For the next of my series of Prep Techniques, which so far includes 5 Room Dungeons and Three Places, I’m going to multiclass into a review. Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, by SlyFlourish, is a 96-page guide to session, and campaign, prep – with lots more besides.
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It’s a great method for session prep – and it wouldn’t be fair for me to try and abbreviate it here. Mike talks a lot of sense, and I think I agree with him about almost everything (he’s not a fan of Skill Challenges, and that’s where we disagree!) You can hear him on the Smart Party interview here, or check out his YouTube channel (which has got some great walkthroughs of prep, including of D&D published adventures). He’s an active blogger, and the blog complements the book well with lots of examples of it in practice.
First up, the title is a little broader than it implies with the “Dungeon Master” term. While it’s true this method has its origins in D&D, and the examples through the book prep a D&D session, it’s broadly applicable to any RPG and genre. I ran a Legends of the 5 Rings campaign using this method for every session (and the campaign approaches here), and I’m sure it would be relevant to any genre or style.
In fact, a lot of the core ideas point towards running a more narrative game, and so this prep method is eminently suitable for this. In particular, the Secrets and Clues section is a great way to think about your game without holding onto ideas too tightly – his prep method gives a broad canvas for the session to take place on, which PBTA and FITD games need.
It presents an 8-step method for session prep, starting with considering the characters, and moving all the way towards magic item rewards. Further sections of the book dismantle this list, and trim it down as far as 3 steps, depending on time available and other ideas.
As a bare minimum, your 3-step prep is a Strong Start (an action or exciting scene – could be, but not always, a fight) – some Secrets and Clues (ten things that the PCs discover – not tied to locations, NPCs or scenes) – and three or more Fantastic Locations (exciting places that will feature in the adventure). Additional steps add more background and flavour, and all are designed to be efficient in terms of fun at the table compared to prep time.
There’s also guidance on building campaigns (using Dungeon World-style Fronts) and about linking ongoing sessions as well – but the Secrets and Clues sections really is the brilliant idea at the core of this. By separating knowledge discovery from specific encounters, the GM (DM?) can be liberal with information and have them appear where players want to go.
The prep style described here is very suitable for a one-shot, although I’d adapt a few stages. The first step – where you consider the characters and their skills and abilities – is similar to starting with pregens, building them and having them in mind – and for me I like to have a clear idea of not just my starting scene but also what my ending will look like – for a one-shot I think it’s important to end on a high, too.
There’s great advice about improvising NPCs, and adding more narrative stuff to play, that are particularly relevant to one-shot play – having a good hook to hang your NPC portrayal on, and allowing players to own some of their triumphs, is a great technique for a con game.
In short, I can’t really recommend this enough – and I’d urge you to try it out for whatever system or game you’re running. I’ve not really looked at the previous book (the Lazy Dungeon Master) – but I think it is distinct, and this review has made me dig it out and take a look – so I’d recommend much of his work.