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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Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
One of the things I loved about Encounters (and to an extent, 4e in general) was only having to plan for the next encounter that week. Not sure how well that philosophy holds up now, but essentially you should still concentrate only on your next session. Keep your larger plans loose and flexible. And build your toolbox of maps, encounters, NPCs, and whatever else you use that can be utilized in a pinch when things turn left instead of right.


Rotten DM
I think it comes to 1/2 prep to 1 hour play per average. I read the book/module. Cut and paste from my monster index into my chapter notes.
Xp Awakened Shrub AC 9 HP 10 XP 10 MM 317. On Thursday I try to remember to pull the minis. Sometime after the game I do a write of the game and post here and on facebook. Which reminds me. I have copy my notes from here to facebook.

Hand of Evil

I set up my games as a project and manage them as such. I use goals and milestones, impacts and rewards listed out, thrown in possible delays and have different timeline of events.

Other secrets:
  • Get a good note application like OneNote, something with tabs and use it.
  • Give your players home work - this is just simple stuff, draw me a four room building or ruin. Create an NPC that is a "contact" for your player, people have friends, characters should to. Look up a interesting real world location. You don't have to use them, just put them in a folder for ideas later.
  • Stereo type - reuse maps and certain NPC - all bars, watch towers, cells, sewers, etc.. look the same. All bar flies look the same, all city watchmen look the same. They also act the same and perform the same functions, you don't have to keep building new ones.
  • Remember; for every action, there is a reaction. Ask yourself "what happens?"
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Unserious gamer
Not really sure. Doing more than 15 minutes of physical prep (writing stuff down, printing materials) is wildly ambitious for my play style. I usually use time in the shower or while driving to think about what to throw in front of the characters during the next session, and come up with some cool encounters or NPCs. I glance over the stat blocks of monsters I think I'll use before the session so I have them in memory during play.


Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
My table has a habit of "let's go option E" and surprising me, so I my prep is divided into a higher level "here's what they reasonable could do" (which at times ahsn't been wide enough, and "here's the most likely few options of what I expect them to do".

The high level planning is idle time between sessions, occasionally jotting down a short note unless inspiration strikes and I need to record a good amount.

The weekend before the session (well, sometimes continuing during lunch the day of, we play Monday nights) I take those notes and open up my documents.

I have a This Session document (separate from my setting and long term documents). Front page is just a recap about all of the characters, including factions (pos/neg/conflicted) and features that I often scan when I want to make sure I've got spotlight time for all of my PCs in what I'm planning. We can often go one or more sessions without combat, so having times to spotlight other parts of their character is important.

It also has short summaries of current arcs for reference, plot threads I've left hanging from previous sessions, and some quick cheat sheets like a line for names by race and gender. I also have recurring NPCs (non-combat) for the area, copied out of my larger full NPC document.

It has short recap of last session section, which for a while I was reading at the beginning of each session, but I admit I got a bit lazy about it.

Then I spend an hour or two fleshing out the most likely thigns to do. I make sure to include a "color" section, be it those they see on the streets of a city or the different types of oppressive darkness in the underworld.

If I don't already have them, I'll flesh out anything I expect to turn into a combat in terms of hazards, goals, and foe stats. I was most recently running 13th Age (a d20 game), not 5e, and it has legal PDFs. So that's often cut-n-paste, sometimes with reskinning or with tweaks for what I want. Really quick though.

All in all, prep is several idle hours during the week thinking ahead and thinking large scale (in the shower, driving, etc.), and 1-2 hours before the session to write down and flesh out. If we played weekends instead of weeknights it might have to be longer to match a longer session.


I do a ton of frontloading when I start a campaign. I'll prepare a series of fairly well defined "fronts" (as they might be called in Dungeon World), with the names of a few key NPCs, descriptions of some basic locations that may end up playing a key role, and will generally set up the post-Session-Zero framework of "How did the PCs all meet," etc.

Then over time, as the sessions play out, I'll do little more than consult the previous sessions' notes, spin up a few quick encounter ideas for the upcoming session (maybe 20-25 minutes every other week).

Though as I noted in another thread, lately I feel that I need to do a bit more than I have been, in terms of breaking down the current "state of affairs" and developing discrete "scenes" that provide immediate action hooks for the players to continue pursuing their goals. So I might need to up that prep time, probably at least another 30 minutes between sessions. So instead of 20-25 minutes every two weeks, maybe spend an hour every two weeks.

Oh, I should mention that this strategy is specifically for Savage Worlds, and this little amount of time is ONLY possible because I'm using that system.

When I was running Pathfinder, I'd easily spend 2.5-3 hours between sessions weekly just to try and prep new enemies, let alone work out adventure hooks.


First Post
Improv. Improv. Improv.

99% of your game should be improvised. You have maybe the title of the game, a scenario outline, a few NPC ideas, a rough mental map of the area and you're ready to go.

The best GMs run off pure instinct. Planning is a crutch that will kneecap you in the long-run. And if you need to take a few hits while stepping up your game, you'll do it and you'll definitely not step on those mines again!

Don't stress about your game, also. It's a game, your players (if they're any good) will do more than half the work for you if you let em'. So let em'. Don't stress bro.


First Post
It's hard work being a DM. I've found over the years that using premade maps is a lifesaver like you describe. I also google ideas all the time or talk with friends outside my rpg group about my idea for a certain dungeon or part of the campaign and just hit them up for ideas. That has worked quite a few times, or at least it gives me inspiration for it that I can develop on my own.

I think the big thing that has helped me is to just steal ideas from online. Look for pdf's of adventures set in a location like yours and take ideas from it, mixing in your own here and there. Someone mentioned it but it is very critical I think. Make things smaller. Leave them wanting more constantly. Instead of a sprawling underground complex, make it six to eight rooms but put in fun and interesting challenges. Condense your ideas down but put twists to make them interesting. Instead of developing the tomb of horrors, make that goblin mine they have to clear out into just a few rooms and one room with a large, interesting fight using terrain and tactics.


First Post
Poorly. It's not an easy balance, and the worst part is that if you don't get it under control, you will burn out.

Seth Maixner

First Post
One trick I've used is to search the internet for Photographs, Paintings of the locations the players may be visiting. It helps give vivid detail to the location without the minutia work of listing what all is in the room. A picture is worth a thousand words.

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