Thursday, 18 August 2016

Chunkify Your DM'ing

Here's an interesting thing. Turns out that DM'ing in blocks of a few sessions before temporarily handing over to someone else is REALLY GOOD. It's not something I've done before. As a serial over-prepper, it's been an eye-opener.

I can prep around the schedule

In theory our schedule is four weeks on, four weeks off, but RL and finding a natural place to stop does mess with it. Say four weeks minimum. That's four sessions of around three hours each. 12 hours of D&D, which for me that means about 9-12 hours of prep. You kind of want your chunk to finish at a natural stopping point, so in order to achieve that, you start planning little self-contained episodic mini-seasons. You know your starting point, and you know where you want to put the end-of-season cliffhanger. All that remains is prepping sufficient material to achieve those goals.

A beautiful sight
For the Out of the Abyss campaign I'm running, we've played season 1 ("Flight from the Drow"), terminating just after the destruction of Sloobludop by [redacted], season 2 ("Across the Darklake"), and we're three sessions into season 3 ("Gracklstugh: A Terrible Place For A Holiday And Also Why Would Anyone Want to Live There?"). Season 3 will potentially be a long one, because there is so much going on in Grackl.

There's always an end in sight

When I first joined my current group, I was very reluctant to commit to running a weekly campaign. Why? Because I know me. I'm an over- prepper. I admit it. I embrace it. The more of a session I have to wing, the more stressed I get in the hours leading up to it. I'm only comfortable knowing that I have not just enough but more than enough material, that whatever the PC's encounter, I've thought it through, designed it, statted it out, and done everything I can do to dispense maximum quality D&D. I'll happily improvise when needed, but I'm at my best when the ground-work is done.

For me, an open-ended weekly campaign is equal parts agony and ecstasy. It was during the "Cradle Plain" campaign, journals for which can be found elsewhere on the blog, that I discovered this. What started as a simple execution of the intro 4E modules (Keep on the Shadowfell et-al) rapidly evolved into 100% homebrew and a constant state of RPG stress for three years. RPG stress is not necessarily bad stress, and the payoff was amazing, but I had to accept that I couldn't do it forever. As it happens, changes in RL caused the campaign to end anyway, but lessons were learned.

On a chunked rotation, this problem simply goes away. Four sessions! That's all I really have to worry about. I can prep four sessions, right? Piece of cake! Then a month off! I get the immense pleasure of running an ongoing campaign with just a fraction of the stress, and on top of that I get to play D&D as much as I'm running D&D.

Of course you never really stop prepping, and the campaign as a whole needs attention and planning outside of the four-week structure. But, freed from the pressure of being ready to rock and roll every single week until some unknowable day in the future, prep at all levels again becomes a relaxed pleasure, and reminds me why I fell in love with being a DM in the first place. Which leads me to...

Head-space for many things

I run a lot of D&D with varying schedules. The chunked weekly Out of the Abyss campaign I'm talking about here; an online Princes of the Apocalypse campaign which runs every four or five weeks, and a tabletop Dragonlance hombrew with my old school chums once every couple of months.

On the face of it this is kind of insane (although I think I mean awesome), and I would never be able to do it if I was running weekly with no end in sight. I run all these games for many reasons, some of which have more to do with keeping in contact with old friends than anything else, but I also want the golden chalice: a weekly game. Chunkifying is the only solution.

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