Time Management – the modern GM

Time management for me has become a huge priority. Being  a GM running two campaigns and an RPG community website is a lot of work, even if you’re using prepared materials of established frameworks. I’m not someone who finds boredom easily as a result. Being a GM is a serious time commitment as you get older, too. I’d actually planned to try to do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and had hoped to get started on my Oath of Shadows novel. No such luck. I got 3,500 words then thought about redrafting it, or doing some Cthulhuiana like Arunstoun instead. Plus I’d spent a fair amount of time debugging the various modules that make up the ORC Edinburgh website after the hosting provider moved to a new cloud server setup (with newer PHP and mySQL).

Add to this my normal work day. I leave for work in the morning at 7:30am, and usually get home at 6:15pm. It’s a fairly long day: the job I do is pretty process-intensive and requires a certain amount of thought, plus a hugely varied workload. Lunch is pretty much spent de-cluttering my head outside. This leaves me with the evening – if I had kids, I suspect nothing else would get done then either – but then I’ve got to eat. Not to mention the whole housekeeping stuff, like laundry too. It’s usually about 9pm before I’ve got any free time.

On average I spend a few hours preparing my weekly session over the week, and I’ve actually begun to ration my time as a result. As I’m often pretty knackered, I’ve found the best way to plan for my games is to apply a time slot to them, but time management isn’t always easy. I’m currently running two games: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay’s Enemy Within Campaign, and D&D 5e’s Tyranny of Dragons, and they run on alternate weeks. So time is at a premium. The question is: how to spend it? So I thought about things earlier and thought this may be of use for someone like me.

Keep it simple

Choose a system that is easy for you to run, either in terms of organisation or plotting. FATE is great for this, where you rely on players providing the input. On the other hand, Star Wars D6 is far easier to run, with its simple dice mechanics and rules.

Plot milestones

Allocate XP (Experience Points) as a milestone, not individually. When your PCs reach a certain significant point they level up – it may be in campaign downtime or a dramatically appropriate point. In Tyranny of Dragons this happens at the end of seven of the eight episodes. There’s no number-crunching of individual XP and you can plan ahead for the necessary levelling up the party will do as a single event, rather than wading through a rulebook each session as one player or another level up.

Give yourself plenty of time

This doesn’t make sense does it? Well, actually it does: if you have the time to get stuff done, get it done. At that point it’s out the way and you can mess about with other stuff, or improve on what you’ve done. Skim ahead in the adventure if you can.

Read ahead

It’ll save you some time on the day, plus you can get some decent ideas together beforehand. It may also help point out any problems. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a dungeon bash or a high falutin’ political intrigue game, don’t be the GM reading out the plot piece by piece. Also, read up on the day: leave it to the last-minute as a refresher.

Post-it notes are your friend

If you need to flick back and forth through a rulebook or plot points, mark the page with a post-it note. It also works for any creature stats or similar.

Attendance management & contingency plans

If you’re running short of players or your group has an erratic attendance, think about running a game featuring the Other Guys or a one-off game. There’s always board games you can fall back on if there’s not enough players. Side quests or solo games can also be a quick fix for a group lacking bodies.

“Preflight” bag.

Keep your dice, rulebooks and adventure/campaign notes together. If you’re also supplying handouts and stationery, keep them all in the same bag. That way you don’t need to worry about cramming everything in together or forgetting stuff.

Ideas book

I’ve mentioned these before in other posts – they’re incredibly useful for GMs when you’re out and about, or even when you’re gaming. Sometimes the players will say (or do) the darnedest things and might give you something to work with later.

Nick images

Within reason. There’s a huge amount of content out there on the internet – ancient maps, paintings, floor-plans – even estate agent brochures are handy for a quick house or floor-plan that you can hand to the players.

I’m sure folk out there have a few more ideas, and I’d love to hear them!

Published by Bill Heron

Wannabe game designer and would-be author. I've been playing RPGs for over 25 years and have recently started creating my own RPG called Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom. I also run a number of RPGs: Cthulhutech, Call of Cthulhu, WFRP, and D&D. I'm active in the Edinburgh RPG community at http://orcedinburgh.co.uk and regularly play RPGs.