On D&D, and preparation

I cancelled my D&D game last night, and it’s been a huge relief.

My partner got into roleplaying games when I’d already tired of traditionally-structured games like D&D, World of Darkness, and the like. I’d played plenty of this style of game as a teenager, and by that time I was more interested in exploring narrative structures than rolling for initiative one more time. So I always felt I should run some D&D, if just to show her what she was missing out on.

When I assembled my gaming group a couple of months ago, I figured it was high time I gave 5th edition a shot. People had been raving about it, apparently they’d fixed a lot of issues, and unlike 4th edition, they’d decided to not to make a glorified war game this time. So we rolled up some characters, I assembled something resembling an adventure, and off we went.

But after only three sessions, I’m calling the game. The main issue is prep time: each adventure (which seems to take 2-3 sessions to complete) seems to require several evenings to prepare: given that gaming already takes out one evening a week, and I’ll often find myself spending most of a week’s spare time assembling a game to run, and with no time to do anything else.

Compare that with what I’m now running in its place: I just put together a session for John Harper’s Blades in the Dark which took me a grand total of 15 minutes to prepare. The evening I was expecting I’d be prepping more D&D with, I can instead spend on other tasks, like writing this blog post.

It feels natural, to me, that D&D skews prep-heavy. For all the changes that WotC have made to the game as it has bounced from edition to edition, it is still – in its heart – a game of the 80s-90s, a period when roleplaying games were mainly (it seems) about one person crafting something amazing that they then got to show off to their friends. It’s something I didn’t notice as a teenager or as a student: I guess I just had enough time to prep stuff. But now I’m fitting in game prep around a job and everything else in my life, that prep time is a killer.

Those of you who run traditional games on a tight time budget: what shortcuts do you take? How do you build sessions in a prep-heavy paradigm without going mad?