Confessions of a Lazy GM

I have a confession to make. I’m a Lazy GM. But y’know what? That’s ok. It’s ok because I’ve worked hard at my laziness, refining and mastering numerous techniques to finally reach this level of languid perfection. And I’m going to share some of them with you. Which I guess makes you even lazier than me, because you’re getting them without all that hard work.

Lazy bum.

Lazy Tip #1: Don’t prepare, but be prepared
I hate prep-time, and prep-time hates me. It’s a mutual thing. I’d much rather watch TV, surf the interweb, render half-nekkid women or read a good book than actually sit down and work out a plotline for the next scenario. The whole “design and populate a map then fully stat out the opponents and balance the encounters” things just leaves me cold. I know that’s atypical and we GMs should really spend every waking hour obsessing over creating The Perfect Dungeon, but to be honest there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

But really, when I’m watching TV, surfing, reading or rendering images, I’m letting my subconscious pick up the slack; all of those ideas are hitting my neurons for gaming re-use at a later date. This is something that we all do – plagiarism is human nature, after all – but the “trick” here is to embrace the fact. Admit you do it, and use it. Keep half an eye out for potential plotlines in a movie or TV serial (especially ones totally unconnected to the realms of traditional D&D) and you’ll never run out of off-the-cuff scenario ideas. Ever.

One of the best sources of ideas is The News, but that’s a whole ‘nuther blogpost for another time.

Instead, here’s a quick example. Last week’s episode of Desperate Housewives features an incident where Susan Mayer decides to steal some pearls which she feels should have been better invested in her son’s education. The pearls turn out to be fake. It’s not a huge leap to go from there to Lady Meyer, noblewoman of House Despero dressing herself in black to try to steal a blood ruby from her ex-husband’s mistress as she feels the money should be spent ensuring the stability of their noble House. Enter the PCs, stage left. The blood ruby turns out to be fake. Plotline done. Roll credits.

Yes, I watch Desperate Housewives. I admit it. I have no shame.

Lazy Tip #2: Know thy monsters
There’s nothing more intimidating for this Lazy GM than an NPC or monster which needs stating up.

So I don’t.

If there’s little chance of the NPC being involved in combat then all he, she or it needs is a name, personality and physical description. That’s game-neutral information that’ll fit on a single line of my trusty spiralbound notebook. NPCs never, ever need to make a Skill Roll. Just use what’s Dramatically Appropriate and keep the action flowing. If you think it’ll be cool for the Rescued Slave to fail that jump over the Pit Trap meaning the players will be forced to stop and haul him out while The Bad Things Get Closer then that’s what happens. You’re GM. Dice are for other people.

Players being the kind of bloodthirsty souls they are, there’s always a chance of any NPC being at the pointy end of a character’s sword, so that’s where Part Two of this trick comes in handy.

Monster stats. They’re pure Lazy GM gold, especially when it comes to 4e D&D. Here’s a quick statblock for an Orc, courtesy of the ENWorld Monster thread. I’ve have liked to use the official one straight from the Monster Manual but {insert pointless and off-topic tirade against the fuckwittery that is Wizards’ abandonment of the OGL}. Anyhow. Orc.


Quick quiz. How many orcs to you see? If you answered “one” go to the back of the class. That single statblock serves as an entire horde of Orcs – black ones, grey ones, green ones, orcs with a limp and delusions of grandeur and orcs who write poetry and want to settle down with a nice human girl one day. It’s a million and one orcs all wrapped up in numbers.

And not just Orcs. That one statblock is good for anything which uses Orc-like tactics meaning he serves just fine for That Ugly Human In The Corner, an Ogre Runt or anything else that’s dumb, strong and uses weapons instead of… uhhhh…. not-weapons. Talking of which, I’ll often switch the weapons and often leave the damage dice the same. Instead of a Falchion, this particular Orc might be wielding a rusty longsword, a mace or a piece of 2×4. The damage is the same in the hands of the Orc, but the variety makes it look like I planned the whole thing. Heh.

Awesome as that one statblock is, that’s not all. Oh no.

In 4e D&D, it’s trivial to increase or decrease the Level of any monster, and the math holds up (well enough for this Lazy GM, anyhow) over 5 levels either way. The means this Level 3 Orc Savage could serve duty as anything from Level 1 to Level 8 and the hackery can be done right at the table, mid-game. Give me a Level 5 Monster and it’s good for anything from Level 1 right up to Level 10; the given monster stats are just a mid-point or a ten level spread.

I’ll say that again: One statblock. Ten level spread. Easy to do the math while playing. Boo-yah, 4e D&D.

Give me five varied statblocks, and I can populate a dungeon or a city. In my head. At the table. Clever? Nah, not really. Just Lazy. But in a good way.

If you want extra Lazy Credits, put together a double-sided crib sheet containing the statblocks of the most common monsters the characters are likely to encounter (Humans, Kobolds, Goblins, Orcs, etc) and you’ll barely need to open the Monster Manual at all.

That’ll do for now. Coming up: More Lazy GM Tricks.

And don’t forget to get your Classy Characters on the way out!

14 Comments on “Confessions of a Lazy GM”

  1. You’re my hero, GW. I try to be as footloose as you are (apparently) but my wit isn’t as quick, so I use a few more notes. But yeah, once you’ve got a few decades of DMing under the belt, excessive prep seems silly. Thanks for helping justify my own laziness.

  2. I do the same thing. The first two pages of my DM notebook is a set of generic stats for humanoids. I made a couple base statblocks with basic attack numbers (by monster role) and then wrote a list of the schticks of the various races – kobold tactics, orcs battle heals, shifty goblins, etc. All the stats are set at lvl 5, so they can cover the whole heroic tier. Then a list of a few powers, melee, ranged, and magical, all generic. So the hobgoblin warcasters force lure, for example, gets listed as a ranged 5 magic attack at +9 to hit vs DEF, 2d6+5 + effect. I can use it for any short range attack. PCs piss off a dwarf cleric, he shocks a PC with a lightning blast that dazes the target, an eladrin wizard uses it as a charm attack with a hit immobilizing the PC, etc. Makes life soooo much easier.

    Looking forward to more lazy gm tips, sir!

  3. This is one of the best posts on D&D I’ve ever read. I thought I was a proud-to-be-lazy DM, but you are clearly better at being a lazy DM then I ever thought possible. You have inspired me to new feats of laziness. Thank you.

    Best D&D quote ever: “You’re GM. Dice are for other people.”

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