The [Not So] Lazy Dungeon Master

I don’t really do traditional reviews. I am one of those “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything” kind of guys when it comes to my online activities. Traditional reviews generally demonstrate the good AND bad aspects of a product in a way I never really felt fit to do. I also don’t like to waste anyone’s time, so the tl;dr of this article is… if you are a DM looking to reduce your prep time AND make your games more dynamic, go checkout/buy “The Lazy Dungeon Master” today.

…but, if you were looking for a little more from me on this, please continue…

When I DM a game, what I enjoy the most is experiencing the story along with the players – anxious to see what will happen next. Much of that enjoyment is made possible due to the fact that I plan out very little before each game. My players would tell you I don’t really do much until just before they get there, or even while they are just getting there and getting situated. My “notes” might consist of a paragraph or two, at most.

Hours and even days spent hovering over notepads, frantically writing the “story” for the game is not something I have ever been into. I am a day dreamer whose best ideas seem only to be fueled when the time to share these experiences is upon me. Those days when I have tried to plan for a game in advance find me staring at the walls and ceiling, being distracted by YouTube or opening Photoshop… but talk to me the day of a game and there is no end to the creativity I have – nothing can distract me, and I am as excited as ever.

This is how it has always been. Even when I first began DM’ing at the age of 12 (and perhaps because of my age), I could not focus on game preparation beforehand – but by the time my friends came over to stay the night, or I arrived at their places, I was bouncing off the walls with ideas. I have always had a very active imagination and there is no turning that off at times, but committing even the best of those wildly cascading ideas to paper is something I’ve never been able to do ahead of time, much to the frustration of some around me.

I’ve noticed over these many years that the less I prep for a game, the more we all seemed to enjoy said game. It hasn’t always been true, but it often seems to be the case. Explaining why that is, or how to capture that kind of magic has always been a bit tricky for me though.

Recently, Mike Shea (aka Sly Flourish) released a new book titled “The Lazy Dungeon Master”, and I had a chance to read it last night.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I saw the title appear on Twitter a few weeks back, but having read it now, I feel it (the title) is a little misleading, or maybe vague is a better word for it. Perhaps something like “The Focused Dungeon Master”, or even “The Minimalist Dungeon Master” may have helped better illustrate (for me anyway) the concept of the book. The use of “Lazy” seemed to indicate the book was aimed at those who may not be putting enough effort into their games, with tools to help them step up. I would not call myself a lazy DM, nor am I looking to become a lazier DM, so I wasn’t sure it would be for me.

The fact is, the opposite is true of this book as I began to discover on the website. It’s aimed directly at experienced DM’s who are perhaps putting TOO MUCH effort into their game preparation out of a strong desire to run amazing games, which may in fact be hindering them. The idea here is to maximize the productivity of prep time while reducing the time commitment, all with the goal of creating more dynamic and exciting games. It’s a concept I have embraced for years (in my own way), and have even shared with others, but this book really shows you the idea in action and is a much better advocate of cutting out game preparation than I have ever been.

Using a new (one sentence) adventure concept as an example, Mike does an amazing job of walking you through the process, further developing the example as he goes. If you ever wanted to sit in on the preparation of a great DM for his/her games, this is insight you will really enjoy.

Additionally, the book is filled with many ideas and inspiring bits that found me wanting to run a campaign right now. “The Lazy Dungeon Master Toolkit” at the end offers tables for such things as “20 Movie-Inspired Quests”, “20 PC Relationships”, “20 Encounter-Wide Environmental Effects”, adding further value to an already excellent book.

I can highly recommend this book if you are an experienced DM looking to cut down on the prep time of your games while simultaneously making them more exciting and dynamic. When I want to share how it is that I can run enjoyable games with almost no prep (I do get asked), I can now lazily point to this book instead – one that, despite my experience, had much to teach me.

Mike “Weem”

Chat with me on Twitter: @theweem