Last Minute GMing: Running the Blank Page

Last Minute GMing: Filling the Blank Page
Hexbox Stories

In the prior two posts in this series we came up with a great idea for an RPG session and scrawled out some quick notes to flesh it out. Now our guests are here, the Mountain Dew is flowing, and the dice are rolling. How do we run our game?

The Fine Art of Improvisational GMing

The key to improv as a GM is to take notes as you go along. You’re going to be making up a lot on the fly, and keeping track of what you’ve told the players is necessary to maintain any kind of consistency. Nothing ruins “winging it” worse than contradicting yourself. Your players will notice.

Specifically, you’ll want to keep track of:

  • Names of people, places, and things
  • Dates when things happened or will happen
  • Distances to different places
  • Whatever traits you invent for the people they meet and the places they go

These notes don’t have to be extensive. Just a word or two scribbled on your page to jog your memory. Don’t be afraid to draw diagrams or maps to keep for reference as you go along.

Makin’ Stuff Up

So how do you make up stuff on the fly?

Keep it Simple

Don’t do extra work. For NPCs, assume that they’re entirely average in any way you don’t bother defining — 10s across the board, if that’s the scale of your system. Don’t bother fleshing out anything but the traits used in the way they’ll interact with your PCs. For canon fodder, work up combat stats. For people the PCs will interact with socially, figure out what their agenda is and what they’re willing to settle for.

Take notes.

Use Tools

It’s 2016 so chances are you’re playing in an area with wifi and have a tablet or smartphone. There are tons of resources for making up stuff on the fly. Use them extensively. Here are a few links to get you started:

  • Random dot org if you don’t feel like rolling or need a weird random number.
  • Behind the name Names sorted by cultural origin. I like to use Random dot Org to roll a d24, then roll a d(however many names there are) to get one.
  • Chris Pound’s Name Generators create new names by using a given language’s patterns. Useful for fantasy names that share a consistent sound.
  • Donjon Random Weather Generator let’s you decide with a click what the weather is going to be like today.

Other than that, just do your best to bounce off the ideas your players are giving you. Go with the flow, let them drive a bit. You know what your villain is going to be doing if the PCs don’t interfere, so just describe that to them from their perspectives.

Michael Coorlim

Michael Coorlim is a teller of strange stories for stranger people. He collects them, the oddballs. The mystics and fire-spinners, the sages and tricksters. He curates their tales, combines their elements and lets them rattle around inside his rock-tumbler skull until they gleam, then spills them loose onto the page for like-minded readers to enjoy.

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Last Minute GMing: Filling the Blank Page
Hexbox Stories
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