The last session was all about two things, getting the party together and then preparing for the next session. There was some good role playing and some combat, but what I remember is more time was spent prepping for the next session. Of course see spoilers below.
So that got me thinking, how much prep by the players is good? How much should it cross the line into meta-gaming? Should the GM have any input?
Not to take too much from the spoilers section, the PCs were depleted in resources and knew that up next was the big bad. They didn’t want to go into a fight without all the resources they could get. With a break in the fighting they started planning. At this point, I knew that my active part in the evenings activities was going to be greatly reduced. I had an NPC that they could interact with, but that was about the extent of my active contribution (but not my fun).
First question, how much prep is too much? In my experience, prep like this is an iterative process after the “best idea” surfaces. Players will throw out ideas until the best one surfaces and then noodle it until they can’t think of anymore things to add. How much time should this take? Somewhere between the entire session and 5 minutes? In reality the answer doesn’t have a specific time – how could it really – the answer is as long as all the players are having fun. The most important word here is “all”. Some players check out as soon as the planning starts, while others love it (is there a correlation between loving planning and loving character creation – maybe another post for this thought). With goals of keeping the majority of the players engaged (lets be realistic) and not letting analysis paralysis set in I can normally cap prep like this at a little under 30 minutes. This may seem like a lot, but there is actually a fair amount of role playing that goes on during this part of the session. It helps if you can reward it somehow – inspiration in my case with 5e.
Question the second, how much should it cross the line into meta-gaming? Prep in 5e, and most role playing games almost immediately crosses the line into meta-gaming. In this particular case, the players knew exactly what the big bad was, and many of it’s abilities. They did a pretty good job of playing it out, but there was a lot of checking of spell lists and ranges and so forth. I think that as long as it can be tied back into role playing, there is nothing wrong with the meta-gaming parts of prep. If it devolves into how much plus for this vs how much plus for that, it might be time to move things along.
Question the last, should the GM have any input? I have less and less input into player prep. In this particular case, my input was limited to interactions with specific NPCs, and letting players know details of locations they may have forgotten, but their character would know. In general, I try not to comment on good or bad ideas from players. The flip side of this is not using information against the players that the bad guys wouldn’t have. In the case below, the bad guys know that the players are probably hiding somewhere close by, but don’t know where. This colors their actions for where they would post guards, lay traps, dedicate resources, etc.
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The PCs started the session in combat with a troll just inside of Maccath’s chambers. My “I’ll just wander away” player was there, so the party was missing him, and the monk who had wandered away last session (see last Weekly GMing post). The troll and the next two besides were easily dispatched (two trolls are no match for 8th level characters), and the discussions with Maccath began. She agreed to be “rescued” by the party as long as they brought the collection of books that Aurathator (Great White Dragon) had stolen from the Arcane Brotherhood. While this was going on, the monk was finding out that the ice toads had been there studying Aurathator for decades and had collected massive amounts of material on stone tablets. Incredible amounts of knowledge, incredibly hard to take anywhere.
Realizing that the upcoming battle with Aurathator was going to be difficult the party decided they needed to rest up. The question was where. They finally decided that they would use the last of the monks elemental powers to shape a cavity half-way down one of the tunnels that lead down to Aurathator’s lair. They are effectively out of site, and very safe. However, they are also out of touch with what is going on in the iceberg for a little over 8 hours. Oh dear, what could happen in 8 hours….