I thought that I would scribble down the process I go through when planning a new adventure or campaign. This is a process also covered by many others but there are just as many ways of doing it as there are Dungeon Masters so I believe it's worth sharing if only to help or inspire others when they write.
In this article, I will focus on preparing a single adventure, maybe for a one-shop or a short series of sessions. For both of these, my process is quite the same as I find that I need almost the same amount of preparation for a one-shot as I do when planning a single adventure even if it spans a few sessions. I prefer to DM adventures which span a few sessions since I find that it gives me and the players more space to explore the setting and their characters. When planning to run a published adventure I start by reading through the adventure so I am familiar with the plot and the scenes we can go through. Then I usually prepare a mindmap of how I see the adventure transpire, and to map out the possible routes I can foresee the players taking through the adventure. This will never cover the entire list of possible options the players will explore but it helps me be prepared for what they may come up with and allows me to have a few additional encounters in the back of my hand for when they diverge from the path set in the adventure. This is especially true for adventures that are very railroaded since my usual group of players tends to be very creative and come up with a vast number of additional elements to explore within the setting. Below is an example of a mindmap prepared for a short adventure.
For each of the circles, I then have a reference to a related section in the adventure or to a short description of the encounter which I have created. For me, it needs not to be more than a single page in a notebook where I in short terms describe what is to happen and. put down a few bullets on. possible outcomes. I then use this to help me guide what happens when we are playing. In general, for these things, I prefer not to write to much as things always change and what I had envisioned rarely meets the actual encounter.
Once I have the mindmap in hand I then read through the list of NPC's and create a few more for the additional encounters I have envisioned. For these, I like to find character images on Google images or Pinterest which I can use as handouts for when the characters meet them. I try to find Images which are similar in style but most players I have played with don't mind different styles since simply giving them a visual aid helps them build up their emersion and fuels the imagination. I also try to write the name on the image if it's a real-life session so the players don't forget, this is much easier with online platforms where the handouts can easily be named and organized. For standard NPC's I usually don't add stats, but try to map them to a standard template from the RPG system we are using. This could be the NPC stat blocks from Dungeons and Dragons or the archetypes from Shadowrun, just so I have something to fall back on if I need to, but don't spend to much time on writing stats for NPC's, in my experience it's not worth the effort and you most likely won't need then. If I have time I write down the page numbers for the monster/opponent stat blocks needed for the adventure so I can easily find them when I need to. Again this is much easier with an online tabletop platform since the stats are easily available with the monster tokens, at least for purchased adventures. If you are building your own adventure I find that it takes a lot of time to prepare all the stats in an online platform which again makes the list of page numbers handy.
Now its time to prepare for the sessions and the party. Once I have all the player characters in hand I like to use some kind of party sheet just to keep track of the characters and their most important stats, in Dungeons and Dragons this could be their passive stats like perception and Insight, but also their HP just so I know how bad a situation might be in an encounter. I prefer not to change dice rolls, and instead opt for using NPC's or environments to help out the players if they are down on their luck or if I made a bad judgment on the power scale as an example. This is especially true for systems like Shadowrun where things can go downhill very fast if the players are unlucky or I planned an encounter badly.
And a small disclaimer here, this is how I play the game in agreement with the group I usually run with. Always align with your group on how they prefer to be bailed out or if they just want to use strait up dice rolling. I can be very damaging for a session if you are not aligned on how to handle such things and every group is different so I highly encourage this to be part of a session 0 whenever starting a game with a new group.
I don't have a preferred party sheet I use but I usually find one using Google or Pinterest. Be mindful of the artist who made it, if they have a Patreon or if it's available on an online marketplace, I always support the artist by buying it from them. Here is a link to an example of a party sheet I have used recently for Dungeons and Dragons, it doesn't fully support the list of information I would like so I might create my own in the future.
After this, I usually feel pretty confident in my ability to give the players an enjoyable game. I hope some of this helps others prepare for their games and let the fantasy flow.