Having no intention of running a game in 2012, I did not craft an entry for our New Year, New Game event — hopefully you did! — so imagine my surprise walking out of last week’s game discussion with a new campaign to plan. Did I mention it’s based on a licensed property that I’m only passingly familiar with and two players who dwarf my knowledge? Oh, and we’re starting chargen this weekend. Just another day in the GM’s chair?

Prep For Success

Whether you’ve never been behind the screen before or an old pro, you may find yourself in a similar position. This isn’t about improvisation, it’s about making use of an accelerated prep timeline and focusing on the important few.

  • Make a list of exactly what will be done in the first session and you need to have ready. In this case we’re doing character generation. That means being familiar with the creation rules, not necessarily the entire rules set or combat.
  • Strive to meet those minimum requirements and, if time allows, then expand into what you’ll need to know for sessions 2+. Don’t spend time on, say, the experience or advancement rules yet.
  • In the case of a setting or backstory you’re not familiar with, lean on your campaign guide or online resources. Most campaign or players’ guides strive to compact the essence of “what is this game about?” into a concise summary. You don’t need to be an expert but you do need to have a common foundation and language to work from.
  • If someone else in your group is familiar or has knowledge of the game then utilize them to help spread the workload and explain it to other players (or you!).
  • Online resources continue to be an excellent way to help shave time off your prep. Handouts, logs, spreadsheets, etc can bring relief to your limited timeline.
  • Have a plan to get ahead of the prep; being just one session ahead isn’t a sustainable model for success in most cases and will sap your energy.
  • When the rubber hits the road for that first session, consider a pre-created one. Introductory adventures tend to be well-tested, contain a number of newbie-friendly hooks (good for you as well), and are character-neutral. That is to say, they tend to work of all characters. Later sessions can focus on your newly-created PCs. It’s easier to read an adventure designed for new campaigns and GM/players rather than writing your own under the gun.
  • Don’t be afraid to pull the eject handle. If, in the first session, you get up to where you were able to prep, don’t be afraid to stop. End the session, explain that you’re as far as you were able to prep, and setup for the next session. That’s better than trying to stumble ahead, ill-prepared; and your players will see it, too.

Again, none of this is improvisation, just good time management.

What’s That Game?

As mentioned in the lead-in, I was a little surprised to walk away having to plan for a campaign for the A Song of Ice and Fire RPG, aka A Game of Thrones. Beyond the HBO miniseries and the first novel, a setting I’m not intimately familiar with. The system roughly the same, although I’ve been researching it for the past month as a potential Birthright replacement, something we’ve been eager to play but not saddled with the D&D rules.

Fortunately the first session will be all about House creation and the setting’s default state is just prior to the first book, alleviating some of the prep concerns for only have a week to begin. But all of this is rather academic when confronted with excited and engaged players. It doesn’t feel like work at all!

Any tips to share about a quick game prep turnaround? Share below! Also, want to toss a Gnome a bone (or halfling)? Give me your Game of Thrones campaign ideas!

About  Don Mappin

For nearly 30 years RPGs have been a staple of Don’s life — so that means he’s pretty old. Author of a dozen RPG books, Don has worked with companies such as ICE, Last Unicorn Games, Decipher, and AEG. He now spends his time working in IT management, enjoying his family and two children, or gaming.



8 Responses to Once More Unto the Breach

  1. We chatted about this over the weekend, but I’ll mention it here because I think it’s a good tip: I strongly believe that starting with house creation means you’ll walk away from this first session with one or more strong ideas for a campaign.

    By the end of the night, we’ll have a house that’s grounded in the history, geography, and politics of Westeros. Who we’re near, who we’re allied with, and our house’s current standing are going to drive a lot of what the PCs are focused on. If we make it to rough character discussion, at least to the point where we’ve decided if one of us is the lord of the house, it seems like the hooks and potential will double.

    I actually see SIFRP as a great choice for “Hey, you’re running a game — let’s start next week!” because of the house creation system. It formalizes what I did informally for Star Trek: I asked you guys to pick a season enemy, and you chose Romulans. That strongly suggested playing in the Beta Quadrant, suggested all sorts of story ideas, and gave me a box to prep in.

  2. This Saturday I ran a character creation session for my Hardboiled/Noir style Burning Wheel campaign. I had planned the game to be in a French styled city-state with a location like Venice with competing noble families in the city and surrounding area. 1 royal family, 3 ducal families, 9 counts, and 27 barons. Then there are crime families (5) and street gangs (15). Everyone is looking for the silver dove (an item from an old prophecy that whoever controls the silver dove would rule the city-state) which has recently gone missing from the heirless royal family.

    The players came together to give me a whole plot for the semester. One player’s character is a run away slave who desperately wants to keep her old master from getting the dove and ruling the city. Another player is running a man-at-arms for one of the noble families (we’re thinking count) who want the dove to secure the city and bring about changes that will lessen crime and abolish slavery. The last player’s character is a member of a shadow organization that wants to use the noble family as a means to control the city, the character acts as a minstrel for that family.

    Our big twist is that the third character plans to betray his organization and the noble family. He wants to destroy the silver dove and bring anarchy to the city via a civil war.

    This worked out great. The players seem excited and they get to do a lot to control the plot of the game. They wanted more Italian feel to this, and I am toying with running the game as a historical fiction game.

    So for prep ideas? I am a fan of letting the players gibber on about things they think are cool and doing your best to get those elements in the game.

  3. I have actually been running SIFRP for 6 months now after getting massively into the book series. Hopefully, then, I can give you a few tips!

    1. The System is Clunky: The system could use a lot of work, IMO… Basically, if you can avoid using it, I would. The House Generation system is brilliant, however, so I would use that with another system for the actual game play. Should be an easy port. If you’re dead stuck on the SIFRP system, here are a few pointers:

    1.1 Allow Players to Invest All Their Destiny Points: I have no idea why they made a minimum here… It just leads to half finished and boring characters. I broke the rules in the book and allowed them to purchase as many Qualities and Drawbacks as they wanted with their allowed Destiny Points.

    1.2 Keep Track of Everything: Seriously, I know notes are important normally, but this is a game where you’ll need someone to write things down as they happen. In a setting as hectic as Westeros, every insult can come back to bite you on the arse. As such, having someone write this stuff down is important!

    2. Give the Players SOME Power, but Not ALL: Again, with the setting how it is, your players should be playing Heirs and Courtiers, not Lords themselves. If they have that much power, then things could get massively over your head. For the first game, make them far less important than this. SIFRP can quickly become a wargame if you’re not careful, so watch out!

    3. Read the Books!: I cannot stress enough how important this is. Especially for the GM. Knowing what everyone is doing and why they are doing it before it happens is VERY helpful indeed. Even if you are playing before the books begin (I played 4 years before), it is still important, as you know what everyone is working towards… That being said…

    4. Have Fun With It!: At first I was afraid of stepping on Westerosi toes and tried to shelter my players in an out of the way corner so that they didn’t mess up the story. That was a mistake. Let them run all over it. DO they want to kill Tyrion? I hope not, as he is awesome, but fine, they kill Tyrion. Now they have to deal with the fall out!

    5. The Campaign Guide is Useless!!!: If you read the books, you wont need the Campaign Guide. However, if you want everything in one spot, then it might not be a bad idea. Personally, I found it way too expensive for what you get and preferred using the fan-wiki for it. You’ll find it is you google “A Wiki of Ice and Fire”. It is GREAT!

    6. Campaign Management!!!: Seriously, without Obsidian Portal, my campaign would have died on day one. Without the ability to sort and link NPCs like that, I would have been jumping off a cliff half-way through planning for that first session. Make sure you have some form of manager like this. Preferably a wiki!

    That’s all I can think of atm, but if you have any questions, I’m sure I can answer them (or at least I will blather until you forget what you’ve asked!). You can email me at ben.a.scerri@gmail.com

    For that matter, anyone on here can email me about anything SIFRP or RPG related if they need to :P

    And as an added touch, my campaign hook: Set one player up as the Heir, and then have a jealous far away in line relative systematically tear it away from them and frame the bastard brother… Works every time.

  4. That sounds like a fun campaign–though, given the sheer number of pages written, I can imagine your trepidation at “mastering it all”. It sounds like you have a good prep plan–and the house generation system sounds like it’s going to give you lots of interesting new hooks.

    Good luck!

  5. Kurt "Telas" Schneider

    I’ve got a love-hate relationship with SoIaF, so take this with a handful of salt.

    Westeros is an awesome campaign setting, complete with different cultures, short and long plot arcs, rival houses, and all of the violence, ambition, and tragedy of our own history. It’s all there, and easy to slip into.

    (snark) But if you really want to capture the feel of the books, kill off any characters as soon as they do anything heroic, selfless, or kind. (/snark)

  6. @Kurt “Telas” Schneider – Perhaps not THAT heavy handed, haha, but I do agree with giving serious consequences for doing things that aren’t tactically sound. Doing nice things is a sign of weakness! Make sure others exploit this!

  7. @Kurt “Telas” Schneider – One of the bits of advice in the GM’s section is to kill off a PC during every major story arc to capture the feel of the books. ;-)

  8. @Martin Ralya – Haha, well I liked to run it with one major cliff hanger at the end of every session: be it a murder, an arrest warrant, etc. I found that it gave a nerve racking feeling to the setting. Plus, I always made sure that the cliff hanger was NOT in the player’s interests.

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