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RPT Newsletter #013 | 5 Time Management Tips For Busy Roleplayers

What would/could be the (sad) reason, you stop roleplaying?

  • Too few people to play with

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Found a game I liked better

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Unhappy with the game and the rules

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Cost too much money

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Burnt out from frequent play

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • None of the above (please leave a comment)

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
Staff member
Platinum WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
Borderland Explorer
5 Time Management Tips For Busy Roleplayers
From JohnnFour | updated May 20, 2021

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #013

One of my biggest challenges as a game master today is time management. There’s just too much to do in my professional and personal life to devote as much time as I really want towards my #1 hobby: Roleplaying.

Wizards Of The Coast just released the following information*, as part of an overall gaming industry report. It gives the top reasons why gamers stop gaming:
  • Got too busy with other things: 79%
  • Too few people to play with: 63%
  • Not enough time to play: 55%
  • Found a game I liked better: 38%
  • Unhappy with the game and the rules: 38%
  • Cost too much money: 32%
  • Burnt out from frequent play: 29%
The top three reasons caught my attention as early warnings about time management. (Although Wizards did not comment on reason #2, I believe part of the reason there are too few people for some to play with is that potential players don’t have enough time.)

So, I better accept the challenge that I need to do more gaming in less time and look for ways to keep my hobby thriving–because the reality is that life is only going to get busier!

Here then are five time management tips for you, so that you can carve out more precious time to play.

I’m guilty of not doing this well. But it really does help a busy game master if the players can lend a hand. Have someone take care of the pre-session details for you, such as playing time, playing location, menu, snacks and car pooling.

Also enlist the players to perform rules research during sessions so you can focus on other things. Depending upon your group, you may even have the opportunity of letting a player handle the monsters once in awhile–including their pre-game planning and tactics.

Use A Campaign Newsletter
I covered campaign newsletters in Issue #7 and they are a fantastic way to get more done in less time. Use a campaign newsletter to update world events; create needed campaign information such as NPCs, unique monsters, and setting information; organize your records and session information; organize your players; and communicate with your group about important story and campaign issues all in one fell swoop.

Think About It
I bet you can get in 30 minutes of really good session and story planning time each and every day without it costing you an extra minute!

When you’re doing something that safely allows your mind to wander, use that time to think about roleplaying:
  • Transit, commuting
  • Housework
  • Standing in line anywhere and everywhere
  • In the shower
  • Brushing your teeth
  • On your breaks and lunch
The secret is to have an agenda to focus on and complete. What do you need to plan, create or determine for your campaign and next session.

It takes practice to consistently focus your thoughts, but the reward is at least 3 bonus hours of planning a week – hours that you are using anyway and do not need to make room for in your busy life. Think about it.

Create Protected Time & Guard It
If you practice #3, you’ll find that when you sit down at the keyboard, or with paper and pen, the ideas and information will come streaming out in a highly distilled manner. What used to take you an hour to write, after pauses, revisions and editing, can be streamed out in 15 minutes. All because it is well thought out in your head.

So, figure out time during the week where you can concentrate entirely on roleplaying, protect that time, and then joyfully use it. No phone calls, email, tv or chores. It’s just you and roleplaying. Even a half hour, twice a week, consistently used, will let you get a lot done.

Focus On Results
I’m very guilty of spinning off on unproductive tangents while planning. During your thinking time and protected time, ask yourself what really needs to get done so that next session is exciting, compelling, and enjoyable for all.

Do you really need to type out that chart, or will a bookmark for quick reference during play do just as well?

How about developing your back-end story – the story which your players will take several sessions to uncover. Does it really need to be that detailed? Or can you spend a few minutes updating it each week and then move onto something else like fleshing out a couple of upcoming encounters for maximum enjoyment?

Same with game setting information. Is it important to figure out the statistics for all the world’s rulers right now? Perhaps you could create a small rumour list for next week’s city session instead?

I need a lot more time management help. There are still not enough hours in the day for me to work on my roleplaying. Please send me your own tips.

* Permissions: This file is Copyright 2000, Wizards of the Coast. This file may be freely redistributed or quoted in whole or part, provided that this attribution remains intact.

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
Staff member
Platinum WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
Borderland Explorer
Comment by Fowlie:

I read this earlier, but as I look at it again, I’m suddenly quite excited to have a go at a campaign newsletter. In my games where I’m a player and not a GM we rotate ‘loremaster’ duty to recap events, always trying to outdo one another with creative ways to tell the previous session’s tales. It’s always a fun writing exercise and I think the newsletter will be a fun way to recap some of the world events to the players and slip some hooks in.
I think that the newsletter will be a great tool to keep people interested as my D&D group doesn’t meet very frequently, and I’ll have some extra time to put something special together over the holidays.
All good ideas, thanks!

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
Staff member
Platinum WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
Borderland Explorer
With the agenda to keep a lookout for possible foes, I posted the above poll. Also, because I'm interested in how our community's poll would end up (I think that we have e.g. almost no casual GMs/players here)

So, time management...

About me
I guess, I'm doing something right. I work about 50+ hours a week, have a wife and three kids in the most time intensive ages (one of those is disabled and needs reaaally much time), but keep between 6 to 8 roleplaying chats active, 3 roleplaying groups and I am still able to post in the forum every now and then. Oh yeah, and I am not burnt out.

So let's see:
I'm working as a project development manager with many parties and cultures involved. I'm not using any special tools, but I guess this gives me a lot of practice (besides all those groups and people and family) to learn to juggle. And that is what I do.

My Prep Areas
I'm a detailed prepper. I love to improvise and I do it a lot in the moment, but I need at least the following for each session, so I focus on that:
  • At least one campaign goal, i.e. an idea about the story I want to tell
  • Some interesting NPCs
  • Interesting monsters / foes
  • Interesting locations
  • A twist / riddle / mystery
  • A clear idea about 3-5 encounters
  • Maybe handouts
I think, this is all. Of course, I'm never just satisfied with that.

The Right Time To Prep
As Johnn mentions above, I also use many opportunities to think about roleplaying. Not as a chore, mind you, but my mind is just wired to go there.
On the one hand, it is a great idea to think about roleplaying and the next session in bed, when one is becoming sleepy. Your brain shifts into a very creative mode.
But on the other hand, it is hard to stop this process and eventually getting some sleep, and it is required to find a way to take notes of your thoughts without moving to much (else you break the spell). I use onenote or a recording with my mobile in these moments. And in order to stop thinking about these things and fall asleep, I make myself not use words, but concentrate on my own breathing, and just think about a clear line, pushing pictures aside for the moment.

My Prep Focus
Anyway, I polish all of these aspects within the week before the session. First of all, I think about something cool that the players would enjoy and why they would enjoy it. E.g. random treasure tables, a puzzle that they can actually, progressively solve without getting frustrated, memorable NPCs that are at first only nice, but who will play an important role later in the game (when they are to be rescued or otherwise), locations that become memorable and tell much about the world itself, also the NPCs.

Description Prep
I often notice that many GMs describe and describe and describe, but never really get the players attention. I think, it is because they "describe in a neutral way" or "boring things". So, in contrast, I describe not only what the PCs SEE, but try to use as many other senses as possible and differentiate the descriptions between the PCs to make them stand out. Seeing an underground mine is one thing. Smelling it, hearing distant echoes, feeling vibrations, noticing that "something" is wrong, playing with shadows, orientation, forms and how things feel to the touch, even how the air becomes dustier and less and the stone above them oppressive and frightening... all of this makes the difference between a computer game and a roleplaying game. Only with these aspects can a roleplaying gamer immerse into the game and enact their PCs in a meaningful manner.

Fun Prep
In the end, the players and the GM will have more fun. And that is the final goal.
So, I think about what make the next session fun? What can be improved to make it more fun? What could be boring? These are the questions that lead my preparation.

Sideline Prep (Props, Sounds, Complications, etc.)
I'm a very visual guy, so I create pictures of locations in my head. After the above, I also put effort into creation of handouts. Visual cues that the players can see (right now, we play via discord, so no touching). Sounds that I create (growling and voices and stuff, no actual sound files - I never have time for sound or music collection, and that's ok for me) to improve the game.
Also, I try to link in many aspects of the PCs and try to present morally difficult situations and choices that matter.

Prepping the Prep
Also important, I often stop with cliffhangers where I give a glimpse of what might come next, so I have no difficulty proceeding the story and getting people again into the mood.

Time Management and Online Gaming
Finally, I can say that playing via discord has many advantages for me. Although at first it was hard to not really see my players, changing to videos and avoiding VTTs became a doorway to still good roleplaying. The biggest advantage is that I can save all the transit time, organizing food (even if others do this via delegation - As a manager of the game, I'm still looking over every detail...), it reduces outgame talk a lot, and I can easily put in another session during the week, as we moved from 7-8h sessions to 3h sessions. Luckily, the players are not as exhausted in the end as they had been after 8h play (even with pauses).

Final Comments on Johnn's Five Time Management Tips
So, commenting on Johnn's five tips, I would say that delegating never works with me. I ask my players to maybe create a summary, but in the end, this will only work a couple of times and I do it nevertheless. I don't use a campaign newsletter, but I did sometimes. It became way too much work for me and too much to read for them. The Think About It part is great. I totally agree. That is the real difference here. But I would never create protected time! This feels for me like a chore! But you should definitely focus on first making a game whole, and then to polish it with things that make it fun. If I have fun creating a dynasty in some far away country, well, I can do it. But then, why not move that dynasty to where the PCs can encounter them in the next session? This way, the work is not lost to the wind.
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Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
Staff member
Platinum WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
Borderland Explorer
Also, besides time management, what of all those cases you would have time, but you have not enough energy or creativity to do it?
Don't forget your energy management!
There are really good sites out there about this. Let's just give a short overview about what I do to preserve and increase my (creative) energies:
  • Tidy, quiet place to think about roleplaying
  • Trying to cue my energies (and memories) by getting a routine (same place, always specific dies in front of me, same time, etc.), that's called priming by the way.
  • Put doors in front of all shelves, so that it seems more tidy
  • Only place objects in my room that positively influence my energies (no chores, or things to do)
  • Don't use media (PC, mobile, etc.) during the first hour of waking (as the brain is still very likely to be influenced from outside)
  • No checking/reading emails, messages, etc. during prep time
  • Try to not watch sci-fi when I run a fantasy campaign, so that my interests don't shift. Instead, focus on fantasy series. Unless of course you have several different campaigns lined up or you can easily control your urges to shift interest.
  • Summarizing after a session, what went well and how great it was. This lets you prep much easier than if it was bad.
  • Taking one step at a time and to feel the progress
  • And of course, healthy food, sport, social contacts, financial stability, ...
  • And finally: enjoy prepping.