Confessions of a Lazy GM

Part the second, continuing from part the first.

Lazy Tip #3: Know when to stop
We’ve all done it. You’re three hours into the game, everything is flowing like sweet, sweet honey and you’ve just got two more encounters to go. The players are starting to feel a little tired but you press on. And it’s downhill from there. The player who’s been rolling high all session suddenly starts rolling 2s and 3s and before you know it his character is on the critical list. A minor rules query becomes an all out war at one end of the table, the GM forgets a major subplot and the entire session ends as a deeply unsatisfying mess.

Here’s what a Lazy GM would do:

You’re three hours into the game, everything is flowing like sweet, sweet honey and…. STOP!

End the game right there, right on that high. If you can end it right in the middle of combat or on a cliff-hanger, all the better.

“…..and your sword swings, aimed directly at Comte d’Narsty’s neck! Ok, we’ll stop it there and pick it up next session.”


I know it’s the hardest thing in the world to do. Every fibre of your being is screaming out to ride that high and keep slogging on, but when you begin to hear that little voice asking whether you ought to stop, that’s the point to draw  things to a close.

You’ve got the players eating out of the palm of your hands. They WANT to continue. But here’s the thing: they will want to continue for the rest of the week. Instead of ending on a low and missing a couple of players next session because they’re still bitter about that fluffed rules call, you’re going to have players excited and itching to play. If you normally run a monthly game they’re going to want to continue next week. Or tomorrow even. They’ll be at the table like the excited little puppies they are. Without the weeing on the carpet though. Maybe.

You’re a cliff-hanging TV-trope-using player-teasing God of GMing, but really, you’re being superbly Lazy. Those next two encounters you would have played through and botched are ready and waiting for next session where they can be tackled through fresh eyes. You’ve taken one session and made it two, AND got the players excited about the game. Sure, it might mean that the game ends 30 minutes early rather than 2 hours late, but that frees up time at the end of the session to talk about the game, level up or get the players to prepare backup characters. Or even better, use it to get the players to do your thinking for you……..

Lazy Tip #4: Let the players do the thinking
Players talk. It’s the second best thing they do. First is eating more than their fair share of the pizza. Not that I’m bitter about that, of course. But it’s my pizza, right?

I’ve said this several times before: the single best source for inspiration comes from what your players say around the table. Pick up on what they say, and weave it into the plot. They’ll feel clever because they’ve second-guessed the GM, and you’ve turned Zero Prep Gaming into a fine art. If one gamer mutters “oh man, I hope the evil leader isn’t a Necromancer” then a Lazy GM will immediately make the villain a Summoner of Undead Things. The player will be happy because He Was Right, and you…. well, you’re just being Lazy.

This doesn’t mean you should give in to all of the players wants, hopes and dreams of course – at least, not right away. Perhaps the evil leader isn’t a Necromancer after all – but HIS boss is! This give the player deferred gratification at a later date, and you time to plot a little more. Alternatively, take that player’s words and twist (or even reverse) them. Perhaps the “villain” isn’t a Necromancer at all, but a Vitomancer who genuinely CAN restore the dead back to life, and those Zombies the players just slaughtered….. not zombies, but real, honest brought-back-to-life townsfolk who were merely recovering from rigor mortis. Oops.

Lazy AND Evil. I love it.

More, next time!

8 Comments on “Confessions of a Lazy GM”

  1. There’s nothing I love more as a GM than sitting back and listening to players chew on the plot!

    I recently played in a game where the GM left us at a cliffhanger. Brilliant really. As a player I was a little frustrated, but it kept my interest and enthusiasm focused. As a GM I’d be wary of overusing the technique, but I heartily agree that it has value. Thanks again, GW!

  2. I love these tips for being a lazy GM. Tip 3, stop when things are at a high point. I love it. Stop at the end of 3 hours. Good advice! I just have one little problem with it. These years I’m usually only gaming at conventions. If I stop with a cliffhanger, then that’s how it really ends. There isn’t any next session. For that reason, there are no Tunnels and Trolls campaigns. If Ican’t finish the adventure in 3 hours, I screwed up.

  3. Tip #3 sounds good, but you need to be careful. If you don’t game every week, or if the players had to make significant effort to make the session happen, two or three hours may not be sufficient time investment. Generally with a weekly group, especially those who don’t mind or prefer shorter sessions, the cliffhanger method is great.

    Tip #4 is pure evil genius. My group actually have an unwritten rule — Don’t Give The GM Ideas. You never know what will happen with those heedless words you let slip. Sometimes, of course, we drop hints on purpose to see what might come up.

    Andrew Modros last blog post..Ability Scores: Not Created Equal?

  4. I completely agree about ending on a high point, even if it reduces the planned playtime a little. Personally, I find the 4-5 hour mark a lot better for the games I run, but that’s probably because my groups are a jocular lot with a meal break in the center (provided by the current rotating host). Cliffhangers, on the other hand, are tricky.

    Since my group has a meal break in the center, I tend to build to a cliffhanger and use that as the pause for the break (30mins or so), then have a guaranteed closer to follow up. That way we don’t have any cliffhangers that go unresolved for weeks if scheduling gets messy.

  5. @Anarkeith Positive frustration is a Good Thing. It means you’re emotionally involved :D

    @Ken I agree. Ending on a cliff-hanger at a convention game is a recipe for a lynching. Conventions operate unto their own rules and by-laws. I remember running a Traveller game at a convention in Cambridge in the early 80s where I learned the hard way that you’ve got to provide a start, middle and endgame all in a fixed timeslot. I think we over-ran by…. uhhh…… about 8 hours.

    @Andrew Lol! The day players stop talking is that day I take up World of Spamcraft. And that ain’t never gonna happen.

    @Imp How long we play varies from session to session and depends on the player make-up, mood and which system we’re using. Our M&M games tend to be longer than our D&D ones, and I think that’s because we’re much more relaxed while playing M&M. 4-6 hour sessions are about average for M&M. 3:16 games tend to be very short (1-2 hours) bloody affairs.

    @Stev I think you’d fit right in to our sessions :D

  6. Greywulf, you’re killing me. If any of my players read your blog (and I know a few of them do) they’re going to learn all of my secrets. There’s a reason I have a DM’s screen and it’s to hide my lack of preparation. You’re puling back the curtain and exposing my lazy DM traits. Stop it! You’re like that masked magician who went on TV and told everyone how the magic works. For the love of god, please stop!

    Amerons last blog post..Reputation (Part 1)

  7. I recently found your “Lazy GM” blog and I think it probably describes many Game Masters perfectly.

    I would call myself “Creatively Efficient”, I use the techniques you have listed plus many more if I actually sat down and thought about them.

    Jaxom’s Home Blog..Campaign Thoughts

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