Confident Minimalist Prep

An RPT GM asked me this great question about Tiny Prep. Paraphrasing two paragraphs:

How can I gain more confidence in my ability to run a game with minimal prep?

My solution for this is a methodology called Prepare to Improvise.

I don’t know who invented that phrase, but I learned it at Toastmasters.

In Toastmasters (an experience I recommend to every GM) there’s a challenge to deliver a two minute answer to a question you’re assigned on-the-spot. Called Table Topics, you must deliver an short, improvised speech.

I sucked at it, always hoping I wouldn’t get picked. My very first attempt was a stumbling, mumbling, and bumbling answer to why Toastmasters helps people in their professional life. I remember not even meeting the minimum speech time of 2 minutes, and ending with a brutal non-sequitur, “…blah, blah, blah, for success!”

Then a guy took me aside after a meeting one time and told me about Prepare To Improvise. He taught me an approach, which I now know as a mental framework. After learning that, my Table Topics got consistently better, I started scoring high marks after each one, and eventually I won a competition.

The specific Prepare To Improvise framework he taught works great for GMing, but the lifelong campaign takeaway I received was adopting an approach of, for any given GMing situation, what can I do before the session to help me improvise it?

That’s how I think about GMing now. There are a ton of things we need improv in a typical session….

  • Create NPCs we didn’t prep and roleplay them
  • Make unexpected NPC actions because a player does something weird
  • Create and describe locations
  • Wield combat tactics appropriate to foe intelligence and instincts
  • Add objects, items, and furnishing to scenes — and then describe them, their function, and what happens when characters interact with them
  • What the party finds when looting the bodies
  • Clever hooks and new clues when players miss the initial ones
  • Crafting spontaneous world details when players ask questions
  • Lore for a People, Places, Prizes, Plots, and Predicaments
  • Changes to our plot because of unexpected party action or roll results

….And those are just a few examples!

But rather than try to prepare for every contingency, fork, or character action, I instead spend my between-session time Preparing to Improvise.

Tiny Prep, for example, solves blank page paralysis. As a daily and fun 2-5 minute creation “game”, it cranks out a bunch of game pieces to fill your GM Toolbox until it’s overflowing.

Then, when caught and needing to improvise a Person, Place, Prize, Plot, or Predicament, you can simply pull out a Tiny Prepped game element as an inspiring launch point.

For example, you suddenly need an NPC, or worse, an adventure, in the middle of a session. And then your mind goes blank, as mine often does, when needing to instantly come up with something.

However, after the moment of shock wears off, you smile at your players instead of panicking. You open Campaign Logger or your journal, and scan through the Tiny NPCs or Tiny Dungeons you’ve been creating daily for the last few weeks. You find one you think best suits your needs right now, and gameplay resumes, your players none the wiser.

The secret to Preparing to Improvise and having confidence in your ability to run a game with minimal prep is to have a GM Toolbox overflowing with Tiny Prepped game ingredients and a collection of mental models to guide you through the moment.

Because that’s what the Toastmasters Yoda taught me. You need a seed and then a framework.

In the case of Table Topics, the seed was brainstorming three answers to the question.

He told me to take my time while standing up to deliver my answer. To thank the Master of Ceremonies for the question. And to then repeat the question to everyone in the room.

This buys you about 7-10 seconds to brainstorm three answers.

And then the framework was:

  • Tell them what you’re about to tell them (introduce the answers in general terms).
  • Deliver the three answers.
  • Tell them what you just told them (summarize your three answers).

Perfect! That changed how I improvised both at Toastmasters and at the game table.

And with Tiny Prep sitting comfortably in our holsters, we’ll always have answers to pull out and shoot from the hip with.

Please note that there are only two days left to get my Tiny Prep book for just $10. Click here to see the details.

Have more fun at every game!

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