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View Full Version : As a GM, the more tools I use to save time, the more time I take preparing



AstralFire
2015-05-16, 10:24 AM
The emphasis becomes more and more on smoother gameplay, more immersive maps, better artwork, good audio control. It's fun but so time-consuming.

Take Roll20. Feels like it's just powerful enough and just enough of a pain that I'm spending more time than ever doing prep work.

Our system is so heavily houseruled that this week we had to make our own mechanical character sheets so people could actually rely on them to get things done.

We started out and I was fine enough with people just dragging square tokens into the map as long as they were actually square. Now we process every headshot and token through a template and it adds up time. Throw in dynamic lighting settings, dynamic bars, etc. which I set-up in advance for my co-GMs and man, it eats up a lot of time. I spent two days making most of these (http://i.imgur.com/y1B7M2v.png):

And now we're at the point that the entire tone from the game has gotten so hammy and multimedia we have anime-style cut-in attacks when people use hero points. They take a lot of time to develop, but it's rewarding to see it in play.

http://i.imgur.com/KZOmBPb.gif.
http://i.imgur.com/pxim3Gx.gif.

Then add in extra work like writing up detailed step-by-step guides to what I do so the other two GMs I'm mentoring get used to doing more of it themselves, it starts to really feel like a second job, albeit one I love.

Not really a complaint thread, I just felt like talking about it. Anyone else in my boat?

Kami2awa
2015-05-16, 05:55 PM
Firstly, great commendations on all that effort! Your players are fortunate to have a GM that puts in that much work. Have you considered doing this professionally?

Secondly, if you are finding this is slowing the game down much of it really isn't necessary to do all that in order to play. Try scaling it back for a few games, or maybe even play face-to-face without roll20 if you can possibly get together.

AstralFire
2015-05-16, 07:18 PM
Thank you, haha. I feel it's actually sped up the games immensely and has had a positive feedback loop; the faster the sessions go, the more interest from the players, the more I need to do next session. (It is a very big party -- hence two co-DMs.) I don't even know how I would go about doing this professionally, as I'm not as strong a player face-to-face as I am digitally. The bigger issue is that it demands so much time in advance.

Jay R
2015-05-17, 10:35 AM
You are making a common mistake in considering these tools. They are not intended to save time. They are intended to improve the experience, and to save time at the gaming table, by moving much of the work to an earlier time, when others aren't there.

For instance, rolling NPC stats takes just as much time whether done at the table or in advance. But if you roll them in advance, then the players aren't sitting there bored when you do it.

Consider most of these tools as ways to do much of the work in advance, and make the game more fun.

Prep work is extremely valuable, but if you expect it to save you time then
a. you will be disappoint, since it doesn't, and
b. you will not notice the value it does bring.

AstralFire
2015-05-17, 12:29 PM
You are making a common mistake in considering these tools. They are not intended to save time. They are intended to improve the experience, and to save time at the gaming table, by moving much of the work to an earlier time, when others aren't there.

For instance, rolling NPC stats takes just as much time whether done at the table or in advance. But if you roll them in advance, then the players aren't sitting there bored when you do it.

Consider most of these tools as ways to do much of the work in advance, and make the game more fun.

Prep work is extremely valuable, but if you expect it to save you time then
a. you will be disappoint, since it doesn't, and
b. you will not notice the value it does bring.

I mean... yeah? That's pretty much what this post was about? Like I said, I wasn't complaining, I just sort of wanted to talk about how crazy over-the-top my prep time has gotten.Though I will be glad when I've got enough done -- I've been on my high tech kick for a year -- that we finally have a big enough library the prep work is a little lower, I just wanted to ... share stories about it?

Yora
2015-05-17, 12:36 PM
The only games I still feel like running are Barbarians of Lemuria and various B/X clones. Because all the "help" other games keep adding to make playing easier and more realistic really do just the opposite of that. To me, the best games for roleplaying are those with the least rules and options. The more rules and material you have, the more work and time it takes. The only way I see to really get less work and preparation time is to have less rules.

goto124
2015-05-17, 08:23 PM
@Jar-R: Useful advice for newer GMs nevertheless, thanks :smallsmile: [/sincere]

Jay R
2015-05-17, 09:17 PM
I mean... yeah? That's pretty much what this post was about? Like I said, I wasn't complaining, I just sort of wanted to talk about how crazy over-the-top my prep time has gotten.Though I will be glad when I've got enough done -- I've been on my high tech kick for a year -- that we finally have a big enough library the prep work is a little lower, I just wanted to ... share stories about it?

Oh, agreed. I guess I left out a crucial step.

You can have a four hour game, that involved two hours of tableside DM prep and two hours of play, or you can have four hours of DM prep alone and a four hour game. The second alternative is more total time spent by the DM, but was the equivalent of two sessions of the first game.

I'd much rather spend lots of time on my schedule prepping the game, and then spend all playtime playing. My players have better, faster games, and I don't have anyone pressuring me to hurry when I prep.

Of course, I have the luxury of time. I'm out of work. (Well, I'm a consultant, but that still means I'm not working more than I'm working.) It really means I get more total time DMing, and half of it is on my own schedule.

It's an improvement for me - because I enjoy prepping the game, and I have the time to do so.

Angelmaker
2015-05-18, 04:17 AM
Having recently discovered roll20 myself, I woukd rather be interested in a few of your tutorials for your co dms, like maybe a tutorial on integrating those animations maybe?

Your work really looks brilliant. That token page man! Nice.

Having said that: with the amount of time it takes you to orepare things: how do you deal with sessions that don't run smoothly according to your plan? What if your players go left instead of right? How do you improvise?

For example: it took me 3 hours to cook up a detailed plan of a temple ( pillars, jars, windows, wall paintings, temple gardens, statues, etc. ) without any tokens yet, just the map. So creating a map on the fly isnt really an option. What are your contingencies?

Sacrieur
2015-05-18, 04:23 AM
You have no idea. I spend at least 20-30 hours a week on DM'ing when I have a session later that week. It's pretty much always on too. I'll get woken up because players will be texting me questions through Skype.

And don't get me started on Roll20. I mean it's gotten better but as far as I'm concerned there are still one thousand things wrong with it that don't make it any easier to DM. I remember when they added folders to your stuff and I was like, "You guys are proud of this? Come on..." That said I have a number of tools to help me DM. I built an Excel spreadsheet that automatically keeps track of everyone's inventory and weight, XP, HP, etc. I also have custom programs to help.

A word of advice, use portrait tokens for DM PCs, and then use old school RPG stuff for everything else. If you don't mind the anime look you can use danbooru (http://danbooru.donmai.us/) as a way to search for what you need (just make sure to append rating:safe or else it's more like pornbooru, I've also found that a subscription was worth the money). I use NES tilesets to make a battle map, although in a rush I'll just draw everything on the screen with the square drawing tool. Final Fantasy 3 (http://www.spriters-resource.com/nes/ff3/) has some good stuff to use (it's perfectly legal so long as you're not DM'ing for money, fair use policy on copyrighted work). As for a tile editor I've found that Tiled (http://www.mapeditor.org/) is the best thing out there, even if it's incomplete.

I have a collection of NPCs like this:

http://i.imgur.com/I0TJQrT.png http://i.imgur.com/5AHdXaG.png http://i.imgur.com/peGok3S.png

They fit way better into squares are simple and clean to use. As for resizing I know that Roll20 is retarded and uses 70 px instead of 72 or 96 like any sane person would, use nearest neighbor resampling for best results. Try to keep a pixelated NES RPG for simplicity. Remember other people did all the artwork you need so you don't have to.

I also document everything on Mediafire cloud service. I've found it invaluable, especially when I need to make minor edits to some documentation without needing to break links to anything (since you can replace new uploads with old ones).



Having recently discovered roll20 myself, I woukd rather be interested in a few of your tutorials for your co dms, like maybe a tutorial on integrating those animations maybe?

Well the first thing I did with Roll20 was abandon half of their built-in features because they were worthless, slow and unresponsive, and unintuitive. While you can set up Macros and use the API for some fancy crap (if you pay for it), I honestly haven't found any use for it until they improve the system.

Jay R
2015-05-18, 06:41 AM
You have no idea. I spend at least 20-30 hours a week on DM'ing when I have a session later that week. It's pretty much always on too. I'll get woken up because players will be texting me questions through Skype.

I suggest that you adopt my rule: all communications except during the game proper will be asynchronous. A player can send a question at any time that is convenient for her; I will think about it and respond at a time that's convenient for me. We only coordinate time for the game.

mephnick
2015-05-18, 06:56 AM
You have no idea. I spend at least 20-30 hours a week on DM'ing when I have a session later that week.

Holy crap. I spend like...1 hour of prep for a live session. Is Roll20 really that unfriendly?

Jay R
2015-05-18, 07:35 AM
Holy crap. I spend like...1 hour of prep for a live session. Is Roll20 really that unfriendly?

It's not just roll20. I don't use it, and I suspect I spend close to 20 hours preparing for a session. Mapping, planning encounters, deciding on NPC characters, reminding myself of the PC backgrounds, rolling up treasures, planning long-term goals for enemies, boning up on rules I don't use often, etc.

How do you do it in an hour? I couldn't come up with just the stats for the encounters in that time.

Sacrieur
2015-05-18, 09:08 AM
I suggest that you adopt my rule: all communications except during the game proper will be asynchronous. A player can send a question at any time that is convenient for her; I will think about it and respond at a time that's convenient for me. We only coordinate time for the game.

I do but I really don't care about getting woken up. Most times I don't reply until I get up and then I go, "I'll respond when I get back from work" or something.



Holy crap. I spend like...1 hour of prep for a live session. Is Roll20 really that unfriendly?

Prep is easier than building the world. I can make it up as I go along pretty well. I spend a lot of time on making custom items and such and I'm working on making my world much more interesting. It's a bit misleading, but I meant to include the ten or so hours I spend actually DM'ing in that figure, so it's actually more like 10-20 hours of prep time spread out throughout the week. Right now the party is in a dungeon that has loads of cool stuff I'm designing that really makes it fun and interesting. But I use open world philosophy so a lot of stuff I make up on the spot, so a lot of the prep work is predictive and 90% of the time I've accurately guessed what the party is going to do.

I basically rewrote how psionics work and death, so that's something too. I write short stories about characters and write summaries for each session in story format as well.

And yes, Roll20 is kind of unfriendly, but I can work with it fairly efficiently. Click click click and I'm done with it more or less. There are just some things that slow you down like how you can't speak in the main chat as a token, forcing me to rename my "NPC14" character to the relevant NPC. I do voice acting for male voices, but I don't often even try to do female ones xD

goto124
2015-05-18, 09:49 AM
How much prepping can be done before you prep so much you attempt railroading the players just to be able to use your prepared work?

Jay R
2015-05-18, 11:35 AM
How much prepping can be done before you prep so much you attempt railroading the players just to be able to use your prepared work?

Exactly backwards. If I prep three encounters, I have to make sure they go in that direction. If I prep thirty encounters, I don't care where they go.

NichG
2015-05-18, 11:53 AM
I spend basically zero time on session prep, but a significant time on downtimes/rules adjustments/new mechanics/etc. I had one week where based on stuff in game, I basically had to make the equivalent of 49 feats for the next week's game, and it was just way too much to do alone. So I ended up bringing the players into it more and gave each of them 7 to do. Now for the last two sessions we're trying a thing where my players DM side-quest stuff for each-other during the week, which has worked out really well so far and reduced a lot of the incidental load.

But actual prep time for session? Basically zero, or about a half-hour thinking about stuff on a good week.

I make some use of player discussion time to do forward planning during the session. Usually there will be a few points where I can rely on the players taking 30 minutes OOC to resolve things or decide what to do next, and its better for me not to be a part of that discussion anyhow, so it gives me a bit of time to flesh out things responsively based on whatever they're proposing to do.

Maglubiyet
2015-05-18, 01:28 PM
When I was a kid, back when this would be noteworthy, my dad's office got its first computer. He showed it to me and told me how it could do x, y, and z. I was like, "that's great, it can do all your work for you!"

He shook his head and said, "That's what people think, but a computer makes you do MORE work, not less." Much later, I decided that the caveat to that is that you can get more done in the same amount of time -- the quality and/or volume is greater than without the tools.

So, while you're spending more time in preparation, you are achieving more than you could using pencil and paper. And most importantly, you are making the rest of us look bad, you overachiever! :tongue:

valadil
2015-05-18, 01:46 PM
That's not GMing. That's writing a video game. I commend your effort and if I didn't have to work for a living, I'd love to run stuff like that.

Actually what you're doing kind of reminds me of my job. I work on a website in a 10ish person team. An engineer is required to do a certain amount of coding. As you move up to senior or principal engineer, the code work stays the same surprisingly. Instead there are other meetings and responsibilities that get piled on. What was once 40 hours of coding becomes 20. Instead of doing 20 more hours of coding, you get 20 hours of auxiliary stuff. I think that's where you are with your GMing. You've gotten competent at the basics and you've moved on to the special effects that aren't really part of the core game.