Monday, November 4, 2013

Gary Gygax's GM Prep Checklist

Gary Gygax photo by Thomas Hand Keefe
Over the course of the last few week's I've been reading Gary Gygax's Role-Playing Mastery in my Let's Read series. The book has been a hodgepodge of interesting ideas and advice mixed with some really harsh criticisms. 

One of the more interesting bits of advice for Game Masters came in Chapter 3: the Master GM when Gary outlined the process for preparing a campaign prior to actual play. Now he did this in the form of a narrative exposition of the Game Master's process but I liked it enough that I'm going to outline the process in a checklist format so that I can use it in my own preparations. 

You're all welcome to use it if you'd like to do so too. 

Gary Gygax's Game Master 
Preparation Checklist.

1.) Determine the genre for play
2.) Establish the setting for the game (for example, turn of the century San Antonio).
3.) Create the main goal of the quest
          3a.) Establish a reasonable circumstance for the quest
          3b.) Determine the motivation of the antagonists in the quest
          3c.) Develop the motivations of possible allies in the quest
4.) Draw a ficticous map for the location with special buildings, important places and non-player characters, secret locations, hidden exits, and the like noted on the map.
5.) Create several sub-plots that can be featured in your scenario.
6.) Consider the competing factions that might be involved in the scenario and flesh them out.
7.) Provide a series of false leads to be given to your players.
8.) Create a mastermind behind the antagonistic elements in the scenario.
         8a.) Ensure that he is as intelligent, if not more so, than the players' characters
          8b.) Make this master villain aware of the players' actions and responsive to them.
9.) Have the mastermind actively plot against the players' characters.
10.) Establish all of the mastermind's ancellary factors
          10a.) Where is his headquarters?
          10b.) Does he have additional strongholds? Where are they located?
          10c.) Who are his lieutenants?
          10d.) How many people work for him?
          10e.) What is his ultimate plan?
          10f.) What are his individual goals and objectives involved in that plan?
11.) What other locations are your players' characters likely to visit in the immediate future?
          11a.) How long does it take to travel there?
          11b.) What is the cost of traveling there?
          11c.) Re-answer questions 4, 5, 6, and 7 for each of the new locations.
12.) Now consider all the variables you haven't accounted for yet and attempt to bring them to account.

The list is pretty comprehensive for what you should be able to account for as a Dungeon Master. I've yet to actually accomplish all of those goals prior to my first play session, but I'm thinking that I'm going to attempt to do so with the new campaign I'm going to be launching after the first of the year. 

I have a feeling that I'm always going to just wing number 12 though.


  1. I bought Gary Gygax's Role-Playing Mastery, read it a few times and then gave it to a friend. He's an author. Coincidently, this level of preparation would be good for writing a book. As for running a campaign, I create most of the backstory as we play, usually drawing from the imagination of the players. Less prep, more play. I find that more fun.

    1. ". . . As for running a campaign, I create most of the backstory as we play, usually drawing from the imagination of the players. Less prep, more play. I find that more fun"

      I've run with as little prep as a single, blank sheet of notebook paper and with as much as a detailed map and a book of names, but I've never run with this level of detail addressed prior to the start of the campaign. So it makes me interested in attempting to add that level of play prep.

      It's different for me that way, I suppose, because I've never had that much prepared before I start.

  2. I almost always ran games by the seat of my pants. The only things prepared in advance were maps and floor plans. Well thought out list.

    1. See I've often been in that same position and I've always wondered if preparing like Gygax does in his list would be better.

      I'm actually going to be trying it out for a new game I will be running after the first of the year.

  3. Impressive! I must say that even when I had the time available to prepare to this level of detail (high school, military and then college) I never did. Any D&D campaign I had prior to FR started as a single home grown / slightly concepted adventure.
    I dont know that I would be comfortable preparing this much in advance even if I had the time to do so today.

    1. I think that the grand idea for Gary would be that this isn't a set in stone method, but rather a guideline to provide you with a firm foundation to adventure in.

      Then again the man did spend *months* preparing for a WWII simulation game that never took off without any bitterness at all. What can you say, he liked prep work.


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