Confessions of a Lazy GM 3

Lazy Tip #5: Play fast and dirty
Being a Lazy GM is a lot like being a Stage Magician. It pays to have a gorgeous assistant in a skimpy dress. No, that’s not it……

GM’ing isn’t about weaving fantastic plots, creating wonderful NPCs or being a tactical genius on the battlefield. OK it’s partly about all that, but it’s mainly about controlling the pace of the game. You are the director and cameraman all rolled into one, describing the action and keeping the players (your actors and audience) enthralled right up to the closing credits.

A Lazy GM knows this and uses the pace of the game to her advantage. Run a tense and exciting combat with hordes of critters appearing out of cracks in the walls, and the players won’t even notice you’re using nothing more than stock Goblin Minion stats.

Just like a Stage Magician, smoke and mirrors are your friend. Except in your case, the mirror is your GM screen.

Keep your methods secret behind a GM screen and don’t let them see what dice you’re rolling. If you described the Goblins as wielding pointy bone daggers then roll d6s for damage, what they don’t see won’t cause arguments at the table.

Hiding your damage rolls also means you can control the drama. A character at 0hp is more exciting than one at -1hp, so fudge the damage so that’s where the player lands. Don’t do it every time or they’ll see through your sleight of hand – but watch the players’ faces when their characters hit the big 0. It’s worth it.

Lazy Tip #6: Be green. Recycle!
My players don’t know it, but they’ve fought the same villain a tonne of times. They fought him in a New York subway where he was covered in old train parts. They fought him in a Chinese restaurant where he wore a smart suit. They fought him in a jungle in the North Pole where he was a giant ape.

Diff’rent folks, same stats.

We all do this – after all, our Monster Manuals are 100% full of recyclable goodness. You don’t “use up” the statblocks once the players have encountered that particular beastie. Be an interesting campaign if they did – Extinction:The RPG.

But anyway.

In our superhero campaign I’ve a small collection of generic villain statblocks culled from various supplements (including the Archetypes from the Core Rules) and my own fevered brain. Being the Lazy GM wot I am, I can pull one of those out at a moment’s notice, give him a unique look and silly name and be ready to run a one-shot adventure, right there. Give me 10 generic villains (brick, brain, mech, mage, blaster, psi, blade, stretch, flying, teleporter) and 10 plotlines (theft, kidnap, escape, revenge, murder, accident, rage, love, cure, pain) and I’ll give you not a hundred adventures, but thousands.

Till next time!

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12 Comments on “Confessions of a Lazy GM 3”

  1. Yes!

    I’ve actually put together a half-page stat block (http://brentnewhall.com/rpg/doku.php?id=dnd_4th_edition_generic_antagonist_sheet) allowing me to create an any-level antagonist on the fly, based on level. I can just plug the antagonist’s level into a few simple math formulae to generate HP, AC, damage, and a few other basic stats. The sheet also contains a few power descriptions to kick-start my imagination (“Push enemy X squares”, “Ongoing X fire/lightning/etc. damage”).

    This is especially true if you’re playing a game with mostly human (or human-ish) antagonists; their stats will mostly be the same. I try to vary combat abilities more than anything–players will mostly remember that an enemy was jumping all over the place, or belching fire, or attacking with chains.

    Brent P. Newhalls last blog post..Why You Should Watch ”Mobile Suit Gundam”

  2. Having “a gorgeous assistant in a skimpy dress” is less useful for a game designer. When my often-miniskirted assistant was handling playtest evaluations, the results were uniformly gushing with praise. Though that’s a nice ego boost, it doesn’t help me fix problems. When both of us would handle playtest evaluations, some of the responses would be along the lines of, “What’s the cute goth girl’s phone number?”

  3. @Golgotha You fool! Gorgeous assistants in skimpy dresses are always useful! A fie on you for saying otherwise! :D

    I do agree though. Then can skew your playtest results somewhat.

  4. Great tips. I’m a very lazy GM but fortunately I’m experienced enough to be able to take a stat block and bump it one way or the other, throw on a cool power and some flavor text for a “new” threat.

    Another tip would be don’t be afraid to use the players’ ideas. The players come up with a better idea than what you originally had in mind, go with it. You can always use your original idea another time and the players think they’re geniuses for figuring out your nefarious plots. Just don’t do it too often.

    Ozs last blog post..The Hunt For Gollum

  5. Hiding your damage rolls also means you can control the drama. A character at 0hp is more exciting than one at -1hp, so fudge the damage so that’s where the player lands.

    Alternatively, roll in the open for extra excitement. As a bonus, stay honest and let players make accurate assessments of the situation. As a further bonus, get rid of bad habits like fudging.

    (All IMO, of course.)

  6. @Tommi What you call “fudging” and a “bad habit” I call dramatic license and weaving a darned good story. In my book that trumps sticking to the rules every time :D

  7. Greywolf;
    You are certainly free to think that. I say that fudging is bad because it reduces the influence players have over the game (not because the rules are sanctified; though with good rules, there’s no reason to not stick to them). Why not let players do some of the weaving or use the dramatic license once a while?

  8. I must disagree about pacing the game by using lots of combat. this will be nothing more than tedious hack and slash. some people love this but you hardly need a gm to make it happen. Wouldn’t be too much of a roleplaying adventure.

  9. @mateo That’s not what I said :D I don’t mean you should run lots of combat, at all. This is about how you present the action.

    Pacing the game is all about controlling the speed and flow of all the action – play the combats as fast, furious action scenes and that increases the excitement. Don’t increase the number of combats, but make how you play them set the tone of the game.

    A combat run as a fast high-octane action scene is a very different thing to one where each move is detailed with fine precision. Find a style which suits how you want to play.

    Similarly, if you run an non-combat scene as something slow and tense then that sets the scene’s tone. It’s all about developing skills at directing to help you become a better GM.

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