Following on from my decision to schedule free-play GM prep time, time to prepare game stuff which is specifically designed for no particular reason, I’ve been thinking about the kinds of areas that would be fun to explore. These would be useful starting points, hooks upon which to hang some ideas.
The first area would be specific game and scenario structures: building interesting combat situation; designing locations to explore; sketching out a mystery; mapping out a hexcrawl. These are nice broad structures that can be a lot of fun to sketch out and stick in a folder for future use in sessions.
The second area is adding specific elements that can be inserted in Worlds: people; places, things. Giving yourself licence to imagine grand fantastic imagery and jot it down. Coming up with intriguing NPC ideas. Designing magical items or cool pieces of science-fiction tech. It’s a fun thing to imagine stuff and put it away for when you need an idea during actual session prep.
A third area is mucking about with some game rules you have no intention of running anytime soon. I enjoy setting up a quick combat and running myself through it in solo mode. Going a step further, setting up a short one-shot game and playing solo is good practice for GMing at the table. Or maybe just coming up with a way to adjudicate an area of play in a different way: how might I do encumbrance differently, for example?
I’ve lost count of the number of games, and game sub-systems, I have done this with and then realised they weren’t really something I wanted to play. It saved me the heartache of setting up a game with friends and then letting them down when I realised I didn’t enjoy the system after all.
Finally, mucking around with mixing up genre elements can be a fun pastime: “What if…?” I enjoy mixing my magic with my science-fiction, adding psi to my historical fantasy, adding in spirits to a hard-SF space adventure, or any of a number of other mash-ups. Sometimes this leads to cool concepts for games I’d like to run.
The main thing is to put aside time to play as the GM, not focus entirely on solely prepping for specific calendared sessions. Playfulness comes from the thing we are playing have no immediate apparent purpose. Once we’ve created something, we can always revisit it and fit it in to our regular campaigns if we so choose.