I’m a control freak. I’m also a GM. The two go hand-in-hand. That’s why today’s comic represents an act of courage on my part. Here’s the script I handed Laurel for this one:

TITLE: Zero-Prep
TEXT: ???
PIC: Draw whatever you want.

Laurel asked if I was sure. I could feel my courage falter. I wanted to tell her, “JK! Here’s the real script. That was just a funny ha-ha joke.” But that would have been an act of abject cowardice. So I grit my teeth, nodded my head, and gave her the go-ahead.

“OK. But you’re going to get mermaids. I want to draw mermaids today.”

I was not expecting mermaids.

You know what though? I think it turned out pretty OK. Sure I had to scramble a little to provide appropriate dialogue, write up some Disney-flavored filk for the scroll-over, and rejigger the banner text to fit. But when you plan out every little detail of your story ahead of time, you lose out on the all-important element of surprise. Your characters become puppets rather than living, breathing creatures, and the thrill of discovering your story gives way to the tedium of inventing it from whole cloth.

We’ve talked about prep time before. You guys know how I like to sketch out my story beats and outline my “most likely” plot ahead of time, all with the understanding that it’s often the right call to abandon that plot in favor of shenanigans. Even that is working with a net though.

When you go into a session with zero prep, you’re actually more prepared to do that first and most sacred duty as a GM: listen to your players. We like to tell one another that GMing is an exercise in collective storytelling, but the aspect of collaboration can disappear when you hew too closely to your pre-existing vision. I’m not saying to give up your notes or to never run another module. But the game world doesn’t have to spring fully-formed from one dude’s head, even if that guy happens to sit behind a cardboard screen. Everyone at the table has something to offer, and following the players’ lead rather than your own can be a surprising (if mildly intimidating) experience.

So what do you say, O GMs of Handbook-World? Have you ever gone into a session with no notes, no plan, and no idea what might happen next? Was it scary or freeing? Exhausting or exhilarating? Sound off with your zero-prep exploits down in the comments!


ARE YOU AN IMPATIENT GAMER? If so, you should check out the “Henchman” reward level over on The Handbook of Heroes Patreon. For just one buck a month, you can get each and every Handbook of Heroes comic a day earlier than the rest of your party members. That’s bragging rights right there!