Some days I really have no idea what to write about. But showing up is important because it builds a habit. So on difficult days I just start typing.
I think this is the way I sometimes feel when I sit down to prep for a game.
One of the better bits of advice from Sly Flourish (“the Lazy DM”) is to write down the names of the player characters and what you can remember of them. It’s a great warm-up and it places the focus of prep on the player characters. It also helps to embed memories of the character names and key facts. In my head, I find it useful to have a portrait in mind too.
So I write down who is playing and their character’s names. I look over last session’s notes. I look at what the players said their characters were going to do and I allow ideas to float up to the top. Sometimes this is all I need to start riffing a few ideas into notes. Other times, it’s just a matter of building the bits needed to give the players what they said they wanted to do.
I tend to think about barriers to their goals. What, or even better who, would stand in the way of this goal the players have decided to pursue? I like the Alexandrian’s tip of recycling non-player characters who have appeared before – whether as extras or more hardy villain-types. Thus, if someone might be opposed to the player character’s plans, is it someone they already know or have heard of by reputation? It makes life simpler and it builds continuity.
From there, I ask questions about what I (as GM) need to deliver those scenes of opposition: where will this likely happen and how can I make that exciting; what creatures do I need sheets for; what can I do to spice up the scenes?
I also rather like the Angry GM’s suggestion of boiling each scene – as it arises in play – down to a dramatic question: what’s at stake here for the player characters? Can they do it, overcome it, escape it, whatever the verb is?
All this said, I am prepping situations not plots – another good tip from the Alexandrian. Set up the scenes but let the players worry about how to resolve them. Their creativity is the magic sauce in roleplaying games. With that in mind, I tend to give myself permission to not think about resolving scenes. It makes me more open at the table.
So, yeah, sometimes I don’t know where to start but the trick is to sit down and begin. Like I did today.