Efficiency in RPGs

So the ever-educational XKCD has this up as today’s comic:

Basically, it’s a chart showing you how much time you can spend on making some task more efficient, before you’re losing ground.

Now, apply this to RPGs.

Assuming you play once a week (the 4th column in the comic), if there’s some task that you can shave one minute off of, you can spend up to 4 hours to make it happen, and it’s worth the time you spend. What can you do to shave one minute off some task? (All the numbers apply to a campaign that runs at least 5 years; if yours runs less, decrease the maximum time spent improving the task accordingly.)

One idea is to make things easier to find during play (so you save one minute per week). You could spend up to 4 hours doing any of these, and come out ahead:

  • Put metadata (keywords) in images, electronic map tiles, mp3 files, etc.
  • Sort your miniatures by CL.
  • Make a customized DM screen with the tables you use constantly, not the ones the publisher thinks you should use.
  • Make a list of NPC names.
Or, you could make your life easier when writing adventures. Can you shave 5 minutes off the process? You could spend less than 21 hours doing any of these things, and come out ahead:
  • List all the monsters and animals commonly found in the wilderness, so you don’t have to search through the monster book each time you’re putting together an encounter.
  • Make detailed lists of NPC encounters (including spells memorized, personalities, magic and mundane items, etc.); rival adventuring parties, merchant caravans, border patrols, tavern inhabitants, etc. Don’t be afraid to reuse them.
  • Make a custom index of a supplement or campaign guide you use often.
  • Learn how to use mapping software, so your maps don’t take quite as long to make.
These are just a few things off the top of my head. I’m sure you all can think of other ways to make things go just a little bit faster; in the long run, you’ll come out ahead. 
(Yeah, I know the comic is making fun of hyper-efficiency, but it doesn’t mean it’s still not useful sometimes…)

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

1 thought on “Efficiency in RPGs

  1. I think that as a GM, the time you spend making the game run smoother is actually about making it easier on the players too. And that's time that is an awful lot harder to quantify, but I know I'd be willing to spend it.

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