Roleplaying Resources

A Guide for the Lazy DM

Tips to avoid work, from the “What's a DM to do?” board, started on 08-27-03 06:10 PM.

Some DMs work hours rolling up NPCs, designing towns and settingup encounters. They map extensively and know everything there is to know about every facet of the game.

I am not one of them. I think about the story and plan encounters, maybe roll up treasure, and occasionally map. Otherwise, I don't sweat much. This is place for lazy DMs to share there secret shortcuts. I'll get the ball rolling:

Generic NPCs

Vaalingrade Ashland

Just add flavor. Non-plot NPCs and monsters are all basically straight from the book with whatever equipment I feel like giving them. They get names as the PCs ask from my list o' names.

Small treasure, big returns

Vaalingrade Ashland

Rolling treasure is a pain, especially when you almost always come up with stuff thats completely use less to the party. I don't roll treasure, instead I make up treasure on the fly, mostly something befitting the previous owner.

Reuse maps


Try using a map for multiple campaigns and just switch the entrances, exits, and secret doors.

No magic stores

Xalxika Dis-allow buying magic items of a value higher than 2000 such as weapons, wands, armor, etc. Also, any item on lists such as scrolls, potions, and the like can all be baught. This saves tons of time in searching through the DMG for strategical things to sell, and adds more excitement to finding magic items during battles than the “I walk up to Sword and Shield and say, “I would like to buy a Holy Avenger, Flametongue, and a Lion Shield please.”

Let them run with it

The King of Boredom

Give the PCs the ball and let them run with it. You'd be amazed how much attention a simple plot hook will get sometimes. Like my players have been chasing information on a certain friendly NPC for three sessions now just because they don't know what she really is.

Buy time

The King of Boredom

Don't have a certain plotline fully thought out yet and they keep going after it? No problem, just hold them up a bit. I don't know if this terminology is proper here, but I'll add it anyway. Use Operation: …. storm. Minor problem after minor problem, too many things to try and handle at one time. Add time limits on one or two to keep them in one place if need be. It works perfect when they want to go after a BBEG before they should even try such a thing.

List of names

Gandalf White

Always have a list of names,(if you're really lazy or have a writer's block,use Ebon)so you can whip 'em out when the players ask about something.


Gandalf White

Use imagination, lots of it (hoping that you have it).

Pre-made NPCs

Gandalf White

Think of a few intersting NPCs,and then introduce them to the game when you see fit or roll an notable NPC for a random encounter.


Gandalf White

Think of the basic plotlines,the rest will come,when the PCs ask for some information(have lots of that in my game),ie. “Can you tell me where could I find the Halidan gem?”,think of some information on a fly,ask the players to write diaries,one of my players writes those small tidbits of information/names that I just thought of thinking that is a plot for later on,and then read the diaries after some time,and the ideas for campaigns will just appear there.

Rob them

El Magnifico

Rob the characters of something, it doesn't really need to be important most players will chase a thief as a matter of pride. Then you can run them all over the city, RP encounters with the local guards/police force/militia, or run a little detective story - whatever it takes to buy the time you need.

Let the players help


Stuck for an idea about what should happen next when you're putting things together on the fly? Listen to your players. Most of the time they have opinions about what might happen next (especially if you give them a hint like, “I'm going to grab a drink, why don't you guys discuss what you need to do to prepare for the next part of the adventure.”) Listening from the kitchen I can get a ton of ideas for what the PCs think/hope might be lying in wait for them. Imagine how pleased they are when they find out some of their speculations were accurate!

Light hearted vs serious


There are two modes to a session, and they often switch back and forth several times during one sitting. They are “light hearted” and “serious”. Notice I didn't say “humourous”, because “light hearted” isn't always funny, sometimes it is just relaxing filler material.

Anyway, what a good DM has to learn is the flow of these two modes. A DM whose PCs are enjoying causing mischief in a town and buying/selling suplies shouldn't suddenly introduce an army of Xorns which burst from the ground and begin heading for the abandoned wizard tower where the ancient book of Ki'shek is located.

On the other hand, a DM whose PCs are absorbed in their search for the missing tome of Ki'shek in the Crypt of Eternity shouldn't be confronted with a sideplot involving giggling kenders.

While neither of the above plot twists will usualy draw protest from the players, they will cause the overall integrity of the game to suffer. Learning just when to get serious or lighten up makes DMing a lot easier, and a lazy DM can get a real break (since, when the players are having fun, the game can pretty much run itself)

Use what you know


Well, I used to go for a lot of preparation when I DM, but I have found that I often get a bit over-complicated (esp. with politics) when I prepare so I usually do the following:

While the players are rolling up their characters (if this is a new game, otherwise while they are getting the pre-game chatting out of the way) I will make a few stetches and notes to myself. Once the game starts, it is all “off the top of my head”.

Of course, not many people would want to do it this way. I am just overeducated in too many subjects (poli-sci, anthropology, history, science, math etc..) and have done this too long. Generally I find this more entertaining as it adds some real tension to DMing. I sorta have an idea, but I get to see it come to life as it happens. Everyone I play with is always totally blown away when I tell them that I was making it up as I go…

Edit: Ive done this with Basic set, 2nd ed, 3rd ed, Paranoia, Alternity (now that was fun) and MERP / Rolemaster.

Further edit: One great trick to cut down on prep work while making it look like you have everything planned out is to place random bits of “foreshadowing” while you play. You might not know NOW why it is signifigant that the Patrician of Vian'Quai speant his youth as a hostage to the Gwahi, but when you make it useful later your players will think you had it planned out all the time

Generic monsters


Generic monsters are good to have around. like a basic template for a skeleton, orc, hobgoblin or whatever.. if you want a bit harder versions just add hitpoints and maybe a few ATK bonus, i generally have 1 template for many monsters and write down on a seperate sheet the HP like this if they encounter 4 monsters which one is the leader.

  1. 20hp
  2. 20hp
  3. 20hp
  4. +2 atk/dmg 40hp

fights go faster and players cant tell the diffrence if you spend 30minutes leveling up your template monster by the book or if you spend 2 seconds winging it.. inthe end.. everyone wins =P

Improvise monsters


learn to improvise. like you want your party to encounter a skeleton you dont want to say “sec guys” (flips through monster manual).

easy. skeleton 2 HD 10hp 13AC +3atk dmg1d6+1.. or PC picks a fight with a elite guard.. 3HD 20HP 16AC +6atk dmg1d8+1 and you're good to go! might not be accurate to rules or anything but its way faster for those short fights that arent THAT important

Shorten fights


Good way to shorten a fight.. if for some reason you decide to throw a pack of 20 level 1 goblins at your avarage level 10 party and they decide to fight. just say like,

DM “Ok after a while you have slaughtered all but 5 who ran away in panic”.

for some reason i prefer spending combat time on worthwhile opponents

Use modules


Use modules - but be sure to change the names. A Revisit of the Temple of Molecular Evil, The Tomb of Terrors, The Burgh of the Drow Princess etc.

Use pre-written stuff


Mercilessly plunder adventure ideas, maps, plot outlines, unique magic items and creature/NPC stats from Dungeon Magazine.

Mix in any and all D20 material, wherever you can find it. Using Never before seen material is a great way to surprise your players and add excitement to the game.

Steal the player's sheets


Here's a really cheap one: Make the players relinquish their PC sheets until the next session. Photocopy one of them (not the paladin) and bump up the stats/items. Change the name, add a background and you have your BBEG.

Minimal preparation


Seriously, though. Download the SRD. Pick the creatures you want. Make the creature names a small font size to prevent players from “accidentally” seeing what they're up against. Cut and Paste only that monster into a new document and print it. Total time, say 1 minute. No gaming time wasted while you look it up in the MM at the table.

Another good hint for “original” monsters. Change the name. Change the description a bit. Give them a special power, +1 to hit and saves, and 10 extra hit points or so. Raise the CR by 1.

Voila! Instant new creature. Your players will be SOOOO impressed and surprised! They love new monsters where they don't know what to expect from them. AND - you can use this method on the fly with no prep whatsoever.

Don't name monsters


Remember it's your world: thus, skeletons can have 80 hitpoints if they need them. your monsters don't have to be exact matches for the monster manual, they just need to be monsters.

Don't tell them the answers: my guys fought 'creatures' that i described. they invented their own names for them, and never knew that it was really a ghoul, or a goblin, or a gnoll. Don't say “you see 10 orcs on a hill”, tell them “you see ten creatures, loud, arguing, boorish. They have a pigs face on a stout body…. etc.”. If you never admit to it being an Orc, then they can't holler how many hitpoints it had, etc. and that it should have fallen, or can't be immune to sleep, etc.

Don't announce damage


I had my players roll 'to hit' and damage at one time. then, i simply told them the effect their round had on the creature: 'Your sword strikes well, and he limps slightly as you disengage' 'didn't have much effect. ' 'He laughs at you' 'He screams and fights back ferociausly'. I keep track of the damage behind my screen. Sometimes the players are baffled… they do hundreds of hitpoints of damage, and the creature is still standing. They don't pick up the clues that their weapons aren't cutting or bruising because they aren't magical, or whatever. This lets YOU control the battle, and the game. If you give them too tough a monster, you can 'wound it down' without them ever knowing.

Steal everything


Keep a text file on your computer and a sheet of paper in your desk, when reading books, playing computer games, trawling the internet or whatever and you either come across an idea you can steal, or a new one pops into your head, you can write it down immediately. It might be months before you can use the thing. I don't know how many neat little plot hooks, encounters etc I forgot before I started this.

From me

I'm going to put things I think of here, even though they weren't in the original thread.

Multiple hooks, one result

Every read a Choose Your Own Adventure book? The bad ones just have every wrong choice kill you. The good ones keep your choices from mattering overly much. There might be a short way and a long way to get to page 74, but you'll get there eventually. Do the same with roleplaying: Give the players multiple adventure hooks, but whichever one they follow, the end result is the same. Just make sure they don't realize you're doing this.

Lead them where you want them

It can be a pain to draw complex maps, where the PCs can go off in any direction. In a dungeon, there's just that much more work to do. Outside, the PCs might go in a completely different direction than you intended.

So make it simpler. The Temple of Everyone Dies was in the east, but the PCs went west? Oh, look at that! It turns out it was in the west all along! The NPC you want them to meet is in the City of Dogs and the PCs go to the City of Cows? Oh, it turns out he actually lived in the City of Cows.

You can even do this with dungeons, without the PCs noticing. Let them take the left passage instead of the right, and oh! Looks like the left passage was the correct one!

You should be careful with all of this. As soon as the players realize they're being railroaded, they stop caring. So don't do it all the time, and don't let anyone know.