I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons since 1979. For nearly all of those 40 years, I’ve been the Dungeon Master. It’s not a problem, I enjoy developing campaigns and preparing for game sessions. About 8 years ago I started gaming with a group that revolves the DM duties. For the first time in over 30 years, I play more than I DM. This completely changes my need to prepare for gaming sessions. When I game master, I typically allocate 1-2 hours before a session for game prep. I prepare the maps, have the monster stats close by, and have a list of names for NPCs and taverns; I storyboard what I THINK will happen during the session and I keep all these tasks on a DM checklist I created (and enhanced) through the years. By the time the players arrive, I should be ready to rock-and-roll for that night’s game.
Being a D&D player is much different. There is almost no preparation required. I need to show up with a copy of a character sheet, some dice, and a pencil. That’s it. But as I think about it, how is that fair? Not only is the Dungeon Master doing most of the work, but players are just as responsible for creating a great gaming atmosphere. Why aren’t the players doing our part to make the session a success?
I searched the internet, and there isn‘t a lot of discussion about a player‘s session checklist. There are tons of posts and articles for game master prep, but almost nothing for a player. Perhaps I’m going through session prep withdrawals or something, but it doesn‘t seem fair for a DM to work so hard while my preparation consists of deciding what chips and drinks to buy for the game.
With game equity in mind, I created a list of tasks to prepare PRIOR to my fat ass seating down at the gaming table.
Review your Character’s Personality
Look at your character sheet. Re-familiarize yourself with your character‘s personality traits and flaws. Review their backstory. If the PC doesn‘t have a background history, work on one that fits the way you have been playing the character or plan to in the game. Make the character more than just a set of numbers on a page.
Review previous session notes or write-ups
Most games I’m involved in have session writeups. This is because I usually write them. When I DM, my primary reason for writeups is to provide the “Who, What, Where, and When” of the last session. I keep up with campaign time, conditions of the player characters, NPCs they have encountered and monsters they have fought. It provides details of the places the characters have visited and maybe their stated plans for the next session. If I’m a player in the game, I write it from the point of view of my character. This helps me get into the mind of my character and allows me to flesh out personal details. Any conditions (wounded, blind, unconscious, etc.) get detailed in my writeups. I start the session knowing what happened. This makes the DM’s job a lot easy since I don‘t have to have the last session summarized for my benefit. We can just start playing.
Maybe writeups are not your thing, no problem. But know the condition of your PC at the start of the session so you can start playing with a clear idea of your initial options. Know what actions, attacks, spells, etc. you have available to you as you start the session. Not only can you plan better, but it has the side effect of speeding up the start of the session. Trust me, your GM will thank you!
Review the character goals and plans
Even if your character doesn’t have a backstory, he/she will have plans for the future. Some of these plans may be immediately in nature (cross the chasm and rescue the nuns and orphans). Others may be years away (topple the evil king who killed your family and stole your birthright). Too often players allow the game master to dictate next steps because they have them prepared. However, a good player will bring their OWN plans and goals into the game as well. This doesn’t mean you are in conflict with the GM; rather it gives them more “meat on the bone” for their game. As I look back on my 40 years of DMing, the most memorable adventures and most interesting PCs are the ones where the players had plans for what they wanted their characters to do. Goals may change over time, but knowing what my character wants makes it easier for my DM to provide put rewards (and obstacles!) in the game that makes the adventure more “personal”.
So there you have it, my player pre-session checklist. When I sit down at the table, I know who my character is, what shape they are in starting the game, and what I want them to do; both short term and the future. I enjoy playing a richer, more well-rounded character. If I’m lucky, my GM will sprinkle some of those goals into the adventure, making their lives easier as well.