The Lazy Man's Guide to Gamemastering
It's a common affliction of gamemasters to pour hours of their precious time into crafting astory to make their players awestruck, only to see them time and again decide to runobliquely to the carefully laid path before them. Some resort to the railroad, locking the cardoors and forcing the players along for the ride. Others react by trying to script carefullyplanned flow charts of how to re-direct the players back to their attempt at Pulitzerdom.Most throw their hands up and see hours of hard work just vanish.I make no apologies: I'm a lazy gamemaster. I've done the carefully crafted story thing onetoo many time, and frankly, I just cannot be bothered to invest the time. Further, I alsohave come to realize that your intricate plot is a disservice both to yourself, and to yourplayers. It is either therefore the conceit of wishing to impress others with yourstorycrafting acumen, or, as was my case, it's a lack of trust in yourself to be able to run agame "off the cuff". Coming to the table with nothing more than a handful of NPCs andsome vague ideas can be a frightening notion. It has the feel of walking a tightrope withouta net. It's also a completely unjustified fear.In this little missive, I'll outline the simple formula I use for my GMing style, ideal for boththe slothful as well as the time-pressed. I will demonstrate how to turn your vague ideasand handful of NPCs into tools to help your players craft a story they'll enjoy, as well aspoint out that you do indeed have a safety net you may not have considered.
Step One: The Campaign Idea
Before you can start GMing, you need to have a basic premise or idea of a campaign. Thetemptation here is to include loads of history and backstory that will make players' eyesglaze over. The goal is to try to make the world, and the campaign, seem real by making itdetailed. This is a common mistake. Nothing will make players feel more disconnected fromtheir character, and thus the world, than the feeling that everything is completely alien tothem, they have nothing to hook them into the world.This is your first opportunity to be lazy. Rather than explain all the intricate details, stealthem from media that the players are familiar with. Instead of explaining the elaboratepolitics of your nation of bored, decadent nobles, just say "This is nation is basically likeDangerous Liaisons" or "This character is alot like The Marquis de Sade". There's nothingwrong with explaining the Hyborean nation of Stygia as "basically Egypt, but they worshipan evil snake god, commit human sacrifice, and use dark sorcery". Sure, there's more to itthan that, but the players don't need to know that right now. They just need a hook toengage that information quickly. These things are all tropes, dense nuggets of informationyou can convey by engaging in a common frame of reference. I like to outright list the TVshows, books, and movies which are sources of inspirations for my campaigns, as theplayers then instantly understand what the game is about as well as their character's placein the world. And it's alot easier than writing pages and pages of background history thatyou expect them to digest.Once you've established the world using tropes, you then establish the premise the sameway. "This game is going to be kinda like Star Wars, with the players being rebels fightingagainst an Evil Empire" instantly lets the players know what kind of people they'll beroleplaying.