Welcome adventurer once more to part four of the Running Adventure Modules blog series. Over the course of this series we’ve been covering all the tips and tricks a busy GM needs to run pre-written modules with little to no prep time!
In this article, we’re going to talk about ways to delegate some of your session prep work to your players. Let’s face it, getting ready for a session is typically pretty easy for players. Other than leveling your character, there is basically zero work needed between sessions.
Being a GM on the other hand requires the extra effort to find modules, read them, prep them, etc. So! Why not hand off some of your work to the players waiting in the wings? While it’s impossible to hand off all the GM prep work, let’s talk about several ways to lean on your players to reduce your overall workload.
Too often, a busy GM suffers in silence while they run themselves ragged trying to keep up with life and running a regular game. For some reason, the job of GM carries this assumption of being a purely solo and secretive job without room to involve other characters. It is time to do yourself a favor and break down these walls!
While there is a lot of advice in this article suggesting ways you can get your players involved, there are plenty of others. If you take the time to let your players know that you are feeling too stressed to keep doing it alone, you might be shocked by the ways they volunteer to help. After all, they probably want to keep playing, so most folks are eager to pitch in to keep the fun of game night going. Whether they offer something as simple as placing the pizza order or offering to try their hand at running the occasional one-shot, giving your group the opportunity to help is likely to yield nothing but positive change.
Strategies to Reduce Your Prep Time
In this section we’ll cover ways to lean on your players that will reduce the amount of content you need to prep before a game.
Lean on Player Imagination
Rely on your players to fill in narrative details. Players at a D&D table want to feel like the world of the story belongs to them, and making a module feel tailored to them requires some extra work. This work can be mitigated by inviting said players to be part of the worldbuilding.
Your players will inevitably decide which locations, NPCs and opportunities are their favorite (regardless of what the module might say), so why fight the current? Asking players to name things, describe new people, and brainstorm how things work makes them part of the conversation AND saves you the effort of planning all the little storytelling details that go into fleshing out a pre-written scenario.
All this isn’t to say that your players should choose the entire course of your story. Your group wants to leave the majesty of the plot to the GM, it is exploring the mundane where most humor and joy can be found for your group. Calling on your players to name the local tavern, to decide what the shopkeeper looks like, or to suggest the trinkets found during their adventures are some easy ways to invite your players to help build out the world of your game while still keeping the story plot intact.
Make Downtime Part of Your Sessions
There are a lot of hidden gems contained within the core rules, and one of the often-overlooked sections in fifth edition are downtime rules. Downtime rules provide an array of options that player characters can engage in between adventures. There are a huge variety of options for these rules, but all supply benefits like earning gold, working towards acquiring new skills, making useful items, and more. Most of the action of these activities doesn’t happen at the table, so this ruleset is an awesome way to see what the players are interested in doing without adding a bunch of prep work to a session.
Look at the downtime rules in the core books (and look for 3rd party sources that expand downtime options) and consider dedicating fifteen minutes at the beginning or end of each session to asking what your players did (or will do) during their downtime. Adopting such a model reduces the amount of time you need to prep by creating shorter sessions, while allowing your players to take over the narrative seat while they decide what shenanigans their characters want to get into during their adventuring days off.
Strategies to Reduce Your Workload at the Table
In this section we’ll cover ways to delegate tasks to your players to reduce the amount of content you need to manage during a session.
Stop Doing Your Own Recaps
Most groups start a session by recapping what happened last time they played, and most of the time the person doing that recap is the GM. It may seem like a small thing to delegate but moving the responsibility of summarizing what happened last time to your players is one more small responsibility off your shoulders.
Encourage your players to keep great session notes by offering XP or other small in-game rewards to players who participate in the recap. Once you incentivize remembering what happened, you might be surprised how much time you end up saving if you don’t have to re-summarize information again and again.
Designate A Mapmaker
Many pre-written adventures include some form of map, particularly if the module includes a dungeon. Trying to wrangle the action is complicated enough without also pausing to illustrate a map every time the party enters a new room, so delegate it! Chances are, at least one of your players will be happy to play party cartographer and use expo markers/digital drawing tools to sketch out the shape of each area based on your description.
In fact, having a player take on the task of cartographer adds an extra level of immersion to the game (since the characters wouldn’t have access to a perfect map anyway)! Having someone else draw the map as you go along also frees you from the psychic pressure to perfectly represent all the intricate details of a place (trust me, you don’t need them).
Player Controlled NPCs
Modules often make use of party NPCs to help move the plot along, and by default the GM is usually the person expected to manage a whole other character as well as telling the story. Managing an NPC, rolling their initiative, tracking their equipment, spell slots, and other resources are just more chores you don’t need on your long list. So, if an NPC is traveling with the party, let a player run that NPC in combat or other mechanic-heavy situations!
Note: Keep in mind that you should only ask for help running NPCs from players who have a firm grasp of how to run their own character. If you have an experienced player in your group, they will likely love the extra challenge!
Pass the GM Torch Every Once in A While
While the above tips are great ways to motivate your players to help with your current campaign, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the ultimate tip: encourage your players to step into the GM seat every once in a while. Churning out a game session for an indeterminate amount of time is exhausting even for the best GMs, so you need a way to mix game night up every once in a while.
If you have a player curious about GMing (or someone you think would make a great GM) encourage them to take the wheel! Perhaps one of the players runs the other characters through a fun one-shot side quest every couple of months, or maybe the group makes a new set of ‘B team’ characters to use in those special side games. Maybe every once in a while, you play a new TTRPG for a night or you all get together to host a simple board game night. Chat with your players about options to put other people in the leader seat and see how they rise to the challenge!
That’s all I’ve got for you! Just keep in mind that tabletop games are a team sport. It is every player’s responsibility to add to the fun and most folks will jump at the chance to get involved in making game night the most fun it can be.