NB: The following is based on a comment I wrote on The Gauntlet forums. That thread has other people’s advice as well and is worth reading!
I do very little prep for my Blades in the Dark campaign, Doskvol Dalliances.
- Before the game, I take a look at any existing faction project clocks and tick them forward as appropriate, plus make a note about how that information might reach the players (1 or 2 sentences for each). Based on this, I might tweak the factions’ tier and hold a bit.
- I also re-read the group’s danger clocks, each of which has a short summary (e.g. “A spirit well surges into reality”) and, if needed, the notes I wrote about it when I created it. These notes are at most a paragraph long. This step just refreshes my memory and doesn’t result in any immediate action. But it helps me make sure that these things are in my mind as we get going.
- When the game starts, I ask one of the players to summarize last week’s heist. Since I have a semi-open table (6 players in the group, but only 3-5 in each session), this also helps any players who might not have been present.
- My group likes about an hour or so of free play, and during that time they are figuring out which story threads they want to pursue that night and what sorts of scores that could lead to. This is when I start musing on what these scores could entail. But they tell me what score they want to run.
- Once they’ve decided, we take a short break for 5-10 minutes while we get drinks, take care of any other necessary matters, and I envision the locale and what sorts of challenges they might encounter. This is part of the game play, not prep outside of the game!
- During the heist, I improvise based on what makes sense for what they’re doing and whatever dangers they create. These mostly come from the complications or Devil’s Bargains when they don’t get a 6 on their rolls. Heists last 30-90 minutes, usually.
- Afterward, we do the wrap-up stuff as a group. Payoff/Entanglement portions could result in progressing certain story elements, for example. Then they each go through their downtime phases, sort of “out loud” so people can collaborate and solicit ideas. I walk everyone through the Crew XP, where I have final say but that’s usually academic anyway. Everyone does their XP questions out loud, where they individually have final say but often want to ask for input. This section takes 30-45 minutes.
- Larger decisions (e.g. which crew advancements to take) are food for discussion during the week in a text (Discord) chat room, where I put any pending questions to the group and help them reach consensus. These decisions are completely theirs, though I might give advice based on mechanics or reminders of what they’d previously said they might like.
The total game is generally 3-4 hours, typically to the shorter end of that. My time outside of the game is well under an hour, and at least half of that is tech setup because we stream our game on Twitch.
Hope this helps give you some ideas on one way to do it. By no means am I suggesting this is “THE way”, but after several months of play, it is what we have found works for us at the moment.