Tenra Bansho Zero Prep

… and Prep in General

Hurray hurray, I think I’m just about done. Tight Zero Acts, tight Destiny fates, enough room for the whole thing to spool out in lots of different directions. Just what I wanted. I’ve got some physical prep to deal with, like printing up cheat sheets and whatnot (ye gawds there are lots of power sets in TBZ) but that’s just time, not brain power. New Mexico here I come!

Someone in today’s earlier thread (Aaron Griffin?) suggested I crowdsource prep. I don’t think that really works for me for lots of reasons, all tied into my own shortcomings and issues. I’m kind of a perfectionist (kind of!), and I hold myself to really high standards. So it might be an interesting creative exercise to see if I could use random creative tidbits from the ether, and I’m onboard with trying at some point, but … I dunno. 

And of course the process itself is kind of the point, isn’t it? Getting those threads internalized. Staring hard at a relationship map. Letting the situation percolate for a while. So as much as I hate (“hate”) prep, I also appreciate the good parts.

Then someone else (Andy Hauge?) thought it might be interesting to talk about what makes prep fun. So let’s talk about that.

As a practical matter, I think some games do a better job of making prep fun and interesting than others. Building out Fronts in Apocalypse World? Can be fun, especially since the process usually happens after you’ve had that crazy ranging first session. It can also be frustrating or intimidating. It’s no wonder lots of very good MCs just skip it and run off the hip forever. I do, too, sometimes.

Torchhbearer is one of my favorite games to prep because of how they did the dungeon design rules. I’ve consistently and predictably had a fun hour or two of doodling up dungeons (although I haven’t run anyone through one in years). 

Once upon a time I had a lot of fun with Robin Laws’ adaptation of Rune. Talk about a game inside the game! You had a budget with which you built your adventure, using this branching-logic tree system. Elaborate. Honestly not worth the time for what you got out of it. But ambitious, so ambitious.

What other games make a subgame of prep? I’m coming up short.

What would make prep fun for prep-haters? I’m not sure. Knowing a system really well definitely makes me hate the process less. The thing that killed me prepping TBZ was just the fact it’s been a couple years since we hit this game, and there’s such a heavy load of subsystems. I do remember, very sharply, that the advice for threat-balancing the big bads is uh incomplete. So, whatever, I wanted to emphasize the melodrama and Fate churn elements of the game more than the fighting anyway. 

But the perfectionist in me says get it right. So I’m flipping between both a dead-tree and a PDF version of the game, reading and refamiliarizing. Exhausting. I’ve certainly spent more time between my silly survey last week and now prepping a game that will not last more than 4 hours. 

My preferred prep:play ratio is probably more in the 1:4 range (maybe an hour of prep for a four hour long game) but it is what it is. In fact, there’s probably some kind of curve that prohibits this! Like, either you’re looking at no-prep games (either total improv or running out of a prewritten adventure), or you’re looking at games that take no less than 1:1 prep time. Examples in between are few and far between.

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0 thoughts on “Tenra Bansho Zero Prep”

  1. I sometimes enjoy the creative aspect of it.

    A while back I recall running Dogs in the Vineyard, and felt myself doing some real, kinda old-fashioned prep for the first time in a while.

    I enjoyed figuring out what the seed of sin was in each town, and how that branched outwards. Also, what interesting people might exist there.

    Still hated stating the NPCs though, even with the quick rules.

  2. Dogs in the Vineyard is basically the only game I can remember having fun prepping. There must be more, but I love that DitV lets you basically write a short story about a town full of shitty people as prep for an RPG.

  3. Games I remember liking the prep for…

    Dungeon World: not all of the prep, but I loved, loved, loved putting together Fronts, evolving them out of the players’ actions. My favorite bit is when I put the Fronts down and aha suddenly I have a clear picture in my head of what the world and the campaign will be like.

    Golden Sky Stories: getting to put together an emotionally-resonant human situation for the players to encounter was fantastic, and I definitely appreciate how you can more or less do stats on-the-fly, statting characters as per the general NPC guidelines.

    TBZ: my one experience prepping for TBZ was doing half-baked scenario prep beforehand, and then hurriedly putting details down in order to make a coherent, interesting city with relationships between different bits of it.

    Burning Wheel: when I burn up some really cool NPCs with neat backstory, and I finally “get” a character who hadn’t been statted up before, and who was previously in the background. I once spent a half-hour doing this on my commute, the NPC got wasted with a longbow the next session, and I didn’t even mind! I had a great time getting to know the character.

    So I guess the one common thread here is: I like prep that helps me get acquainted with the world of the game, which resonates a lot with the statements about Dogs. That moment where the people and major players of the game come into sharp focus for me is magical, and any prep that contributes towards that (like drawing up factions, working out relationships between characters, or fleshing out pertinent world backstory) is something I like.

    Stats are eh.

  4. I also tend to over-prep, my ratio is at least 1.5:1. But I do enjoy the prep.
    I haven’t thought about it as a subgame… I would say the Mutant City Blues has a subgame in the character creation process. You need to follow a chart and there are disadvantages along the way. If you try to avoid them the character might not get the abilities you want them to have. (Yes, there is an optional rule to ignore the path system but I find it fun to use.)

  5. Hey that WAS me.

    I was a perfectionist about this too, but have started being more honest about it. No matter how solid your prep is, people are going to “kill the mayor” (a phrase harkening back to a game where the PC’s idea of saving a town from invaders led by the mayor’s brother was solved by killing the mayor so there’s no more grudge).

    In a recent game, what I prepped for a society of ice elemental humanoid villains ended up being used for a friendly clan of frozen waste hunters.

    Perfect prep doesn’t exist because it will always be PLAYED. Players ruin everything 😉

    What was the question again?

  6. I wish I could participate positively, but I honestly can’t think of any prep I’ve ever done that was enjoyable, unless we go back to junior high and focus on my kid self drawing fancy maps for AD&D. Even then, actually populating locations with monsters was hard.

    I have a really hard time coming up with ideas away from the table. I have roped my non-gaming wife into brainstorming sessions so many times. Even highly procedural games, like PbtA stuff, have not proven easy for me.

    I guess I just need more practice.

  7. WAIT! I did some superhero world-building in college for HERO 4th ed. that was pretty fun. Timelines, building NPCs, drawing pictures… Supers is actually pretty easy for me, for some reason.

  8. If I were to list the things I dislike about prep, front and center would be tactical prep. Stats. The worst.

    I can tolerate like…situational prep. And letting a game in progress percolate doesn’t even count as prep to my mind. But ye gods, kill me if I have to generate a character or threat-balance a monster.

  9. I think what I don’t like about most prep, even situational prep, is that it reminds me a lot of what I do to prepare a file for trial. I locate the key people, the key information, I lay out it in easy-to-access formats, I cross-reference things that are consistent or inconsistent, I try to pin down things that will make people uncomfortable.

    I don’t like doing that all day by myself in my office and then come home to do it at home “for fun”. Eff that. Especially because I’m a pretty competent improviser, so as long as I have the basic situation and a handful of names, I can run most of my favourite systems completely off-the-cuff. It might even be why they are my favourite systems.

  10. Adam D oh yeah, that’s a great insight.

    I think for me the reason I don’t like mathy prep is that I hate putting myself into the head space necessary to do it well. Is the threat credible? Is it too much? I can literally feel my mind at war with itself, I MUST WIN versus THEY MUST BE ENTERTAINED versus BUT WHAT ABOUT WHAT THE FICTION DEMANDS?

  11. A Prep CON: Reality getting in the way of the prep.
    A Prep PRO: Fantasy getting into the the prep.

    Supers is my favorite type of RPG and I like creating bad guys. I don’t like it if the maths get in the way but overall figuring out who this bad guy is and what he’s going to do are way more fun than the math part being bad.

  12. Very interesting how math is popping up as something not generally favored in prep. Necessary evil, or rather something that we’re doing a bad job of incorporating into prep methodology? (Especially with game design.)

  13. Jesse Coombs oh oh oh! I totes forgot, Circle of Hands has really fun prep. Totally a mini-game inside the game. Favorite part of the game in fact.

  14. Andy Hauge a speculation: Because if there’s math involved, that carries with it a strong implication of competitive play? And when you’re the GM you don’t really get to compete?

    All the prep I’ve ever enjoyed has been about situations, rather than guessing at balance. It just feels like bullshit (to me). Which is why, like, Front/Threat prep in AW is okay: nothing has stats, just moves.

  15. Paul Beakley: There is this really interesting dichotomy that pops up in RPG thought where on the one side you have “honesty to the world” and on the other side you have “a fair experience”. Likely it stems from wargaming. But it’s also a different topic, I think.

  16. It’s a nice balance when the GM is limited but empowered to give the players a fair fight while still honoring the fiction. I think a key point there is to hit a place where one position can strongly favor the other, but it’s not a done deal.

    (If I may borrow from the fighting game community, being able to present the players with a 4-6 or 3-7 matchup instead of an 8-2 or 10-0 matchup.)

  17. I like the challenge of making balanced characters. Math is usually the tool to make that happen but it can be time consuming. (Like in HERO for example.)

  18. Really? That is too bad. 
    Makes some guidelines, weather dice limits or point limits, and stick to them. That works out good when I do it.

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