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My gaming group really enjoys playing every week, but I can only DM every two weeks (due to preparation time limits, not availability), and no one else wants to DM for those weeks.

How can we play every week when I can't run any games on odd weeks due to no time to prepare? We have thought about using a computer to generate “DM prep” materials, but we have no idea where to start with that and it would have to be very thorough.

In general, how can we play every week when the only willing DM can only DM every two weeks?

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As a fellow DM that has a every-other-week schedule where I can run a game (more because it is hard for me to find free time every week than the prep time), I can feel for you and your group. My whole group wants me to run a weekly game instead, but that's difficult for various reasons.

The problem you are stating is that you do not have the time to prep materials for a campaign like the one you are playing. There are a few answers to that:

  1. Run games from pre-built adventures or other sources where the legwork is done for you. Typically these require the DM to familiarize themselves with it by reading it ahead of time (and probably making some notes).

  2. Join another DM's game. Often local shops will have one or more D&D games running on a regular basis. Call around and find one that is running on the weeks you are not playing and see if you can join up.

  3. Recruit a DM. This might be a grand time to find a new friend. Put up a notice on your local game shop's bulletin board (if they have one) and ask around to find a DM. You can invite that DM to your own semi-weekly game if you like.

  4. Random Campaign: Previous editions had a little more robustness in this department, but you can run a fairly solid campaign that is somewhat randomly generated. Spend a couple weeks building out some tables for encounters at various levels and build out some random "dungeon sections" to generate random dungeons. You basically replace all the prep work week to week with some extensive pre-game prep work and random rolls during the game. I'm not much of a fan of this as it can feel a little disconnected, but mechanically it is solid (it does resemble procedurally generated games a lot though). I have run several of these kinds of games in 3.5, and they work well. I would have an overarching storyline that can be tailored to "fit in" to whatever is randomly generated, as it can get odd quickly (e.g. the only exit to the second room in the dungeon is a 10x10 chute in the ceiling).

    • What I mean by a dungeon section is a room or short series of rooms that have a set of entrances or exits that can meet up with other dungeon sections. You figure out the dimensions of the room, but place items, monsters, decorations, and traps randomly based on rolling. The idea is you can build a dungeon section by section (maybe taking notes so if they revisit you have the previous setup at hand). This allows you to dungeon delve without having to do the prep work of building out each dungeon.
  5. Silly Campaign: Instead of prepping, do everything at the seat of your pants. This works best, in my experience, in a light hearted game (moreso so things don't have to connect or make sense). It can be very hard to DM "on your toes" but it is a great skill to pick up. I've run whole sessions in a serious campaign with zero prep before (not by choice) and it is interesting and exhilarating. If you do it right, nobody knows you've done it at all. This would be a good campaign to get those skills in.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I've also run fairly extensive sandbox campaign on about 10% prep and 90% ad lib basis. It requires a certain mindset, and it's very, very helpful to have a stable of pregen NPC sheets handy. Part of my prep for this was four full city guard squads, with their sergeants, and a number of other recurring NPCs. I could often see enough of what the players had in mind to make geomorphs, prep additional NPCs, etc., which was quick. Not only did my players generally not notice that I was "on the fly", on several occasions I received compliments about what a good GM I was. \$\endgroup\$ – Zeiss Ikon Jul 8 '16 at 16:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ZeissIkon I am blessed with a little ad libbing skill. One thing I highly recommend is write down every place, NPC, and anything else you name while ad libbing, or you'll get to the point where you forget the names when the players ask about them. \$\endgroup\$ – Marshall Tigerus Jul 8 '16 at 16:52
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Perhaps you can try out GMless games.

Fiasco is a great example. No prep, fast action, bad things happening all over the place.

Cheat your own Adventure also has no prep. It's whole style is based off of those silly/goofy/awesome choose your own adventure books.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Microscope is another good one. \$\endgroup\$ – Lyndon White Jul 9 '16 at 13:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ This isn't really what I was looking for, but I might try it. Can it be played as an one-off? \$\endgroup\$ – user18329 Jul 10 '16 at 10:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Both of these games are build for one-shot play. \$\endgroup\$ – River Williamson Jul 11 '16 at 20:38
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Run one-shot games that improve your group’s roleplaying skills

A lot of high quality, cheap (or free) independent / one-shot RPGs require little or no preparation time, and the rules can be learned together within an hour. These games typically last one or two sessions and can convey techniques and skills which will be of benefit to your main campaign. In particular:

  1. Experience with different system mechanics and methods of conflict resolution expands your adjudicating skills as a GM.
  2. As most rules-light RPGs err on the side of characterisation, motivation and acting, they help break comfort zones and grow the roleplaying abilities of you and your players.
  3. They allow the players to explore more offbeat, wacky character ideas that wouldn’t be suitable in your main campaign, giving them an opportunity to “vent” :)
  4. One-shot indie titles can simply be a lot of fun to GM, and allow you to discover your own preferences for narrative goals in your main campaign (or even try out discarded ideas or plot hooks that didn’t make the cut).
  5. Short, low stakes games can be an excellent time to do some market-research on your players: further understanding the kinds of play styles and stories that they’re drawn to, to make your main game even more compelling.

Here are some low- or no-preparation examples:

  • One Last Job - A “heist movie” simulator where players create each other’s characters.
  • Folklore - a one-page, rules-light fantasy RPG perfect for a single adventure.
  • Everyone is John - A game where every player takes control of a single (insane!) character and bids for control.
  • Although not “indie”, Paranoia is a great one-shot candidate that allows for a refreshing bout of backstabbing and narrative diversity.
  • Lasers and Feelings - A one-page system imitating an episode of Star Trek, with a built-in plot generator.
  • All Outta Bubblegum - An action movie simulator with only one character statistic. The rules are 4 paragraphs long!
  • Roll for Shoes - The most rules-light RPG out there, an insane romp and spoof of traditional RPG mechanics.
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Random Encounter Tables

You may consider simply putting together some random encounter tables and having the party run into something random in any given week. It takes only minor preparation as there are many tables out there, and all you would need to do is figure out how to play the given 'monster(s) of the week'. Obviously, the encounter will not be as interesting as something fully planned out, but it's an opportunity to get the group together and kill some stuff.

Additionally, some encounters may inspire you for future encounters that you fully prepare as part of your campaign.

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