GM-Preparation before a session?

What kind og preparation do you guys do?

I’ve tried no preparation (I made a drawing of a NPC) and a medium sized preparation with a few plots and a bit railroad - a bit like a 5-room dungeon.

I am looking for advice.

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In my first campaign I started off doing basically D&D levels of preparation - each score was meticulously mapped out with encounters, characters, conversations, obstacles with multiple routes & solutions, etc. I don’t recommend that as it ended up feeling like it works against the core of game: it’s very railroady whereas BiTD almost seems to want the GM to take a backseat and just ask the players what they want to do next.

In my new campaign I’m changing this approach and trying to be a lot more freeform. I think it works best to just have a few loose ideas and be ready to build on some elements or drop others depending on the situation.

For instance, they’re a fledgling cult, and in my next session if they’re looking to make some cash, they’ll find their antiquarian friend is offering a payday for anyone willing to hide a cursed artefact somewhere in a Crow casino. Will the casino be well-guarded? Probably, it’s a major business for the Crows. Is there a back entrance or a sewer route in? Maybe, if they can find someone who knows the place. Are the Crows relaxed or on their guard tonight? Is the antiquarian secretly working with the Red Sashes? What is the artefact anyway and what does it do?

Bear in mind my PCs might decide to totally ignore this score and instead set off finding rare books to shore up their occult library. That’s cool, I’ll just tell them to talk amongst themselves for 10 minutes while I sketch out a few details like the above, then draw on those details in play to figure out what happens.

I think BiTD requires a bit of a shift in mindset on the GM’s side and you do have to be ready to improvise a bit more than usual, but don’t stress too much about it. I’m definitely not the best improviser but the IMO game’s more fun when even the GM isn’t totally sure how something’s going to pan out!


Prep is best when it’s minimal. I have a look over what factions are currently in play, make some decisions about what their next moves are going to be (whether in response to the PCs or rach other), come up with a couple of cool random events or scenes that could happen anywhere convenient, and that’s about it. My notes consist mainly of a large list of randomly generated names organized by Heritage, and an ongoing “unanswered questions and possible consequences” document, that I constantly update in response to the PCs’ actions.


I’ve tried staying away from D&D-style prep and it’s been working very well. My prep so far has been:

  • After a session, write up a play summary.
  • In between sessions, add to the running lists of ideas for imagery and NPCs I pull from during play.
  • Before a session, update my notes for any relevant factions (are they doing anything that affects the PCs?), and if I know the players are planning something specific, I write up some notes for that (which factions or NPCs are involved, and what does the scene look like when the PCs arrive).

I don’t draw maps and the closest I get to planning encounters is writing down what other factions or NPCs want—since their goals almost always conflict with the PCs’.

So far, this approach has gone really well. It allows a lot of flexibility to figure out what’s most interesting about a situation in the moment. In the D&D style of prep, it’s really easy to meticulously plan something out and then have it fall flat in play. With this style, I just set up a situation and let the players take the lead from there.

I don’t know if I’d call this “low” or “minimal” prep though. It’s certainly less than I did for D&D, but it’s not nothing—it still takes time to write up notes on everything and get in the right headspace. Instead of a paragraph-long monologue for the villain to deliver in the final encounter I’m planning, I have a page of notes on what the villain wants and why, what pisses them off, what calms them down, who they’re dating, the cult they secretly belong to, etc.


I tried elaborate prep for the first couple of games, but now I just keep a few NPC crews handy, work out what gang fought another in the downtime, and wait for the PCs to point us in the direction they want to go. And it’s a blast that way. It was hard to let go initially, but once I did, everything flowed so much better. Of course I do plot out different things going on around the world, jot some notes about it, and if something lines up, great, if not that’s good too.

I’m really new at Blades, but I’ve started two campaigns. For each, I copied some Front planning sheets from Dungeon World. I picked a starting situation as the front (one from the book and one my own idea) and listed each major faction as a danger, with a loose progression of the steps of their plans coming to fruition.

Other than that, I plan to let the players drive the action. I have the Heist Deck to come up with scores as needed.


For our last season I built up a list of complications that were relevant for their crew type, since I wasn’t confident I’d be able to make them up on the fly. I noticed during the previous season that if could be tricky and when they started a smuggler crew I knew I was in trouble :stuck_out_tongue:
I didn’t always use it ofc, but if I got stuck it was nice to have something to fall back on.

Here’s the list of score types and complications:

Setting up smuggling jobs
Acquire goods.
Prepare the goods

High speed chase.
Vehicle breaks down.
Cargo too large/heavy for vehicle.
Dangerous cargo.
Time constraints.
Gang wars
Conflicting Clients
Heavy cart crashes down into the catacombs/mines/river.
Magic ritual takes control of the goats/vehicle.
Double-crossing clients.
Leaving the city is required.
Traffic Jam


Planning out scenes and sequences has pretty much never worked for me in Blades, but it’s important to have a feel for the world so that you can improvise confidently. Get to know the factions your crew are likely to be dealing with, their motivations and their relationships to each other; recognise your and the players’ intent with regard to tone; just have a head full of images, sounds, smells, whatever makes it second nature to know where the players’ actions are going to take them.

Consider what would be happening in the world if the PCs weren’t there, so that wherever the camera ends up getting pointed, it’ll show a city that’s alive and acting on its own terms, just ready for a crew of scoundrels to make their mark on it, for better or worse. You can even have some passive clocks running in the background if you like, maybe roll the odd die to see how something off-screen is panning out.

I call myself a low prep GM because I usually put very little down on paper (probably less than I should) and make a lot up in the moment based on the players’ actions, but the truth is I ruminate endlessly on the walk to and from work or whatever, so I end up mentally connecting the dots with any loose plot threads from previous sessions (of which there are always a few in Blades, it’s fun that way), and all the personalities and atmosphere feel almost real to me by the time it gets to table again. That said though,

is extremely good comment, and a defining trait of Blades in the Dark for me. For all my rumination, I never (any more) try to predict the players’ actions, and I often leave myself major elements to realise in the moment.

Just have a few names of people and places you can fling out at a moment’s notice though; coming up with those on the fly is way harder than snowballing your way through a train heist or a grand conspiracy of demon-worshipping nobles.


I try to not assume anything about what the players might do. History teaches me, that I’ll be wrong anyways, and they will do something completely different.
What I do though, is this:

  • Run stars and wished after every session ( The wishes give me an idea what the players want so see next time. So I can think about that for a bit in between session
  • Do the 7-3-1 technique by Jason Cordova ( This means I try to have roughly 7 scenes, NPCs, factions, etc in my notes. Each of them will have about three details attached. This could be a score based on a wish where I write up e.g. the location and 1-2 obstacles. Or it’s a rival faction, where I would write down their motivation, MO and looks. Or an NPC that might be interesting for the story.
    I try to do this technique shortly before a session as it helps me to immerse in the fiction already, as i usually do a bit of reading in the book about other factions, the world and NPCs, and go through my notes.
  • Try to keep tidy notes of whats going on. This is probably the hardest one for me, to be quite honest =)

But I also don’t try to force my prep on the players. If I get a chance to pull something from my 7-3-1 it’s good, if not then sometimes it’s even better. I try to go with the flow of the group, for scores I will directly as them what they want to do, and discuss it openly on the table. Sometimes this results in something O prepped, sometimes it doesn’t and I just roll up something from the random tables in the books.


This is a timely thread for me as I’m prepping for my first BitD game. I’ve played a few sessions before, but not run it yet.

I have run sandbox games in rich settings before though. For me the important thing is to really have a strong sense of the setting, it’s characters and factions and such. The less I need to improvise about the setting, the more brain power I have available to improvise action and consequences. It becomes an environment I can navigate through confidently.

I’m not there with Doskvol yet, but I’m enjoying the process. This is quite different from Apocalypse World and it’s like, where creating the setting collaboratively is part of the game. That can be fun too, but for me I like to create a strong sense of place. Making a lot of that improvisation player facing can give a game rootless and disconnected feel. Better to have a lot of info at your fingertips, but hold on to it loosely.

Simon Hibbs

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Fronts. Never seen it before but did some SRD-reading. It’s a nice mechanical chart. I think it would work well to manage faction interests and actions in a heist.

And fronts can be found here:

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I think the best advice is to get into the factions, NPC’s and settings to be able to improvise quickly. I’ll definitely use that.
Thank you! I hope this can be in the interests of others too.

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I do 0 prep because I literally don’t have time. Fortunately once we get a few sessions in my players tend to come up with their own scores and I don’t actually have to make those up any more. I do reread any notes I took the previous session right before a game starts in case there is an entanglement that makes sense to bring back or if something was left dangling.

The fullest extent of my prep usually happens every couple of sessions, which is usually when I remember to do some downtime for the factions. I take that time to tick up some of their clocks, think about the world, and maybe generate some potential scores to chuck in my players’ path based on all that. I usually spend less than an hour on this, if possible.

The rest of the time? Seat, pants, etc.

I try and get a rough idea of what the group’s next target is, or have some backburner ideas if not. The rest of my prep is writing out some details about a plot, some details about a location or two that will be important for that, and some names/details about NPCs involved. (So like 3-ish bullet points each on 5-ish things). I roll for faction goal clocks as well between sessions (though not rigidly, so it’s half according to their Tier, half because I feel like it) to get an idea of what’s going on.

ETA: I’ll note I’m not great at improv (really), but if I have even a couple of bullet points for things, it gets much easier to flex with what the group’s going to do. I don’t need to know how an NPC will react in 7 different scenarios, I can do a lot just knowing that they’re a naive noble whose family is hurting for money (but not connections (yet)), attending classes at the University.

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I go through a checklist in-between sessions:

  1. Update my NPC spreadsheet with any new characers or interesting details. I don’t reference this during the game, but having it all laid out helps sharpen my view of characters and their motivations in my head.

  2. Roll for the faction clocks. I try to only keep what is most relevant to the players here either directly or as an implicit opportunity.

  3. I write little scene prompts based on past NPC action and how the other gangs have advanced their clocks. I rarely play out the specific scenes, but writing them out gives me a good mental map of what an interaction could look like.

  4. If it seems like the crew is going to go after a specific score in the next session ill do some prep to flesh it out a little extra. I have stopped preparing rooms or real maps for most games because they never are quite what I need or want them to be. What I do now is create a flow-chart of how different rooms are connected. i.e. The garden connects to the central foyer connects to the second floor connects to the private study with the safe in it. (If I remember correctly I think I took this from how different parts of scenes are represented in Fate, but I could be wrong)

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I think I’ve discussed this here, but all the scores in my Blades game are based on prompts from the players. I made a little survey on Google forms asking the players to briefly describe one or two “opportunities” that their scoundrel has identified.

For each such suggestion they provide, I write a longer sketch of the opportunity with the information you’d normally expect: location, background info on the target, multiple points of entry or engagement, relevant factions and NPCs, significant obstacles and dangers. The usual.

I also write a short description for each opportunity, which I send privately to the suggesting players at the start of each session.

This sets up a situation where the players can start out in free play mode, going about their lives until they inevitably, and spontaneously, start talking about leads they’ve got on jobs. Eventually they agree on a score, make a plan, and we’re off to the races.

The opportunities are persistent. If they don’t go after a target this session, they can still choose to attack it next time, though I may modify my sketch to account for any new developments.

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