GM Displacement Activity

Okay, over the bank hol weekend I was supposed to be writing up another Squaddies scenario - drawing the maps of bits of a (spin gravity) space station, making notes on where the enemy have put their defences, etc.

But what I mostly did was calculate how much food the population of the station would need (Answer: 268 tonnes per day), then calculate what the daily yield the agricultural/aquaponics decks need to produce to feed 'em (Answer 8.64 kg per square metre, assuming no ‘layering’ of crops or stacked production methods). Then I worked out how it would take for the oxygen to drop to ‘impair thinking’ (14%) levels if the entire station population took it into their heads to cram into one deck and turn off the air vents (Answer: 38 hours). Then I started drawing a map for a deck that the PCs are never likely to encounter in the scenario!

What sort of RPG displacement activities do you do when you are supposed to be doing game prep?


I think my worst example of this was in a WWII game where it was likely that the PCs would be crossing the USA by train (early in 1942). A sensible GM would have stopped after finding out that it was the Twentieth Century Limited, still steam-hauled, and getting rough travel times and frequencies. I ended up digging up a full timetable with every single stop in both directions, including where the trains passed each other. I just got interested…


I don’t do much like that: I tend to read other things, hang around on forums, and so on. Thanks for the reminder to work on my Stabcon scenario - see you there?

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Hoo boy!

One time I wrote a 66,000-word cross-referenced alphabetical encyclopaedia.

I spent months coding the star system generation sequences of GURPS Space (4th ed.) as an Excel workbook with no macros.

I constructed a life table for the population of Imperial Direct Jurisdiction taking into account the recruitment of Imperial servants from the colonies over 120 years. Also, a life table for the Imperial Family, taking into account a diminishing rate of exogamy.


Yeah, but that’s actually useful. I use it, therefore it must be.

Borderline yak-shaving: in Wives and Sweethearts I have the dates of birth, accession and death of British monarchs from the present day to the game date (and beyond, if nothing intervenes).

(Yak-shaving is a programmer’s term for “what I do when I don’t feel like programming, but which I can justify as being more or less related”.)


“Looking forward to playing that Forgotten Futures scenario, Jon. How’s it going?”

“Oh, pretty well… I’m just working through some research material at the moment…”

starts reading another random French scientific romance


I tend to use pre-written scenarios nowadays, and my time is pretty limited so reading the scenarios is usually displacement activity for something else more urgent I should be doing. If we ever had a campaign long enough, I’d try to adapt it to the characters present, but Whartson Hall isn’t great at long campaigns… I think Pendragon is our longest ever. I was planning to turn GURPS Traveller into a long-running campaign, but the players struggled greatly with motivation in the open-ended world, and I didn’t help by not being good at improvisation when it mattered.

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I want to go to Stabcon, but still haven’t had my work schedules confirmed for any date beyond 29th Jan. I’m poised to book leave days for Eastercon, North Star con, Stabcon, Bristolcon, Armadacon as soon as they bloody well tell us! Grrr.

My worst was plotting US casualties in Vietnam against releases of Looney Tunes shorts for an Unknown Armies session.

Unsurprisingly I just wound up owning additional dvds.


It has just struck me that I quite often end up doing little bits of research and modelling for other GMs whom I contact through the InterNet. Perhaps I ought to advertise a yak-shaving service.

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Ah, to support a sort of folie à deux of extra game preparation: “of course it’s important, I got this other guy to help with it”. :slight_smile:

As I think is probably clear to people who’ve played in my games, I like to be able to know everything or at least to be able to generate everything in a reasonably consistent way.