Okay, so you’ve had your session zero, then prepared for (and run) your first game in what you hope will be a much longer campaign. Whether you ran a homebrew adventure, and are planning to stretch that into multiple games, or you’re running a pre-written adventure, or even turning a one shot into a longer campaign, there’s usually a bit of work involved in preparing for that second game, and that prep is usually different to the prep you did before the first game.
Pre-Written Adventures are quite deceptive in some ways. They often present a central storyline, that to some, can seem like enough to run an entire campaign on, though this isn’t always the case. Whilst fighting the Demons in the Underdark during Out of the Abyss, maybe one player wishes to find or create some kind of Demon Slayer weapon that’s not included in the DMG or the Adventure Guide. Maybe during Rise of Tiamat, a player Warlock wishes to seek out the Arch Devil Asmodeus, and bargain with him for the power to help defeat Tiamat, or a cleric player wishes to travel to a temple of their god and recover a magical artifact to help turn the tides. These are all legitimate things that have happened in my games, or friends have told me about theirs. Often, players will tell me these kinds of things at the end of the game, assuming I’ll need a bit of time in advance to prepare, and rightly so, because many of these scenarios aren’t in the books, and even the books aren’t perfect. The books provide everything a DM needs to run a complete storyline, but not a complete adventure, as such, there is some amount of prep work you should be doing as a DM between sessions.
Firstly, whenever I run a session, I make notes of what’s happened. I usually take quick notes as things come up during the game- A player might indicate interest in something specific, they want to create a new spell to do something, or want to seek out a location not present in the adventure guide. After the game, I go through this list, and prepare for those things- I’ll write up that spell, I’ll work on that NPC that I need to flesh out, and I’ll map out that dungeon where the magical sword is. Honestly as far as running pre-written adventures go, these are the easy bits. For instance, that Demon Slayer sword I mentioned before for Out of the Abyss? That’s happening at the moment. One of my players, a Paladin, wishes to seek out a long lost Demon Slayer Sword to help fight the hordes of demons. As such, I spent a decent amount of time working out where the sword is, what its properties are, and how the Paladin can learn of its location and actually obtain it. Now, that’s the group’s next mission. If you can’t/don’t want to create entirely new content between games, you can use that time to check the DMs Guild, or appropriate content from other adventures to suit your story (You can easily re-skin a Dragon Slayer weapon from the DMG, or grab a dungeon from Tales from the Yawning Portal and stick that in your game).
Finally, it’s always important to read ahead. I’d personally recommend reading the entire adventure 2 or 3 times before you run it, and then read the relevant pieces again when you know your party will need it. If you don’t do any other between game prep, I’d encourage you to read 2 or 3 chapters in preparation- That will take you an hour or two at most, and provide basically everything you need for by the book play.
So between game homebrew prep can go either way- If you made an entire world yourself before you started playing, and know it really well, it can be quite easy and quick to prep for a game- you don’t need to create new locations, maybe just map some stuff out, make a few NPCs, and come up with a basic encounter plan. I’ve run entire games like this without any fuss- I wouldn’t recommend it for new DMs, I think if you’re new, you’re better off over-prepping and not using a bunch of stuff as opposed to under preparing and not knowing what to do, until you’re confident enough to improvise.
I personally like to ask my players what they want to achieve in the next game at the end of the game before, so I know what to do. If they indicate wanting to follow a specific plot thread, I’ll prepare for that, if not, I’ll come up with some fun random or set piece encounters to occupy a session, and usually they love that (Effectively prepare a game unrelated to all other plot threads- like a one shot), or I’ll pick a plot thread and find a way to integrate that into the game- The Goblins who were attempting that ritual until the players stopped them? Maybe they do it again, and succeed, and now the players have to fight off a horde of goblins with some kind of fiendish ally, or I can pick bits out of players backstories- Their thought dead rival returns, with a grudge, or their long lost brother finds them, and asks for their help. I think the advantage of homebrew is that you can plan according to what the players and you as DM want to do, as opposed to being bound to the storylines presented in Published Adventures.
There are people out there who’ll claim that they can run a game without any prep at all, and to them I say good luck, and that I wish I could do that, though, I feel more secure about having some prepared notes, even if they’re very loose, so that on the day of a game, I have a general idea about what’s going to happen. Sometimes you can even recycle old notes that you never used, again, good luck with that, I sincerely hope the game goes well. This is how I like to prepare between games, it may not work for everyone, much like everything regarding D&D, and Tabletop games as a whole, there is no one method that works for everyone, you should experiment until you find something that you feel works. Tell me how you like to prepare for games, I’d be interested in hearing what other people do, and until my next article, happy gaming.