So You Want To Be A Game Master – Part 2: Cutting Corners

Previous Entries
Part 1: The Beginning

Now that we have the basic ideas for a setting and a story going, you can move on to the really fun part of being a Game Master; game prep.

"It's a lot like that."

Such an arduous task awaits you. You are solely charged with making this new world of yours believable by populating it with an assortment of unique and interesting characters, each with their own names, quirks, and goals. You must build whole towns and kingdoms from nothingness, and shape the very continents themselves. Hours and hours of treacherous work lay ahead of you on a battlefield littered with the corpses of Game Masters that could not cut the metaphorical mustard. This is an all-consuming work that will claim every spare moment of your life...

...Except it totally isn't. 

Game Masters are not the Gandlafs that many players think they are, channeling unfathomable powers of craft and imagination. I find myself to be a conjurer of cheap tricks. An illusionist of sorts, my Game Master's screen the veil from which I confound the senses and play all manner of Jedi mind tricks. Today I shall pull back the veil, and show you the magical substance that runs every one of my games. My most secret weapon.


"And I mean everywhere!"

Pure, Grade-A bullshit. I work with it the way some artists work with clay; molding it until it takes a pleasing shape that entices and entertains. Bullshit can make a campaign run for years with minimal time commitment.

"Unless of course you are a time lord."

Time is the Game Master's arch nemesis. This becomes truer as we grow older. Responsibility and conflicting schedules can kill a game faster than a brisk jog through the Tomb of Horrors. There are so many usable hours in every day, and the average person needs to divide that between work, school, family, health, social obligations, and subverting the wills of others (which I suppose could just be extensions of the other things). Who can commit eight hours a day to meticulously building villages, stocking them with NPCs, and figuring out the motivation behind the blacksmith's tryst with the baker's husband? 

"Strike while the anvil is hot."

So what is a Game Master to do? Especially if you find yourself running a weekly game? That answer to that question is sinfully simple... cut corners at every step. I know that seems counter-intuitive. Logically, one would think, the amount of time and effort exerted would yield an equal amount of quality, but that is not always the case. With the right tools at your disposal, you can cut your prep time down significantly, so you can focus your energy on more enriching things, like teaching your cat how to yoga. 

"Yup. There was a pic for that."

Normally, gathering all the materials you would need to achieve this exalted echelon of efficiency would take awhile, thus making you wonder if it really was so efficient in the first place. Thankfully I am such a swell fella, I compiled all the fun little shortcuts and do-dads I use into one convenient place.

The first thing you are going to want to aid you on this journey of simplification is an Adventure Creation Binder. This idea was inspired by a couple YouTubers; DungeonmasterJohnny and aFistfulofDice. The contents can differ slightly from system to system, but the majority is so generic, you can transition them from one to the other as effortlessly as Jason Lee does that smiling thing that he does in all of his movies.

 "Yeah. That."

So what's in the Adventure Creation Binder? Well, feast ye eyes below, me harties! Yo-ho! (I... I don't know why I am talking like a pirate, but it is a real problem that needs to be brought to public attention)


a Fistful of Dice's Easy NPC MakerThis beautiful thing is a simple one-page sheet that details all the things you really need to know about an NPC. I personally only bother with the top half of the sheet, but it is comforting to know that if for some reason the party sorcerer takes offense to the way the innkeeper parts his hair, there is a section that will allow you to believably convey the final 6 seconds the poor bastard has left. 

a Fistful of Dice's One-Page D&DAdventure - Despite the name, this can be used for virtually any tabletop RPG, from D&D and Pathfinder to Star Wars and even Call of Cthulu. Simple notes for you to remember as you bullshit your way through the story. In this context, bullshit is a complimentary term.

a Fistful of Dice's Better Battles – Yes, he has shown up three times in a row now, and with good bloody reason. This masterful two-page spread can take a boring encounter, and suddenly breath some life into it. Standing on flagstones seem like a dull prospect? How about when they start falling into a chasm beneath your very feet? It generates as many new ideas as it offers, and makes your players pine to kick in that next door and fight for their lives.

5th Edition Encounter Sheet Simplicity is what we are going for here, and Reddit user Neskatoman has it going on in spades! This beautiful one-page sheet comes with a handsome initiative tracker, and monster sections galore.

Immersion Tables by Kirk Wiebe – The saintly mind behind PhDnD offers up tables for your random rolling pleasure. While your players sweat at the sound of your dice-falls, dreading whatever shambling abomination they imagine you are about to throw at them, you can whirl up the menu at your local inn, cook up a delightful assortment of descriptions to make your scenery pop, or bequeath a name to that sassy barmaid the fighter has his eye on.


donjon RPG Tools Need the name of something? Go to donjon. Need a list of random encounters? Go to donjon. Want a completely randomly generated dungeon, complete with monsters, traps, and stuck doors? donjon. I am pretty certain at this point donjon could mend a broken marriage. Works lovely for both Pathfinder and D&D.

Sly Flourish If you have never heard of the man, for shame. He has several invaluable resources to peruse and squeal over like a teenage catgirl in heat.

The SRDs – No other resource is as plentiful or dutifully updated as the d20pfsrd and the 5esrds respectfully. Everything, and I mean anything printed in a book that you could possibly need, want, or fathom is there, neatly organized for your digital consumption. Don't get me wrong, get the books, support your publisher and you friendly local gaming store, but it is always nice to have an instant resource at your fingertips.

Goblinist Encounter Generator Don't have the time to crunch XP thresholds and choose monsters for your 5th Edition game? Maybe your players zigged when they should have zagged and have found themselves in a place you never intended without any encounters prepped? No problem. Four or five clicks and you have yourself a nicely balanced, randomly generated encounter. Comes in four flavors; easy, medium, hard, and “they will hate you forever”.

Raging Swan PressWhen it comes to flavor and immersing a player into a game, few can hold a candle to the awesome power of Raging Swan Press. Their free resources for Game Masters is impressive in and of itself. And if that is what Creighton gives away for free, then imagine how much is packed into his books! Also good if you want some top-notch Game Master advice.

Now you have a heaping pile of wonderful goodies to sort through. Session building should become a bit easier with these in your corner, but we are not done. Oh no, not by a long shot. Next time, I will discuss the joys of making NPCs your party will love and/or hate.

Be sure to check out the first installment. So You Want To Be A GM - Part 1: The Beginning 

May the dice roll ever in you favor

+Ed The Bard 

Looking for some extra aids to make your game really pop? Check out the Open Gaming Store. Tell them The Bard sent you.

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