GM Tips is our series to help Storytellers and Game Masters improve their craft and create memorable roleplaying experiences. The GM Quick Tips are single hacks discovered in the minds of storytellers everywhere.
There you are, on game day with players due to arrive any minute, and your table is still a mess of books and maps. Some proper scheduling might have prevented your current predicament, but storytelling is about improvisation so who needs Google Calendar. Life often gets in the way of our ability to prepare for game sessions and it’s entirely unrealistic to expect hand-crafted content each week from already stressed GMs. Even for storytellers who rely upon campaign books and pre-written modules still have prep work before each session. Maps to draw, initiatives to roll, or even simply sitting down and reading the next act in case the players decide to skip ahead can be time-consuming.
What’s a quick way to prepare for an encounter on the fly? The goal, much like an Illusionist Wizard, is to create a believable illusion that we actually put work in behind the scenes—without having to actually do so.
Remixing Your Encounters
What your players don’t know won’t hurt them. Rather than design a full encounter from scratch, you can improvise a game session by reusing old encounters. Somewhere in your notepad of GM tools is an old encounter you designed ages ago. For me, I found an encounter that I wrote when 13 years-old using Water Elementals and since it was so old, I didn’t even have to change names. Grabbing and remixing old encounters works no matter the edition, or often times, even the game setting itself.
It is completely possible that a 7th Seas encounter can be ported over into the World of Darkness or even down to Dungeons & Dragons—and vice versa. All you need to do as the storyteller is remove any impossible flavor (like laser guns) and change them to something relevant (like wizard blasts). Don’t sweat the details of things like Hit Points or minor attacks for off-the-cuff encounters since you’ll base these less by dice rolls, and more by your players’ reactions. If they seem bored, you may have to increase action, or if their hands are shaking when rolling a death saving through perhaps you could tone down your damage pool slightly (unless that’s what you want).
With last-minute encounters, you are trying to hijack as many NPC names, motives, goals, and some cool special effects for wow factor. Any other dice rolls can be fudged to achieve your storytelling goals. When you are remixing past encounters, you may find yourself getting nostalgic and that is exactly what we want to happen. Since you’ve already run the encounter before your mind is already set to describe the smells, the feel of the environment, or even the grotesque taste of water elementals from the sewers. When your new characters engage the fight, conflict can progress in innovative ways that surprise the storyteller. The encounter may be old or reused, but the players’ characters will most certainly be new.
Do you have a quick GM Tip you do before games? Let us know in the comments below!
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Image Credits: 7th Sea Second Edition
Rick Heinz is the author of The Seventh Age: Dawn, and a storyteller with a focus on LARPs, Wraith: The Oblivion, Eclipse Phase, and many more. You can follow game or urban fantasy related thingies on Twitter or Facebook.