we went 2 hours over time and didn't stop because of how much fun it was.
moral of the story, turns out I have +8 to bluff and improvisation.
I alternate between world building and minimal session prep. Lots of improv in-session. It's a style I've gravitated to from 3ish years of GMing, I'm sure it'll keep changing.
The world building is narrow focused, never bother coming up with anything if I don't think it'll come up at the table. Do NPCs and factions mostly, with what they're doing and why, so I can easily improv what they do to react to PCs' actions. I try to interweave player contributions as much as possible into this stuff, backstory, stuff mentioned offhand, occassionally I'll write down "Adam's character should know about X, let's ask what X looks like when the party comes up to it". Pausing a session for collab-world building is fun as fuck.
For actual session prep I look at the above and find whatever factions or NPCs the PCs are likely to be interacting with that session and come up with a variety of events or reports or plothooks to get the PCs interested in going and doing something about it. If the PCs go and do their own thing that's cool too, I prefer for the world to react to the PCs rather than vice versa.
Always have a list of names\traits\professions for quick random NPCs, play rules-light systems so winging stats and abilities is easy. If there's a big inevitable battle I might prepare some special abilities or something but that's it.
Lots of worldbuilding, but I don't plan more than an encounter or dungeon in advance. Always end my session asking what the PC's want to do next session so I know what to prep. End the session with the PCs traveling to a dungeon, design the dungeon before the next session.
I tried to prep stuff, but my party shat all over it. Then I winged it, and the party was a bit more detailed in their shitting all over it. I wrote lines, and responses for a minor intended-to-be-recurring villain, and they shot him from a distance, without hesitation. I put shit in front of them, and they backtrack and walk around it.
>>44575077 I'll make a macro-scale setting first, like a whole continent or something, really loosely, then zoom in on the area the PCs will be in and flesh that out to the point of the local factions and important NPCs, then just throw the players in and see what happens. Occasionally if we're playing DnD or similar i'll do custom monsters, but beyond that I don't find it worth it.
First of all, write down your PC's essential fluff points. friends, allies, enemies, goals, allegiances, membership in organizations. Stuff you can use to hook them in.
Then, write down what you know of the PLAYERS. there's the guy who wants to be cool and awesome, the one who wants to be in charge, the one who doesn't want to be in charge, the one who wants to fight bad guys, the one who wants a waifu or husbando, etc. Use these player goals, combined with the fluff of their PC, to drive them.
Then, figure out the world. What is going on? what are the bad guys doing? etc.
Never plan stuff like "then the PCs do X.". they will NEVER do that. Instead, plan what happens around them, and let them react to it.
All your writing should be helpful but vague. Never write yourself in a corner. Leave yourself room for improvisation.
An excellent example of this is the old adventure module B2 Keep on the Borderlands. It's more detailed than what a random GM's notes would be of course, but it's an amazing writeup, if a bit oldschooly.
>>44575077 I tend to have some idea f what I want to do in my mind for different things ans just wing it. Last time I ran a simple portal puzzle which the players didn't feel like doing so they decided to just keep running until they ended up at the end. Also some odd illusion business where I surprised them with a fake endless fall as the illusionist appeared. I think they liked the fight on the top of her tower as I endlessly doubled the enemy spawns to create a threat while they would disable it by removing a staff hidden in the spire. All made up on the spot, pretty much. And a puzzle about running over a straight line of tiles or they take damage that no one got at all, I had fun with that one.
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