Off the Cuff #1: GMing Without Borders

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the seriesOff the Cuff


I love being a Game Master. I get to create adventures, facilitate fun gaming sessions, and generally be responsible for entire role-playing campaigns. It’s a challenge, but a successful gaming session is a badge of pride for any GM.

Game Masters come in several varieties: some like to run pre-written scenarios, some like to spend hours crafting their own amazing stories, and others like to run games completely off the cuff with next to no session prep. I’m the latter type. Lately, I’ve come to think of my free-form style as “GMing Without Borders.”

What is GMing Without Borders?

GMing Without Borders has several meanings, all of which are equally applicable. It means not running pre-written adventures and being forced to play within the confines of another person’s box text. It means not spending hours prepping NPCs and villains only to have your players turn your adventure completely on its head and ruin all …
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Off the Cuff #2: Lazy GMing

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the seriesOff the Cuff


Game Masters for RPGs tend to belong to one of two camps: those who spend a lot of time preparing for each session, and those who don’t. I’m a member of the latter camp.

I’ve always been one to fly by the seat of my pants when it comes to doing anything that involves work. In high school and college, I rarely did my take-home assignments and never turned in a rough draft of an essay unless the teacher absolutely required it. Instead, I’d sit through class, absorb what I could, ace my tests, and churn out essays the night before they were due. Somehow, I’d still get good grades on the assignments I bothered to turn in.

I didn’t really know it at the time, but I was preparing myself for the way I would eventually handle GMing. I gather a bunch of details in my head, make a few mental …
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Off The Cuff #3: Prep for Improv

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the seriesOff the Cuff

This week’s Off the Cuff was written by special guest Phil Vechione. Learn more about Phil in his bio at the end of this article.


As the author of Never Unprepared, people often think that I support doing lots of prep for a game. That is only partly true. I am all for doing prep, but only as much as you need in order to feel comfortable enough at the table to run your game. For some people, that means having pages of notes, stat blocks, and maps. Those that like to game Off The Cuff, however, will have little to no physical materials prepared. Is the Off The Cuff GM unprepared? Not at all, it’s just that their prep is done differently. In fact, I dare say that the Off The Cuff GM might actually do more …
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Off the Cuff #4: Filling Plot Holes

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the seriesOff the Cuff


There has been a lot of great feedback on this series so far, but one of the many things I keep reading is the concern that Off the Cuff GMing may lead to plot holes. It’s true that if you’re not careful you can improve yourself into a situation where the world ceases to make sense and verisimilitude is shot, but with a bit of practice and some forethought you can avoid this pitfall.

As a side note, I just got to use verisimilitude in a sentence.

Going Places

One of the easiest ways to maintain some amount of cohesion in your stories is to define—however clearly or loosely you choose—your goals for the game session or campaign. Set goals, but don’t be afraid to alter them as necessary.

For example, say you want your characters to ultimately take on a Big Bad Evil Guy (or Gal) and save the world from certain doom …
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Off the Cuff #5: Setting Expectations

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the seriesOff the Cuff


What do players expect from their Game Masters? The answer to this question is more complicated than it may seem at first glance.

The short answer is, like so many answers are, “it depends.” Let’s set the ambiguity aside and take a closer look at this question. If we can figure out what players want, we can understand what we as GMs can do to deliver.

Players Just Want to Have Fun

I feel it’s safe to assume that all role-players want to show up to a game, sit down at the table (or other seating place of choice) and just have fun. They want to socialize with friends, participate in a shared storytelling experience, and walk away happier than when they came in.

For many people nowadays, stress is a large factor in our lives. Gaming allows us to escape from the stress of the world for a few hours and just relax—even …
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