Sunday, August 18, 2013

GMing with the Jake


Well the last one of these I wrote spurred quite a bit of feedback, some of it very good. I was somewhat surprised at the number of responses that seemed to assume I was dictating how everyone should GM. As I said in the beginning of that post, this is how I GM. It works for me. I might not work for you or it might. Anyway, I decided to continue my GM advice a bit. This time I would like to talk about how I get into the right mindset to run a game and some of the ways I reinforce good GM habits in play. Again, this is what works for me. If you have a different method that works for you, that's awesome. In fact write a blog post or a Google+ post about it and link it in the comments, I would love to see how others run their games.

Do not start too soon

Often in games I love to jump right to the interesting parts of the scenario. You know the parts I am talking about. They are the thematic center of the scenario, filled with tension and meaning. However if you jump to the "good" parts you end up losing all of that meaning and tension. You got to let the players marinate for a bit before throwing them in the fire. Let them get to know the setting and their characters a bit before jumping into the action. This is really important even in long running campaigns. I run a weakly game and I make sure to try and give a slow scene with the characters every session. This lets them reacquaint with the setting and group dynamic. A week is a long time filled with all sorts of frustrations. Give them a minute to breath and remember who and where they are. This will pay off later when they are invested in the adventure so much that they don't want to quit.

In most fiction there is no such thing as coincidence in Games Coincidence often informs the fiction

This is one of those things that takes a little bit of unpacking. When I design an adventure I have a tendency to think of it like a narrative from books or movies. Mostly this is OK. However the big difference in design and writing is that in fiction the writer can control everything to make tension and build to a climax. Games have a randomizing agent(often) that provides a different tension and climactic build. This means that I need to remember that at some points neither I nor the players will be in control of the tension or the climax. there will be times when this is up in the air. While I write the adventure I find keeping this in mind helps mitigate those horrid dice moments. You know the ones. When the kobold just kills the character because they rolled a crit. I always feel like I ave failed when this happens. I know they are inevitable in any game, but I try and get rid of that sort of situation as much as i can up front.

Before you GM ask, "What is a GM?"

In RPGs the GM may not be ubiquitous, but it is nearly so.  Before I start a game I ask myself this question. What does a GM do? I like to identify it through two methods, possitively and negatively. I identify what a gm does and what a gm does not do in my game. Now this maybe as simple as in Apocalypse World, where it is spelled out in the rules. Or it could be as difficult as GURPS, where it is not really talked about much. Also when I am asking these questions I like to see anywhere were I diverge from the norm in the game. I may want to do something differently than the game expects. If I am aware of this beforehand I can take it into consideration while I run the game. Many times i have played a game where the GM was running by his own assumptions on how to run the game rather than the procedures recommended by the game. Wen they ran into difficulties they had to start altering the rules to make them fit their style of GMing. Lack of awareness leads to unpreparedness(heh, rhymed).

When something goes wrong don't just charge ahead, stop and think

It is very easy to look at a game gone wrong and start the blame game or start ignoring rules to make it all fit. If you stop for amoment and analyze why things have gone wrong you stand a better chance of improving your game overall. A few minutes of analysis can save years of annoyance.Try not to say, "they ruined my game!" Instead try and ask, "what caused this behavior to crop up?" I can't tell you how many times this has saved a game that looked like it was heading into a tailspin.

At the start find out what they want and what stands in their  way

This is the key to all conflict. Find out what the characters want. Find out what the players want. then put things in the way that they can overcome, but not easily.

Don't ask Why, ask What

Why invites us to stay inside our minds. We start to internalize and stop acting. What takes some of the guess work out of the picture. It drives action, "what do you want to get? What are you going to do?" These will lead to a stronger game experience than any why question. there is no answer to a why question.

Action is driven by dialogue, dialogue is driven by character

In the game when you set things up, do it through an interaction scene with NPCs. This allows for the players to get into the head space of their characters and allows for the action to have more meaningful impact. Dialogue leads to action, leads to response, leads to dialogue, leads to action, etc.

Subplot reinforces main plot and grants a different perspective on it

When you decide to pull in a subplot, make it relate to the main plot in such a way that it shows a different side to the main plot. Subplots that don't relate to the main plot are red herrings. red herrings are fictional dead ends, and players hate fictional dead ends. Many a game has been completely sidetracked by players just smashing their heads repeatedly into the red herring dead end.


Well there is my GM mindset when I am designing a scenario. At least, there is what it looks like for now. This is more a work in progress than a completed set of procedures. I would love to hear what you think of it. Again I am not advocating this as the only way to run a game. It is just the way I tend to run a game.