setting & practicals As all DM's have to manage their prep time - for both their and the players' sanity, it's always a good idea to focus on details that will be the most useful and versatile. One of the best I've found is setting. By that I mean both the terrain/ecology and the human (or otherwise intelligent) aspect to the world your players are in. If you spend a lot of time developing this, it gives a load of benifits: 1) Details, details.. Nothing helps getting into the role-playing like feeling you're actually there, and nothing does that like detail. The more descriptive you can be, whether its the color of the trees, or the myriad factions of the bartending guild, the less we feel like we're goofy kids sitting in a basement. 2) Motivation. Knowing the world your NPC's/monsters are in lets you know why they act the way they do. This allows for a lot of sponteneity encounter-wise. Say you roll an ecalypse (shadow horse)... If you're in the deepest, darkest corner of the plane of shadow, it'll hide. If you're in the night layer of the beastlands and exotic hunters abound, it might have merely lost its owner and be friendly. Knowing setting gives you a solid foundation for building motivation onto random (or unexpected PC-driven) events. And if you want your campaign to have a realistic, slightly chaotic feel, you'll need plenty of random or unexpected (by you, the DM) events. This adds to the whole idea that the players are running the story just as much as you are - i.e. you don't know everything that is going to happen. 3) Innovation. Knowing where they are gives the players an edge when trying to be creative in their actions. You can't very well think to knock a pillar onto a chained basilisk without noticing that the pillar has a discolored, crumbly patch on one side. There are plenty of other advantages, but I think these get the idea across. Oh, and here's a practical map-making idea I got from a friend last year. Take a sheet of poster board, draw a grid, and laminate it. Use dry-erase markers to draw terrain on it for your PC's. Feel free to add pillows, books, lincoln logs, etc. to fill in terrain. It makes for an easily changeable, but solid way of conveying the setting.