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For most games, the work required in running a game is, by default, distributed unevenly between a "master" and the "player characters".

In our group, many/most of the group members have had experience with DM/GM/arbitrating RPGs, and also, most of us have busy lives and cannot regularly afford to spend the extra time that it takes to prepare to run the game.

We're looking for ways to keep the running-of-the-game work from swamping one person. For now, we're doing this by putting a rotation in place for who will DM. I'm looking for any other advice for keeping the game overhead low.

In our specific situation, we're running a D&D game, but this is meant as a more general question - what general sort of things can we try, to keep the administration/prep/management work from taking too much time?

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6 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

To approach the question from another angle, if you want to reduce the burden on the GM, do less planning. Find ways to cut that process short - the Adventure Funnel and Don't Prep Plots are two of my favorite articles on the subject. Much of the GM's out-of-game burden is self-imposed. Only prep to the point where it's fun; once it becomes a chore, it's time to stop. Players will drag the action in their own direction anyway.

The same advice holds for in-game burdens. If the GM is overwhelmed by keeping track of 9000 types of modifiers and encumbrances and conditions, well, some of them need to go. This might mean agreeing to overlook a cumbersome rule, or finding a new game to try. If a particular RPG's rules are too much work, gut it or drop it! A game is like an engine - you're allowed to tinker with it.

In addition to rotating GMs, you might also want to try a co-GM philosophy. Split the GM's job into two parts: for example, one person plans the adventures and directs the action, while another plays the parts of NPCs and is in charge of figuring out rules-related problems.

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Several tasks can easily be handed off to players.

  • Loot tracking / Ledger tracking
  • Time keeping (for rounds or the game)
  • Map making, dungeon presentation
  • XP Tracking. The DM awards, but a player keeps track of where everyone is and provides that information to the DM.
  • History tracking, especially useful when the DM is playing off the cuff. A player with a notebook will often know more about the campaign than the DM.
  • Player guidance
    • Educating and guiding new players
    • Keeping all the players on topic and within bounds.
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In my experience, run a couple of games with a different GM for each one.

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I know in some groups the distribution of rewards/treasure/etc is done by the GM/DM. This can easily be offloaded to the players to do themselves. Another way you can distribute is by having the other participants share in the creation of NPCs and as a group keep a file of various generic pre-generated NPCs of different types and levels that you can grab, quickly alter and customize to suit the situation. It would take some time to build up such a "file" of NPCs, but in the long run it could pay off.

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I think the question you are asking is, how do you not overwhelm a single DM with keeping everything straight in terms of out-of-game preparation. It sounds like your in-game sessions are fine, it is just the getting up to that point that is the overwhelming issue.

I would take a cue from cooperative world building or even the old Sanctuary book series. Set down with the whole group one session and layout a frame for the world you are in (if you haven't already done so). This will give each rotating DM a stable environment that is familiar to the group. Make it as detailed or simple as fits your group. Note: Do not say what each adventure is about, just what the world is about. (I'm guessing the you have done this to some degree.) You can easily start where ever you are in the game.

Now with a common starting point the storyline can spring board from there. Each session should be in line with the world framework and yet each will move the storyline along in some way.

Use some type of digital recording system so that notes, NPCs, locations, and events are well documented. A Wiki-based system is ideal for this and there are some really good ones to choose from. It can be open to all players but the current D.M. can keep his adventure notes off line until after it is over. During the adventure any player who feels so inclined or a specifically assigned player can enter information on what has happened with each session. When everything is ready to switch DMs, the outgoing one just reviews and fleshes out needed information on the wiki and passes along secret stuff like, ideas, thoughts or even unknown consequences, to the next DM.

I think you will find this gives each incoming DM a kick start in the creativity area, which I have found to be the best way to save time. If your imagination is already running the pregame session prep goes much quicker.

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I usually appoint a rules lawyer to take off some of the GMing load. I'm still happy to make judgment calls, but there are a great many questions with simple answers. Does my Orb of Force bypass SR? What book is Robilar's Gambit in? How does grapple work again? That kind of thing. There is no reason for the GM to answer those questions. Let the appointed rules lawyer do it. He's tier 1 support. If he can't answer something (especially if it requires interpretation), pass it along to the GM. It saves a ton of time AND it keeps your rules lawyer busy.

I've seen other GMs appoint other tasks as well. This includes scheduling the game and providing the food. Nobody minded the imposition, although food bringer was a task that had to be passed around for budgetary reasons. I've even had GMs ask me to find players for them, but I think that burden is one that the GM should keep.

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