Confessions of a lazy GM

A Dungeon Master, but probably not of the lazy variety. I am a very lazy when it comes to preparing roleplaying sessions. When other GMs plan and prepare for weeks I usually make some preparations just mere hours before I start running a game. Sometimes I don’t prepare at all, hoping that my improvisation skills save the day. If everything else fails, a nice tavern brawl keeps the players occupied for long enough to give me some time to make up something in the back of my head.

Of course this doesn’t work in every game. I am currently running a Savage Worlds game using the Rippers plot point campaign. And if you ask me, SW is perfect for the lazy GM, especially when you use it to run any of the plot point campaigns. In most cases you sit down at the table, read the next plot point description and the rest is done by hand waving.

You have to be thinking on your feet all the time, making up NPCs on the spot and coming up with encounters on the spot is vital for the lazy GM. And alas this doesn’t work in every game. You should never try to run an investigative game that way. It just doesn’t work. Ok, if you have read every murder mystery novel on the planet you may be able to pull it off, but in most cases it’s near impossible to be successfully lazy when investigative games are concerned.

But especially when you and your players favor action over complicated stories, you can easily have a lot of fun without hours of preparation. And being a lazy GM although helps you in well-prepared games or when you are running and commercial module. When things go awry, you can always rely on your improvisation skills, that you have trained while being the lazy GM, to save the day.

There’s even a reason why being a lazy GM can also improve your game. Some GMs tend to meticulously plan their adventures which may lead to the focus being shifted from the players and their characters to the background story and the NPCs. If you don’t plan ahead you usually rely on your players to drive the action while you improvise on the spot.

Recently my group asked me to run “Trail of Cthulhu” on New Year’s Eve. I fear I will have to do some preparation for this session after all. As I wrote before, it’s extremely hard to pull off a great investigative game without some preparation. But in the long run I will probably always be a lazy GM. 😉

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

8 thoughts on “Confessions of a lazy GM”

  1. For lazy GMing with investigations you just need to ensure the system supports that kind if laziness.

    Systems where players invoke the clues rather than needing to find them.

    You just need to know who did what (in a vague way, Professor Plum hit Mr.Body with the lead pipe in the kitchen). Then players invoke a skill or method of investigating ("I Investigate the body with my skill…lets see, I notice anything that relates to cooking", and then you might respond with "you notice a bruise on his shoulder, it looks kind of like a burner element")
    .-= Zzarchov´s last blog ..Marine Rules Alpha Available =-.

  2. As a player, I don't find being able to invoke clues to feel much like investigating at all. Investigation scenarios is where I most want the GM to tell me what's in the world, rather than vice-versa.

    Lazy investigation is actually pretty easy, though, if you're careful and don't overuse the following technique: listen to the players batting around theories and make one of them true. If they become aware you're doing it, it ruins it, but if you're subtle you can get them to construct really elaborate plots and elegant chains of inference worthy of Sherlock Holmes. It works really well, because in essence this is what players do all the time: listen to somewhat sketchy descriptions of a handful of salient points about the world and construct a solid shared model of that world. All you're doing is throwing in a handful of points that indicate a crime, and they'll take it from there. When the players are on a roll, you can even introduce elements that contradict their theory (accidentally or on purpose) and they'll rationalize it away, often by making it a cunning scheme on the villain's part to throw them off the scent.
    .-= Joshua´s last blog ..Out-RAGE-e-ous Accents =-.

  3. Funnily enough, I've been toying with the idea of making a series of Lazy GM blog posts… I need to be less lazy and actually write it…


    I did run an investigative game with no preparation other than "Something killed the priest by burning him alive in the church", it went better than I thought… the players did ask questions about the scene that were within their character purview and got some clues the same way, in a way, we were making what happened as we played…

    the main thing to watch out when heavily improvising is not to contradict yourself…

  4. @Joshua,

    My apologies, I didn't mean to imply the player specified the clue, only that he specified the type of clue he was looking for.

    I don't need to go on a 10 page info dump or pre-thought out clues(only to still not have a breakdown of the type of mud on his boots) If I force the player to tell me the type of clues he wants.

    He wants to know about something relating to herbalism, I can now think of what happened and figure something out from there "you find crushed kingsfoil, that only grows in marshy areas" (knowing that either the victim or the culprit were near the marshes)

    The player could not declare "I Find kingsfoil! He was in the marshes", because..what if he wasnt?
    .-= Zzarchov´s last blog ..Marine Rules Alpha Available =-.

  5. @Zzarchov: I believe games like InSpectres supports that kind of GMing. But I have to admit that I prefer the method Joshua mentioned. But when I want to run a game that's focussed on investigation even I prefer to prepare a solid background story. It's usually more fun for the players that way. I only change things on the fly when the players come up with something even more cool. 😉

  6. I remember how frustrated I was when my D&D 3.5 game hit the teenage levels. So much work! I've since discovered some shortcuts that allow me to keep running the games with the amount of prep time I'm willing to give. I guess I feel comfortable with 1h prep for a 4h game. Usually that involves thinking, drawing, and preparing for 4h, and then nibbling off bits and pieces in the following month with hardly any preparation. It works well enough for me. 🙂
    .-= Alex Schroeder´s last blog ..Comments on Fliegender Wechsel des Spielleiters =-.

  7. As a fellow lazy GM, I, too, have been enjoying a foray into SW. At the same time, I enjoy working on my games as long as the work is something I *want* to do instead of something I *have* to do. Prep in 3e D&D drove me crazy for this reason, it was all NPC and monster statting, which is just tedium. For my Savaged Firefly game I've worked up a set of space rules, some tables for random ship troubles and all kinds of little bits here and there, but it's not work, it's fun. I don't spend much time actually planning the game, that just happens. I just like having the means in my GM notebook to make the improv more fluid and FFF.

  8. I am with you on this, Thasmodious. In the last years I have written whole settings, many house rules, a few adventures, but the I abhorr the tedious aspects of game prep like creating stats for monsters and NPCs. I loved Rolemaster as a player but I would never run it as a GM because creating NPCs takes ages if you don't just want to wing it.

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