Sweating the (really) small stuff – over-prepping for a game
C: So Ange, what are we talking about today? Have you prepared something?
A: Goddamn you. Yes, I thought today we could chat about prepping for a D&D game, or more specifically, over-prepping.
C: And also the Rat Races. They were so much fucking fun; we should talk about them.
A: Yeah, I figured they were kind of linked, because the races are the perfect example of a time when I really, really went overboard with the prep in a situation where I really didn’t need to. The Rat Races were a lot of fun, but they were basically this half hour interlude in my game where the party ended up through magical means in a cavern in which a group of small rodents were taking part in basically Mario Kart, and I prepped so much for this. I cannot tell you how many rules I made up for these races, and then they all basically went out the window because they weren’t really relevant, it turned out. And there were all these descriptions which were irrelevant—
C: I feel like a little bit of extra context might be needed here. The party in Angela’s game visited a candlestick museum for a nice day of relaxed fun—
A: I also over-prepped that. If you want to know the official ten sizes of candle in our world, well now you can because I decided that was what I needed to spend my time creating*.
C: So inside Blackmarsh, the city Angela designed, she created a museum; now in this museum was a boardgame which we got sucked into Jumanji-style.
A: Yes, this session was a lot of me stealing inspiration from childhood games and films. And also candles.
C: Inside the boardgame—which used the board of a real game called Labyrinth—are multiple different areas, and in each one was a different dungeon encounter, including one which had a civilisation of ratfolk who used car-like vehicles in order to race each other—
A: Gotta go fast.
C: So there’s: city; museum; labyrinth; and then area in the labyrinth. That’s four layers of prep that you did for this encounter. That’s a lot of prep.
A: It was a lot of prep, but I also did not manage my prep well. Like, having watched you guys cruise through my many skeletons in another labyrinth-area without really taking any damage, arguably the place where I should have put that prep was not on creating intricate customs for my rodent world and instead focusing on calculating CRs a little more.
C: Look, we’ve all fought a skeleton or two in our day. And sure, there are some fascinating, crazy, kooky skeletons out there. But I’m going to say it: have you fought skeletons? Cool. Have you gone to a grand prix starring rats and their magical contraptions in which they race? I fucking thought not. That shit was unforgettable. I reckon you did put the prep in the right place.
A: That’s very kind of you to say. I just wish I was better at letting go of things, of not having to complete every minute detail. Like, you guys placed bets on the rodents—you bet on Baron Amster.
C: I did bet on Baron Amster. He was very dashing.
A: He was the Porco Rosso of the rat world. And everyone else bet on other rats. Or mice. Or shrews.
C: There was a guinea pig.
A: That’s true. And with the betting, all odds were equal because all rodents are equal.
C: All bets were not off, from what I understand.
A: And I obviously had to prep what you guys could have won, if you had won.
C: Spoilers, we sadly did not win. Should have bet on Lady Hatfield.
A: Always bet on Hatfield. She is a most capable shrew. But anyway, I had ten to twelve different things you could have won. Like, I could have worked out the odds of you guys winning and just done one or two prizes but I didn’t. Like, do you ever experience the feeling where some part of you knows that what you’re prepping is never going to come up but you also feel the need to make that miniature world perfect?
C: Yes. One million percent. I know there are DMs out there who don’t do any prep—and I’m not talking about DMs who use adventure manuals and the like, because that’s still prep; I know there are DMs who are like, ‘Fuck it, this is imagination-land; I will wing all of this.’ But I am not one of those people.
A: I don’t think either of us are willingly. I make up a lot of things on the fly, but that’s because I over-plot some areas and then forget to any plotting in other areas.
C: Right. I over-prep fucking everything and then forget basic details. I can tell you about the family lineage of the shopkeep and where they immigrated from and their thoughts on multiple low-level political changes that have happened. Did I think about the cost of any of the alcohol they will serve you? Not at all.
C: Suffice to say, I think you and I are both prep-machines. Sometimes we prep just for the fun and the thrill of it. Sometimes it’s just enjoyable to build things—even if they’re not going to come to fruition, just if they’re cool to build. I don’t know what the cure to over-prepping is, except to say that maybe it doesn’t need a cure. Sometimes it’s fun in itself and like, I think you got some great reactions out of the Rat Races; that was a fucking unforgettable D&D experience and something which maybe only happened because you sat down and prepped hard for that moment.
A: That’s true.
C: With that said, one of the most fun sessions I’ve ever had was put together with an hour of advanced time by the DM just for the hell of it and it was such a blast. So if the prepping is fun and you enjoy it, do that prep, even if it’s over-prep. But if the prepping in-game is stressing you out—making all that exposition work, making everything come together—even when you’re doing the prepping itself, if you’re not having fun, give it a skip. You don’t need to do it. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t feel the pressure. But if it does work for you, enjoy the minutia like the rest of us.
A: Well said.
C: Thank you.
A: One final bonus of over-prepping I want to mention is that it’s way easier to put in personal Easter eggs if you’ve prepped a lot in advance. Like, one of the racers in this last session was called Johnny Sherbet because when I was little, my sister and I thought that was the name of the real Formula One driver, Johnny Herbert. So I added him in just for me.
C: That’s wonderful. I love that so much.
* In case you do genuinely want to know candle sizes/to prove to you that Angela really did create such a list in her game, here you go, from smallest to largest:
1. Cocoon (size of a death butterfly cocoon)
3. Seaward (made to fit into the bottle of this wine)
5. 10g (the size of a stack of 10 coins in old money)
9. Spell-length (a wizard can learn a new spell in the time it takes to burn out)
10. Gnome (the size of an average adult gnome. Not actually made from a gnome)
Obviously smaller candle-like structures exist, but candle-scholars consider these to just be large matches. Likewise, anything larger than a gnome-candle is just a very well controlled fire.