Tuesday, April 12, 2011

J if for Just In Time Planning

Originally, I was going to make this entry a piece of short fiction, but since I’m already running behind this week, I decided to pick another J topic. Maybe I’ll get back to that at another time….

Instead, I think I will take this opportunity to talk about the “just in time” school of D&D planning. I must admit, this is an idea that I only recently came across in my return to gaming. Back in the day, when I used to game much more regularly, I found that I was always engaged in LOTS of preparation ahead of a gaming session. In some respects, I think at times, I put perhaps too MUCH preparation into getting ready for a session… I always wanted the gaming experience to be the best I could make it, and as such, I tended to plan meticulously. Even if it was something as simple as reading and rereading the module I was going to be using, and making copious “author’s additions” to make sure I understood exactly how it fit into my campaign, I did it. The concept of “just in time” preparation seemed completely anathema to me. Part of the whole “gaming process” was the DM prepared… that’s just the way it was.

Did it make for a better campaign? In all honesty, I don’t think so. I can’t recall a single occasion when I said after a session, ”Damn, I’m happy I spent all that time prepping”. (And trust me, the irony that now, as an English teacher, I have never said, “Damn, I’m happy I spent all that time prepping” is not lost on me.) I think part of the whole idea of prepping was the fact that there is some small part of me that fancies that I’m a writer, so the idea of writing copious notes to prepare for a session was much like me “writing” my own module. In a way, it’s kind of funny that I felt the need to explain everything that could possibly happen in minute detail – I mean, after all, I was the guy coming up with all this stuff, wasn’t I? Did I not trust my memory or something?

One of the things I’ve learned from the OSR blogosphere is that, it’s OKAY to wing it. A lot of the campaigns I read about on these pages are very prep-lite. I’m happy I took the opportunity to take part in last year’s One-Page Dungeon Contest, because it got me thinking about how simplicity is its own virtue sometimes. I also appreciate things like Michael Curtis’ STONEHELL DUNGEON, because it follows the same Idea – very minimal initial explanation of the dungeon, and then expanding on the detail afterwards. Even though, I still have trouble at times not “telling a story” with the very descriptions of rooms or encounters in adventures I detail. I think it falls back to the fact that, so often, the campaigns I would run would collapse under the weight of their own expectations after a few sessions, so I started to write all the detail into things, because I would never get the chance to expand this detail in an actual session. However, as I continue to journey deeper and deeper into the blogosphere, and think more and more seriously about trying to get a game restarted, I think I am coming to realize that maybe I should just go description lite. After all, that is a big part of the reason why I chose to start planning using the simple B/X rules… why make things needlessly complicated, when any game I run will likely be populated by newbies who will be learning the game system as we play?

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