The GM is the World

As the game master, its your job to prepare the content for the gaming table. Your players have to be ready with their character sheets, and they must show up on time. But if you don’t have anything prepared, then you probably won’t have a gaming session. I’m going to share a technique with you that I use to narrow my preparation scope. Its player commitment to a specific adventure choice. 
There are plenty of game masters that can wing it for a session or two. Some can improv their entire campaign. Most of us can’t. We need a foundation from which to build off of. As the GM, you need to have the world ready for your players to interact with.
By doing your preparation you will run a better game at the table. That means your players will have a better time. And you will have a better time. You’ll be more confident and less stressed out. We can all agree these are positive outcomes.
But the question is: what do you prepare?

Preparation Approaches

There are a few approaches you can take to preparing material for your game.
  1. Continue an unfinished adventure.
  2. Use an published module/adventure
  3. Original (or inspired) Creation
  4. Begin from the Ending (Player Commitment)

Unfinished Business

Sometimes you have an adventure that spans multiple gaming sessions. In this case, you continue on with what you already had prepared.
You might need to adjust or create new content based on the previous game session. But, you are fairly constrained in your approach here. Constrained in a good way.
Likewise, for if you haven’t finished your preparation for the adventure. Then you continue your preparation to fill in your blanks.

Published Adventures

Sometimes you can adapt or slot in a published adventure or dungeon as content in your game. This is pretty straightforward in theory. In practice, how easy it is to use in your game depends on:
  • The specificity of the module
  • Your worldbuilding
  • Your creativity
That’s nothing to say about if you have to do actual preparation work to make the module playable for the table.

Original Creation

You are probably a GM because you like to create. So that means you likely have adventure ideas floating around inside your head. You can build one of those out into a workable adventure for your party. Its always rewarding to have a successful own creation come to life at the table.
The biggest risk of an own creation, is achieving buy-in from your players. If they have no lead-in prior to your design they might not take the hook. Then what? You’ve created an adventure with no heroes to partake.
Hopefully, your players will bite. Hopefully they recognize the amount of time and energy you put into your adventures. But they may not. Unless you explicitly get them to beforehand.

Begin from the Ending: Player Commitment

When my sessions end, I always ask the players what their characters would like to do next. I have them commit to a plan before we end the session. Then I hold them to that plan.
That way, I know what to prepare. They have verbally agreed to pursue an idea. So I go off and prepare that idea. This has obvious benefits to you as a GM.
  1. You know where to focus your energy
  2. Your players are driving the action through their own choices
  3. You create content your players have interest in
  4. Eliminates the unused preparation risk

Benefits of Player Commitment

As a GM, knowing how to manage your time and work is critical. In most cases, you should be focusing on things that will see play at the table. This method lets you do that.
Secondly, if you want to avoid the railroad, you need to give players choices. Letting them pick their adventure seeds is a good start. After choosing, you are immediately working on interesting content to your players. This is great news because it means you are creating a rewarding campaign for your players. As the arbiter of adventure seeds, you are giving them choices from a menu of ideas that you probably find interesting. So it becomes a rewarding experience for everyone.
Finally, with player commitment you are reducing the risk to your precious preparation time. This is huge. There is nothing worse than making a bunch of unused material. Sure, you can often recycle that content later on. But I think its better to get it right the first time. Asking your players for their choice at the end of the session will do that.
Art Credit: Ede László