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I'm also curious to see what kind of preparations you take. Maps? Props? NPC flashcards?
Another relevant question is how often you game and how long your sessions run.

Right now I'm spending an average of 5 to 6 hours between our weekly sessions physically sitting down and writing out my notes. Our sessions typically run well over 6 hours a pop yet I keep claiming that my plot is written for 4. I'm excluding the time I spend browsing through Dumpshock and generally staring off into space when I want to be writing. I'm also excluding the time I spend writing background material that I don't think the players will get into in the next run.

For preparation I have my general game notes with a framework for the run (this includes my contingency plan if the players decide to turn down a run; an option I always leave open because I do write runs that are designed to kill players who make poor life decisions). I have NPC dossiers (Brief Bio, unusual stats/equipment, motivation(s), relevant contacts, "Why the players should care.") I usually add an entry or two to my "Bad People" notes and make modifications to previous entries to fit the projected run. I also have a "Why Doesn't It Never Go Smooth?" section that is pool of potential complications, how players can escape them, and how said complications could totally bone their plan. I tend to cackle when I add entries to the last section. I also try to procure some relevant maps if appropriate. I'm trying to get off my duff and make some Generic NPC index cards along with index cards for all my major NPC's... but we'll see if that ever materializes.

Rarely I do a tactical response chart (well I label 1 through whatever and write in order what I think the NPC's will try.)

So that's boring old me. How do you guys run this? Is there anything I'm doing that's retarded?
We play weekly, about 4 hours per session.


First step is to write up what happened in the last session. That can take 30 minutes, to one hour, depends on how much went down. I usually do a render of a scene as an illustration, which can take from 30 to over 120 minutes. During this I update NPC files and the run notes, especailly "loose ends".

Run notes consist of:

Background (who wants what and how and why).

Entry (how do the runners enter the picture)

Current situation of the runners (if in the middle of a run)

Problems (like "The runner have to protect a target, and unknown to them, the "threat" is a fake, designed to garner publicity for a movie launch. But the target does not known that his wife has hired a killer.")

Possible Solutions (Like: Hacking into the wife's commlink will give a picture of the man who brokered the killer contract)

Incidents/scenes (Certain fix points I expect to likely happen, like a border check, or the lover of the person the runnes are guarding getting into a fight with the target's wife during a party, and so on).

It depends on if a run is important to our campaign or not. I'll put some time in to preparing if it's a campaign run but if it's a filler run I tend to just wing it. I try to mix up runs so that not everything that the runners do ties in to a larger event, so sometimes a job is just a job and doesn't tie in to something big, and sometimes that little job is the start of a lcampaign arc.
2-3 hours (and I wish I had the time to do more)
You ask two very different questions here—prep time between sessions, and prep time for next run (a run for us generally takes a few months of real-time, and we've had a few year-longers recently). As such, my amount of time prepping for the next run approaches zero because of all of the weeks when I'm not even thinking of it because that's weeks if not months away.

For planning the next session, it varies wildly. I'll generally put in 4-6 hours solid some weekend and then run off of that for the next month, though the construction of a skeletal run framework is pretty much a continuous process—you'd have to add up time spent in the shower, in the car, and some other time here and there, and then subtract large but unpredictable amounts of that.

Time spent tends to increase over time, though. I typically start a campaign with no running thread, throwing out hooks all over the place. As soon as possible I take the hooks that have been nibbled on and come up with where they're going, because I really prefer to have causality work in-game the way it does out-of-game, but I've found that abandoning that at the very beginning (and occasionally after large numbers of long-lasting threads get finished off) allows me to tailor the game to the group.

It also means I never get that sinking feeling that comes from having a hefty tome of campaign notes centered around CalFree only to see the players move to Vladivostok and become furniture salesmen.

Enough prep time for Batman to kick Superman's ass.
My sessions generally run in the 8 to 10 hour range, one Saturday every month or two. Because things are so far apart, I've got tons of time to get way, ahead. I'm pretty sure I've got enough content to keep things rolling well into the summer. How long run prep for an individual run takes varies tremendously from run to run.

The shortest, simplest ones take two hours to lay out, including looking through Google Earth for streets and important nearby landmarks. The next was over the course of a week. It involved some research into the way the commodities market works, laying out and staffing a high rise luxury apartment building, putting together floorplans for the locations involved, and working out a week long schedule for the NPCs directly involved.
QUOTE (Kagetenshi @ Feb 13 2008, 09:25 AM) *
It also means I never get that sinking feeling that comes from having a hefty tome of campaign notes centered around CalFree only to see the players move to Vladivostok and become furniture salesmen.


This brings up a real interesting GM philosophic question:

If you spend more time planning are you more or less likely to railroad your players?
I plan with *very* loose structures of what I accomplish. I tend to take time to understand both my players and their character's motivations, so I'm less likely to run up against a spontaneous rejected run. I do try to present options at every turn though. Railroading is always a worry if you overplan. Of course, players tend to invent hovertrains that ignore the tracks when you plan too much, so being flexible is far more important than any amount of planning (in my experience)
Ice Hammer
For my group, we rotate between games. For Shadowrun, I get 6 weeks to GM Shadowrun. Then I have six weeks off as we run another game. During that time when I'm not the GM, I usually take 2-3 weeks off where I'm not planning at all,not even thinking Shadowrun, to unwind, to roleplay, and essentially take a breather from my GM duties. Once it gets closer, than I begin putting together the runs. I come up with a concept, develop NPCs, and if its a longer story arc that needs to be developed over the course of the six weeks, I determine how I can develop it. For example, in this past series of runs, I came up with a series of articles hinting what the main threat was doing while the runners were occupied with other things (the main threat was the shedim). I created news articles indicating that there was a rise in genetically and magically reisist diseases being introduced into the population, causing a dramatic increase in the death rate. Food shipments were being sabotaged all over the world, new species of creatures were being discovered in various parts of the world that were literally destroying the eco systems that they were found in, etc. I found that coming up with news articles from various Shadowrun-era news outlets adds some flavor to the game. But mainly, I need the time to devise strategy. My players are very cunning and are very good at thinking "outside of the box." So it takes time to consider what options the players may have in any given situation, and how to deal with those contigencies should they arrise, so that the run doesn't accidently become way too easy. One thing my players have helped me to see in my planning: layering security measures and choke points are your friend. rotfl.gif And for me, those security measures take time to plan out.

And for me, having taken the time to plan things out, has given me a few opportunities to be subtle, and to establish well laid traps that the players needed no railroading to fall into. An example of this included a time the players were directed to help secure a dig site where a Corporation was escavating some rare gems. When they arrived, the stite had already been hit. Bodies were strewn everywhere, including those of the attacking force. They just happened to be wearing Wuxing uniforms. Since Wuxing happened to have a facility a few miles down the road, logic seemed to indicate that they were responsible for the attack. So the group attacked Wuxing, only to find out that those bodies were bodies that belonged to shadowrunners, wearing stolen uniforms. The surviving runners were actually working for Aztechnology. Eventually the team got the stolen gems back, but it provided quiet the distraction. So, I am all in favor of more time planning to add more subtlety and strategy to the game.

The Red Menace
It usually takes me 10 to 12 hours to prepare, but that takes into account that I'm sitting in a security office all day anyhow. What I do is work on the world and have shadowruns pre-readied for whatever the characters wish to do. I'm a big fan of the pc's being able to alter the storylines. Nothing bores me more then a gm who makes you feel like you are simply a side spectator in a story they've created.
Generally, I take a couple hours before the session starts to write up some Bangs for my PCs. I try to do 3-5 per character, and then a dozen or more generic ones that can be applied to any or all of the team.

For campaign prep, I usually just come up with a timeline of plot events (or use a chronology from a sourcebook like Emergence) to use as a backdrop, and then draw up a relationship map of all the power-players in the campaign, and use that to set up the major conflicts of the campaign. If something major changes - like an important NPC dying - I just redraw the relationship map to reflect the complications that arise from that event.

I used to think that a great deal of GM Plotting typically leads to railroading (either because the GM is unable to adapt or players feel bad for the GM when they realize they just drove around 10 pages of notes, written in blood). Now I think that you can spend a lot of time getting ready for your next session as long as you're doing it correctly (correctly for me means not railroading). It's a learning process and one of the things I've been trying to do is type up News clips before each session so players have an idea about what's going on in the world. Between sessions I've been trying to get them to let me know what their characters are planning to do (in game I usually give 1-2 weeks between runs) so I can plan accordingly. I still railroad (I am weak!) but I try to start every session with "So what are you all doing?" not "So you meet the Johnson..."

And that sounds like a really good idea Ice Hammer. I might even try that in my next gaming group (one with people who actually wouldn't mind GMing smile.gif)
Doc: Bangs are a concept that come from the indie RPG Sorcerer, by Ron Edwards. This is from the Wikipedia Article:

QUOTE ("Wikipedia")
A bang is a situation that requires a choice from the player as how the character will respond to the situation. The choice will often be thematically relevant, based on the Humanity definition and earlier events in the game. For a bang to be effective, the game master shouldn't force a specific choice, and the player doing nothing should also have consequences.
Oh that's kinda cool, I guess I do that too but I didn't realize there was a term. I usually try to write at least a couple of those per adventure per player, just to keep them engaged beyond the "I shoot X, with lots of dice".
The key to not railroading is being willing to discard your plans, really. I mean, why would any amount of prepwork cause you to railroad? It's not like you were setting up a "world machine" in advance and didn't add the possibility for other outcomes…

I like giving the PCs some semi-official looking maps for when they inevitably get the floor plans. I'm also a bit of an "over planner." I spend a couple hours thinking of things that can go wrong with everything I have planned, and thinking of contingency plans.

This is probably because I'm not as good at spontaneous decisions.
I have a bi-weekly game lasting 7-10 hours.

I usually spend a lot of time reading/re-reading/modifying the mission, putting my NPCs on 3x5 cards, and making up different handouts (hand drawn maps, captured communications, etc).

I also spend some time shopping for different props to use. It seems like I never have enough for every situation...trees, walls, concertina wire, helicopters/vehicles/drones (at the right scale), etc.

If I had more time, I'd put together some audio/visual stuff like one of my former GMs used to was pretty cool to add some more flavor.

The first couple of days after a mission, I'm usually reviewing my notes to see what actions survivors/corps might decide to take, if any. Usually something will come back to bite the runners at some point. This is also when I'm updating my campaign journal for the group (now at 27 pages, covering six in-game years).
Wow, sinthalix, I need to move near you and join your group- except that would be creepy. Seriously though, it sounds like you guys have the kind of dedication to the game that I try and extort out of my friends, but... they won't even put that much effort into work, personal relationships, or well, anything really.

Oh me....

I run a weekly game (podcasted at This is Shadowrun which I mercilessly promote here on the boards), it normaly runs 3-1/2 to 4 hours (we do some stuff off tape, generally character prep/downtime. Since we run on a weekly basis I find it hard to spend more than 1-2 hours of actual pen & paper planning, stating out NPCs, putting a plot-line down on paper, drawing maps, ect. But thats backed up by untold hours contemplating the actual plot of the Shadowrun and ways to refine it every day in the shower, at lunch, during work, ect. Of course even if I planned for a million hours there would still be things that I would overlook or later think that I could do better. And of course the players would probably pick options that I hadn't thought of still.

So I make heavy use of pre-stated stuff and modify it to fit my needs. I've got an NPC chart with like 5 classes of goons that gets reused over and over, likewise the Archtypes (and even characters from these boards) get used a lot.
QUOTE (DTFarstar @ Feb 14 2008, 12:02 AM) *
Wow, sinthalix, I need to move near you and join your group- except that would be creepy. Seriously though, it sounds like you guys have the kind of dedication to the game that I try and extort out of my friends, but... they won't even put that much effort into work, personal relationships, or well, anything really.

Oh me....


Anytime you're in Central Illinois, you're welcome to stop on in! After I got back here, it took me almost a year to get a group formed, which only met once a month. Then I got lucky when one of my players was at a con and mentioned he was playing SR here. A couple of guys overheard him and got ahold of me. From that point on, new players joined and we switched to more games. I have a core group of 6 runners and 4 more who jump in every so often.
I usually write down NPC description of the major players, but not the full stats. Plus the main story, adventure hooks and that's it. Doesn't take longer than one hour and is enough material to run a couple of sessions.
I usually prepare the run until I have a good overview of the plot, the potential locations the PCs might visit and the NPCs' descriptions, knowledge and intentions. Anything that is required to be able to react to the player's actions and give a good description of their surroundings and what is happening to them. This takes usually 3-4h of preparation for one or two game sessions.
I don't care much about the NPCs' equipment or stats and prefer to think of those on the fly based on what an NPC is supposed to be or be able to do.
I usually take 3 or 4 hours of prep time before a session.

Sessions run anywhere from 4 to 7 hours. Never less than that and rarely more.

Most of my prep time is taking some time out of the beautiful day and sitting at Starbucks with a laptop, notebook, some cigs and some coffee(keep my stimulants going for optimal processing power nyahnyah.gif)

I've lately been trying to go entirely digital with my notes and stuff. Random NPC and Dungeon generaters, Battleground maps etc. make GMing too fun and easy with modern tech.

I have small bios for most major and minor NPCs, along with some character from a movie or show that I imagine that NPC acting like for quick tone, accent, and vocab reference. I like to encourage in-character role playing.

Insomnia Strikes Again
Our group plays twice a week for about 4 hours in one session (Thursdays) and 7 to 9 hours for the other session(Saturdays). We have a pool of 5 GMs that rotate. When I plan for my runs I typically spend around 6 hours spread out over a week. I do maps, notes on security, NPC dossiers, a few print outs of information they may come across and private messages they might recieve. Usually my runs will take a few sessions (2-3) to complete and in between sessions I'll spend about 30 min to touch up for the next session and about 30 minutes to type up my notes from what we did the session before.
My group plays bi-weekly, for about 4 hours a session (+/- 30 minutes), after work (i.e. 5:30p - 9:30p). I keep a GM Log on my personal website (but only the players can read it), so that takes about 30-60 minutes to write. I try to have it done within a day or two of our session. Seeing I also have a messageboard, we sometimes have dialogue on there, but its really mostly me posting ideas for adjustments to new rules or documenting clarifying information if we had a rules issue during the game.

I view all that stuff as ongoing. I really don't set aside any time for it. I write the GM Log from memory and occaisionally a player will correct me. The messageboard conversations are basically done while I am at work during downtime, so it all fluctuates.

As to planning, I'd say I spend 30-60 minutes preparing for each session. I try to run scenarios through my head between sessions, so I am thinking about stuff quite a bit. But I never write it down unless I need it to save time looking something up in a book during the session...which is rarely the case. This include printing off maps or floorplans, for when I need them.

Once I have a solid outline of the next few days in game time, I just keep that in mind and let the runners do what they do. Sometimes, I may have an encounter down on paper, but it takes 2-3 sessions to get to it. So, when that happens, I really get a few weeks off because I already have it planned and my players found something else to do to take up more time.

My current scenario has the group body snatching a clone from a high-security facility (already have floor plans printed and since it is actually the RL building I work in, I don't need to write much else down). Step two is to switch the clone with the real one, without anyone knowing. I have all of this figured out and stats written down where needed.

But, the group added a new player, so before they get this job, they are doing some quick wetwork on a potential mole (which happens to be the secretary that works at the business the runners are fronting, and which one of them has started to become romantically involved). This is to get a feel for the new runner.

So, I think I have planning for about 2-3 months of sessions, and all I need to do anymore is add more details as we play through...

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