Make your TTRPG prep USEful in 2023

Ugly, Stupid, Emergent.

A silly acronym I am coining to remind me to keep things light and playful instead of stressing about prep. I don’t want to run other people’s published adventures, I want to create worlds for and with my players that belong only to us. Which means keeping prep light, fun, and happy. So instead of commiting to Dungeon23, I’m just telling myself to keep it USEful.

U: Ugly

Your maps and notes won’t and shouldn’t look like published products. Only you need to read them. You should feel good about taking an eraser to them and redrawing stuff between sessions. A published book is static, your notes are alive.

S: Stupid / Simple

You don’t need intricate lore for your world, or backstories for everyone in town, you don’t need very complex encounters.

With the right tools and mindset, 2d6 goblins” is a flexible, exciting, and potentially campaign-changing encounter. Once again, you aren’t doing this for public consumption. No obnoxious OSR bloggers are going to review your home notes and tell you your encounters lack details and panache.

If it feels like a chore, it is. It’s not your fun hobby anymore. You aren’t doing this professionally, so do it joyfully. Use random tables, throw stuff together. Make helpful tools or use the tools your rules of choice give you.

E: Emergent

Start as basic as possible. For D&D, draw some rooms and put some monsters and treasure in the rooms. Trust that cool ideas will come when you just start. Don’t try to front-load creativity.

Flexible, emergent prep will lead to flexible, emergent play (the best kind). When your friends and their characters start messing with the world, respond to them and use that for prep between sessions. Narrative and setting complexity is an output of playfulness, not work you need to do up front. Cool details will come later.

90% of GM advice videos are trying to solve problems that wouldn’t exist if you weren’t trying to tell a story. Just let things happen and they will. Narrative tends to happen.

A dungeon / sector / map is never a complete thing, it lives and grows and changes in play. Let go of worrying about it being finished. It isn’t.

January 2, 2023