Gaming is a fun hobby, but it’s just that, a hobby. Taking on the role of GM is a hefty responsibility, but real life should always take precedence, and sometimes our more important responsibilities — career, family, sleep — eat away at our game prep time until there’s nothing left, and we’re stuck on Friday night with five friends coming over and nothing planned.
One solution is to cancel the game. Do something else. Watch a movie. Go out and have a drink or three. Hang out, have a good time, and don’t let yourself be pressured into running a session you’re not prepared to. Unfortunately, if you frequently find time slipping away from yourself during the week, you may discover that you’re spending less and less time actually playing. When does a hobby become something you used to do?
The alternative is to adapt your play-style to the realities of your life. And to do that, you need to learn to run games with very little prep.
All you need is an idea
Okay, it isn’t all you need, but it’s a prerequisite for anything else. GM’s Block can strike at any time, but when you’re low on time and need to get started it can pop up in a very insistent form. Sometimes, what you need is a good core idea to shake your creativity free.
Where do you get your ideas?
Literally all over the place. Borrow them, steal them, dream them. Let your subconscious mind work on them while you’re doing other things. All true, but it doesn’t help much when you’re on the spot and have to come up with something RIGHT NOW.
In that case, allow me to humbly present to you a random title generator I wrote a while back. It was intended to be used to spark short stories, but it works just fine for RPG sessions.
Just click the button until you get a title that gives you that jolt of inspiration and go to town.
I’m running a modern horror campaign, and I need an idea. I click and get the title Ghostborn. First thing that comes to mind is a troubled kid haunted by his mother, who died in childbirth, and has been “protecting” her son with various poltergeist effects.
Heroic fantasy game, I get The Sky of Cave. I tweak it to the Sky Cave, and think about a mysterious floating mountain into which an airship might fly.
Cyberpunk police procedural. We get the title Options Automatons Face. Something about self-aware robots trying to make hard choices.
Okay cool, now what?
Anyone can have an idea. They’re cheap. They’re common. They’re worthless. The true mark of creativity is turning those ideas into something useful. We don’t have a lot of time, so we’re going to be light on detail. In fact, our goal is to get an entire session’s notes down on a single sheet of paper.
We’ll cover that next week in Part 2.