The last session of my Tuesday night game my prep-work was a little under par. After the first encounter with the Ice Gnomes within site of a palace of snow and ice at the end of the previous session which resulted in one PC being frozen solid and captured the rest withdrew to plot the rescue of their companion and heal up from the battle.
So I had a whole week to prep for the session.
I spent about 15 minutes sketching out planning maps of the approach to the palace of snow and Ice, an overall simple plan of the palace and a slightly more detailed map of the outer ward of the palace of snow and ice, and scribbled in a few notes. That was all the prep work I did before game night... uh oh.
Luckily the players spent a lot of time healing up and not getting killed in their mountainside camp when we played this week. Now, I could have bluffed/pulled out of my fertile imagination the whole castle but I didn't. Once the players crept back to a safe spot within sight of the palaxce of snow and ice I described the patrol groups of ice gnomes both on foot and mounted on caribou most in bands of no more then a dozen , the players hesitated (thankfully) and then I slathered on the stay away detail (knowing it could backfire at any moment). " Oh no you almost got spotted by that really large troop of two score", "hmmm...I don't think you guys appreciate how large this place is" and I whipped up a sketch of the palace and compared it to Minas Morgul surrounded by a moat covered in a thin layer of ice with shadowy forms moving beneath instead of the gnomish snow fort the players must have imagined it to be originally, they were breaking but could have grown courage at any moment.
So, at the last moment: "As the sun dips behind the mountains you see a great white dragon landing atop the highest tower of the palace". And that was the moment my failed prep work wasn't exposed and the PCs set off back to their camp (dodging an ettin totally unassociated with the palace on the way) and then back to town to talk with the wizard they were working for and try to drum up some assistance.
So I dodged having to play with shoddy prep work and put the fear of doom into the players, who might actually be afraid of ice gnomes now.
Of course now I have to live up to the hype and get enough work in on the palace for the captured PC to possibly escape on his own.