First-time GM? How to prep an adventure

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So you’re going to be the GM.

Whether you’re a longtime player who is finally making the jump to running games for your group or a new gamer who simply wants to run the show, welcome to the club. 

Somebody needs to run your RPG, and that somebody is you. 

For starters: You got this. You’re going to be fine. As intimidating as it may seem to run a game, it’s not that hard.

But if it’s your first time, we have some advice culled from our years of experience running our own games.

Decide how you’re going to play the game. You could play in person. You could do it online. You could play by post or text. There are a multitude of ways to run your game. Do what’s best for you and your group. Whatever you choose, it will dictate how you’re going to prep.

Read through the entire adventure. Once you’ve decided on what to run, give the thing a gander. Reading the adventure gives you a sense of all the plot developments, NPCs, monsters and locations. Maybe it’s not practical to read every page of a long hardcover module, but do your best to at least give each section a thorough exploration. It’ll help you get a sense of how things will progress.

What’s going to happen first? And then what will happen after that. Unless you’re running a marathon session, you’ll probably only get through one or two portions of an adventure. That’s all you need to prep for that session. Don’t get overwhelmed trying to plan for an entire huge module.

Have a contingency. Players are notorious for running things right off the rails. Have an idea (maybe even an extra encounter) in case things don’t go as planned. 

Take notes. While you’re reading and flipping through the pages, go ahead and write down ideas or an outline or anything you’ll want to remember come game time. Remember, your notes are just for you. Nobody else will see them, so it’s totally cool to write down a step-by-step plan or even specific dialog for an NPC. Do whatever you need to make sure you remember key details.

Make copies. You can certainly bookmark pages in the Monster Manual or your adventure, but it can be helpful to make photocopies of the pages you need. Then you can have the pertinent information right in front of you. Plus, you won’t have to worry about ruining your book by writing notes in the margins or highlighting passages.

Gather your accessories. If you’re running a physical table with maps and miniatures, make sure you pull all the pieces you might need. If you’re running an adventure from a PDF, make sure your tablet is charged up. If you’re playing a virtual tabletop, get your maps and tokens ready. Have your dice, pens, cards, trackers, tokens and a pencil and paper handy. 

Prep as much as you feel comfortable prepping. If you want every detail just right, spend some time getting that ready. If you’re up for improvising a lot, maybe you don’t need to do so much. If you’re way into miniatures, gather all the ones you think you’ll need. Just do what feels best for you.

Take a deep breath. Relax. You can do this. It’s easier than it looks. Just let loose and have a good time!

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