When prep, not play, becomes the hobby

In IRTWD episode 86, at about 38 minutes the Sages of High Wycombe launched into a discussion of the retirement of the ageing gamer, and at 39:20 or so Dr. Mike suggested that over the next decade we¹ retired gamers will come to spend a lot of our ample leisure time in making profuse and excellent preparations for the RPGs that will will continue to play and run.

It occurs to me that preparation for games is only likely to become a hobby and fill hobby time to the extent that prep is becomes or is made enjoyable. I’ve heard that Traveller was designed with the thought in mind that GMs were going to spend a deal of time alone generating sub-sectors and so on, and with one of its design goals being to make that activity enjoyable, or at least engaging. Perhaps my worst problem with GURPS is that GURPS demands a huge amount of preparation and without pursuing such goal.

“The word for world is ‘homework’” they say, when working-age gamers don’t want to read ten pages of world-building. “The word for game is ‘homework’” is just such a knell when a retired GM is choosing how to pursue his or her hobby.

¹ My last day of work was 24 April 2002.

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I think that a lot of games of (approximately) the 1980s worked on this assumption, that game-related activities could be enjoyable in themselves; I certainly spent more time designing units for Battletech and Car Wars than I ever spent playing either, probably Traveller starships too, and I don’t think I was unusual in this. I see the infamous GURPS Vehicles (which I rather like, though when I use it I do it with software assistance) as an extension of this idea: it’s certainly not intended to be used during a game.

However, I also think that the idea is now obsolete, because it assumes a social model that no longer exists. In the 1980s the only time I would be communicating with other people who “got” games was at the game session itself, and this kind of prep was a way of invoking part of the game mindset at other times. Now we have much more ability to talk with gamers all the time, and I think that that removes much of the motivation to have an interesting prep activity.


I have not retired yet, but my 9 months of unemployment in 2017 didn’t alter the type of game prep I did, just boosted the amount.

Back in my feckless youth I was quite prepared to spend hours and hours doing game prep activities, like statting up bad guys. These days, if prep like that proves laborious, there is a great deal more shouting “Oh fer frak sake!” than there was in my youth.

So quite a lot of my prep these days is to save time or reduce aggravation during the game. Like cheat sheets or the Doctor Who RPG monster sheets I shared with Roger a while back: for several common monsters (daleks, sontarans, autons, etc) mark up the hit points and their to hit/dodge, print out and laminate, so it can be re-used.
By an amazing coincidence, any monster I invent will have the same stats as daleks, sontarans, autons, etc. :grinning:

Colour printing and lamination was not a thing when I first started gaming, so I guess there will be more of that during retirement. So my paper props will be a better quality.


Prep as hobby vs play strikes me as the clearest closet drama to theatre comparison in the hobby. Prep has basically been my hobby for four years because of child care and professional requirements.

I have prepared about five campaigns that are there to talk with my friends about how we would like to play them rather than us actually playing them. It’s not that we couldn’t but it’s really difficult. We liked taking about new games when we played actively and it’s like that habit and the brainstorming around it never stopped.

The act of writing on paper and organizing the thoughts for a campaign start point is very relaxing. It also has the looseness of knowing it’s not an outline for a narrative I’ll have to write dialogue for and edit later. Working within the constraints of rules lets me imagine play as well.

Lastly we all need an excuse to buy more gaming PDFs right?


I may be an odd case, but I’m at that age and have no intention of retiring, though I lately turned 70. C and I have retirement income, but I’m not ready to see our household income reduced by a third (indeed, the prospect of having that happen under California’s “gig law” has added urgency to our move out of the state). So I don’t expect my preparation time to increase greatly. Depending on how well I do at recruiting players in the new location, it might diminish.

But I was never hard up for interaction with other games. I ran a gaming apa for more than a decade, originally to support my homebrew rules system, but over time becoming a general purpose site. So we had a fair amount of gaming talk.

On the other hand, I find that that sort of thing works better if I have a player group and a campaign in mind. In fact I have often offered a proposed campaign to my players because I’m interested in the system and the best way to learn about it is first to use it for prep and then to see how it plays. (In some cases this teaches me that I don’t want to use the system! That happened variously with Space 1889, Godlike, and In Nomine, for example.)


Darn, that’s still sitting on my to-do list. Thanks!

Ooh yes - this!
Getting friends or my brother to play through the combat system with pre-gens is useful prep. I can do it on my own, but several people puzzling over the rules simultaneously is more useful. And yes, I too have identified several systems that I never want to use by doing this type of prep.

I started gaming in 1980, when even a dot-matrix printer with a dodgy ribbon, in the computer lab at school, was a privilege for toffs. All my gaming prep and player handouts were hand-written or typed on an electric typewriter until I got access to the Mac lab in the library at ANU, in 1986. Even then, laser printing and photocopying were a burdensome expense for a student who supported himself.

Nowadays I have a colour laser writer, copier, and scanner¹ sitting on a filing cabinet beside the desk in my study, and the problem is that I don’t put enough through it to keep the toner fluffy.

¹ It is a fax machine too, but I no longer have a telephone service that supports fax.