I enjoy running roleplaying games, but I get stressed about it too. Part of this stress is the energy required for me to prepare the game*.
The thing is that I am a high prep GM because of the stories I want to tell – the setting and overall story arc for A New Dawn generates stories pretty quickly, but sewing together the threads which connect those stories takes time. Then I want to have a decent idea of the layouts for the battle scenes, and the stats for the opposition**, and character traits for any NPCs which the players will interact with directly. Without a lot of these details I do not feel ready to operate a game.
Not all GMs are like this. Another GM in our group is much more free-form in his preparation. He has ideas of what should happen, but the settings he uses tend to be looser. I don’t know how much time he spends preparing, but I’m willing to bet it’s less than me. And there are many articles online about improvising roleplaying sessions, or prep-free GMing.
All of these are instructive, but don’t really seem to help me with my story-driven prep. I have the tales to tell, and I have the intertwined narratives that don’t want to be mis-tangled, .
In other words, I am making it difficult for myself because I have specific stories I want to tell when I run a game, and I want those stories to line up.
I think of A New Dawn as being structured like a television show***: an evening’s play is one episode, and the set of episodes in one run as a GM is a season. When a new season starts I spend more time than usual on prep because I am working on the theme for that season and the events to be related. I’m also trying to think of likely hooks at the end of each episode – not so much cliffhangers as bridges from one episode to the next.
So what I am working on right now are the details of the first session’s play. I’ve got the large scale content sorted out, but I’m trying to finalise the specifics of what the characters will see when they are plopped down in the world.
A lot of this is transferable to writing stories – the world building is similar, the story structures can be related to each other. And of course it’s fun.
Telling stories is fun.
[*] the other part is the stress I feel because I am not working on my novel when I am doing this prep, but that’s a separate discussion.
[**] I should be preparing battle tactics for the opposition too, but if anything falls off the end it’s this aspect.
[***] a concept I borrowed from some of the Savage Worlds settings, particularly Slipstream