by Mike Shea on 20 May 2013
Improvisation skills are critical to the path of the Lazy Dungeon Master. Only those who can build adventures, characters, and encounters quickly on their feet can hope to run a great game with little to no preparation. The best preparation we can do is the preparation that makes it easier for us to improvise awesome game elements while we're at the table. The biggest question a lazy dungeon master must ask is: "What should I prepare and what should I leave to the chaos of the game?".
Today we're going to release a new Lazy DM Cheat Sheet designed to make it easier for you to improvise D&D NPCs, story seeds, and dungeons.
Download the Lazy Dungeon Master Cheat Sheet (50k PDF).
This PDF is intended to be printed on two sides of a single sheet of 8.5" by 11" card stock. It's intended to fit into your DM kit, wherever you plan to run a game.
This chart is intended to take your heavy load when you're called upon to improvise at the table. You can use this chart in a number of ways. You can simply run down a list to choose the best option for the room or NPC you need, or you can actually roll a d20 and let chaos guide your story. Some of the tables, like the dungeon rooms, can be rolled twice to see what it is now and what it used to be back when it was originally designed. This adds an extra layer of richness to any room you design.
For example, the party may enter a dungeon chamber. It is furnished as a (rolled a 3) set of dungeon cells but, looking deeper into the room's past, you see it was once, many centuries ago, a (rolled an 8) library. Beyond the iron cages in the corners of the room, the room contains (rolled an 8 on the details table) statues that appear to be weeping in the alcoves and (rolled a 13) rumbling counterweights behind the walls. In the center of the room is a (rolled an 18 on the room effects table) serpent statue, eyes gemmed with brilliant rubies. Poison drips from the statue's mouth. Before you can investigate further a band of (rolled a 3) goblins bursts through the opposite door. The statue begins to spit acid while the goblins rush in!
This sheet is specifically designed for any traditional flavor of fantasy RPG. Whether you play Dungeon World or D&D 4th edition, D&D 5e, or Pathfinder; this chart was designed to help you. It doesn't include many of the standard mechanics and difficulty checks often needed. You'll want to add another chart to contain those, if required. Many systems, like D&D Next, Dungeon World, and Pathfinder have systems easy enough to memorize. The 4e DM Cheat Sheet can give you want you need for 4th edition D&D statistics.
The Pathfinder GameMastery Guide and 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide have whole pile of fantastic tables to build adventures, characters, treasure, and encounters on the fly. Though focused on Pathfinder, many of these charts work well in any fantasy RPG. These tables include random NPC generation, plots and plot twists, treasure, dungeon generation, and random encounters for dungeons, cities, wild lands, inner, and outer planes.
Few books do a better job helping DMs prepare to improvise games than Dungeon World. Though it contains a complete game system, the true value of this book comes with the advice it gives DMs to improvise games instead of planning them out. It also includes some NPC generating lists.
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, Sly Flourish's Fantastic Adventures, and Sly Flourish's Fantastic Locations. You can also support this site by using these links to purchase the D&D Starter Set, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, or Dungeon Master's Guide.