DM Prep Work Leading To Burnout: Help? - Page 5
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  1. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheYeti1775
    Do like our main DM.
    Take a few months off to be a player.
    Just what I have decided to do after running my 3.5 campaign for a little over 3 years (around 70 sessions I think). I found I was not particularly enjoying being GM and, in my opinion, the game was beginning to suffer as a result.

    Enjoy playing for a few months while your creative juices are replenished.

  2. #42
    Quote Originally Posted by robberbaron
    Just what I have decided to do after running my 3.5 campaign for a little over 3 years (around 70 sessions I think). I found I was not particularly enjoying being GM and, in my opinion, the game was beginning to suffer as a result.

    Enjoy playing for a few months while your creative juices are replenished.
    That works if there is anyone else in the group who is interested in DM'ing. Often that is not the case.

  3. #43
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    I Defended The Walls!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Calico_Jack73
    That works if there is anyone else in the group who is interested in DM'ing. Often that is not the case.
    Since the release of of 3E, I've run an 81 session campaign (Lvl 1-19), a 143 session campaign (Lvl 2-24), 14 mini-campaign sessions (various), a 42 session short campaign (Lvl 1-8) and am now in session 63 of the current campaign (Lvl 4-16). In addition, I've run a monthly Traveller T20 campaign for the last few years, to a total of 42 sessions of T20. Not counting One Shots and Con Games, that's 385 sessions over the last six and a half years.

    Yeah, it might be time to take a break for a while, but I fear that I will lose my group if I do so. Hmmm.... I will have to think about it. In the long run, I'm sure I can find gamers again, as I've had periods where I've had waiting lists to get into the game.

    There are some great suggestions on minimizing prep time, too. Thanks, guys!

    Please continue with your excellent suggestions,

  4. #44
    Novice (Lvl 1)

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    I find it funny, though typical, that a thread that states clearly 'I don't want an alterntive system to 3.5' is full of responses giving just that.

    Anyway, as many have indicated, it IS possible to run 3.5 with limited prep commitment. I'd like to also add another thing I have come across recently, though it's limited to only certain audiences.

    Recently I purchased an Motion Computing LE 1600 pure-tablet computer (no keyboard attached). I have found by getting my hands on pretty much every relevant PDF, and combining that with the inherit free-form writing abilities of the tablet, I have cut out a huge portion of prep time. For example, I can copy a monster block out of the Monster Manual and paste it into my notes, then I can write directly on top of the monster block with any variations/changes I want to do. I expand on it a little more here: .

    I realize not everyone can drop $1000 on a tablet PC, but I think it might be a forerunner of how games are played.

  5. #45
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    This article appeared on my website DM's Haven a couple of years back. Here's the bulk of it (sorry for the long post!)

    This article is about expediting your time in adventure development. Adventure development, NOT adventure writing. I call it this because writing, I feel, carries with it a certain unnecessary weight you donít need unless you are trying to get published. No, adventure development is simply ensuring your friends have something to occupy them the next game session youíre responsible for.

    I have many people who think I must be insane to run five or six game sessions a month, at 5 hours a pop or more. I know DMís who have a horrible time preparing for a session three times, twice or even once a month! My secret is I cheat, steal, and cut corners like a hardened criminalÖall in the name of gaming fun for my friends, of course.

    You live in a real world. Kids donít always cooperate and let you sit looking through sourcebooks and draw maps. Sometimes friends and family need to see you. Sometimes you just want to read a good book, see a movie, or go dancing, and so you give yourself only a few hours a week to develop an adventure. You designate maybe 1 hour each weeknight, sometimes less, to prepping for the coming weekís session. It doesnít add up. If you insist on writing all your adventures from scratch you are always going to be behind. But thereís a way around this too:

    Start investing wisely into adventure material. I donít mean buy every adventure that comes out; I mean invest in adventure collections, ideas and springboards. There are currently dozens and dozens of free D&D adventures from third party publisher sites, not to mention loads from the WotC web site.

    Letís say you simply donít have time to cruise for adventures, and an occasional store purchase simply isnít an option, for whatever reason. Perhaps youíre old school and remember when TSR would give us one adventure about every 6-8 months and in between we all wrote our own stuff. Thatís cool too, youíre a classicalist. Hereís how to put one together without spending hours and hours on it:

    ē YOUR MAP: You need a map, both for you and the players. For you, steal one. Just steal it. For starters, go to and get their free viewer. Then browse the hundreds of maps thereÖdungeons, keeps, cities, towns, ALL FREE. Or go to the WotC web site and search for ďmap of the weekĒ and youíll find dozens more. Or sit down with a piece of graph paper and draw out a dozen rooms and corridors or a forest or town. Donít make it pretty! Youíre not getting published; you just need a general layout! As long as you can read it, who cares? Even if its just room or encounter shapes connected by lines representing corridors or trails thatís fine.

    THE HOOK: Just print it out and scribble, right ON it whatís in the room. Even if that means ďkitchen, 3 ghoulsĒ or ďbalcony, troll and 2 goblin archersĒ thatís all you need to know, and it doesnít take lots of time. In fact, once youíre done, if you keep it around a dozen rooms, you donít even need to write a key! Just put the roomís name, the monster, and where you got it (abbreviate the source name and page number).

    ē PLAYERíS MAP: Very rarely will you need two versions of a map, rather what this means is the all-important one-inch-square floorplan tiles for miniatures or counters so necessary for proper D&D play. Many folks like to get that Chessex Battlemat and draw on corridors. Itís a good idea, and good for outdoor encounters. Itís a snoozefest when it comes to drawing corridors and rooms. Itís a time sucker and itís dull to sit through. You need tiles you can whip out and plop down fast. Many of them are free sample tiles. FREE. Go here: and get all the tiles you need. Print them all off, then go back and print the ones that have corridor sections again and again. Cut off just the corridors. If you have even basic desktop publishing skills, grab some empty 10x10 sections and fill an entire page with them all connected to make an 8x11-inch room. Print off a dozen and you can cut them into small, medium and large square, circular and hexagonal rooms. This takes time, but then you never have to do it again.

    THE HOOK: Donít be a perfectionist! You wonít have in your arsenal the exact shaped room from a purchased adventure. Guess what, your players wonít care one bit. If thereís a strange corner or an oddball angle here or there, forget it! They donít know any better and you donít have enough time to prepare one, so live with what you got.

    ē MONSTERS & NPCs. Itís neat to be able to put together custom-designed villains and NPCís. You donít have the time, so stop doing it! Just steal them from other sources. The WotC web page, and are also loaded with free monsters, NPCs and the like. Print them all off and start a collection. You need a 6th level bard? Go find one!

    THE HOOK: Use them again and again. Change their name, swap out a weapon or two occasionally and alter the coins in their belt pouch and throw them at your players over and over in various forms if you have to. Case in point: WotCís Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil is a virtual DMís grab-bag of monsters and NPCís of nearly every sort imaginable. Iíve never run the adventure, but my players have run into practically all 80 or so creatures and NPCs in the back, sometimes more then once over the last year alone. How many different types of a 4th level ogre barbarian do you need?

    ē YOUR MEMORY. I know, itís not what it used to be. Thatís cool. You remember those times when youíre telling a friend about a great TV show or movie you watched, or a great book you read, or a funny coworker you know? Keep these people, places, scenes and moods in your head ready to pull them out when needed. I mean, change the names to protect the innocent, but my players have had the pleasure of running into Al Pacino, my Uncle Phil, and the Bouldershoulder Brothers as NPCs. Iíve stolen visual scenes from Hercules and Xena and images from the cross-country drive to GenCon among others.

    THE HOOK: You already have these things. Just whip Ďem out, best of all itíll still be original if you make them your own.

    Avoid the 3 biggest time-wasters.

    1) Concentrating on useless details that wonít make a hell of a difference during the session (like a room out of shape or an NPCís Diplomacy score 1 number off).
    2) Writing out NPC dialog. Give the NPC a motivation, voice or personality hook, and jot down what he knows or believes and then improv as that character when the PCs ask him or her questions.
    3) Writing out lengthy room descriptions or plot contingencies. All a room needs is a few lines to jog your memory, nothing more. Plot contingencies? You can write out 340 of them and the players will choose #341. It canít be done.

    Putting it all together.

    You are about to return to your childhood and play with blocks. You are going to create a story and then take your collection of game elements above, and fit them together. Sit down with your map of the dungeon, wilderness location or town of this weekís adventure. Write on the map itself, using code if you have to, to show you what is where.

    Example: Cursed Swan lake.
    3 dire slugs (Blasphemy Press PDF, page 21)
    Treasure: Crown of Acarra (AEGís Mercenaries page 203)

    Youíre done with that section...DONE. What else more do you need? If you canít just conjure up an original image in your head, jot down a note or two:

    Example: Claw-like tree hangings
    Darkly sky
    Lack of natural noises

    And there you have something to jog your memory. The rest you just make up as you go along. I know some arenít too keen on improvisation, but a DMís key skill IS improvisation so you better practice your skills at this!

    Example: Bun-Bunís Tavern
    Owner: Dara the White (commoner, Suppertime module page 18)
    Treasure: Sells rare herbs (Bastion Press Alchemy & Herbalists PFD add-on)
    2-stories, vaulted ceiling, iron jack-o-lanterns, smells of jasmine

    You donít need a paragraph or two of description; you just need basic notes during play. Iím telling you if youíre used to long-winded descriptions and notes try using the shorthand ďmemory-joggingĒ style once and youíll see how easy and creatively rewarding it is. Keep the books you reference handy at your side, donít worry about transcribing the stats or anything, just use Ďem straight out of the book. If you need to, get some of those little yellow stickees to mark pages. As the players show up in each location plop down some tiles. Keep a box of other tile props near your DM station in case theyíre not indoors. Keep brown, blue, gray and green construction paper with you at all games. Youíre in the wilderness? Keep your Battlemat out, rip some circular green parts (trees) an odd blue piece (a lake) and some small brown or gray pieces (logs or rocks) and toss them out and youíre all done!

    You want to know how I created an entire nightís adventure in under an hour? I laid out the tiles first. I took a picture of the table with my digital camera. I enlarged the photo and printed it. I wrote the types of room notes as described above while keeping four or five sourcebooks out to fill up the rooms. I custom-designed a single creature with a template as the big bad guy. I stole trap stat blocks and changed a thing here or there. It took me about 40 minutes. And the adventure spanned an entire five hours of play and the crew swore it was a published adventure.

    Good Luck!

    -DM Jeff

  6. #46
    My current campaign is actually using alot of the suggestions from this thread, namely the "build through improvisation" idea. The biggest problem with leaving the content of a game in the hands of the players is that, its so drastically different then most games that players have a hard time grasping it.

    I've found my players are having a hard time truly taking initiative and running with the game, so much so that so far I've had to "slap them upside the head" with it. However, if you have a group of players that are truly willing and able to take the initiative, then really all you need to play under an improv system is an imagination, and the occasional NPC.

  7. #47
    The funnest time I had running 3.x was when 3.0 released in 2000. We were playing core 3 only. So that's what I suggest. Just limit to 3.5 core three.

  8. #48
    Myrmidon (Lvl 10)

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    Quote Originally Posted by blargney the second
    9 out of 10 doctors recommend Dungeon magazine. It's wearing a lab coat, therefore it must be true.
    That's how I cut down my prep time. I use published adventures, especially Goodman Games, Necromancer Games and Dungeon Magazine. Now that Dungeon is going bye-bye and Paizo is offering PDF versions of their adventures along side the hard copies I'll be using those as well.

  9. #49
    Don't try to go too in-depth. You should know the plot, the important parts of the map, etc, but remember that the players see what you DESCRIBE to them. One can easily use the NPCs from the DMG, switch out their treasure and feats, maybe a distinctive spell or two to add flavor, and then describe him/her uniquely. A quick chance of an alignment on the NPC helps with this, but it's certainly not necessary.

    I generally keep on hand some base NPCs of the proper level in each class, but with the feats, skills, spells, treasure, and alignment not filled in. It lets me whip up, from the players' points of view, totally new characters in about 10 minutes.

  10. #50
    Quote Originally Posted by kensanata
    Figure out what is taking you so long, and drop it.
    The thing that burns me out is unfamiliarity with spells or combat maneuvers while statting NPCs. I review the spells, casting times, duration, etc and re-familiarize myself with Cleave or Bull Rush or somesuch and it ends up taking a few hours of my life that, game-wise, eats up 30 seconds.

    Likewise, I have a smaller group than usual - three 4th level players - so I'm constantly playing a balancing game to make sure they're not over- or under-whelmed. THAT is especially draining--I tend to use an adventure that's a level lower (3rd, currently) but I have to adjust up all the HP, ACs and equipment/treasure for each NPC. CHORE. I tried the eTools route to help but man, that program is utterly unreliable.
    Last edited by Wraith Form; Friday, 29th June, 2007 at 04:24 AM.

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