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How Long Does it Take You to Prep Your D&D Game?

by Mike on 20 December 2021

Sly Flourish Patron MonsterVTpilot asks "What is your ratio of preparation time vs. play time for your games personally? For every hour of play do you think we spend 3 hours to prepare? What do you think is a normal ratio."

Three hours per hour?? I certainly hope not.

For a video on this topic, see my YouTube video "How Long Does it Take to Prep a D&D Game?".

In April 2020 I posted a Twitter poll asking DMs how long they prepared for a roughly four-hour D&D game. Here are the results from 3,663 responses:

Response% of total
About 30 minutes or less10%
About an hour33%
About two hours28%
About three hours or more29%

Just about a third of surveyed DMs spend three hours or more preparing on a four hour game. A little less than half spend an hour or less. Another quarter spend about two hours.

Personally, it takes me about 30 minutes to an hour to prepare for a 3 hour game using the eight steps from Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master and that feels about right to me. When I'm on my own and not livestreaming my preparation it usually takes about 30 minutes. That's assuming I'm in the middle of a published adventure I'm already running. This amount of prep-time changes depending on the type of game I'm running, where we are in that campaign, and what I've already prepared. If I'm running a single-session game from scratch, it could take one to two hours to get everything ready.

How Long Do YOU Need?

We each likely need a different amount of time to prep our games. There's no single right answer. Sometimes the platform on which we play takes more or less time. I whip things up quickly in Owlbear Rodeo but others love to build big multimedia experiences in Roll20 or Foundry and that takes a lot of time. If I want to set up a nice Dwarven Forge setup, I'm not whipping that up in 30 minutes. It's going to take a couple of hours.

There are, however, diminishing returns. I experimented by taking a full day preparing for a Ghosts of Saltmarsh campaign and saw these diminishing returns in action. Some things had a big impact on the game including reading the whole adventure and considering connections between the characters and the story of the adventure. Other things, like setting up music playlists and printing out big poster maps, offered little value for the time spent.

Regardless of how much time we spend prepping on our games, it behooves us to look at each part of our prep and ask ourselves how much better our game will be because of it. Often we're driven to prep more than we need. Sometimes what we prep doesn't help at all. Sometimes it makes the game worse — it gets in the way.

Which Steps are the Right Steps?

We each decide what most benefits our game. Of course, I believe in and use the eight steps from Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master and focus on the next game I'm going to run instead of what may happen in future sessions. Those steps work for me and seem to work for a lot of people. But each of us can ask ourselves what preparation makes for a great game and what does not to determine how long it takes us to prep our game.

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This work includes material taken from by Michael E. Shea available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.

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