As a GM, how do you manage your time?


I find being a GM is a huge time sink. I'm constantly thinking about the game just to make sure the story is straight, and then I have to plan the encounter - what will they fight, where will it be, etc. And if I have to stat up NPCs it takes even more time (which is why I prefer to use monsters generally, over NPCs). I also really love Pinterest and Google for pre-made maps. I love taking maps and just assigning my own stuff to each room. That's a huge time saver as well.

But even with all those tricks, I still find that it consumes a ton of time. How do other GMs deal with this?

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Morkus from Orkus
That's easy. My wife manages it for me.

Oh, wait. You mean when planning the game. I don't have time to get detailed anymore. I tend to grab maps off the internet, and my dungeons and such are fairly small compared to what they were 20-30 years ago. I also tend to set up an outline and leave many of the details to come out as we play. I'll set up the ones that are critical, but the rest of the details are improvised.


41st lv DM
My secret is procrastination.

It starts about Sat/Sun evening with a clipboard, a legal pad, a pen, & jotting down some rough ideas. And I tell myself that come Wed night I've got to firm this up for Thur night.
That doesn't usually happen.
Two hours before game time I look over my rough notes. Or, if running a module (like say ToA), I'll re-read the areas the characters are most likely to get to that evening.

And then I wing it.

I'm fortunate enough to have been GMing long enough to have become a fast improviser. The only time I couldn't improv a scenario faster than my players could experience it was when we we're in the Elemental Plane of Fire and all the elementals had clever names, which i couldn't make up on the fly. Supposedly, it was the only time they ever felt they had the upper-hand, and asked every passerby their name.

That being said, I run open world stuff mostly, so its a lot of exploration on the player's part. Generally I work Large Details to Small. I will extrapolate the world based on what i know about the greater world around it; Asking questions like, What kind of City would be in this kind of region, what kind of notable locations would be in this kind of city, what kind of notable people would be in this kind of location, what are some significant events that would have made this person who they are? Players will gravitate to their interests and you don't have to have every answer, you just need to know the formula for getting the answer.

When I was younger i would spend days making maps, then recycle those maps for future campaigns. These days I go completely Theater of the Mind, and use playing cards as a map. Players don't mind, especially if you can build a vivid scenario. Fill the room with more details than needed, include senses other than just sight, and allow players to fill in the gaps with their own imagination.

The most work I do is within the few hours before the game starts. All I do is write down single sentences that remind myself of the ideas I've had over the week. What kind of information I want to give the players, what events happen, which character to introduce, etc.

Know your world, sign up for improv classes. Hope this helps.


I can run Stonehell Dungeon with a few minutes prep each time - big dungeon full of monsters & treasure, I draw it out on battlemat as PCs explore. Descriptions are very concise & there are just a few specials per level that need reading up on in advance.


Immortal Sun

The early stages are hard. You have to develop a million possibilities, filter it down to a few hundred that seem interesting and then present the couple dozen that actually look worthwhile to the players. But after a while things start to fall into place. Once that starts happening it becomes pretty easy to plan because there are really very few possibilities that can make themselves known given the elements that are in play.

Which is to say, early on I have pretty poor time-management skills, there are SO MANY THINGS to consider. Later on I barely spend a few minutes planning unless something new and creative strikes me.


The group that I'm running only plays twice a month so that helps.

1. I spend about 30 minutes reviewing what happened in the last session and what the players think happened and then decide if they had better ideas that I did.
2. Set a timeline of things that will happen if the players don't do anything on the main plot. 30-60 minutes
3. Find or make maps that will work for the main timeline events 60 minutes
4. Add a few side things. Mostly I look at old Dungeon mags or modules for bits I can pull out.
I'm doing Dragon Heist so this is mostly managing what each faction is doing and what they want to the players to do. 60-90 minutes

If I was running something less branchy, I can cut this down to about 2 hours every 2 weeks. But I'm really adding a lot to Dragon Heist. Really, the players probably should have just given up trying to figure out what is happening and burn the inn for insurance money and leave town.

I've got every villain and faction hunting for the McGuffin and each has their own sob story about why they want it. Well except for Xanthar. He just wants the money.

I over-prepare a session earlier, leaving very little to prepare for the next.

So basically I am in this constant cycle of preparing a lot, and not preparing much of all. It is far from ideal, but I'm obsessed with getting all the details nailed down.
Most of the work goes into drawing out dungeons, and statting monsters. But a fair amount of work also goes into detailing various locations.

I've noticed that the most work comes up whenever the player travel to a new location that they haven't visited before. I have to make a map of the place, and work out all the important landmarks that they may touch upon. I have to come up with npc's and side quests.
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