But first, a word on how I usually prepare for Buffy (and, by extension, similar episodic one-shots).
I start with a new page in my gaming notebook (or some kind of electronic document if I'm going to have access to a laptop or my iPad). I label the episode number and come up with a catchy title. Yes, I start with the title. Some may think that I'm putting the cart before the horse, but at least 80% of my Buffy episode owe their entire existence to a clever title. Everything else usually follows from that.
Next up, I start a "Previously On Slaying Solomon..." section where I try to highlight the important plot threads and update the status of the major and minor cast members. Over eight years into this game, this step is absolutely essential. This is especially true given that my session notes can be sparse and our limited play frequency makes it hard to recall exactly what happened in a previous session. Writing everything down helps job the memory.
After that, I try to come up with a three act structure and a snappy teaser (the action and/or cliffhanger sequence that hooks the players). Sometimes, I come up with the teaser first and the rest of the episode follows. Usually, however, I need to have some idea of where the episode is going before I can think about what crucial element needs to be established in the opening sequence.
Now, even though I use a three act structure, I should be clear that I'm not doing any railroading here. I know my players and I have a pretty good idea of what they will do. But rarely do we finish the episode in the place that I imagined. In fact, much of the fun for me (as Director/GM) is seeing how it ends.
Thus, I set up an initial situation and lay out a rough plot in an outline format. Considering the seasonal arc (which is always in flux) I make note of various plot points that I'd like to hit. These plot points are often worked in though non-player characters, with plenty of clues thrown about to invite player involvement.
The player characters will always have their own agenda and I make sure I listen to their inter-party dialog during a session to look for where they will come into contact with the plot.
Pacing in these things is critical. While I do not put the *party* on rails, I do note in the plans of the various NPCs where I might need to cut corners or draw things out in order to hit a satisfying conclusion at the end of a four hours session. This sometimes manifests as a "to do list" for episode's Big Bad, which can expand or contract as needed.
Finally, I like to gather general resources for a session. For me, that means name lists, monster stats, inspirational images, and ideas for good action sequences.
Ok, that's how I generally prepare episodic games. In my next post I hope to explore other techniques that I've used in the past, as well as techniques that I'm itching to try.