Ready the Adventure!
The Basics: Part 1 – Getting Ready
First and foremost, a well-prepared GM is fully versed in the adventure itself. I usually start by printing the event and giving it a thorough read through. Once you've got the overall feel of the event, its time to go through it again with a highlighter. This is a good opportunity to emphasize key issues and to mark buried rules and DCs. It's also a good chance to go through the stat blocks of the baddies and highlight their most useful abilities, spells, and items so that you don't forget to take advantage of them. The second read through is good time to look for areas that are a bit thin on information. Even the best adventures leave some aspects vague to save space. Identifying these spots allows you to plan for them and, at the very least, think about what could be done about it. The heroes are at a tavern and the author did not include a name for the bartender? No problem, you've got it covered.
Next, it always helps to hit the books. Does the adventure feature a lot of swimming? If so, it would probably be a good idea to go to your Dungeon Master's Guide and check those rules as well as the rules for drowning. How about an obscure spell affect? Go to the Players Handbook to see what's up. By throwing in a bookmark or taking some notes in the margin of the adventure, you save yourself a lot of time during the session and make you look like a master of the rules at the same time.
While we're hitting the books, now is a good time to go and check out some canon sources. For core adventures, you're main source is going to be the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer. Reading the write up for the setting of the adventure can give you valuable insight into the plot as well as give you the tools to breathe life into the game beyond what the author presents. A barkeep that complains about the take of the local Greyhawk thieves guild is a lot more engaging that a simple ale slinger. For regional and metaregional events, it's a good idea to look at what the local triad has put together for the regional. Most regions have rather complete online resources for you to peruse and can easily point you in the right direction for even more background. If you have older sources, giving them a read through now and again is always a good idea.
Finally, once you're fully versed in the adventure, the rules, and the canon, it's time to assemble your GM kit for the event. Even the most basic kit includes most of the following: a battle mat (or graph paper), pens, pencils, dice, the three D&D core rulebooks v.3.5, a copy of the adventure, a copy of each handout for the players, and (if you are the event organizer) enough copies of the AR for each player. If you have the time, adding to this kit can really enhance your play experience. A set of initiative cards for each opponent is immensely valuable. This does not have to include all of their stats, but should include the vital ones. As most players have their own combat cards, having the baddies prepared can make combat a breeze. With the release of the new Dungeon & Dragons Miniatures game, it is easier than ever to bring along minis for your bad guys. I just throw mine in a plastic bag for easy travel. Finally, the truly exceptional GM goes out of the way to enhance the play experience, creating new handouts for every tavern menu, illustrations for key NPCs, and photocopies of monster art for ease of display. While this last step is certainly above and beyond the call of duty, I have seen some GMs employ it to fantastic effect.
Being fully prepared to run a Living Greyhawk adventure is a serious task, but one that pays dividends at the game table. You're players will thank you.
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