Last night it was game time again as my players dived further into the Thousand Fangs Below module produced by Paizo for the Pathfinder adventure path the Serpents Skull. As I was doing my preparation yesterday morning at work I decided that this post would follow the process I go through to prepare for a preprinted module such as this. I realise each GM (Game Master) has their own style of preparation, but if you are new to RPG’s (Role Playing Games) it can help to see how others do it, and if you have been doing it for years then it doesn’t hurt to have a look for other perspectives.
Preprinted modules have been around almost since the first RPG went to print. It is all well and good to give a toolbox over to a GM to create their own environments but that takes a lot of time and effort to build your own campaign and world. So preprinted modules came into effect to ease the burden of the GM. They can be used as written with existing characters or characters supplied for the game itself. Or they can be used by a GM to weave into his own campaign world if the adventure suits, or if he wants a subplot to emerge. I have used modules in both ways, and I have also used modules that vary greatly from the level of the group by heavily modifying them (e.g. I once used a Dungeon magazine module suited for 13th level characters on a group with average 8th level). So there is flexibility in the way you can use these modules.
I am currently running a Paizo “Adventure Path“, namely the “Serpent’s Skull” saga. This is a series of six preprinted modules that tell a story designed to carry adventurers from first level through to around 17th level for this particular path (it varies what level it takes you to based on the path). I chose to go down this path as I wanted a break from designing my own world adventures as I was getting a little “burnt out” and I also wanted to take a group from 1st level to the dizzying heights of 17th level. I have never had such a complete package experience before. Most games I had run or played in started as high level characters or started at low level and petered out around 9th level. I was also considering designing a “complete package” campaign myself and I wanted to see what sort of material they contained so having only recently started with Pathfinder and seeing some of their advertising for their Adventure Paths I decided to give one a go. How did I choose Serpent’s Skull as the game for me? I went to my RPG supplier Milsims Games and Serpent’s Skull was the only adventure path they had all six books for at the time!
|Make sure you have the tools you need.|
So, yesterday I started to prepare for last nights game which promised to be a big challenging night as the players are truly in the “end game” mode of this module. The first thing that you must do with a preprinted module is make sure you have the tools that you need. The Serpent’s Skull adventure path release (They print a module a month over a six month period) saw the introduction of the Advanced Players Guide and the Bestiary 2. This means as you progress through the modules the designers are beginning to introduce new material from these books. So basically to make sure you have a handle on the rules as presented you need to make sure you have the right books OR are prepared to modify the content of the module to sort through the rules you need. Now, I love my books, as evidenced by the photo of my collection here, but I rarely use them in the physical format. The reason being is there are other solutions that make searching through books seem so 1999. That is Apps! I bought an iPad because I downloaded some Pathfinder Apps onto my wifes iPad and found that I no longer needed to waste time flicking through core rulebooks to find rules, I could use an app! My wife got sick of me taking her iPad so I got my own and it is the only thing I need to take to the game (all the books I have live where the game is played but I rarely use them).
Paizo have made their core ruleset available on the internet through the Pathfinder Reference Document which means you can access the ruleset via webpage if you have an internet connection. The PFR App that I use takes this one step further by providing a handy front end to this material in app form that means all the material is available offline as well. Genius! I applaud you sir app creator Thomas Drevon who does the iPad version. You have made my gaming life so much easier. As a group we also use the iCrit and iFumble apps which are essentially the electronic version of the card decks produced by Paizo that add nice flavour to combats.
So, with all my rules in hand, dice in place I grab the module and the first thing I do is not an in depth review of the area that the players are likely to take on but I do a light skim and get out my miniature box. If you use miniatures it can be really distracting from the game if you spend 5 minutes trying to find the miniatures that you need for a particular encounter. In a perfect nights preparation I already have all the possible miniatures ready for the encounters I think are likely to occur behind my GM screen. Admittedly, players can be unpredictable and so sometimes you just have to go hunting for the miniatures in the middle of the game but if you have most of them out already you may only need to do it once in the game, rather than every encounter. Also, if you spend a couple of minutes looking for a miniature you know you have but cannot find, just swap in a different miniature of the same dimensions rather than pushing to find the exact one. The game will continue as well with the representative miniature, even if that perfect flavour is lost.
|If you use miniatures go through the module and get out
the possible miniatures you will need for the night
Once you have the miniatures for the level have another skim through the section and see if there is anything in it that you could recreate as a prop to add some style to the adventure. Or if not a prop, are there areas in the game where you could use mood music or lighting to enhance the effect. I do not really do the mood music or lighting all that much because the space we play in does not allow for it hugely, but if there is a chance of a prop I am all for it. There are cheap and easy ways to make “old” scrolls and letters from plain paper, or a little more expensive you can buy themed letters. Choose a “handwritten” font on your computer and print it out or buy a nib pen and a pot of ink and hand write them yourself. If it is in an obscure language and only one or two characters are going to be able to read it, use a nonsensical font like webdings and print two copies! Props are something that in my opinion the players treasure. As they go through countless character sheets you will always see them thumb through the props from games ages ago.
It is around about this time that you should start to consider drawing any maps or getting together scenery for your encounters if you are going to use them. I have a Paizo produced blank flip mat that I draw most of my maps on with a whiteboard marker. Rub it off for a new map, or flip the sheet over. This allows me to pre-draw two or more maps prior to the game of encounter areas that the players are likely to meet. We have a big table that we can expand large battles on that is dedicated to the miniature aspect of the game with a separate table for the GM and the players to inhabit with their sheets and dice. Drawing maps precisely as presented in the modules can take time and so I have learnt over time to have a look at a map, but not to follow it to the letter. Draw it freehand as close as you can but don’t worry too much if your scale is marginally out. The players won’t know and unless the environment is hugely important the people that wrote the module aren’t likely to send out the police to bring you back in line either!
|Read the module and familiarise yourself with the areas the
players are likely to encounter for the night. Make the notes
that you will need to keep the game flowing
At this stage you have made sure your rules are at hand, you have your miniatures and possibly some props done. Maybe a few of the maps are under control and you have the scary music queued up on the iPod or similar. The last thing to do is a thorough read through of the areas you think will be encountered in the game. Be familiar with these encounters. Research the protagonists so you know their feats and abilities. Look at the maps and see what strategies will work for them and see them in the context of the overall plot. How will you portray them? Also, it is at this point that you will want to make notes in whatever you use to run the game about any changes you need. A preprinted module are great but they cannot plan for every eventuality. My Serpent’s Skull adventure began with a Cavalier and an Alchemist, two classes that did not yet exist when the modules were released so I need to think about their characters and how to accommodate them in the overall campaign. Also, sometimes the sequence of events does not run exactly as planned so you need to make alterations to the story, or build little side adventures in the direction the players want to go. Do not railroad your players into playing a game that allows for no liberty on their part or you will have unhappy players.
Once all this is done you should be ready to play. You familiarise yourself with the adventure last so it is fresh in your mind. No matter how many times you have read the module you will miss stuff if it is not fresh in your mind. Also don’t stress about making mistakes, just own up to them, rewind and do what you need to do. You are the GM, not a perfect storyteller and the players will allow you the room to grow as much as you need to allow them the room to grow with their character.
Writing this blog has fired my synapses in multiple different directions which has given me fruit for future posts which should keep me going for a while yet on help for GMing. But aside from that help this blog has also developed into a blog about myself, the players and their characters journeys. For that reason there will be a separate post this week on last nights game! It will be released in the next day or so. The reason being the game last night was fantastic and while I was writing this post I had one of the players arrive and tell me how disappointed he was that my blog was not up yet! I told him that I wasn’t even writing about the game last night and it was as if I had told him his puppy had been run over. And it was a newsworthy night that finished at midnight in the middle of a battle with everyone wanting to do the next round but knowing we had to go to work/school the next day. So look out for that post in a day or so!
Anything to say about the post please do! Make comments and give your advice on how you prepare your games. After all it is not my way or the highway, there are a multitude of different ways to prepare your games and I’d like to hear them too!