The Importance of Player Prep
Updated: Oct 9, 2021
Everyone knows that the DM/GM prepares for a session of Dungeons & Dragons. However, a little bit of player prep can have a profound impact on the quality of the game! What should they be doing? How does it affect things? Well, let’s talk about it!
What to do?
You might be scratching your head about this topic entirely. How can a player prepare for a session? Only the Game Master knows what lies ahead. This is madness! That may be true, but don’t forget that the DM/GM does not control what the players decide to do. And if your goal is to partake in a truly collaborative, player-driven experience, then this topic is at the very heart of how that takes place.
I believe that the most significant way players can prepare for a session is to determine what the group wants to do during the next session. Ideally, this will happen within a day or two of when they last played. With the last session fresh in their minds, the players can use whatever group messaging service they have to discuss things with each other and come to a decision before the DM prepares for the game. Once a consensus is reached, just tell the DM!
What this looks like
It really could be anything that seems significant. Perhaps the party has finished up the latest adventure and things are pretty open-ended so you tell the DM that you’d like to look into making money, head to a specific location, or maybe you want to engage in some downtime activities like researching a topic that recently came up.
Maybe it’s less about what the group is going to do and more about how they’re going to try and do it. If your group is looking to rescue the princess from the nefarious clutches of a rival city-state (cliche, I know), so you let the DM know you’d like to try to sneak in to learn more information. You could even go into detail and say you’re going to try and forge papers to pass yourself off as some kind of legitimate persons from a far away land… anything that would help the DM prepare here is what your goal is.
I know, I know, some of you might be thinking we can’t tell the DM what we’re going to do! They will use that information against us! I have news for you, your DM listens to your group plan out entire strategies all the time. Sure the possibility of metagaming always exists, but this game is built on trust between everyone at the table. I promise you, the more information the DM has, the better your games will be.
Why/How it helps
It might not seem like much, but this simple step will have a tremendous impact on the quality of the game. Instead of the DM trying to guess what it is the players will do, they know. Now the DM’s prep time has something clear to focus on. Which in turn will allow them to flesh things out in greater detail. They can add more quality to things like better NPCs, fun traps, puzzles, etc... It also lets them know that they won’t be wasting their time. Perhaps my favorite part is that the game will still be a player-driven story.
What happens when you don’t
This will probably branch out into one of three different directions. One, they will over prepare to make sure they’re covered. They might flesh out as many choices that have been set before the group in as much detail as they can to account for everything. They explain this extra effort away by telling themselves they can use this extra prep some other time when it makes sense. And, to be fair, they can. However, continually going down this path can very easily lead to burnout and once the DM loses steam, games have a tendency to not last too much longer.
The second thing this could lead to is under-preparing. Many will simply not think it’s that important to put out a great product if they don’t feel like it matters to the players all that much. They will probably just write down a sentence or two for each choice they can think of and just wing it. These games can actually be a lot of fun. But so is eating cake. It’s great when you have it but a steady diet of cake will lead to being unhealthy.
The last way I see this going is good old fashioned railroading. The players believe they have three options in front of them but they only really have one because no matter what they choose, the DM will simply move whatever they prepared behind that choice. The story becomes DM-driven, players don’t have any real agency over the game, and outside of the result of a few rolls of the dice, nothing is really all that unexpected. At that point if you ask me, why not just go play your favorite video game RPG?
Perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a molehill here, but I would ask you to think back to your favorite games you’ve played in. Did you have a group message where all the players discussed what was going on in the game? I’m guessing that would lead to each player even letting the DM know what was important to them and their characters. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that the DM would then use that information to create an experience that was simply at another level?
Before we end things, I would like to mention that we looked at things from the players’ perspective. DMs/GMs can easily take the lead in pulling this kind of information from the players, but sometimes that’s just adding one more thing they have to account for. If you’re running a game, I would encourage you to ask your players what they want to do next session. I’m guessing it’ll take your game to the next level. Many hands make for light work so let’s do our best to take good care of each other, particularly when we know just how hard the DM/GM works at making our games great.
About the Author:
Jake is the co-founder of JNJ Tabletop on YouTube. Whether you're a DM or player, seasoned veteran or just learning how to play, JNJ Tabletop is here to help you get the most out of your D&D/TTPRG Games.
Check them out everywhere here: https://linktr.ee/jnjtabletop