Gamifying GM Prep

Are there ways to turn GM Prep into a miniature “game” in and of itself? I got the idea by playing around of the the “Hand of Fate” card game that was recently released. It was a 4 v 1 game, with one player taking on a roll of an antagonistic sort of dungeon master. How it would work is he would play a turn to manipulate things, develop enemies, introduce threats, and then we would each take a turn in exploring the world he was constructing and changing. It was a very unique, asynchronous experience and my friend playing the “GM” was having as much of a blast preparing the game as we were playing it.

My current thought is that after a given RPG session, the GM would sit down with some “rules” and a board of some sort, and play a little board-game-like “turn” as the antagonists. At the end of which, he’d have shifted the “state” of the game, reacted to the player’s actions during the session, and generated a refreshed game state. I know there’s lots of games and advice that recommend the GM “think about what the antagonists are doing”, but I think it would be interesting to see it played out with the rules and mechanics of a board game, rather than just relying on a GM’s sense of “what should happen next.”

Has something similar been done before? I’d love to hear of place I could draw inspiration for this!


I heard about some people using things like microscope to create worlds, so perhaps that’s somehow related to this. I can’t be sure because I never tried.

I also heard GMs using on the spot Tarot cards to create the adventure, and that also sounds a little like a game.

Lastly, I’m now tryong to think on GM preparation moves for PBTA, because the concept just blew my mind. Soooo Meta.


I think some sf games operate in this space a little bit. Traveller’s world generation sub-systems provide referees with “lonely fun” as they create the places the PCs will visit next, but that’s only responsive to PC actions to the extent that they keep moving. Burning Empires tried to connect character-level actions to larger scale developments with a ‘scene economy’ in which scenes (the ability to take action in the world, in other words) were a resource you used to shape the narrative. Still maybe not as systematic as you’re looking for, but there’s something there. Fate’s system of “milestones” can be used in this way, too, in that world-defining setting aspects can be changed as a result of PC actions over the long-term, but there’s no separate mini-game there; it’s just part of the normal routine of play, and it’s not really hidden from the players to be discovered later in play–everyone knows when the aspect changes. Still, I did something like that in Andromeda, a Fate Core game.

The other thought that occurs to me is that there are lots of random dungeon generating tools, but they don’t really gamify the process in the way that I think you’re envisioning.

Anyway, I think the pieces of what you want are out there; it’s just a matter of pulling them together in an interesting and playable way.


These are all great, thanks a lot folks!

Haha, this one jumped out at me as an oddly fun one. I was definitely the “accountant” in my last Traveller game, sitting down to try and figure out how much we could make for freight shipping, passengers, or buying goods on spec. I loved looking at a sector map and imagining all the fun and exciting book-keeping I could do to pay down our ship-mortgage.


For a group “GM prep” activity, my first thought was to take John Wick’s Dirty Dungeon, and expand on it. It seems the video describing the technique is no longer available, but you can find it explained here and applied to DW here.

I can see using this approach of giving players some sort of bonus to acting on obstacles they introduced themselves for more than just fleshing out a dungeon.

If this feels a little too free-form, you can always incorporate some randomizer that the player needs to incorporate. I know people are using tarot cards, but I am pretty partial to just getting a some random magic the gathering cards from one of the online databases like this one here. I actually used magic cards this way to do my own GM prep (as seen in this inactive blog of mine).

You can draw X cards to the table, and go around the table letting player choose a card and based on it changing the world/narrative.

If mtg theme doesn’t fit with your games, you can always use some other CCG, roll some Rory’s Story Cubes or find something even better :slight_smile:


Stars Without Number has “The Faction Turn” where the GM will work through a little mini-game of sorts to figure out all the stuff that is going on in the galaxy and how the PCs have affected it after which they know what all the other factions are up too and how they view the PCs.

The LotFP module Scenic Dunsmouth gamifies the entirety of the prep for the adventure: you roll a bunch of dice on a piece of paper to generate the layout of the town and the numbers of the dice tell you things as well. You then use playing cards to populate the buildings. It’s pretty awesome since nobody’s Dunsmouth will ever be the same as someone else’s. It was the inaugural module covered on the Fear of a Black Dragon podcast.


Yes, I was going to mention Stars Without Number as well. The same is true for the other games in that … series? … like Silent Legions. I don’t know that GM prep in Kevin Crawford games is necessarily “gamified” but I think it’s close to it. Sometimes I just generate planets or sectors for the heck of it.

Again, I don’t know it’s a game per se, but some years ago I found an old copy of Everway in a charity shop for £2. I’ve never played the game, but I used the cards in designing my fantasy setting. I just doodled a map, put it on the table and started putting down cards on it. The cards work very well for this purpose because they could be either literal or symbolic. This maze full of vultures could mean a twisty, dangerous political landscape full of opportunistic enemies – or it could mean a literal maze full of vultures!


Just a heads up, while I can’t at a glance find the link, there is some evidence that gamifying things which we consider to have intrinsic value, can undermine our sense that the thing in question has value and make it more frustrating in the long run.


That’s interesting, I’ve heard of similar things where the idea is if you pay someone to do something intrinsically fun, paying them for it will make less sense. If you can find the link, I’d be interested in reading up.

I’m guessing this might have more to do with “gamify” apps, things like ChoreQuest and whatnot?

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It relates pretty explicitly to skinner boxing, but that is what is generally meant when people refer to gamification.


Kim Lam and I wrote Gazetteer, a play-by-post that also generates material for an old school-ish tabletop adventure.

So there’s, y’know, that.


I don’t think we talk about the same idea of gamification here.

While the recent gamification trend for mundane tasks was indeed proven ineffective, I think the idea here is “adding rules to make collaborative session prep possible.” I don’t think we talk about the trendy gamification with scoring, winners and losers in this thread - or at least I haven’t read this topic this way.


So @Von_Bednar when you say

collaborative session prep

Do you mean doing session prep with the rest of the gaming group? That isn’t something I have run into all that much personally and would be intrigued to hear more.

I sense what in general is being discussed here (and I am happy to be corrected) is that for some people prep is pretty boring and they do it because they have to, not because they enjoy it. Somehow making a game out of it or the like makes it less boring and more interesting.


It is possible I misread the thread, mostly basing it on this bit here:

Looking at it now, I might have misread it and might have been posting about the wrong thing. The dirty dungeon technique I mentioned earlier is basically a collaborative dungeon prep, which can be expanded into session prep. So I was just piggy backing on that…

I still feel that if you make it into a game/puzzle for yourself it is not really harmful as the gamification companies try to push down our throats :stuck_out_tongue:


Actually, using Intermittent reinforcement schedules as the basis of Operant conditioning as a tool for shaping human behaviour through play has proven anything by ineffective (see gambling addiction). From Overwatch to WOW to grandblue, it is the default tool of maintaining engagement by players.
Even in the sphere of getting people to do every day tasks, Intermittent reinforcement schedules are a great way to promote behaviours, if used correctly.

The problem with most of the “gamification” apps is that they are poorly designed, not that the technique is ineffective.

Given that the term Gamify has significant baggage, so it is almost certainly more fruitful to talk about Systematising prep.


Thanks again to all the suggestions people have made, I’ve checked a few other systems out, and they’ve certainly got my noggin joggin’. I’ve started to put together the “meta-game” system for my own game, which is designed to function as a sort of inter-session “GM Turn” (similar to what Stars Without Number does).

The question I’m running into now is, is it too much? Will potential GM’s be turned off by the amount of work I’m asking them to do, just to simulate how the enemies in the game react to and try to counter the players? If anyone is feeling charitable, I’d appreciate you taking a look and letting me know what you think.

I also was considering how much randomization / set up I should include for the “game world”. Should I have the GM create everything, possibly with randomizers, or should I ship the game with a “default world” that is already pre-configured?

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That’s interesting, I’ve heard of similar things where the idea is if you pay someone to do something intrinsically fun, paying them for it will make less sense. If you can find the link, I’d be interested in reading up.

To answer the OP, I’ve been using a scenario writing model for creating a murder mystery for a few years, which I took and made into a two page game called The Murder of Mr. Crow. You can actually play the game with yourself to create a murder mystery, and then play that scenario with your players.


@ErikTheBearik, This is a very interesting concept! I have sort of a minigame prep thing going on for my pbta game Middle World. It’s more of a procedure than an actual game but I feel that it definitely would count towards lonely fun for the GM.

You create 2 or 3 factions and make a few choices for each (are they driven by tradition/industry? Do they have strength/wealth or magic? Do they corrupt/destroy/restrict or invade?) guided by your choices you establish the factions’ dark schemes - plans of 3-6 steps that start with a kicker and end with either chaos or stagnating order. That has been very inspiring and fun to do!

Also I have a mapmaking procedure in my Swedish game Fornsaga that is supposed to help players make the map as they explore it in game. But I have many times found pleasure in using it to create premade maps that instead are handed to the players when they begin to play.

Random tables could also work sort of as a mini game for the GM to play with in advance. But maybe you’re strictly referring to prep between sessions?

I second @shanel and the Star w/o Number prep. The “Counterweight” season of Friends at the Table uses Sw/oN to move pieces for their play of MechNoir and Sprawl. But that kind of intense systemitization may yield an alternate game rather than something interstitial or preparatory. What you’ve designed looks like a lot of fun, and I’d have to spend more time looking at the details, but at first glance it would feel more like playing a solo game rather than gamified prep. If that’s what you’re going for, then this is fantastic and fun.

Moving more toward the prep side than the game side, combining a series of question prompts, roll tables, and so on may do some of this work. I’m working on a kind of template like the 7-3-1 model to normalize my prep that I’m trying to move in this direction. Right now it’s just a list: Three plot lines running in the background that will impact the characters’ world, Four npcs with motives that relate to these happenings, three strange encounters/creatures related to these happenings, two locations.

Alternatively, The Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide does this for characters. There are some exercises that are certainly translatable to plot.

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