Dear Readers, particularly my DM/GM readers, we’ve all been there before. You look at your schedule and there it is, in black and white: your upcoming session.
And you haven’t done squat to prepare.
Worry not, as I have some things to help you!
First, identify how much time you do have to prepare! Is it an hour? A half hour? A few hours? This is what will determine your next steps.
If you have little time to prep, maybe even the day of, I highly recommend looking at something to run as a one-off session. This means something pre-written/built. The DMs Guild website (https://www.dmsguild.com) has literally thousands of pre-written, and many of them well-written adventures for you to run. And most of these can be read through a time or two and be able to be run quite easily. This is especially true when looking around a specific seasonal holiday, like Halloween or Christmas, although there are others. Another option, also from the DMs guild website, is taking an old adventure, and reworking it for whatever edition of the game you are currently running. I’ve found that many of the older 2nd edition adventures are easily converted to 5e with a tweak here or there. Many monsters from this era have been converted to 5e at least somewhere on the internet, and, worst comes to worst, can be easily statted out by either using something close that already exists, or by re-tooling something that remotely resembles it.
Additionally, nothing says “stalling for time” than a few random encounters (see one of my previous posts about using random encounter tables!). You can’t go wrong with having/looking up some random encounter tables. And they don’t all have to be combat encounters, either! Some can be as simple as a damsel in distress, and the party needing to help fend off some baddies, or maybe a merchant whose goods were stolen by goblins/orcs/whatever. Some could even be a wandering bard wanting to tell his sad tale (which is fun as it could lead off to other adventures later on down the road!).
If you have a little bit more time, I suggest going back to your outline (remember that bit of advice for campaign writing? This is why we do this!). This will tell you where you plan on going and how you plan on getting there. Sometimes, though, you may not have completely outlined the whole campaign. That’s okay. Then only work up what you need for the current area/adventure. Let me give you an example: I had an upcoming session, and I had no clue as to how I was going to get from Point A to Point B. So I did a bit of research on, in this case, unknown secrets, and found several interesting creatures: the allip and the berbalang. I knew the party was looking for information on something that going to a library wasn’t going to solve, so I had to get them the information in some way. Also, I had planned on the party, at some point, touching into Spelljammer territory. Then it hit me. The berbalang. They usually reside on the bodies of dead deities, floating in Wildspace. I then worked backwards from there. Where would they find information on a berbalang? Okay, where is a hub of information in Wildspace? The Rock of Bral! Sweet. How to get them there? A Spelljammer ship. How to get one? An ancient ship whose existence has been hidden by the gnomes that the party had recently saved. Add the fact that the ship is now in the middle of an undead graveyard, meaning that they have to fight their way to the ship, and voila! You have several sessions worth of play! I simply started sprinkling in some encounters here, and some encounters there, and I was set. In space, I had the party harassed by space pirates, twice. I had the party going through some good role-playing sessions on the Rock of Bral, where they went looking for information, picked up supplies, and otherwise tooled around. I also set up an encounter with an infamous band of evil adventurers (for those who are keeping up with the latest in the Ingrates, you know who I’m referring to! If not, keep listening, because they are a cool group).
Whatever time you have to plan, there are options for you. I know I’ve used all of the options above in trying to plan out adventures/sessions. I’ve thrown out random encounters (some of which I ended up tying into the main story), I’ve tossed out some prewritten materials (see my sessions on The Haunt for that Halloween-y goodness!), and I’ve expanded my story outline. Whatever it is that you do, keep on keeping on, as you are the DM and you have got this.
Until next time, Dear Readers…