25 Ways to Think Faster on Your Feet

From Johnn Four

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0567

A Brief Word From Johnn

Adventurers looking in all directions: where to go?
Image credit: Patrick Crusiau

GMing is part preparation and part performance. And great storytelling and game mastering requires confidence.

A couple weeks ago RPT Reader F. asked for help. Her husband suffered a brain injury and now has trouble thinking on his feet during sessions. Reacting to a rabble-rousing party’s surprises is difficult for him.

This has affected his confidence, and he’s thinking of putting down his dice for good.

So I turned on the Bat Light put out a Reader Tip Request. And holy cow, your response was tremendous! Over 100 readers wrote in with tips. Amazing!

It took a whole week, but I managed to paste all the tips into How to Think Faster On Your Feet While You GM a blog post at the website.

Thanks so much for the tips and advice, everyone! Reader F. will be ecstatic with your ideas and support.

However, there’s a lot of tips there to read through. So last week I sifted through and compiled the advice into a list.

Below are 25 ways to be more nimble on your feet as a GM, based on reader tip submissions plus a few of my own. I hope there’s a useful nugget in this RPT issue for you.


25 Ways to Think Faster on Your Feet

Focus On Outcomes

Worry not about how the PCs reach an outcome, just think about consequences to the outcome itself.

For example, think about what will happen if your players bypass a key encounter, not all the ways they could bypass the encounter.

Outcome-based thinking helps you focus better on the story by not getting overwhelmed with details and possibilities.

Lead The Way

Structure your game to maximize player participation. This will reduce dead zones between encounters, encourage character-driven actions and increase player agency.

Decide before you start whether the game is about exploring an event or going on a mission.

If it’s an event, make the event big and obvious and mind-blowing and make sure the characters are explorers.

If it’s a mission, make sure the characters are a team and committed to taking on a mission, and state the mission clearly.

Create A Roleplaying & Story Progression Table

Have a table of campaign hooks, rumours and clues ready to provide NPC conversation ideas and help steer wayward PCs.

Make The World Bigger Than The PCs

Track events outside the PCs’ sphere of influence and attention.

Use index cards, one per event, and add small updates once in awhile, time stamped.

When stuck, pick a card and turn something on it into an encounter seed.


Consider giving group ownership to campaign creation and world details. Collaborate with players to create details and scenarios.

While you remain Keeper of Secrets and Final Arbiter, you can enlist player help for tracking, remembering and creating details, including consequences.

Just ask, “So, what do you guys think could happen now?”

Things That Could Happen Next

Create a random events table. Use this to buy time or make decisions with.

You might title it, “Things That Could Happen Next” and include things like an NPC has a seizure, a recurring NPC shows up, an animal approaches nearby, a pickpocket targets a PC.

Go Faster!

Keep the action fast paced. Though counter-intuitive to the idea of how to think faster, you tend to do better when acting upon instead of reacting to.

Make players react to you so you have more control and ability to think because you can focus on fewer things.

You just need to think about the next action upon the players instead of reacting to multiple players acting upon you.

Do Not Over-Plan

Avoid planning for every option or potential choice the PCs might make.

Instead, figure out how NPCs and the game world would react to these standard actions:

  • Violence
  • Deception
  • Diplomacy
  • Negotiation
  • Indifference

Go With The Most Obvious Answer – It’ll Be Fun, Trust Me

When confronted with “What happens next?” the answer should always be “The most obvious thing you can think of.”

Don’t force something clever, cool or interesting.

Narrate whatever is the most obvious and sensible course of action.

This is very easy to do, and it leads to interesting situations anyway because of the PCs and their antics.

Use A Flowchart

A tip from Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering: keep a random flowchart available. Use it for a quick dungeon, city or adventure.

Keep a Rejected Pile

Store all plans, designs and builds the players failed to trigger for future use.

Page through this file before each session to keep these top of mind for sudden implementation.


Tell the PCs they’ve made a discovery. Point them to something you’ve got prepared.

Chances are the party will focus on the new shiny thing, giving you time to react to the PCs’ original actions.

Use Chandler’s Law

“When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” – Raymond Chandler

If you get stuck, have the villain attack via minions who break down the door and rush the PCs.

Ask For A Character Development Play

Ask a player for a character development play. Either at the table or in a one-on-one conversation, speak with the player about how a background detail can be turned into the next encounter.

Great storytelling is all about collaboration and http://www.creativekeys.net/storytellingpower/article1020.htmlaudience participation.

Add More Detail

Picture scenes, NPCs and items in your mind’s eye. Start with one section and work from there.

Pan an NPC up and down, traverse a scene from background to foreground, envision an item from creation to its current location.

Be Present

We get into a state of high distraction at the table as players machine gun questions at us, we try to recall numerous rules and campaign details, and have several jobs to do at once.

Slow down. Let the players talk and really listen to what they’re saying, especially when they are planning their actions and discussing NPCs.

Log It

Create a campaign log or Save Time & Get More Planning Done Through Campaign Newsletters — RPT#7 newsletter.

The creative writing helps you recall more details from sessions for future use, improves brain function, increases your awareness of detail and improves your diction.

Create Top 7 Lists

Build Using ‘Top 7 Lists’ To Help Assimilate Published Game Worlds — RPT#127 top 7 style lists to help you remember more.

Our memory recalls items at the start and end of lists better than middle items.

Break things down into more lists for better overall recall.

You Are Your Worst Enemy

Be less judgmental about your ideas. This is part confidence and part open-mindedness.

It starts with the belief your ideas have merit. Develop this belief by understanding there is a process involved.

First, you get an idea. Then you play with it like Playdough until a rough shape of possibility emerges. Then comes the polish stage.

Most ideas start out as poor, unfeasible or problematic. It’s what you do with an idea after it pops into your head that counts.


Stress degrades brain performance. The best way I know to reduce stress at the game table is to create a quick de-stress ritual.

It consists of three parts:

  1. Take a drink of water
  2. Take three deep breaths
  3. Feel gratitude I’m playing such a cool game with friends

This ritual takes just 15 seconds and I always feel better with a clearer head afterward.

Think In Story

Use storytelling to limit player options. Stories challenge protagonists at every step of the way.

Create a chart of setbacks and complications to keep PCs on their toes.

Keep Foes Simple

Eliminate powers and abilities not likely to affect the PCs or an encounter.

Allow more uses of a single power instead of single uses of multiple powers.

For example, make an attack at will instead of 1/day, and remove the other special attack options.

Great for minions, as this gives them a solid hook (one trick ponies are memorable and http://www.roleplayingtips.com/readissue.php?number=331easy to http://www.roleplayingtips.com/readissue.php?number=332theme).

Fudge More

11 Dice Rolling Tips — RPT#138 – Roll behind your screen.

Learn to listen to your inner voice that will tell you what result it’s hoping for before the dice settle. Then use the desired result over the rolled one.

Nurture this voice until you don’t need the threat of a dice roll to make it speak to you.

Use More Player Generated Tables

Create random charts during games to generate results for situations you find tricky. Enlist player help.

For example, a player asked who was on the street on time. I grabbed a pad of paper and asked for ideas until I hit 20. I used that d20 chart thereafter many times.

Spotlight Technique

Switch the spotlight to give you time to think. Leave a player on a cliff-hanger and move to the next player to keep players engaged. “Bob, the NPC surprises you with his answer…Bill, it’s your turn now.”

Free New eBook: 114 Ways to Think Faster on Your Feet

But wait, there’s more!

Today’s issue of RPT contains 25 tips. However, there are a bunch more from the tips submissions and a few from my brain. 114 in total!

And I’ve put them all in a PDF (with a new template I’ve been tinkering with) you can get today.

If you want more help on how to think faster on your feet while GMing, please download this ebook now:

http://www.roleplayingtips.com/url/thinkfaster Download 114 Ways to Think Faster on Your Feet

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