Once you have an overview of the entirety of the main campaign, either by a full read-through or a preliminary first-pass, you can begin prepping your first chapter. If you’re an experienced Keeper/GM and have a preferred prep style feel free to disregard all the suggestions here and stick to the approach that works for you. If you feel daunted by the information contained in each chapter, try some of these suggestions.
First, we’ll re-read all the introductory chapter information, including the connection to the main campaign, Carlyle Expedition, Jackson Elias, as well as the chapter’s feature cult. If you wish, you can breeze past the information about the NPC and plan to return to them later. Alternatively, we like to set up a template for an NPC document, which includes their names, traits, and appearances of these characters, which we can keep as a supplement to our main chapter prep notes. We’ll return to this shortly.
Once familiar with the thematic thrust and plot of the chapter, we then move to create an outline for our chapter notes by flipping through and creating a chapter outline in Google Docs of the main section headings and subheadings. In doing so, we become familiar with the main scenes and environments of the chapter without becoming overwhelmed with the details. If the chapter has a lengthy sidetrack scenario, we will create a separate prep document with a similar outline style for the main points. If you aren’t planning to include any or all sidetracks, this can shorten your prep work. Either way, putting the optional adventures to the side keeps your main chapter prep clutter-free at the start. Once chapter play gets underway, we will usually paste the sidetrack prep into our main document when needed for easy reference. Sometimes, we will just start with a quick outline to get prep work underway and then return to serious prep a day or two later.
Example Excerpt of Egypt Chapter Outline
Filling in Your Outline:
Once we have a chapter outline, we will begin to attack individual heading and subheadings by reading the corresponding sections and transcribing the details into our outline. As we do so, we translate the dense campaign book text into concise nuggets that can be easily read and referenced. Some people may like to use numbering or bullet points. We like to include all the skill checks suggested by the campaign book and will bold them so they are easily spotted when we glance at notes. We like to employ a sort of shorthand, including initials for NPCs, as well as reducing long descriptions to some keywords or phrases that easily evoke the setting. If you like a particular description, you can either copy it directly or reference the page number in your notes.
As we move through each heading we pay close attention to what clues and handouts appear, making sure to include notes with the handout number, so that we can remember to provide it to the Investigators at the appropriate moment. If there are items or clues in a particular location, we make certain to provide a short useful description of them, along with associated skill checks and resultant findings/results.
Along with bolding skill checks, we will also make sure to include the SAN loss corresponding to every shocking event or Mythos encounter in the chapter. We will usually put this in notes along with the appropriate scene and event. If they are recurrent opportunities, we will usually also write them on a notecard for quick reference.
Example of Completed Chapter Prep for Room 410
You will find several sections in chapters that provide information conveyed in conversations with NPCs. For this, we like to make use of our separate NPC document to include conversation revelations and place a note to refer to the NPC document in our primary notes. You may prefer to improvise all the content of your conversations using the information as your inspiration. As we develop our own image and presentation of NPCs, we like to convert some of the transcribed campaign book text to more conversational language. This allows us to further flesh out our NPCs and imagine how they speak and act. Whether we glance at the dialogue notes, read directly or just paraphrase from memory, we find it a useful tool to create flavorful characters that our players can remember, which means something in a campaign with such an incredible number of unique NPC encounters.
Example of NPC Supplement
Tomes and Artifacts:
As we go, we will note any Mythos artifacts or tomes that the PCs may come across. We will typically place these at the end of our prep notes. Alternatively, you could create an entirely separate document. It’s useful to have all the numbers on hand instead of pulling out the second volume and flipping to the back.
Anticipating Player Actions:
As we work our way through the chapter, we will consider our players and how they may respond to a particular scene or character. If we think there may be a particular tact they wish to take not detailed in the campaign book, we will jot some notes less as a definite plan, but simply as brainstorming. If we added any new elements to the campaign through improvisation we will also note potential tie-ins.
Depending on the amount of time available, you may elect to approach your chapter prep in segments. If we don’t feel like prepping a particular portion at the time, in particular a heading describing the expected chapter closing location or scene, we will simply read through with or without quick notes and come back to it later. It’s useful to refer to the Links in the campaign book provided so that you make sure you don’t overlook any foreshadowing or connecting events in your earlier prepped sessions.
Once we have chapter play underway, we continue preparing any unfinished sections and updating our documentation to reflect events taking place. Since most chapters will take numerous sessions to run, a little hard work at the outset will go a long way. If time allows, you can prep ahead to your future chapters allowing you to complete a detailed read-through of the campaign, as well as have any chapter available in case your Investigators throw you a curveball and hastily exit a location or may a quick change of destination. A concerted effort at succinct, comprehensive written preparation will allow you to approach your sessions with an invaluable reference document, as well as a strong grasp of the chapter content and its nuances.
How do you prefer to prepare your chapters for play? Do you prefer to directly run from the book or wing the whole thing after your read-through?