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Sifu Blackirish November 3rd, 2017 02:01 PM

How prepared do you have to be as a referee?
I use TRAVELLER frequently as an aid to creativity, but it has been years since i have actually been a referee. From an adventure seed found online, I have created a world best described as 'Mercury on steroids' and will be using Across the Bright Face and Mission on Mithril bashed together. My friend does not know it yet, but he will be writing the dialogue and action scenes for the story i am writing about his 'stunt double.'

Now, for some reason, I have never been completely comfortable with just fudging a task roll. DMs don't bother me, but I like having a basic target number in mind. With that in mind, I want to set up things for my one on one session so things are easy on the player, and easy on me as well.

Ideally, all your players should be doing is talking, throwing dice and keeping track of expended ammunition. Also ideally, the referee should be keeping track of the 'big picture,' setting up the next encounter and doing his best to be the man behind the curtain.

So, I am writing a lot of the dialogue now, which is giving me clues as how to simulate things on 'Jigsaw,' a planet the size of Mercury with gravity of a world twice its size. I want to set things up so all I have to do is describe a situation, throw my own dice when necessary, and check off time remaining to the next solar flare. [Things get interesting for our heroes then.]

Am i losing the objective of this entire exercise, that is supposed to be fun, by over preparing?

robject November 3rd, 2017 03:32 PM

Difficult question. I think (THINK) that as long as you have your major story points organized, and you know what your player(s) want out of the session, then you'll do fine.

As far as over-preparation, I think two rules apply. First, the players won't take the route you've planned. Second, if you're creative enough you can move any major obstacles to show up where your players go (instead of being stuck where you planned for them to go).

coliver988 November 3rd, 2017 05:27 PM

This also depends on your players - some may prefer referee nudging to move in the directions you've planned, some will go the opposite direction no matter what. Cue the herding cats video (if you've not seen that - look it up on Youtube or whatever. It's what we do...)

As one who generally over-prepares and then it does not get used, as per Robject, you can always move your side of things around to put that obstacle or whatever someplace they are going.

But for me as a ref, preparing is as much fun often as playing. So the answer also depends on you - if you enjoy prepping a great deal (and it sounds as though you do) then prep away. You can always use what you've done someplace else if it does not show up in your original planned play.

ShawnDriscoll November 3rd, 2017 06:55 PM


Originally Posted by Sifu Blackirish (Post 576499)
Am i losing the objective of this entire exercise, that is supposed to be fun, by over preparing?

I'm told everyday by GMs that fun means different things to every player.

Anyway, my sessions are sandboxes held in a reasonably local area of the players. I don't do adventure modules. Never did. I own maybe three adventure modules, just to look through. Stuff is happening in my sandbox whether the players are encountering it or not. They may never meet the bad guy that's in a town. I won't try to force players to encounter things I've set up. I don't have quantum encounters.

Fovean November 3rd, 2017 09:09 PM

I don't think you can over-prepare, unless you go down a rabbit hole of stuff that is not really germane to the adventure at hand (like maybe the far outer planets in your Jigsaw system for example - unlikely there's a need for extra detail out there since the world Jigsaw is the focus). But your players may never (and most likely won't) follow the route they're supposed to.

Justin Alexander over at The Alexandrian blog has some excellent articles on GM'ing, prep, etc etc.

One of his main ideas is "Don't prep plots, prep scenarios" which I believe is what Shawn is referring to above. Even though you have two pre-written modules you're combining into a single adventure, rather than detailing every single encounter and preparing for Scene 1,2,3,etc, make notes that focus on the main events or most exciting scenes and think of alternate ways to link them together or provide clues or pushes/pulls to move the party from one to another. And they needn't necessarily be chronological. Traveller's old EPIC adventure system used this idea - linked "scenes," which could be played pretty much in any order.

Also you could save yourself some time using tags/traits rather than full write-ups for some characters and locations. Like "Lava Plain: Magma Geyser every 1D hrs; Fissure every 3D hrs; no animal encounters; no protection from solar flares" rather than spending several hours mapping out the entire plain and building encounter tables for it. Sometimes a basic description is enough to allow you to run an encounter.

But ultimately coliver998 is right - if you like detailed prep go ahead and do it. If it doesn't get used for this adventure you can recycle it for the next one. And I wouldn't sweat being a smooth-running machine at the table, especially since it's been a while. Just be organized, know your adventure well... and be prepared for your players to do everything you didn't expect ;)


Pyromancer November 4th, 2017 02:53 PM

I usually overprepare, but for me, preparing is part of the fun.

timerover51 November 4th, 2017 03:11 PM

I would recommend that you prepare for them deciding not to cross the Bright Face, but to go around at the dark-light border.

Ishmael November 4th, 2017 05:31 PM

for solo play, preparation IS the game.

DickNervous November 4th, 2017 06:55 PM

I find that the more detailed my preparations, the father from what I prepare the players end up going. So I tend to keep it somewhat high level, more of an outline. Then there are key story or plot points that will flesh out with more detail.

infojunky November 5th, 2017 05:54 PM

For years, a Notebook with Notes and Ideas, a fist ful of Dice, a pack of index cards and a pencil. Add that to one of the old Digest sized game boxes with rules and a selection of supplements and I was good to go.

GypsyComet November 27th, 2017 11:45 PM

For games (like Traveller) that can go off the rails *very* quickly, I tend to organize resources instead of arranging them, if that makes sense.

If I've laid the plans and clues toward an office building, then I'll have at least a basic map for said building. Maybe a few common ship's plans, some NPCs both specific and generic, rumors appropriate to the area, etc. It's all on hand...

...then the PCs go left instead of right, get a wild hair, and decide to shake down some small business completely off the path.

Well, I still have a collection of generic NPCs, and a map of an office building. It is not their original purpose, and they won't carry the same names, lock the same doors, or have the same motivations, but the players get a map and some people to talk to and/or shoot at.

And I still have the original location, people, and maguffins waiting if they decide, some sessions later, that those clues are finally interesting enough to pursue. Layer this enough times for enough different *anticipated* places and situations, and you have what you need on the table for nearly anything the players decide to do.

So what if your grungy crew of cargo slingers decide to start something completely against type? Odds are you can still trap them in that same office building while the zombie apocalypse happens outside, rescue those generic NPCs from the explosion at the port, or explore the wrecked ship out on Pad 666...


The same line of thought applies to published adventures. While I *might* run the CT adventure "Divine Intervention" as written (for example), I'm somewhat more likely to use the map, the politics, and the named NPCs in the routine race to keep up with crazy PCs.

dmccoy1693 November 28th, 2017 03:40 PM

The last few sessions of Traveller I ran were off the cuff. Granted they were one shots and I let the players make their characters. So I made up something based on their characters on the spot. NPCs get a +2 to their roll if they are supposed to be competent at it, +0 if it makes sense they'd have exposure to it, and -3 for everything else. Major NPCs can take 16 damage before they go down and nameless NPCs get 8-10.

I mean, seriously, I GM a D&D 5e game for my 12 year old nieces and nephew and even for them, I have to make it up on the spot because even they do stuff I didn't see coming. No matter how much I prep, it frequently goes out the window fast.

So yea, I've given up on major prep. I'll make a few notes, mark the location of some stats I want to use, maybe even make a prop for the start of the adventure, but I don't spend more than a half hour. Mind you, I'll spend hours upon hours reading a supplement. This way I'll have it in my head when I send the players there. But the reading isn't prep. It is for my own personal enjoyment.

robject November 28th, 2017 03:45 PM


Originally Posted by GypsyComet (Post 577648)
... explore the wrecked ship out on Pad 666...

I WANT to see that scenario (as long as it isn't the Event Horizon).

robject November 28th, 2017 04:22 PM

So the Alexandrian's posts are really very helpful to me. The advice I get from him and Robin Laws are:

(1) Find out what your players want out of a game -- what their "kick" is -- and make sure you tailor the game for them.

That's from the old booklet by Robin Laws. Stan Shinn has taken this to the next level, suggesting an agenda or contract list of sorts be agreed upon by the referee and players as to what they want to get out of a game/session.

(2) Write up scenarios, not plots.

That means you work out the details of a particular location or situation, but don't do the throw-away work of linking them into a plot line. Let the players draw the plot as they like.

(3) For any conclusion you want/need the PCs to make, include at least three clues... and for any given problem, make sure there’s at least one solution and remain completely open to any solutions the players might come up with on their own.

kilemall November 28th, 2017 05:50 PM

I would say preparation is highly desirable, but it has to be the right preparation.

Others have covered the 'players givens and druthers' so that's probably number one.

Along the scenarios not plots approach, deep preparation of the planetary/system sandbox is time well spent if it results in your understanding how the place works, what sort of people are there doing what and why, and unique aspects of the culture and/or environment that stands out and makes it memorable.

The more it's a real place to you, the better you can convey it to your players.

Leitz February 18th, 2018 08:52 PM

"Plans are worthless, but planning is everything." Dwight D. Eisenhower

When I prepare a game I dream a bit. What's going on? Who is doing what? What huge bad thing is about to happen? (There's always a bad thing about to happen). Where will the characters start? What does that place look and feel like?

In the first episode of the game here both characters started at the Downport. The noble was met by a noble who was in a mercenary regiment and the ex-slave had a chat with a recruiter. There's a big bad thing happening but it is so far behind the scenes that they weren't involved at all. At first. Then there was that ortillary thing...

Much of the worlds and many of the NPCs have sprung up due to the PC actions, questions, and intended direction. I'm having a blast; half the time it seems like i'm playing more than DM'ing.

What I really like about PbP is the ability to craft the scene. It may take me a minute or a day but I really like to present a rich experience to the player.

Blue Ghost February 18th, 2018 09:51 PM

I'm not sure why, but I never needed any preparation for Traveller. Local conditions (gravity, atmosphere, government) were already setup. Deckplans were in the books, weapons' tables were in the basic book or mercenary, and unless you were a high guard junky, space combat was pretty basic (no explosion rules for dead ships though).

For something like D&D, T&T, Champions/HERO, SFB, or even one of the old microgames, it was a slightly different story. For environment specific areas with a lot of quirks ... say arctic or subarctic, or a vaccum world or some such, occasionally a player would remind whoever was running the game that extreme low temperatures, or a lack of air, or high pressures or no pressure would do something or have some effect on something.

Whether it's pre-industrial societies (Rennaisance and prior) or post 20th / 21st century interplanetary or interstellar settings, the research and preparation were essentially done by virtue of the fact that gamers were (are) typically knowledgeable about the game environment.

AsenRG February 24th, 2018 01:41 PM

I don't see a reason to run Traveller differently from any other game. And in the local RPG circles, I'm sorta-famous, or maybe sorta-notorious, for my "15 minutes of preparation, unless I want to do more" rule:devil:.

flykiller February 24th, 2018 11:11 PM


"15 minutes of preparation ...."
I've often found that everything I do in a game or setting is closely based on that first 15 minutes of thought.

Brandon C April 30th, 2018 09:30 AM

Not very, and I write down even less.

Maybe one sentence describing the scenario, a couple of important npc's (but no stats), a couple of settings, and mood.

For example:
Seismic activity damages old fission reactor for colony on airless world

Colony governor: overwhelmed political appointee
Security chief: shady ex-military looking out for himself

Reactor control room

Clock ticking

AsenRG June 2nd, 2018 06:05 PM


Originally Posted by flykiller (Post 583239)
I've often found that everything I do in a game or setting is closely based on that first 15 minutes of thought.

Exactly. So I just dispense with the rest of them;).

Brandon C exemplifies that approach, I believe.

Spenser TR June 5th, 2018 10:45 PM

For me it seems to be a few things together:

- a familiarity with the immediate setting the characters are in; being able to "see it" pretty solidly in my mind's eye.

- a solid grasp of the larger setting - the worlds or region they're at. A dash of culture and flavor goes a long way. Some dialect, some nuance. I can do this on the fly but it works out if I write down half a note card of details. Can definitely be inspired by source material

- a knowledge of what makes the players smile. This is profoundly important to running a game the players will enjoy. Part of your enjoyment might rub off on them, but I've found that running The Players Show works out much better than running Spenser's Show for the Players. If that makes any sense.

- an understanding of the ruleset. I don't get crazy here; I'm way more story-driven and I roll only as necessary.

Another tidbit that works for me: as often as I can, I use the wisdom of improvisation geniuses by embracing "Yes, and..." I try not to come out and directly say "no" to things my players clearly want.

I'll reject stuff that clearly isn't supportive of fun, but I try to be very careful about dismissing ideas or circumstances simply because "that's against the rules" or it didn't jive with some idea I had. I find lots of times I can flex and provide players with teh experience they're seeking, as put spin or add something to it that helps guide things the way I envisioned. Practicing this keeps overall prep down as it's a bit like "surfing" on the players' ideas.

MacTrom June 14th, 2018 01:28 AM

I find, having a good understanding of the rules, and familiarity with the books so if a question arises, being able to find the answer easily, is tantamount. But being able to fly by the seat of your pants makes the game more enjoyable for you and your players. As the old adage goes: no plan survives past initial contact with the enemy.

Iíve had a few occasions where the player(s) did something totally out of realm with my game plans, and I had to improvise on the spot. Being quick and having a good imagination, as well as decades of sci-fi background, made things work out well.

sabredog June 28th, 2018 09:30 PM

As above, make sure you have a good understanding of the rules, plus the house rules you have, if any.

I make flowcharts and cheat sheets for myself on the house rule tables and charts, and some of the official ones, too, and have them taped up to my own four-panel judge's shield. I also put together a player's guide manual that has copies of al the maps, house rules, important tables, world and subsector lists, bios of important NPC's and/or major officials and any other thing I think they might need on the fly. I'll include deckplans and full descriptions of their ship if they have one. And it's a binder so I can add stuff as we go along.

I have a Range Band chart for grease pencil and minis that has ranges, rolls, and other info on it ready for space combat. Personal combat is more free-flowing but I have a range banding chart in my cheat manual.

Write a broad story arc for the campaign with enough info you can keep the Big Picture under control and ticking along while the players do what they want to/have to. For consistency's sake at the very least, and something to nudge them back into involvement in if the circumstances warrant.

Write up a few 1-2 session type adventures to have ready for a lull in the action, and maybe a few for looking ahead to when they reach planets or whatever you know they are headed for, or to plug in if things go someplace you didn't expect.

Have some quick cargoes and passenger list ready if they start with a ship.

Don't be afraid to ask the players what they want to do to give you an idea of how to color some of the campaign. Have some NPC's appropriate to those ends ready to insert here and there.

Most of all just be OK with winging it because players will always surprise you, or even just because sessions might run for an unplanned amount of time.

Finally, it's a shared imaginary space and the ref gets to play, too. If you aren't having fun because you're overloaded then pare back the scope of things. It might be time for something like a barfight or "Help the colonists fight the baddies" simple adventure to help bring the focus into macro.

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