Do you have a question for The Angry GM! Well, because people can’t get it right, I had to set up a separate page with instructions. About how to send a f$&%ing e-mail. Ready How to Ask Angry to learn how to submit a question.
Chris, Man Without Time Asks:
Please impart wisdom on preparing to run prepublished adventures. How do you prepare? What do you recommend fairly new DMs do to prepare? … I’m a busy person and I often can’t prepare an adventure for weeks at a time, so I’m getting ready to stay running Princes of the Apocalypse.
Well, holy mother of f$&%, a solid attribution. Name, link to personal tumblr, clever little descriptive clause. Nothing strange and nothing that makes me feel dirty just for typing it. Chris, you win the prize for the being the least worst person ever to Ask Angry Anything!
All right, let me piss off the D&D fans by saying this: the latest batch of D&D modules are horrible for anyone who doesn’t want to waste huge chunks of time on prep. They are LOADED with highly detailed walls of text and give you very little you need to actually just run the game at the table. I understand what they are TRYING to do and I want to applaud it. But I can’t. One time, I had to move a couch up a flight of stairs. So I asked a friend to help. He came over in the morning and dropped of a set of those furniture moving slidey pad things and then left. That’s what WotC is doing with the D&D 5E line of modules. I’m running the latest season on of Encounters at Dice Dojo South here in Chicago (Rage of Demons: Out of the Abyss) and holy f$&% do they simultaneously give you way too much and not nearly enough to actually pull off a game.
So, how do you prep for a published adventure? Especially one that’s a hideous mess?
Part of it depends on context. Where and for whom are you running this game. It’s a lot easier to do this for a one shot or at a convention. But since you’re using Princes of the Acropolis, I assume you’re looking to run this as a long running arc or campaign. Because that’s what the Module Formerly Known as Prince is.
Okay, so let me spell this out more generally. A big module or adventure is generally divided into a series of chapters or adventures or sessions or something. It’s broken down into chunks. You need to read the whole thing before you can start running it, but not the WHOLE thing. Basically, you need to read the beginning of the book where it explains what happens in the adventure and where it’s going. The backstory and the plot bits. There’s no way around this. Then, you need to read the introduction to each chapter of the adventure. The bits where it explains what happens in this chapter. That way, you have a general sense of where the story is going.
You should have some scrap paper handy so you can make some notes. You need to know things like who the big characters are that keep coming up in the story. And the names of the major locations. Things like that. You need to know what we call “the story beats.” The big ones. Because they kind of have to go as planned. And that’s really what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the things that follow the thread of the adventure.
Once you’ve picked that s$&% out, nothing else in the adventure needs to go right. As long as the adventure follows the general course, the little details are not that important. Minor NPCs can be anything. Combat encounters can be skipped or missed or neutralized. The individual bits of the adventure don’t matter. Which is good because that saves you a lot of energy.
See, before each session, you’ve got to review the chapter or segment that you’re doing. And again, you’ve got the get story bits for that chapter down. You’ve got to know what’s going to happen in that session. It doesn’t have to be plotted out like a flowchart. It’s just a general sense of “the PCs will have to enter the fortress, deal with the guards, find the secret vault, and deal with the big bad.” You need to know what things are going to happen to bring that chapter to a close. So you read the whole chapter and make notes about the vital bits.
Now, as for prepping to run the game, here’s where things get tricky. Different modules and different companies give you different mixes of information necessary to run the game. That is, the stuff you need to refer to at the game table to pull stuff off. We’re talking stat blocks for monsters and villains. We’re talking difficulty numbers for particular actions. We’re talking corner case rules for things like drowning or suffocation or lava. We’re talking spells and traps and magic items. When it comes to presenting actually information that is useful for running the game at the table, Wizards of the Coast right now is absolute s$&%. I’m pretty sure these games are being published by someone who has never run a game at the table. It’s inexcusable really.
As you read through the chapter you’re preparing to run, make note of the things you need to know at the table. Make note of the stat blocks that aren’t in the book. Make note of the magic items. Pay attention to weird rules. Once you’ve done your read through, prepping is a matter of gathering that s$&%. Take your Monster Manual down to Staples and photocopy that s$%&. Photocopy the magic items too and cut them out and you can just hand your PCs cards. Reread the weird, corner case rules. Make a reference sheet of difficulty numbers. Whatever.
Once you start running the game, don’t worry too much about running it by the book. As long as you hit the story beats you already highlighted, it’ll go fine. If you forget a detail, it’s not important. If you skip an encounter, it’s not a problem. You’re just trying to fit your game to the general shape of the adventure. That’s all.
So, have fun with the module formerly known as Prince, there, Chris. Good luck.