How do you go about prepping a scenario?

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Grand Lodge 5/5 ⦵⦵⦵ Venture-Captain, Online—PbP aka Hmm

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This may sound like a dumb question, but most scenarios are rather dense reading. It takes me multiple reads to understand all the factors of what is going on in the plot, and sometimes key information that I need in one section is printed 8 pages later in an appendix or another section entirely.

At the moment, my steps for scenario prepping are:

1) Download the scenario. Try to read and understand the scenario summary section.

2) Look for any aids in GM PFS Prep.

3) See if there is a GM thread in this forum related to the scenario.

4) Look at reviews if it's an older scenario / module, to understand any pitfalls.

5) Attempt to read the rest of the scenario all the way through.

6) Give up after several pages and a headache.

7) Draw maps in order to better understand the set-up. While drawing the map, re-read each section for the combats / encounters on each of those rooms.

8) Repeat step 5.

9) Make myself a list of all the minis I'll be needing. Figure out and list all the characters and what they're doing.

10) Repeat step 5. Start highlighting if needed on key points.

11) Refinements. Figure out stat block adjustments, talk to people who've run the scenario, ask questions.

12) Repeat step 5.

13) Tell myself the story of the scenario. Come up with voices. Understand who the NPCs are and what motivates them.

14) Repeat step 5 one last time.

15) Run the scenario, and have a great time with my party. Success!

Am I slow? Is there a better way to help my brain process scenario text? How do all of you go about prepping these things?


Sovereign Court 4/5 Venture-Captain, Online—VTT aka Imhrail

This probably won't help you too much as i GM 95% of the time online but here you go anyway :)

1) Download the Scenario (if i haven't already)
2) Read through the scenario fully
3) Open Roll20 and credit a new game or add it onto a table i already have
4) Copy/Paste or screenshot the maps i need from the PDF
5) Import them into Roll20
6) Resize the maps
7) Setup dynamic lighting (Walls/Doors/Light Sources)
8) Input all the trap/locked doors/GM Info on the GM layer
9) Create Character sheets for all the villians/monsters or import them if i've made them on a different table before (Reduce! Reuse! Recycle!)
10) Place creatures accordingly
11) Find sacrifices... err players

Scarab Sages 5/5 Venture-Agent, United Kingdom—England—Thames Valley aka chris manning

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1) print the scenario (single sided-more on this later)
2) read the intro, summary & conclusion
3) start to read through the scenario, highlighting DC's, NPC names & important info
4) make notes on the facing blank pages for stuff you might need to look up or refer to
5) get the stat blocks from PFS prep if they are available
6) read the GM chat on the forums if available
7) reread the stat blocks highlighting feats, SR and other easily overlooked info - calculating things like power attack and smite etc
8) if you dont have spell cheat sheets, use herolab to create them
9) glue the stat block to the blank facing pages
10) print tactical maps (saves page flipping), handouts etc
11) print off the NPC & other pictures from the scenario (i make face cards now using a blank template)
12) gather any minis, and print any pawns i need (including custom ones)
13) read the intro, summary & conclusion AGAIN
14) make any terrain / scenery needed
15) read the summary & conclusion AGAIN just before running

Silver Crusade 5/5

Whenever I run a scenario I read the PDF off my tablet. I try to read the scenario multiple times leading up to the game. The first time I just try to get an impression of what is happening in the scenario. The next time I read it I give special attention to the combats and just try to get an idea of how each combat will look. Then, I go through each stat block looking for tricky things I might have missed and I make sure to know what each Class Feature and feat the NPC's have. Then if I need to I draw out maps, this lets me get a feel for how much space there is, plus I think it gives a personal touch. Finally I print out the stat blocks and chronicles.


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Some of this hearkens back to a different campaign, but it still fits for my convention prep.

1. Close my eyes and think back over the good GMs I've had and the less-than-good GMs I've had. Take from the good ones the good things, and try to make mental notes of the less-than-good pitfalls.

2. Open the folder/file/handout/binder/etc that has the scenario in it.

3. Skim through it to get a very rough idea of the scenario if I haven't played it.

4. If there's anything that immediately jumps out on the skim, make notes of what jumped out and *why*.

5. Read for content.

6. Look at how many maps there are, pull hair out for about an hour getting increasingly nervous at how badly my hand-drawn maps are going to look.

7. Read for more content.

8. Examine the scenes to see which ones can be safely done 'theatre of the mind' without destroying the intent of the scene (there have been a couple where 'theatre of the mind' made the scene easier and having a map out was a very huge distraction...)

9. Put together a sheet with all the pictures of all the creatures the party is going to encounter.

10. Put together a sheet with forty d20 rolls, NPC stat blocks for the tier the players should be playing at (and modifications if they aren't playing that tier)

11. Read the spoken parts to myself, listening for 'pauses' and 'breath spots'.

12. Stress out over the maps again.

13. Unlucky, skip this one.

14. Re-read for content, make sure that nothing was missed.

15. Try to sleep.

16. Fail at sleeping, stare at scenario for two hours before passing out at table or at keyboard (if in digital format).

17. Have strange dreams of the scenario while passed out.

18. Wake up, verify that the scenario is still Euclidean, and get cleaned up and ready to go judge the thing.

19. Arrive at table 15 minutes before slot goes off and have everything set up for players by five minutes before slot.

20. Run the scenario.

Sovereign Court 4/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Netherlands—Leiden aka Ascalaphus

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Stuff I typically do. Not strictly in this order.

1) Make sure I get the scenario reasonably far in advance of actually running it.

2) Read the introduction/summary. Read the rest of the scenario.

3) Read the forum thread about the scenario.

3a) Read reviews of the scenario. Figure out which parts people liked or hated, so I know what to showcase or what problems to try to fix. Check for new reviews regularly.

4) Make a list of minis needed. Look for "hidden" minis: monsters that could be summoned by bad guys, noncombatant NPCs that are present in combat scenes and so forth. Check if you need statblocks for them and if the scenario already has them. Especially in escort quest like scenarios, the escortee's stat block is sometimes missing.

5) Identify things that should be made into handouts or props, like chase cards or such. Figure out how much of the mechanics to reveal in them.

6) Print out the scenario and read through it again, slowly. Underline anything I should pay especial attention to while running the scenario:

  • Unusual combat tactics
  • Rolls I should prompt the PCs to make
  • Stuff that the PCs can see in areas that's not in the box text description
  • Unusual abilities of monsters. I mean stuff that's not in the classic attack/defend routine, that I need to remember that the monster has. These tend to be 1-2 word tidbits kind of hidden in a statblock, like an aura that's not described in detail on the bottom of the statblock because it's a standard aura from the universal monster rules; or a particular prepared spell that's wicked effective.
  • The "important things" that string a scenario together, like the series of clues that lead you through an investigation scenario. Anything in a given room/scene that is important that the PCs find.

7) Triage the maps. Figure out which to print, draw or use flipmats for. Draw maps as needed, while referencing the scenario to figure out what everything is.

8) Analyze and re-formulate any special mechanics the scenario may use. Perhaps post them to the forum for verification.

9) Make note of special success conditions that I should be paying attention to while running the scenario. In particular, if it's important that when the players encounter X they do Y, make a note not to forget to mention X when they enter that room!

10) Try to get clarification on any unclear points in the scenario in the forum thread. Nowadays with most new scenarios, the authors are very attentive.

11) Take the time to try to really IMAGINE the scenario. Paint the scene in your mind's eye, try to figure out the mood the scenario is trying to create. Imagine the movie trailer for the scenario, with the awesome scenes.

12) Prepare statblocks, if needed. I hate paging back and forth in combat, like with a statblock appendix and statblocks in the middle (i.e. a custom boss and stock NPC codex flunkies). I may want to prepare a single-page version per tier for the combat.


13) After running it, post an after-action report in the discussion thread. Analyze what went well and what didn't. Often the actual mechanics of the scenario work, but presenting or highlighting something in a different way can make a big difference on whether it "takes off". Most authors appreciate the feedback too, especially when you don't have to worry about spoilers like in...

14) Write a review. I like to look for the positive in a scenario. Not every scenario is good for everyone, so I try to point out who would especially like the one I just ran. If a scenario did something "right" with one of my pet peeves, compliment it; I get the impression both writers and editors pay a lot of attention to reviews so this is a way to promote what you want more of.

Shadow Lodge

When I have time to prepare in-depth, this is usually the route I take.
1. Read the scenario
2. Re-read the scenario.
3. Look at the enemies in-depth, making sure to look up any spells/special abilities I'm not familiar with.
4. Read the tactics.
4b. If the tactics are some form of "go nuts," I develop 2-3 plans of attack (depending on the enemy's intelligence)
5. Re-re-read the scenario again.
6. Get familiar with the maps.
7. Re-re-re-read any RP sections, highlighting skill check DCs as necessary.
7b. Develop alternate routes to help the PCs through a section if they lack the relevant skills (IE: lacking Diplomacy and Knowledge: Local in an urban investigation)
8. Develop a unique voice for every important NPC
9. Add in flavorful touches. Minor stuff to to make the world feel more alive, like a Pactmaster's entourage passing by while in Katapesh, or a wandering Druid during wilderness adventures.
10. Read the GM thread, to spot any typos or things I overlooked. Amend Steps 7, 4b, 7, and 7b as required.
11. Inevitably forget to print handouts, chronicle sheets, and sign-ups, requiring a run to the library.

Silver Crusade 3/5

1. Get the PDF.
2. Skim through if there is more than one day until the scenario. Note stuff about things particular characters/players might get excited about, mention that this might be a good scenario for them when putting out a note about the upcoming game (without giving any specifics of course). Maybe check out the reviews the get some idea of the difficulty of the scenario. (I like my players to be pre-warned about especially deadly scenarios so they remember to check their gear and stuff like that. No one likes to die because they forgot something obvious).
3. Actually read through.
4. (Not necessary if running scenarios in English). Star another read-trough, translate redtext. These day directly in the PDF, a separate text file works as well.
5. Combined with step 4. Cross out everything that does not apply to the table you're running if you know who you're running for (wrong tier, no need for 4 player adjustments, wrong factions), keeps from reading from the wrong things. Highlight all DCs. Underline other important information in different color. This all makes it easier to find things quickly when running. Stuff like room heights, tactics that are given outside of statblocks, how NPCs react to specific things.
6. This can also be done in the same read-through the previous steps, or separately if time allows. Star going through combats. Check Shared Prep to see if there are pre-made statblocks files there. Otherwise hunt down all necessary statblocks, make separate text files for each encounter. More highlights, this time most important defenses in green, offenses in red, magic and tactics in yellow.
6 a. Make any necessary adjustments to statblocks (for players, templates, something specific from the scenario)
6 b. If the enemy has lots of spells you don't know, use Perram's Spellbook and ctrl+s files for each such enemy. Check all unknown feats and universal monster abilities, copy into the text file if necessary.
7. Draw maps, if time allows, make them fancy. If there are more maps than you have time/space to pre-draw, make the most complicated ones first.
8. Check if you have the perfect minis for the enemies. If not, make sure you at least have enough right-sized ones.
9. Other embellishments: figure out voices, think of props or thematic snacks.
10. Print out stuff. Pictures optional, I mostly print those only for modules or other multi-session stuff.

X. At any point something starts to puzzle you, check out the GM-thread.

5/5 Venture-Agent, California—San Francisco Bay Area North & East aka Pirate Rob

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I get the pdf.

I read the opening summary.

I give the scenario a quick read through, not worrying too much about comprehension.

Then I print the scenario out so I can better cross reference pages, like being able to look at a map and the various encounters that go with it at the same time.

I look up or make notes to look up abilities I'm unfamiliar with.

I check for a GM thread to see what other issues people have had and to see what handy reference material is available.

I pick a few key NPCs from the scenario and practice saying their lines outloud, to try and find a good voice for them.

I look at The Golarion Wiki for background information on the area so that I can smoothly answer inevitable questions, or at least have enough information to wing it.

I assemble mats and minis, drawing any maps I will need but don't have either on gaming paper or flip mats.

Will print out any props/references needed for the players (say underwater combat rules).

Before pfsprep I used to create my own statblock appendixes. It still takes me 4-6 hours to prep and run most scenarios for the first time.

5/5 ⦵⦵

Nothing else to add, but I print all the maps out to scale.

My prep for PbP and Tabletop only varies in that there is a lot more printing involved for a face to face game, but in PbP I can spend more time reading up extra detail as Pirate Rob suggests - Golarion Wiki is a great resource.

5/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Finland—Tampere aka Rei

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There are some great prep metrics posted above. Here's a mediocre to bad one, courtesy of me!

My prep is slightly different based on whether I have played the scenario beforehand or not. Granted, in any case I am one of the more disorganized GMs I know. Not sure if my players have noticed. They probably have. Okay, some of them definitely have.

If I have played the scenario before, I usually have some sort of recollection of how the battles and plot went, as long as it hasn't been too long since my time playing it. I go over the stat blocks to see what feats and abilities the monsters have, whether or not I've read the descriptions of all their spells at some point or not, what their written tactics roughly are, and whether or not there are massive differences between tiers if I'm running for a different tier than I've played on. Then I read the summary, followed by the actual text of the scenario in order to brush up on the plot: usually, not all of the plot has been revealed to the players, especially NPC backgrounds, so I tend to skim over things like BBEG motivations since characters very rarely find out about them. Oh, and I don't check math in scenarios. I'm not good at calculating bonuses and just trust that the editors have managed to weed out the most egregious mistakes.

If I haven't played a scenario before running it, I go into slightly more detail. I tend to start with reading the encounters separately from the rest of the scenario, taking a look at whether or not I need to learn a new character class in order to run an encounter (I'm not the best at rules and have absolutely no idea how certain classes work) and generally simplifying the scenario into a chain or flowchart of encounters, since that's how scenarios tend to work out. If not all stat blocks are included in the scenario, I look them up on the PRD, giving them the same treatment as the stat blocks printed. If there's a special submechanic or investigation, I treat that as another link in the chain, leaving it aside until I've finished looking at the rest of the scenario to make sure it's the foremost thing in my mind when I reread the scenario before running. Submechanics tend to be challenging, fun, or both, so I want to make sure I run them right. Generally, I just try to make sure every part of the scenario feels like it makes sense to me, that the succession of events has logic, and that it makes a coherent whole in my perception. Not all scenarios do, but I try very hard.

I run off a tablet almost all of the time, partially because I can't afford to print a lot of stuff and partially because I already live an extremely cluttered life and don't want to add to it. I sometimes keep little notes on paper during a game, but usually I don't do more than mark enemy HP on the edge of the flipmat with a marker. If there's a mechanic that requires counting points based on character actions over a larger portion of the scenario, I print out a separate plain-text counter page with all the conditions listed and tick them off if the success conditions are met.

The rest is... usually a lot of improv. Unless a map is unusually complicated or I want to make it especially fancy, I draw maps on the fly. I come up with voices on the spot. I usually don't play music since I find it tends to distract people (including myself).

A thing I really should do during prep, but literally always forget without fail, is look up Spellcraft DCs for identifying magic items found in loot. Could easily shave several minutes off each session if I had the answers there when players ask me if they've identified something.

Oh, and despite not running in English, I skip translating the scenario beforehand unless there's something particularly difficult in it. (One exception here is handouts - I like translating those, since typically one of the players will read those aloud to the group, and not having to figure out someone's individual English pronunciation helps minimize misunderstandings. Another is translating names. I love puns and will sneak them into any given place or character name if they feel like they fit.) I'll look up a few exotic words and memorize them, but that's about it in terms of language. I feel like translating the scenario on the spot makes the dialogue flow more easily and allows me to add more character and description: I'd feel too much like I'm just rattling off words if I translated things beforehand, since I wouldn't be putting thought into them, and would probably forget how a room description had started by the time I get to the end. The joys of being slightly attention deficit.

As you can tell by how rambling this post is, I do not have the best grasp on things like structured prep.


I do most of my running online nowadays and apart from setting up the table there are two major things which I find help immensely.

1. I remove all of the stat blocks from the scenario and reorganise them so that the numbers for each encounter are on a single page, sorted by tier and saved as a pdf. I print these out but you can just as easily run from the pdf especially with a second screen. I also highlight key numbers in those stat blocks such as AC, saves, HP, DR and SR. As part of this process I also look up any abilities I am unfamiliar with and jot down notes for them. I also look to provide alternative stat lines for things like attack values with power attack or combat expertise or spell buffs. It saves an enormous amount of time at the table.

2. The second key thing I do is to remove all relevant mechanical information for each scene and condense it into a couple of pages, sorted by area. This means things like skill check DC's, treasure, development issues, special rules etc. Scenario authors have an annoying tendency to bury important information in amongst a lo of superfluous text which makes finding useful information from the PDF more difficult than it should be while running. By creating my own notes I solidify what is happening in the scenario in my own mind and also give myself a helpful quick reference guide to key issues.

I am such a slacker...


Well, today I ran a scenario on the fly when we needed a GM in a hurry. This meant my prep was very abbreviated, but it still went OK. (Yes, it was Confirmation which meant I'd at least played it through a few times.)

1. Read the scenario
2. Copy all relevent monster statistics into a Word (or equivalent) document.
3. Print both the scenario and the document from step 2.
4. Draw any maps required that I don't have a flip-mat for.
5. Decide on NPC voices.
6. Sort out required minis.

Scarab Sages 5/5 Venture-Captain, Netherlands aka Woran

Wei Ji the Learner wrote:

17. Have strange dreams of the scenario while passed out.

I often have very weird dreams about scenarios...


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Tineke Bolleman wrote:
Wei Ji the Learner wrote:

17. Have strange dreams of the scenario while passed out.

I often have very weird dreams about scenarios...

The worst one is the one where you 'wake up' and you're GMing the scenario at a table and you're completely unprepared and the players are all sitting there in full adventuring gear and expectantly staring at you waiting for you to drop the Hard Mode^2 monster on them and... the scenario doesn't even *have* a Hard Mode.

And just when they're getting up to leave the table in disgust at one's poor GM style and skills, one drops a tarrasque on the table and they all get this *feral* gleam to their eyes.

And...then you wake up.

Grand Lodge 5/5 ⦵⦵⦵ Venture-Captain, Online—PbP aka Hmm

I'm really glad I started this thread, because it shows me that my prep style is not that far off the norm.

I agree that it is much easier to prep a scenario that one has played before. You start out with a sense of what the overall story is, goals, etc. But the majority of the time I'm GMing these days is for scenarios that I've never played. I'm trying to figure out if there are prepping tricks to map the scenario from the text to my brain in a more efficient manner!

Interestingly enough, my prep for PBP is a lot different. It includes these steps to my above listed preparation:

  • Read another GM's gameplay of this scenario, if it exists. Sometimes read 2-3 of them. Most of them I don't read all the way through. I read the beginning, the end, and encounters which I think might be troublesome. Half the time I look at it in fascination as I see a very different interpretation of an NPC from the way I did it.

  • Raise eyebrows when players take the scenario off the rails, and go, "Huh. What do I do now to bring it back on track?"

  • Sleep on it.

  • Find brilliant way to get back on track in the morning, and move on!

  • 5/5

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    1) Read through the PDF electronically highlighting skill checks, stuff I think I'll need to quickly find while running, etc. as I go through. I don't pay to close attention to combats on the first pass, only the morale sections to know whether they start out actively attacking or try to talk to the party.

    2) Take a mental break (a day or two if I have the time).

    3) Study the combats, looking up any mechanics I don't understand.

    4) Print the scenario, any bestiary pages not included in the scenario, maps, and chronicles.

    5) Pick out minis for the NPCs and monsters.

    6) GM.

    7) Realize how many things I screwed up while driving home.

    Edit: Missed one. 2.5) Read the GM thread on the forums. I only do this around half the time, usually when a scenario seem particularly tricky.

    Scarab Sages 5/5 Venture-Captain, Netherlands aka Woran

    Wei Ji the Learner wrote:
    Tineke Bolleman wrote:
    Wei Ji the Learner wrote:

    17. Have strange dreams of the scenario while passed out.

    I often have very weird dreams about scenarios...

    The worst one is the one where you 'wake up' and you're GMing the scenario at a table and you're completely unprepared and the players are all sitting there in full adventuring gear and expectantly staring at you waiting for you to drop the Hard Mode^2 monster on them and... the scenario doesn't even *have* a Hard Mode.

    And just when they're getting up to leave the table in disgust at one's poor GM style and skills, one drops a tarrasque on the table and they all get this *feral* gleam to their eyes.

    And...then you wake up.

    Last weekend I had the recurring dream that I prepped an encounter, but it was not in the scenario or the map anymore, causing me to have to steer the party around and that failed. I panic. Wake up. Fall back asleep. SAME DREAM AGAIN. ARG!

    Really interesting thread. I've been thinking about this subject myself for the last few days. Not trying to hijack the thread, but I'd like to add a question:

    As seen from the lists people have posted, it's a lot of work. I really like GM'ing, but I've been struggling with getting the prep work done. For the past few sessions, I've been putting it off until a few days before the game. I still run decent games, but they could probably be better and smoother with more prep. How do you motivate yourself to do the necessary work?

    Dark Archive 5/5 Venture-Captain, Minnesota—St. Paul

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    Keith Apperson's I've played this once a few months ago so probably know it pretty well Speed Prep Course!!!

    Just so you can see how terrible prep can get at times:
    1. Download the scenario late Sunday when I remember I'm supposed to run it.
    2. Read it straight through that night while half-asleep, dream about how our party went through it.
    3. Read each encounter over lunch, make a call-out for any maps I might need from people that will be at the event.
    4. Check pfsprep and send those files to my printer to likely forget them the night of. Additionally, load those into Good Reader on my ipad.
    5. Throughout the workday read the GM Discussion thread for anything interesting that I might have missed - if nobody complains about it, I probably don't have to worry about it.

    6. On my iPad, pull up the scenario, separate the bestiary into its own PDF, separate the BBEG/repeatedly referenced stat blocks/investigative mechanics to separate PDFs so I can reference them as tabs instead of flipping through repeated.

    7. Run the table. Choose voices on the fly. Randomly switch accents cause I can't do a consistent cockney from one minute to another. Struggle to find a DC that I'm pretty sure is 18 that I'm pretty sure was on one page but was actually the first/last line of a different one. Get frustrated at suboptimal tactics written into the scenario. Forget how certain feats interact. Have to look up feats and spells for the players. Nearly kill with the optional encounter while lasting half a round with the BBEG.

    8. At the last moment remember to check Secondary Success Conditions, realize that they were tied to a specific faction mission and handwave it or make really subtle suggestions that they grab or take a specific thing.

    9. Somehow everyone enjoys and thanks me for the table when it feels like I just spent 4 hours tumble drying.

    And of course, the good old You need me to run what right now? Sure! prep course.

    1. Try to find wi-fi. Download the pdf. Download any and everything from pfsprep.
    2. Read the summary. The summary is pretty good, that should cover everything.
    3. Flip through for sidebars - they're usually important.
    4. Run the table - ask everyone to introduce themselves, ask random questions about their character as you try to read the scenario. Encourage breaks. If someone has to step away, let the table know you'll wait for them. Apologize profusely and repeatedly.
    5. "What do you mean nobody has chronicles? Cool, email addresses everyone!"

    Dark Archive 5/5 Venture-Captain, Minnesota—St. Paul

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    Iff wrote:
    How do you motivate yourself to do the necessary work?

    My biggest reason for developing more prep than I posted above is thinking of my experience with poorly prepped tables and not wanting anyone else to have to go through that. It only takes one or two bad tables to make you want to step up your game.

    People might come out once a month or once a week, but either way, I never want them to walk away thinking it was a waste of time. Especially when some of our players or GMs drive over an hour to play - a bad experience just isn't acceptable to me.

    Silver Crusade 3/5

    Iff wrote:
    How do you motivate yourself to do the necessary work?

    Most of the time when other people from our area run games, they seem to handle everything quite smoothly. I don't know if they're better at improvising or remember the rules easier or something. But anyway, then I run and constantly go "oh uh, wait just a second while I check this feat/spell/skill/environment again".

    If I do prep, there are less of those moments and I'm thus less embarrassed. That's one of the main reasons.

    Sovereign Court 5/5 RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16, 2011 Top 32

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    We rely heavily on Rule Zero at our local games: The GM is right unless you can prove him wrong in a very short time. Otherwise, we move on and check rules after the game, at which point apologies/reparations may be made. It keeps the game moving without bogging down with endless rules debates.

    With regards to Motivation, you can't count on it. You simply have to make it a habit and you'll do it even when you'd rather not.

    Sczarni 4/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Connecticut—Manchester aka Cpt_kirstov

    My workflow- usually this takes 2-3 days (although the same steps can be done for multiple scenarios in one day) :

    1) Download PDF

    2) Read PDF

    Day 2:
    3) Print PDF - including chronicles

    4) Take highlighter to it (Yellow = important roleplay tips, Blue = skill checks, Pink = things I need to look up, orange = things that could influence checking things off on the reporting sheet such as success conditions or A/B/C/D interactions)

    5)Check out PFS PREP - cross reference vs my Pink highlighted things, print things out.

    6)Look up any spells/weather conditions/stat blocks/ ect not found on PFS prep

    Day 3:
    7)Do another read through, Pull miniatures for combat encounters, underline stat block/RP details which I think I would miss during a game (such as character descriptions that are not in the read-aloud text) Pull Maps

    8)If any maps need to be drawn, draw the first one.

    9)If I have time, pull minis and maps for non-combat encounters so people don't say "we're on a map, be ready for combat"

    Shadow Lodge 5/5

    How do you go about prepping a scenario?

    Poorly, for the most part.

    Sovereign Court 3/5

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    Pathfinder Adventure Path, Card Game, Companion, Lost Omens, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

    One thing I like to do, especially for a scenario I have not played, is write out an outline of the mechanical checks and consequences that are involved in each scene or act.

    Knowing when I need to roll the dice, and what I need to track provides a "spine" for the scenario that I can build the story and characters around.

    Silver Crusade

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    My normal scenario prep:

    1. Download and print the scenario.
    2. Read the scenario once, to get the overall flow. Don't worry too much about the mechanical details, unless they jump out at me.
    3. Make a note of what maps are needed, which I already own as flip-mats vs what I have to draw.
    4. Note what monster stat blocks are in the adventure, and if there are any I need to look up.
    5. Read the GM discussion thread here on the forums.
    6. Grab anything about the scenario available from the PFS Prep site, and print whatever I'll need.
    7. Read the scenario a second time, paying attention to mechanical details, making detailed notes in the margins, and looking up anything I don't know, such as unknown feats or spells in the monster stats.
    8. Draw any remaining maps.

    Steps 1 and 2 are always first. The remaining steps can take place in random order.

    The main exception for this is when I volunteer to GM at Gencon. For scenarios that are available for me to download and prep months in advance, I use the above steps. For the specials and new seasons scenarios that won't be available until the last minute, I have a different process:

    1. Three weekends before GenCon, start to panic that I won't have enough time to prep these scenarios thoroughly.
    2. Two weekends before GenCon, post to the forums to b+@&# about not being able to download scenarios yet. Email event coordinator to tell him that if at least one of them isn't available this weekend, I'll have to drop out of GMing some scenarios, due to lack of prep time.
    3. Friday before GenCon, post to the forums to b$@#* about STILL not being able to download scenarios yet. Email event coordinator again, dropping out of GMing all but one of the scenarios that I can't download yet, and tell him if that one's not ready for me to read by tomorrow, I'll drop that, too.
    4. Saturday before GenCon, download one scenario that's finally available. Ignore the rest. Spend all day Sunday trying to squeeze in my normal prep steps, but not having time to complete second read through of scenario and looking everything up.
    5. GM last minute scenario at GenCon. Feel guilty when I forget details and give subpar experience to players, but know that it's not my fault.
    6. Promise myself I'll never GM at GenCon again.
    7. Forget about promise 2-3 years later and volunteer to GM at GenCon again.


    Iff wrote:
    <snip> How do you motivate yourself to do the necessary work?

    Two things. First, I think it's only fair that I give the regular area GMs a break once in a while.

    Second, it can be fun watching players either fint a novel way through an encounter or fould things up drastically.

    5/5 Venture-Agent, California—San Francisco Bay Area North & East aka Pirate Rob

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    Iff wrote:
    How do you motivate yourself to do the necessary work?

    Something Painlord told me...

    As a player, you only get to play each scenario once. That means each experience is a special snowflake. As a GM it's your responsibility to help make that snowflake as awesome as possible.

    Obviously some exceptions now with Core and star replays etc, but...

    Every time I sit down to GM a table, I consider myself honored that 4-6 players trust me enough to put that snowflake in my hands, and I try my damnedest to make it the most awesome snowflake possible, and if it takes me 6 hours of prep to make it happen? That's what I'll do.

    Thanks all, that's some pretty good advice all around. I think I've been blessed never to have played with a poor (or poorly prepared) GM. In that sense, I don't have a personal experience to 'scare' me into action.

    On the other hand, I just had a game yesterday. It went fine and the players enjoyed themselves, but thinking back there were definitely points where I could have made the scenario even more memorable. I'll try my best to go the extra mile for the next session in two weeks' time, and see what difference it makes. Both for my own experience of the game, and my players' enjoyment of the game. That should set a good baseline to strive for, I think.

    Sovereign Court 5/5 RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16, 2011 Top 32

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    Play in other people's games and steal liberally. I learn the most by taking the best ideas of the GMs I've played with.

    Grand Lodge 5/5 Venture-Captain, Arizona—Phoenix aka TriOmegaZero

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    ^^ what he said.


    An unusual source of inspiration for those running any of the Adventure Paths are the Audio stories based on them. There are some great characterizations and one-liners worth stealing, and many players haven't heard them so they're "new".

    When I prep NPCs, I tend to try and match each one up to a real-life actor/actress or character to base their personality off of. It makes it easier to give them distinctive flavor, and helps with on-the-cuff dialogue. It's also really useful to have NPC pictures to show, especially in scenarios with lots of NPCs. I find that they way a GM plays NPCs can really have a major effect on the "feel" of the game. (Of course, you have to be able to run fights competantly as well, but if you're looking for an extra bump, put some extra time into NPC presonality.)

    Sovereign Court 5/5 RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16, 2011 Top 32

    I see what you did there, sir. <slow clap>


    Scarab Sages

    Just a note to add that I do to prep. Not only do I highlight, but I color code extensively. Treasures or important items the group needs to have go in blue. Yellow is knowledge checks or other rolls that have specific listings. I use green for encounters (when stat blocks aren't always right there). Also as a side note from the highlighting, if I'm choosing not to use my iPad and combat manager to run a game, I have Bestiary monster stats on index cards or create a word doc and have all the stats on there for easy reference. Usually I do index cards though, so if I come across them later in another scenario/game I can reuse it. If there's important information that only I need to know, like keeping track of something for points or other special information pertinent to just me, I highlight it in pink. I end up with most of the scenario highlighted, but it's really helpful when a player asks a question and I can quickly flip back looking for "giant chunks of green" or something like that!

    Also, if there's a lot of treasure or items for the party (I use this more for Adventure Paths or home campaigns) I also write up what they get on an index card. If it's something they have to search for or meet a dc first, then I just quickly add it on if they find it. Sometimes, if I'm feeling really organizey I will even number my treasure cards and put the corresponding number by the encounter/area they get it.

    It's not a specific outline on how I prepare, but these couple things help me the most and I find I'm able to run a game more smoothly and quicker when I take the time to go through with a highlighter and index cards!

    Grand Lodge 5/5 ⦵⦵⦵ Venture-Captain, Online—PbP aka Hmm

    The treasure on an index card works great. I did that last week for Sun Orchid Scheme, along with detailed player handouts for the clues they received, and it worked great. The players even commented, "You're such an organized GM!"

    Which means that I successfully pulled off my bluff check!

    I like your highlighter tips too! I've been using the highlighter option in Good Reader so that I can mark up my PDF with all the things that I don't want to miss. I keep additional tabs open for the other monster stat blocks, and I have started being able to reduce the amount of paper I print out.


    4/5 Venture-Agent, Minnesota—St. Louis Park aka BretI

    I spend a lot of time in preparation creating notes for the scenario.

    Most of my preparation matches what others have said, so I'll focus on what is different.

    I keep my GM notes electronically and access them from my iPad. I mark them so that they will be available offline since WiFi is not reliable at every location. Since they are only used electronically, I don't feel bad that the notes tend to be rather verbose. I break my notes into sections, and organize those sections in a way that makes sense to me. It usually follows the expected flow of the scenario. At the top I have a Table of Contents so I can quickly find a section that I need.

    The very top of my notes are the Primary and Secondary Success Conditions, notes about Reporting Boxes, and notes about any conditional boons that may be on the chronicle. Having it always in the same place allows me to quickly reference it at the end of the game to make sure I don't miss anything.

    As a player one of the things I overheard as a frequent GM mistake is taking the monsters from the wrong tier or failing to apply the 4 player adjustment correctly. Not wanting to be that guy, I try to have all the combat statistics fully detailed for all the tiers with and without the four player adjustment.

    Keeping all the combat statistics separate for each tier means a lot of duplication. See my comment above about only keeping it electronically. I would not want people to print my notes -- too much wasted paper.

    Creating the stat blocks requires a lot of cut and pasting. The PDFs from Pazio generally make this somewhat difficult because the stat blocks frequently aren't all one contiguous section. I've lost track of how many times I've had to cut and paste in sections. There is also a weirdness with fonts -- for some reason the lower case letter F and the letter following it frequently disappears.

    This does make it a lot easier for me to run the scenario, so I keep doing it. Just would like it to be easier.

    In addition to the combat stat blocks, I look for special equipment, environmental effects, conditions, or spells. This means either another cut and paste, or my summarizing the information.

    For miniatures, I use some paper minis that I got as part of being a backer of Rich Burlew's Order of the Stick reprint KickStarter campaign. The nice thing about these is if they get misplaced or damaged I can just print out more.

    I draw all the maps. This is another big time sink, but I've already got all the supplies to do it. It does mean that during play I can freely mark up the maps (with wet-erase markers that I bring) to denote where a spell effect or something is.

    Recently I've done a bit more with handouts, using glass beads to indicate successes, and having index cards with any magic items from the scenario that the PCs are expected to use.

    Grand Lodge 5/5 ⦵⦵⦵ Venture-Captain, Online—PbP aka Hmm

    So... I thought that I'd revisit this thread, because I realize that my GM prep has changed over time. When I first posted this last May, I had one GM star. Prepping took well over a week for me of reading and re-reading the scenario, and trying to figure out how all the individual parts combined into a cohesive whole.

    Now, as I'm closing swiftly upon my fourth star, I find that scenario preparation has become much easier. I highlight as I peruse the scenario in Good Reader. Now I can read the scenario all the way through as I make my first and second pass. I still consult PFS Prep and the GM forum, but now I make some of my own notes too.

    NPC stat blocks appear to have gotten more familiar with time. I read them, remembering similar creatures that I have GMed, and look for what's changed.

    I still try to get the story solid in my head. Sometimes I ask fellow GMs to tell me the story as they see it. Sometimes I read through a Play-by-Post of the game in question to see how another GM handled a problematic section.

    I still draw maps, and when I can, use cards and handouts for complex loot.

    My prep time for the average scenario has dropped from 7-8 days down to 3-4. Either I'm getting more efficient, or the scenario writing has become far more clear!

    How have you discovered yourself growing and improving as a GM? I want to know!


    4/5 Venture-Agent, Netherlands—Utrecht aka Quentin Coldwater

    Prepping a scenario takes about 2-4 hours for me, depending on how thorough I want to be. Read scenario, make highlights of relevant parts (skill DCs, important flavour texts, and so on) take notes in the margins (spell effects, poisons etc in shorthand), that's about an hour to two hours, depending on how much the scenario has going on. Earlier scenarios are definitely easier to run compared to modern scenarios. Grab stuff off PFSprep and read through the notes, see what's useful. Familiarise myself with the stat blocks if it's a custom creature, thing with class levels, or just funky. Takes about half an hour or so. Then, reading reviews and if possible the GM discussion about it, about an hour, maybe more if there's lots of discussion. Drawing the maps takes 2 hours or so, I didn't count that.

    I can grab a scenario around noon and have it ready by the evening if I have nothing else to do. I usually have a good enough short term memory that I can remember the scenario well enough that I don't need rereads if I prep on the same day as when I'm running it. I don't really rehearse speeches, and even some of the more improvisational stuff (dialogue, free-form sandboxing) I do on the spot. Not that I'm so good at it I don't need it, but because I've noticed I'm terrible at coming up with what to expect from my players. I don't really do NPC voices, as my impressions are terrible, but I usually have a good idea of their motivations as I'm reading it. Whether it comes out decently I'll leave up to my players. >_>

    I've been playing Pathfinder for 5 years now or so, and PFS for almost 3 now (GMing for nearly 2, I think). I still wouldn't say I'm great at the roleplaying aspect, as I'm very shy and too self-conscious to really let go. I really admire people who can really get into their characters, as there's this constant reminder in the back of my head about social pressure and how weird I'm being right now. My NPCs always tend to be kinda subdued, nervous and skittish, as that's my real me filtering through. >_> I still think that despite my failings here and there I'm a decent GM, and people seem to enjoy it when I'm behind the screen.

    Grand Lodge 5/5 Venture-Captain, Arizona—Phoenix aka TriOmegaZero

    I do a little more prep these days. I blame my wife.

    I'll print the scenario, double-sided to conserve tree usage. I'll omit maps with no enemy placements or trap markers, as they are wastes of ink.

    Then I'll blow up the maps and handouts for printing, laminate and trim them, and tape the map pieces together.

    Chronicles get printed and everything goes into a poly folder, with scenario number and name on the front. Now it is prepped and ready to go whenever I need it. (Somewhere in there I look at PFSPrep for extra toys.)

    Hopefully, I've played it. More likely, I skim over the text for encounter names, maps, main NPCs, and mooks. If I remember, I'll go back and read the entire scenario and look over the statblocks for anything tricky.

    Then, I run it, mostly from the printout unless I've been around the adventure enough to remember it well. Sometimes I will practice an NPCs voice, reading the block text to be familiar with it and able to improvise some paraphrasing.

    When the day is done, the folder goes into the file case for future uses.

    Seems to work for me so far.

    Silver Crusade

    Most of my prep steps haven't changed since I posted in this thread last May. The one exception is my steps for prepping to GM at GenCon.

    Last year, I told the coordinators in advance that I like having lots of prep time, so please give me only scenarios that I can download and prep months in advance. They did. So I didn't have to worry about last minute prep of scenarios not published until the Saturday before GenCon like I did the first time I GMed there.

    3/5 Venture-Agent, Canada—Alberta—Grand Prairie aka DM Livgin

    I'm trying different ways to improve my prep for role play intensive scenarios.

    For the horn of aroden I made a npc tent that had his image and some basic info on the front with some short hand notes on the back (motivation, personality traits, behavior triggers). I'm not sure how much it helped, so I'm going to try that again with the merchants wake.

    I haven't yet, but I also want to try scene cue cards (toastmasters style), ideally all the important parts to touch on in a scene so that I'm spending more time facing the group and less flipping through the scenario.

    Grand Lodge 5/5 Venture-Captain, Washington—Southwest aka Lawrence Smith 2

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    DM Livgin wrote:
    I also want to try scene cue cards (toastmasters style), ideally all the important parts to touch on in a scene so that I'm spending more time facing the group and less flipping through the scenario.

    I really like the idea of scene cue cards! Can you post a link to some examples?

    I often find myself getting bogged down in making copious notes about game mechanics at the expense of roleplaying prep. Visualizing the scene, imagining the NPCs voices, and some pithy dialogue starters really pays off, if/when I take the time to do it. (Then I try not to weep, when a gaggle of dice-wielding murder hobos belly up to my table on game day.)

    All of the prep that folks have shared and discussed is great, and much of it I've learned to incorporate over time.

    My motivation to prep is observing the best and the worst GMs I've experienced. I'm somewhere in middle, and the amount of prep I do usually determines where I fall on the spectrum.

    My least-favorite experiences are with GMs running a scenario they haven't read or prepped and players who stare at their smart phones until the next combat encounter calls for initiative. A close second is a table full of rules-nazis who seem to enjoy arguing endlessly about the "correct" interpretation of RAW, errata, FAQ, etc. At that point, I'm reaching for a couple of #2 pencils to jam through my eye sockets.

    The best experiences I've had are when playing at tables with GMs who embrace their inner thespian freak and players who respond in kind. These are the memorable moments that keep me coming back to play and to run a scenario myself.

    My thanks to all of you who GM and who invest countless hours of your time to make the game as enjoyable as possible.

    Sovereign Court 5/5 Venture-Captain, Canada—Manitoba aka Kess, Humble Servant of Abadar

    For new scenarios, I start by reading the scenario front to back. No stopping to evaluate the combats, or any of that. Just story. I need to understand what story I'm telling. Only then do I go back and review the combats and/or other encounters.

    Combat encounters:
    Quick review of starting positions if not provided and how to adjust for difficulty based on the table and what would actually make sense for what the BBEG is doing at the time.
    A quick review of the monster if I'm not already familiar with them. Quick notes on abilities, just so I'm not calculating Power Attack math on the fly.
    Slightly more extensive notes for things I am not familiar with and how they interact with the character.
    Note the aura and spellcraft DC of items the PCs will find.

    RP encounters: Who is this person? Any weird (or new) mechanics?

    AND most importantly, if I've played the scenario previously, how did it go for me? What did I like or not like, or what went well and try and improve on that.

    For scenarios I've run before:
    Quick re-read of scenario, noting any notes I made for myself. Reviewing the times I've run it in my head (as best I can) trying to figure out what went wrong and improve upon it (enemy tactics, starting position, spell selection, etc).

    5/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Illinois—Chicago aka thunderspirit

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    I freely admit I'm a grognard and almost always run in processed tree format. I highlight the scenario extensively (color-coordinated, cos I am an OCD grognard) and make sure names, places, nuggets of information, and tactics are easy to find. I run from a binder in sheet protectors so that I can make notes as I run. I'm a lousy artist, so I usually print the maps in scenarios; after all, the artwork on them is usually terrific, so why should I as GM be the only one to see it?

    And, like Pirate Rob, I was reminded by Painlordo nce of the awesome responsibility we have to our players, and I try my best to make sure everyone has a fun time when I GM. Prep is an important part of that.

    3/5 Venture-Agent, Canada—Alberta—Grand Prairie aka DM Livgin

    I'm with you on running from the processed corpses of unwoken ents. I find it much easier to flip back and forth in paper and like being able to lay out stat blocks separately.

    I'm sure there is a way to make technology the better answer, but I'm not tackling that learning curve yet.

    Grand Lodge 5/5 ⦵⦵⦵ Venture-Captain, Online—PbP aka Hmm

    I usually have two copies of the scenario that I'm running open in Goodreader, so that I can ease the process of flipping back and forth between statblocks in a combat.

    Other than chronicle sheets and player handouts, I've gone mostly paperless.


    3/5 Venture-Agent, Canada—Alberta—Grand Prairie aka DM Livgin

    It's an apple product :(

    Seen a few local GMs running two separate pdf viewers at the same time because the the viewers they are using don't have that option.

    I'll have to try making a hyperlinked evergreen that is click to navigate one day...

    Silver Crusade 5/5 Venture-Lieutenant, Pennsylvania—Pittsburgh aka Terminalmancer

    I used to run from print, but now I have an Ubuntu laptop I cart around with me. Better for the trees, but now I'm tethered to an outlet... but if I can get said outlet, it makes it really easy to search for feats and class abilities and things I don't know, when they come up. So that's nice.

    *nix-derived OSes like Ubuntu and even OSX have the concept of workspaces. You set up keyboard shortcuts to swap between them and each of them is like a little desktop with its own applications open.

    I'll open up multiple copies of the scenario in different workspaces. The map usually goes in the bottom workspace and stats usually go to the right. So if I'm trying to figure out where B387a is, it's a quick flip down, look at the map, flip back. If I need stats, quick flip right, flip back. It works pretty okay.

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