Running With Class – GM as Lesson Planner

As I said in my introductory post about this article series, I draw a lot of parallels between teaching and GMing RPG sessions. For my first article in my Running With Class series, I’m going to look at the GM as a Lesson Planner. Planning for a session  or campaign is often one of the first things that any GM does. Similarly, a teacher has to make sure that they’re ready for every day in the classroom by planning out what their instruction is going to look like that day.

Teachers in almost every state have goals and standards they need to meet in the classroom. These standards are outlined by their State Board of Education. Teachers often have mixed views of these standards, but what can always be said for them is that they give teachers clear goals toward which they can work. As a GM, we rarely have goals that are so clearly outlined. This makes us shoulder the burden of figuring out what our goals are for a campaign on session.

A quick word on goals. Goals are two things. They’re measurable, and they’re attainable. Good goals allow you to look back on your work and tell you if you’ve succeeded, definitively. Since GMs don’t have any type of governing body dictating what their goals should be, you need to figure out what your own goals are. As you might imagine, you need to make them measurable, and attainable. You can set a broad goal like “make sure everyone has fun,” but you’ll then need a system in place to determine if everyone did, in fact, have fun. Not always an easy thing to do.

Once you’ve set your goals as a GM, you need to figure out how to attain them. This is where the actual “lesson planning” comes in. Now, in my MEd program we had to learn how to fill out full-on lesson plans. Let me give you a sample:

A blank version of my school's lesson plan form.

There’s a lot there to account for. Also, those are just the first two pages. There are 3-4 more that we have to fill out as well. We do this so we can get a good idea for how our lessons should be structured, and so we can make sure that we cover all of the state standards. Now, I’m not suggesting that we make such a form for GMs to use, but something like it might be helpful, especially to new GMs. If you’re new to GMing, you might need to make sure that you’re covering all of you bases.

  • What kind of encounters do you want?
  • How many encounters?
  • Traps? If so, what kind?
  • Are you hitting all of your plot points?
  • Are you taking your players’ playstyle into account?
  • Are you giving out treasure?
  • How are you awarding XP?
  • What happens if the adventure goes off the rails?

All of those questions are useful ones to have answered in the design of your adventure. If you’ve been GMing for a long time, just as if you’ve been teaching for a long time, you can tend to do cover these bases without thinking about them. However, it can still be useful to think about such questions explicitly.

Your GMing Lesson Plan

If any of this is resonating with you, when you go to plan your next session, I encourage you to write out your goals, and how you hope to attain them. From there, plan your adventure along those lines, and see how things go. By taking a step back before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), and looking at what you want to see accomplished by each adventure, you may find that you get a much better sense of how the sessions flow, and how your players respond to what you plan.

As has been said to me more times than I care to count, be a reflective practitioner. Look at what worked in your planning, and figure out why. Look at what didn’t work, and do the same. Refine your planning to keep doing what works, and to fix what doesn’t, and you’ll find yourself becoming a better GM.

Now, this is only part of the process. All of this is your prep work. In the next article, I’ll talk about actually stepping into the “classroom.”

I’m Tracy Barnett, and This is My Game.


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Unrelenting font of ideas, both good and bad. Co-owner of Exploding Rogue Studios, and on Twitter as TheOtherTracy.


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About TheOtherTracy

Unrelenting font of ideas, both good and bad. Co-owner of Exploding Rogue Studios, and on Twitter as TheOtherTracy.
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