Session Prep: One Shot + One Shot = 2?

What better way to keep me motivated to post on this blog than to start a massive post series on how I prepare for a D&D session.

In mid-2017, a group of friends came over for a game night. One of us had suggested that we play Dungeons and Dragons, since some had played before and thought it would be a good fit for the group. After our first one shot was over, though, we went months without playing. We all had fun, sure, but none of us knew the rules well enough to start up our own campaign. Nearly a year went by between that first one shot and the start of our first real campaign. None of us had played since that first one shot, but we all agreed that if someone was to run a game, we'd all play again. I volunteered to DM that next game, as it would force me to learn the rules better.

Still not having a deep understanding of the rules, I turned to lurking across multiple D&D related subreddits, and began bookmarking anything I thought would be cool to play with. Over a few weeks, I managed to save over three dozen one-shots, maps, or general ideas for Dungeons and Dragons, but still had no game of my own to put it all in.

Our group had started to talk about wanting to play a session soon, so I picked a one shot that I thought would be a fun one to start with out of my saved pile, made a few adjustments to it and ran with it.

I tried to go all out in presentation for this first session. I used Illwinter's Floorplan Generator to create some basic maps for combat I had planned. I found several puzzles and riddles ran by other DMs that would slot in well with the one shot I was planning. I created a few NPCs and detailed their appearances, their personalities - even tried a few voices for them. I thought I was all set. And then the session started.

Immediately, my plan for how the session would go went a bit out the window, as all the prep work I had done had been under the naive assumption that the party would go down a specific route. I had turned a well written one-shot into the straightest of railroad tracks, and was thrown off guard when it went slightly off the rails. Still, the prep work for that session gave me a little breathing room. I had a list of locations that the party could travel to in a small town, and within that, a list of NPCs that ran those shops, and with that, I struggled my way through the one shot.

The lessons that first session gave were immediate and clear. Going in to future sessions, I focused less on making sure I had all the fancy accoutrement that went with running a game, and more on making sure I had a pool of resources available to redirect the party to if things went in an unexpected direction.

Again, this post is the first in a series I plan to write about how I've learned to DM, and how I prep for sessions. If there's something of value hidden somewhere in the rambling nature of these posts, great! I'm glad it might be helpful! The best advice is often the hardest to "prep" for, and that's to, above all else, have fun with it. It is a game, after all!

Tyler Conlee

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