I am such a Lazy GM
I like to play in tabletop role-playing games. I also like to run. I also have a distinct lack of free time to spend writing notes for specific adventures. So while I don’t truly consider myself a Lazy GM, I do take advantage of every Lazy GM trick I can conceive of.
The first difference between a “publishable adventure” and what I run at my table is that I don’t often use a map and note format, or a play format (acts & scenes), or even a linear event format. I write plot hooks, rounded characters, throwaway antagonists, and back story. Then I wing it.
You heard me, I wing it. I spend the majority of my time writing plot hooks for adventures I know what the basic conflict is whenever I run a game session. With a rounded character, I have the personality and motivations for that character there to drive the plot. I have plenty of minions for distraction purposes, red herrings, “random encounters” and to service the villain’s needs. Lastly, I have a back story to tie them together, and lead from plot to plot and session to session.
This also helps immensely when I don’t want to write flavor text that the PCs may never end up seeing. All in all, I consider it the most efficient use of my time, because the one component that is least likely to get used is the entirety of the back story. That depends much more on how inquisitive your PCs are.
The best part of this way of doing things is that I can work both forwards and backwards with equal ease. Let’s say I have an idea for a story about corruption in the Church. That simple plot hook leads to a victim, the local Bishop, and an aggressor, a Cardinal who believes that the popular Bishop will be promoted over him when the current Pope’s health fails.
It is just as easy to start with the Cardinal as it is to start with the plot on the Bishop’s life. I can write-up the hows, including statistics for the assassin and other agents, the name of the town, and describe several information leaks the PCs can stumble upon. Or I can flesh out the Cardinal into a jealous, power obsessed man who likes to poison his rivals, and advance the goals of the Church only when it makes him look good.
As far as adventures go, the backstory for this can be important or unimportant. If the PCs are likely to delve into why someone would target a bishop, then sure it makes sense to think about it in great detail. Otherwise, it is not necessary. I find that my best games work well when I throw so many potential hooks at the players that they always feel like they have something to do, but never feel like their own ambitions are fruitless.
Sometimes you get a group without any real motivation, and then you have to prod them in certain directions, but realistically that prodding can be in whatever direction is closest to or furthest from where the adventuring party currently is. Since you probably don’t care what they do as long as they do something, don’t over invest in any one plot. Honestly, that’s often the tip I need help with the most at my table, so it bears mentioning here.
So that’s the basic idea of how I Lazy GM It. I’ll post an article on adventure cycles that demonstrates this further and I’ll talk about how you don’t need a rigid timeline to have a “living, breathing world”.