A campaign killer is falling behind on planning and preparation, especially once a campaign starts. You soon lag and feel unready to GM. Then stress builds, fun flees and sessions get cancelled.
This post is inspired by tips on beating procrastination over at RPG Atheneum. Alric discusses four procrastination motivators and a few tips to overcome putting things off.
I’d like to build on those tips with some additional techniques I’ve used to overcome putting off campaign planning, preparation and maintenance. While I don’t get into specific methods of campaign prep here, as there are ways to plan less so you can play more, I will provide great methods to keep planning momentum going so you feel confident about GMing.
Short bursts regularly
Make your planning sessions short. Having to carve out multi-hour planning periods is nigh impossible in busy schedules. Short sessions can be squeezed into your life much easier.
If you are not in the mood for campaign prep, having a lengthy planning session ahead of you adds even more pain and makes it less likely you’ll start. You will always be able to find a reason to not do your GM planning. Something can always be prioritized higher, be made more urgent, or seem more interesting. That will never change. This is true for any activity you procrastinate on.
Instead, short bursts can often get you to your computer or notebook or binder to do a little planning. Some authors say the most difficult part of writing is geting the courage to begin each writting session. Once they start, things go well. But the build-up, anticipation and growing dread causes them to skip many hours of productive writing even though they always enjoy the act of writing whenever they get through the start-up barrier.
Prepping in short bursts is effective because it increases your chances of starting. Once you start and get into the flow, you’ll find short sessions sometimes become long ones – at your option. The key is doing whatever you can to just start the activity.
Be like snow
Watching it snow one day as a child I could not understand how one fine snow flake could shut a whole city down. A flake is so small, it melts in your hand in an instant, it’s so light you can’t feel it. Yet, once it starts snowing, you can do something for awhile and then look outside and see how the ground is covered and the snow is piling up.
The key I realized that day was consistence and persistence. Even though there was so much space between the flakes, and flakes seemed to be falling in slow motion, the snow kept coming. Seconds became minutes, minutes became hours, and unrelenting snowfall built up into a half foot of the stuff. Amazing.
When it comes to campaign planning and maintenance, be like snow. Put in consistent and persistent effort. Plan daily. Plan in short bursts if that works for you, and make those bursts happen every day or at least several times a week.
If you don’t know what to do next, pick anything. Just keep at it. My default when I get lost with the weight of my to do list, or get stuck on what to prioritize, is to make an NPC or short encounter. Even if I don’t get to something with higher priority, I at least got a new game element I can use next session.
Imagine doing a 15 minute planning burst every day. In a week that’s a little under two hours planning accomplished. In a month, that’s about seven hours accomplished. In a year, that’s over 90 hours of campaign prep! Each little 15 minute snow flake eventually builds up into a deep carpet of campaign planning. Err, you know what I mean.
Getting started is a skill
A little secret of the daily short bursts method of beating procrastination is you eventually build up a skill at getting started on the task at hand. You figure out how to sweep aside the tricks your brain plays. You learn to recognize all the excuses and reasons why you manage to avoid the task. You build up muscle when it comes to getting over fear or false feelings of pain.
Getting started is a skill. Start often to learn how to become better at it.
Schedule your time
If you wake up each day not knowing when and if you’ll do some campaign planinng, chances are it won’t happen. You might have a vague idea or desire, but that is part of the reason why it won’t actually get done.
“Ok, tonight after work I’ll get out the books and do some prep.” Then the work day ends and you feel too tired to get into it, so you put it off for a couple hours. Then when that time comes you feel unmotivated. After that, your favourite TV show is on. Before you know it, it’s time for sleep. “I’ll get to it tomorrow night.” Repeat ad infinitum.
Get yourself out of this trap by scheduling exactly when you will do your campaign prep. Perhaps you set aside Saturdays from 10am till noon. Maybe you can get some done every lunch hour. You might have great success by getting some done first thing in the morning.
That last one is my choice. How great is life when you can get up and work on your RPG campaign for awhile? Can’t make it happen? Why?
I solved it by not doing email. The 30 minutes it used to take to check my email each morning was a time sink. Only rarely was some hot issue burning that came to my attention thanks to an email check in the morn. Instead, 99% of the time I’d do a “quick check” that became a half hour or longer email session because I couldn’t resist making a few replies to trivial correspondance or clicking on a link to something interesting (that could have waited until later) that lead to another click and another.
When I get up now, I make a quick skim of my inbox. Emergencies I’ll tackle right away, but they are so rare that I don’t mind the lost planinng time. Everything else waits until I’ve got my D&D campaign planning and other daily routines done.
Prepare for planning
You’ve carved out the time and found the courage and willpower to sit up at the table to do some planning. What now?
First, create a default. If you ever get paralyzed, immediately perform your default planning action. Some examples of great defaults:
- Create an NPC
- Layout a skeleton for an encounter
- Write out notes from last session
- Organize next session – scheduling, notifications and other logistics
- Create a location
- Create an interest reward: a mundane or magical item, or a cool social reward
Still can’t decide? Roll 1d6 at the start of your planning session and refer to the chart above. :)
It’s important to have a planning system in place. How do you prefer to organize your notes and game materials? How do you prefer to take something from an idea stage to session-ready stage? How do you prefer to record all your ideas as they come to you?
Get your planning systems in place first if you find yourself consistently at a loss of what to do and how to do it.
A nice way to end a planning session is to setup your next planning session so you can jump in right away tomorrow. Make a couple notes of what to do next time so you can act immediately.
Those are my ways of beating procrastination. What do you do?