Session prep can be a pain in the ass. Sometimes you don't have time. Other times you can't find your books. Maybe you're just wiped and exhausted from a long week or lingering illness? Well, fortunately, sometimes you can make session prep go a bit faster. Your players may notice, but as long as the session is still fun, who cares? Let's talk about that today.
What Type of Session?
What type of session do you have coming up? I find that most of my sessions fall into three different categories: Open, Event, and Transition.
An Open session is one where the game isn't necessarily already aimed in a specific direction and can go in numerous directions depending on the whims of the PCs. Maybe they'll follow up on leads for a plot, or maybe they'll go off in some other direction. You can be mid story for an Open Session, or beginning a new story all together. Doesn't matter. The important thing is there's nothing specific plotted to happen. Why? Because that's an...
...event session. By definition these are sessions where a specific event is supposed to happen. Maybe it's a big fight for the end of an adventure. Maybe it's a big meeting with the king. A courtroom romance that becomes public. Doesn't matter, the plan for the session is that something prominent is going to happen.
Finally, a transition session is one where the game is moving between two states. Perhaps the PCs are moving from one Kingdom to another. Perhaps they're swapping planes. Perhaps they're going between story arcs, but aren't quite where the next story can begin. The point is, they're transitioning. Usually this is more physical transitioning (i.e. traveling between two places) than narrative.
Preparing An Event Session
Event sessions are...well, let's put it this way, if you have a big event planned you're going to have to plan a big event. However, you can make prep for that go faster often by making the event bigger. By this I mean instead of trying to figure out what happens around the event, just focus on the event. Make it big and grand. Make it fun. Make it huge.
This may seem counterproductive, but its a lot easier to plan one event than several. So just plan one event. Just make it big.
Sessions with a focus on transition are always awkward. Honestly, if you're having problems plotting a session and it is a transition session I'd recommend doing one of two things. 1) inject a combat or other mechanics heavy 'fight' situation. 2) Cut to the chase where the transition is done and the PCs are in the new place.
Being at the new place isn't going to make it easier, but it at least opens your options. Often that is enough to shake off some of the problems killing the desire to prepare a session. New locations also offer up a slew of things to occupy the PCs as they come in. They have to find their way, there are new dangers to recognize, they'll likely need lodgings. Yes, going through these can be minutiae, but it is important to have some of that minutiae when the game is in a new location, and every now and then it can give the players a chance to express themselves in different ways.
Honestly, if I have an Open Session ahead of me and no desire/time to plan, I handle it one way: I e-mail the players (individually usually) and ask them what they would like to accomplish next session. Not everyone responds, but some do. The plan for the session? Accomplish those things.
Is it still work? Sure, but preparing for "Soren wants a new sword" is a lot easier than "the PCs are free to do stuff in the City of Midgarl." For one thing, the boundaries are a lot closer.
Let the PCs RP
You can always ask the PCs what they want to do to help you. You can also inject the PCs into situations where they can RP and leave more of the session up to them. If it isn't an event session, giving the PCs time to handle personal things often works for filling a session. Just don't make it a crutch.
If you are regularly having problems preparing for sessions it may be time to take a break. If you regularly don't have the energy to plan, or the time, or the interest, it may be time to put the game to rest. Often those are signs of burnout or just not having fun, and if you're not having fun you shouldn't keep subjecting yourself to the game. Just explain it to your players. THey'll understand. If they don't? Probably not the people you want to run for anyhow.