I like to read about other GM's Process


So figured probably other people do too.

With that in mind, I decided to try to keep track of how I put together the December issue of our Vigilante City Game. I can’t say I’ve ever prepped the same way twice, but there are definitely themes to how I do it that have matured over the past few years.

Anywho, [offers grubby handful of link] I maded my shieldbros some slides…


Ooh very interesting Lon. When I get home from work I’m going to sit down and process all this.

As for me, I’m prepping for a session on Monday, so I’ll try to document what I do although in a nutshell I utilize @Ezzerharden’s Game Master Worksheets that I’ve expanded with a series of custom sheets. They kind of walk me through the process and provide a packet of details I can refer to during the session and then stash away in my archive of adventures.


Sssshhhhaaaarrrrrrrrreeee eeeet


Interesting to see your process. Thanks for sharing.


Thanks. It’s always changing, but I can see a big trend since I started GMing ICRPG towards less and less on the page, even for big setpiece encounters. (This says more about how much more of an overpreparer I was, than about how good of a minimal prepper I am now, LOL)

I still want to get by with even less, though. One Game at a Time.


Okay so here’s my general GM Process (sorry for the long-ish post).

Like I mentioned earlier, I have a series of sheets that I print out and form into an adventure packet that I can use to plan a session, reference during the session, and then store in my adventure archive. The majority of these come from Ezzerharden but I’ve been slowly adding additional sheets to fill my needs.


Since the session I’m currently planning for is the third session in my group’s particular adventure, I skip straight to the Adventure worksheet and start printing out what I need.

1 Adventure Worksheet to jot down the overall L.O.G of the session
1 NPC Cast Sheet to list out NPCs involved and any tags
3-4 Encounter Sheets to match the adventure
3-4 Monster sheets
1 Detail Sheet to fill in for investigation checks
1 Loot Table to list out adventure appropriate LOOT
1 Roll Table sheet to cover any random events or circumstances
1-2 Party Tracker sheets so I can reference the players general stats
1 Adventure Map with all the Adventures Moments assigned to their specific areas/encounters

If you’re keeping track that’s about 13-15 pages, but before you run me out of town for the amount of prep that sounds like, it’s really not. I’m just terribly afraid of blank pieces of paper and so these sheets help me focus in my thoughts and jot down snippets of information I need.

Here are a few examples of the ones I’ve made:

NPC Casting Call

Monster Sheet - Kobold
If I’m feeling really on top of it, I’ll find an image of a kobold and place it into my Affinity Designer file of this sheet and then print it out with a picture. That or I’ll attempt to draw it or leave it as a place to take notes.

Adventure Map
If I don’t draw the map itself, I’ll usually place a map onto the file and print it out so then I can reference each place however I want, including what my baseline is for the Target.

The last thing that I’ll do before the session is I’ll review my adventure pack and then create custom minis for all the enemies using the print-n-play templates. Then when the session is over, I’ll slip all the sheets and all the minis into a folder and store it away. If I ever need a quick adventure or I run off to do a one shot, I’ll just pull out a folder and have everything I need to run a night of questing :slight_smile:


Hail! My process is probably quite different from other DMs on this forum. I think that’s largely due to my running “old school” games. I use random encounter tables, weather generation tables, random wilderness sight tables, cycling job boards for bounties, missing persons, etc., and, finally (this is my secret weapon as a DM, tbh), large scale random event tables. So my general process goes like this:

  1. Large scale “campaign” ideas, the stuff you do when you’re figuring out what you want to run. And, a regional map by hand.
  2. Consider the region we’re playing in (I usually work with 50 square mile hexes), and create a Random Encounter Table (50 entries, all creatures but not all evil or monstrous, may include d6 humans or d4 pilgrims), Random Weather Table (within the normal climate of that region, 1-3 is much worse than before, 4-5 is only slightly worse, 6 is the same or better), Random Wilderness Sights (forest, hills, open terrain, coast, marsh, etc., usually listing 20 sights to spruce up my overland travel descriptions), and finally a Large Scale Table (d100 orcs, 20d20 lizardmen, 40d4 bandits, etc.).
  3. Use the Random Encounter Table and Large Scale Table to populate the region and figure out the "starting situation. I might roll an 87 on my Random Encounter Table, and get Minotaurs. I’ll ignore the normal number appearing that I’d use for an encounter, and place a single (or colony of) minotaur somewhere on the map, and write a short paragraph on them. I repeat this for every forest, hill, marsh, cove, etc. until I’ve populated much of the region.
  4. Railroad-y intro session to “get them there”
  5. Really just let them loose. I give them some quest hooks to pick from at the end of session 1 (via a job board, a constable offering them work, a notice saying that the Pelvar Hills are off limits until further notice, etc.), and prep what they choose for the next session. Repeat.

The big thing for me is NOT having a pre-written story for them to experience. I prefer to design “living” sandboxes that evolve and surprise me, too!

Example: In my last Keep on the Borderlands game, I generated a huge amount of bandits and decided to split them into two groups (The Raven’s Oath bandits and the Iron Claw bandits). I put them into hexes I4 and I6 (because those are dense hills which provide cover and isolation from law keepers, as well as natural resources). I then designed their leaders, reputation, tactics, etc. and created a Timer - War (3/6 weeks). After 3 weeks, the timer completes and the bandits go to war! I roll some dice and see how that conflict resolves, how long it takes, what casualties each side suffers, and how nearby creatures, towns, etc. react to it. Can the Raven’s Oath bandits continue without their leader, who died in battle? Will they be forced into slavery? Join the Iron Claws? Then I adjust. I keep track of all these things in a Campaign Status Document. This is basically just your standard Patch Notes for a video game, that logs every change from the campaign’s default state.

In any given session, I’m rolling Random Encounters, adjusting the weather, and generating sights (and SITES) in the wilderness. Those rolls change the game. Why have I rolled Bandits the last seven times? Well, I guess there is a new group of brigands in the region. Why? From where? Who leads them? I figure all that stuff out after the session. Why did I roll a pack of 8 ghouls in the middle of the road? Must be a crypt nearby in the woods, or an errant necromancer who just killed a supply caravan. I guess I should make the necromancer and their goals, figure out who the caravan was, and how the military fortification they were delivering to will react when they don’t get the food they need for winter - and so on.

I hope this helps! People look down on the Random Tables of the past because they “don’t fit the story”. That is, in my opinion, a mistake. Random Encounter Tables aren’t supposed to fit the story. They’re supposed to help you generate new stories that appear as if they were planned all along. And of course, if the rolls don’t fit, ignore them. They’re tools, not shackles. Game on!


Neat! Thanks for sharing. I had seen those sheets before but they fell off my radar. For the life of me though, I can’t figure out what AV FR GD are supposed to mean for the NPCs?

I find that one of the biggest things that pushes me to more prep is the desire to have appropriate art on hand for locations and monsters. How this translates over and over into so much more than that is kind of a great big mystery! Lol


Sounds fun! And I can see how what you do (creating a living world feeling by having some independent world events on timers and resolved by rolls) can feel very satisfying.

Something I’m realizing as I read here is I think sometimes it simply comes down to how enjoyable (or perhaps how comfortable the GM is with connecting things together on the fly (whether that is Prep or results from rolls).


@Lon, thanks! It’s been fun making the sheets because I know there are a lot of tools and ways to go about it so I can always mix and match new techniques and styles. As for the AV FR GD on the NPC sheet I use those as just a quick indicator of Average, Fair, or Good. An average NPC may just be a name that I’m expecting to be mentioned in passing. Not much back story and not really relevant to the whole story. Good tells me that this is a more major NPC for the adventure. They’ll have a back story, may have some abilities, and they’ll play a larger role of interacting with the players.

At the time of creation I was trying to figure out some way of differentiating the three levels with only two letters and I settled on AV FR GD because they were distinctly different at a glance and could be flexible in meaning.

@Anthony_C, I think your process is fascinating as well. I’ve never really explored random encounter tables because my main tabletop experience has been in the form of homebrew systems, castle falkenstein, and ICRPG. All of which haven’t utilized the random tables heavily.

But your process does pique my interest. I’ll have to look into them more. Do you have a recommendation on what you’d consider the “foundational” random roll tables?


Sorry for the delay, college started back up! Random encounters, random large scale events (monster hordes, bandit brigades, hurricanes, famine, disease, bountiful crops, excellent weather, the death of the king, etc.), random sights and locations. Those are my mainstays. The key, really, is to interpret them and make in-fiction causes and reasons for them! :slight_smile:


Figured i’d throw my journal into the ring since I think i’m starting to develop my own prep style. This is my process from start (back in december) to now of an ICRPG campaign I just started where the two PCs are Mecha anti-heros. The gist of the characters can be described as “Chainsaw wielding robot who is crude, rude, theiving yet loveable scamp and not above murdering people teamed up with a bounty hunting/mercenary trying to accumulate riches and b*tches” There are a lot of scribbling and marked out things that can look a bit chaotic at times. Sorry in advance for the long post, there’s lots of pictures though :slight_smile: :

These are my very first notes from when I decided to look into ICRPG. I revisited Hank’s videos and even jotted down some notes about turns and time down near the bottom. The top of the page had just a few ideas I had for a campaign to run with a couple of my friends from my very first D&D group (over 15 years ago!). They simply told me the bio-form and class they were interested in and I ran with it.

A few more notes the players gave me about their characters on top of some reminders for myself. When I wrote this page I had just experienced one of my worst game sessions in my 5E D&D game (i’m running Hoard of the Dragon Queen). I described it as an “absolute sh*tshow” and I knew that most of the blame for that fell on me as the DM. I felt that I didn’t set them up for success, which frustrated them because they were kind of aimless and that frustrated me because they wouldn’t just decide on something to do. I ended the session early despite them wanting to keep going. I just wanted it to end so I could regroup and figure out where it had gone so wrong. I had noticed that my description of the scenery/environment/surrounds had been lacking for serveral games as they kept asking me questions about their surroundings and this exercise reinforced to myself that it was something I needed to spend more time with. Not necessarily go into extreme detail, but more than I have been.

My initial campaign plan. Notice, it’s mostly blank. Advice I am heeding from Hank and this forum. I just have a couple known points to start and the rest will get filled in as the campaign plays out. I am really excited to see what this page turns into as my players explore (and subsequently create) the universe.

Now begins my first session planning. I knew I wanted to run The Red Sword adventure and just made a few modifications to fit our story. Notice I wrote A LOT of descriptions, almost like a script. I found this really helpful for me and It will be something i’ll keep experimenting with to improve my describing skills. Sometimes I get nervous when the game starts and i’ll forget what I want to say so having this mini script made sure I said what I wanted to say. Bullets would help too, but I have found that approach to make it feel empty and lacking the kind of emotional response I’m looking for. For now, i’ll write myself these little paragraphs as I keep working on it. Also, some doodling going on here. I’m not the best but I sure do have fun with it.

I then broke down the different rooms and made small notes about what would happen. the “L” inside the circle stands for each piece of loot I would award if/when they came across it. I also noted the room target and made sure to highlight them so I could easily find them as I ran the game. For those of you who have run The Red Sword, I replaced the “Science Bay” with the “Cargo Bay” as my PCs were being shipped to a planetoid called “Ferros” to be dismantled permanently. This is where their adventure started. This little chart functioned as a map as well and really worked well for me. Everything I needed, except for the monsters and loot, was on this one page (on the left). The right side of the page are my notes from the session. The pencil notes were taken during and I later came back and filled in some notes in pen afterwards. One important note on the bottom of the right page for me being to read up on “Chunks” to prep for the next session.

Using my notes from the first session, I jotted down a few notes on Chunks from Core2E book and then started to brainstorm ideas for the next session. I wrote everything that came to mind and spent a few days mulling this over, crossing out ideas that I either didn’t like (like making the hook to retrieve a mechanic being held captive at the bottom of the left page. I’m glad I didn’t stick to this) or couldn’t make fit for this particular session. The ideas that stayed were hashed out in this next set of pages. I also included ideas for specialized loot instead of randomly rolling all of their loot like I did the first game.

Here I started to outline the framework of my second session using LOG. More marked out ideas that were replaced. This was very much an evolving plan. Following a similar structure I did for the first session, I wrote the “room” and started to write target numbers for myself. My session isn’t for another 2 weeks so I still have plenty of time to make any adjustments and add doodles as necessary. I designed character specific loot that I noted at the bottom of the right page including a “disguise module” that looks like those novelty glasses with the nose and mustache. For some reason, the idea of that terrible disguise actually being a rather useful disguise enhancing item was hilarious to me and I know the player it is for will love it and find it just as funny as I did. My other player is playing a Ronin and generally wants to be a super tough mercenary (He just finished watching The Mandalorian) so I decided giving him a module to modify his blast pistol to be like the “Lawgiver” from Dredd where we can have up to three different ammo types (of my choosing) that he can change with a voice command. If he chooses to upgrade it to have more ammo choices, i’ll allow him to.

This last set of pages is a sketched out idea of what Junky Town will be like. I have a feeling they’ll want to stay in this place for at least one more session, so I wanted to have any details at least sketched out about the place ready, including buildings and NPCs they might run into. A few of the NPCs I know they will for sure interact with but I made a couple more “just in case”. The page on the right has a list of inforamation the PCs will learn as they try to unravel how they ended up on the Red Sword in the first place and why someone wants them to be dismantled so bad. “Chaine” is a name that has continued to pop up for them, first on the shipping manifest they discovered back on The Red Sword. There are lots of other details about the campaign I haven’t mentioned but I figured this post is long enough already. If anyone is interested i’ll be happy to share more about it.

Man, that was long! The pen and paper route is part of my current process and so far I am finding it both satisfying and helpful. Being OK with scratching things out has made me feel more free and more confident to create. In addition, the doodling and not caring one bit about what it looks like and even posting it here for everyone to see is helping too. All the info and advice on this forum has really taken my skills and process to another level. I don’t find DMing nearly as daunting and difficult as I did in the beginning. I still consider myself a novice DM and I hope that any other novices out there reading this will see that they can do this too.



@Moose That is awesome. Thanks for sharing. A lot of parallels. I need time to digest but will be back with more after while.


No worries @Lon. Take your time and thanks in advance for taking the time to digest it. I dumped a ton into one post and tried to keep my ramblings short assuming folks would look through the photos for more detail. Looking at it again a day or so later, its much more difficult to see that detail when browsing on a phone so if there’s something I can clarify to anyone (not just Lon), just holler!


This is a great way to practice, figuring out what to say to create meaningful emotional experiences. And having a life raft to grab when your mind blanks. I’ve found that when I overprepare it’s about one or both of these two things:

  1. Lack of confidence/Performance anxiety
  2. It’s just really fun and deeply satisfying to think through all the what ifs; I can explore all the possibilities of the story in my head so much more fully than will ever happen in the heat of the moment.

Realization: The fun part of the game with friends is that improv energy and waiting to discover what happens. The fun part of Overprep Reason #2 is the deep experience and thoroughness of building an entire “mind palace” of story. Maybe I should do some solo gaming for that itch (or go back to writing fiction) and keep table gaming a process of jumping off of cliffs with my friends and seeing what kind of wings we can build on the way down.


I’ve found the whole creating process therapeutic in a way. It’s something I am beginning to really enjoy and it’s helped me to better handle a multitude of other things in my life.

I appreciate the feedback and hope you find a way to scratch that itch you’re feeling.