“Running a game is so much work!”
If this is your attitude – you’ve already put yourself behind the 8-ball. Yes, it’s work in the sense that effort is exerted, but we have to reframe GMing – and prep “work” – as “playing the game” too.
Players don’t consider writing a backstory “work” – or researching their character. They might consider reading the rules “work” – but it’s in direct service of playing the game. Running a game is no different – the difference is that the whole world is your character. Building the next adventure is your character. It becomes work when we feel like we have to plan for every contingency, or else the adventure will fail.
It will not – and you’ll never be able to prepare for every contingency. Your players will know their characters better than you, and may even know the rules better than you! That’s OK! Your job is to come up with situations and motivations – and let the rest happen at the table. You’re going to find out what happens at the same time as the players. Just as they react to what you say to them, YOU will react to what they say to you. That’s playing the GM. It’s in the moment, at the table, it all happens as the dice tumble down.
To that end, really think about why things are happening in the adventure you’re reading, or the NPCs you’re creating. Don’t plan reactions – plan actions. You’re going to have the tools ready to go for actions and motivations – so when you react at the table, you’ll be playing with your friends. You’ll be playing the GM. You’ll be playing D&D just as much as they are.
Often it’s said that the GM’s job is to lose, over and over. Again, we have to reframe. The world cannot lose. You should even be on your player’s side, wanting them to succeed! It’s unfortunate that there’s yet ANOTHER obstacle to their success, how inconvenient! They are often trying to save people or places in your world – sometimes they’re even trying to save your world itself – how could you not be on their side?
For every monster that dies, for every villain that is defeated, for every town they save (maybe barely?) – there is a consequence. When things happen, make a note to come back to it during prep – what’s the outcome? What’s the consequence? Perhaps that monster had pack that is now enraged, perhaps that villain had a child that wishes revenge, perhaps that town that was barely saved now needs help to rebuild. Or flip the script – the monster was terrorizing a new friend, the villain’s kid idolizes the party, or the town that was barely saved no longer wants the party’s “help” – ALWAYS have a consequence. Maybe it never comes up – but maybe it does.
So what’s the scary part of this for you? Is it a reliance on improv? Is it the fear of not having something to run? Of making a “mistake?” I have those fears too. In the future, I’ll be sharing some resources and tools that have helped me move past those fears. The best place to start is with Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, by Sly Flourish.
Work less. Play more!