How much should I prep for a session?
This is a hard question to answer, but I have a short story that illustrates how a tiny amount of prep can go a very long way. In general, I spend about 2 to 3 hours preparing an adventure. I always think that the players will get through it in a single session or two at the most; but, that’s never the case.
A Practical Example
I spent about 3 hours numbering the various areas of the provided map and coming up with descriptions that fit with the campaign. In total, there were 13 encounter areas. My handwritten notes took up about 3 pages of a typical college-ruled notebook.
So, how far did all that prep take us?
Session One (3 hours with snacks and drink breaks)
You can read the campaign diary for this session here: Runs of Alderwach Part 1.
The party managed to complete one combat encounter and explore the main hall. They encountered the main puzzle for this dungeon but split the party so half could work the puzzle while the other half backtracked to explore some of the dungeon areas they had passed over.
Session Two (2.5 hours with snacks and drink breaks)
In this session, the kid’s group worked on the puzzle. Foodie, Brilgar, and Lilith solved the puzzle but almost TPK’ed in the process. Thanks to the liberal use of healing potions, they squeak by with a hand full of hit points.
You can read the campaign diary for this session here: Runs of Alderwach Part 2.
Session Three (4 hours with snack and drink breaks)
You can read the campaign diary for this session here: Runs of Alderwach Part 3.
So, this session was for adults only so, there was a bit more progress than usual. Backtracking down the hallway towards the entrance and heading east to the door on the south, the party found themselves in the laboratory of another wizard and his apprentice. A couple of bad rolls for the “bad guys” side resulted in a short encounter. The party headed back up the northern hall and navigated their way through a couple of storage rooms before they found themselves trapped in a time bubble.
Session Four (3 hours with snack and drink breaks)
You can read the campaign diary for this session here: Runs of Alderwach Part 4.
The reunited party found its way into the main cave of the dungeon. There the characters met the Lae Tree, a magical, sentient tree. Impressed with the characters’ selflessness and description of the world, the tree channeled the energy it had stored for the elves and the top of the mountain exploded like a volcano. When the dust cleared, the sun shined down on the tree for the first time and our heroes set out on the next leg of their adventure.