Low Prep Games

March 17, 2020

Welp. My whole area is on lockdown due to the pandemic.  So I’ve been reaching out to friends to see who wants to do some more gaming online.

This is one of those times where low prep games are a great option. It’s a good time to talk a bit about low/no prep games especially for folks who might only be familiar with the mainstream big campaign style games.

Getting around Content Prep

Mostly when people think of prep, they’re thinking of content – writing up an adventure, generating encounters, maps, NPCs, etc.  I have often called “one use” content “ammo” – you shoot it and it’s done.  It’s the most inefficient part of content prep, since you have to keep making it.  However, low prep games get around this in a few smart ways that might help you decide what kind of game you might want to jump into.

Tight Scope

Many of the games narrow the kind of story or game that they’re focusing on.  If the game is built around “What are the first 3 dates like for this potential couple?” you now have more clear idea of what kinds of problems to present and it’s easier to come up with content on the fly.   Part of the reason many people love Lady Blackbird is that it gets the situation together very fast – you have a situation that makes it easy for the GM to spin up specific problems on the spot, the pregen characters are all pre-loaded with issues and direction so you don’t have to do much to work with it.

Group Content Generation

Another trick is to hand off the trouble of coming up with material to the group itself.

Flag Mechanics that allow players to define the scope for themselves, and the GM can use that to riff off with.  Primetime Adventures is my go-to in this, though much more crunchy games like Burning Wheel or the out of print Riddle of Steel both do this as well (albeit, they end up having longer prep time usually due to groups getting used to mechanics and system mastery).

Narration trading mechanics allow players create problems for each other such as distributed GMing like in 1001 Nights or Polaris.

Some games use a random generation method to create situations that are also inspiring to generate ideas in the middle of play.  This usually means the ideas have to have to be more than a “randomly filled dungeon” but something that ends up having potential other issues or problems that a GM can pull inspiration from.  In A Wicked Age used a card draw “oracle” for this, while The Drifter’s Escape is one of the better examples using all three options- flags, trading narration and an oracle.

Familiarity Prep

The second issue is getting your playgroup up to speed to play the game.  Some of that is setting, some of that is mechanics.

For mechanics, games with less complexity (such as most I’ve recommended above), or games the group is already familiar with can help.  It can also help to have a 1-2 page quicksheet with basic rules and best practices ready.

On note of setting, asking people to read a lot ahead will rarely work out.  Better to also have a 1-2 page quicksheet, or pick something everyone is already familiar with (“Let’s play as the Avengers from the movies”).

Interface Prep

Finally, playing online means a new layer of learning how the interface works.

If it is a game with content prep ahead, you might lose time trying to upload maps or get images for characters and monsters together.  Even if you’ve bought an existing adventure for something like Roll20, you might still need to figure out where all the tabs and settings are for what you might need as a GM.

Beyond that, your players will also need to learn how to navigate the character sheet system, dice rolling/card drawing/whatever the game may use.  And, there may be issues with how any player’s computer or device can hang with the service you’re using as well.

I usually recommend the closer you can get to no maps, no minis, and basic dice rolling, makes things easier.  We do use Roll For Your Party for games that involve matching/assigning dice or counting successes with mixed dice, and PlayingCards.io for anything using standard card decks and/or chips/tokens.

Anyway please be safe, wash your hands, listen to medical professionals and let’s imagine better worlds and get to making some of that real when things get safer.

If you find my blog entertaining and valuable, consider supporting me on Patreon.

%d bloggers like this: