Game Mastery


GMing for large groups

by on Sep.17, 2010, under dnd, GM, player management

So this isn’t a problem I’ve ever had to handle as a GM, but it’s one that comes up regularly and I’m sick of retyping my answers.  I’m also a programmer, so I find the optimization of repeated tasks to be interesting.
At any rate, here are some tips for speeding up a game with too many players.  I expect to add to this post as I find more solutions.

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Show me, don’t tell me

by on Aug.15, 2010, under GM, links and articles, observations

Gnome Stew linked to this post on showing detail rather than telling it.  I quite liked it, especially the part on figuring out which details to show.   Well, I agree that you don’t need to show every detail.   I thought it left a little to be desired on how to figure out which details are worth expanding.  Thankfully I’m opinionated and you’re reading, so here are my thoughts on showing detail.
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Counterintuition – save time planning by writing more plots!

by on Aug.04, 2010, under dnd, game theory, GM, observations, organization

An odd thing happened in the shower today. I had an interesting realization about the way I run my games. That wasn’t the odd part. The odd part is that I remembered it. Showers are not conducive to notebooks or iPhones, so most of my hygiene related epiphanies go down the drain.

Anyway, what I realized was that my style of writing complex games with lots and lots of subplots may actually be easier to write than the simplistic one plot at a time approach.
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Nurturing NPC growth

by on May.05, 2010, under dnd, GM, observations, self improvement

I have trouble running NPCs.  It takes me a while to get into character and even longer to switch between characters.  This isn’t news.  I’d be surprised if less than 1/3 of the posts here mentioned  this fact.  It’s something I’m aware of and I’ve been trying to work on.
I was talking to one of my PCs today, expressing this problem, and we came up with a possible solution.  I don’t know if it’ll work or not, but it’s definitely worth trying.

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Link: Your Expectations Lose to Player Participation

by on Nov.03, 2009, under GM, links and articles

Your expectations lose to player participation is one of the best GMing articles I’ve even read, even if the title is questionable.  Well, maybe it’s not one of the best, but it’s one of the ones I can learn the most from.  The article reminds us that in a table top game the GM is as much the lead writer as the PCs are.  Tabletop gaming is an interactive media for collaborative storytelling.  If I repeatedly make any mistake as GM it’s that I broadcast too much of my own story instead of letting the PCs tell theirs.

As a sidenote, all my links thus far have bene to Gnome Stew articles.  I really enjoy their blog, but sometimes I feel like I pimp them too much.  Any other good GMing sites worth of linking?

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I got bored and made a mapping tool

by on Jul.22, 2009, under organization

Two games ago I decided I would never again attempt to run a game off my laptop. Ostensibly this was to keep me off the computer for a few more hours each week in a belated attempt to save my carpal tunnels. In actuality it’s because the computer was too damn useful and I kept finding new ways to make use of it when I should have been writing game.

Well, I’m between games now (that sounds a lot more depressing than it really is) and figured I could invest some time into coding up my own RPG tools.

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Here we go again

by on Jul.07, 2009, under self improvement

I’m conisdering starting up another game.  Ostensibly it’s because I’m sick of being a PC, but really it’s because I miss writing posts here.

The problem is that my last game ended pretty recently and I haven’t recovered from GM fatigue yet.  Published campaigns are looking more and more attractive.  If only I hadn’t already attempted one and utterly hated it.   The other option is to run a standard game instead of my usual type of game.  The sort of thing that’s stereotypical D&D where dungeons can be stupidly complex because you don’t ask “who would ever build this thing?”

Or if anyone else has suggestions for how to deal with GM fatigue I’m glad to hear them.

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Why didn’t I think of that?

by on Apr.17, 2009, under organization, player management

Alright, so Game of Thrones is finished.  It was a good game but had some flaws.  One of the biggest flaws wasn’t entirely my fault.  We had a player who had trouble remembering what was going on.  That player happened to be a spy.  When he got caught and was explaining himself, he fabricated some pretty wild lies.  The problem was that I couldn’t tell if the character was lying or if the player simply couldn’t remember.

Now, I’d done my homework and kept a pretty detailed log on our group wiki.  The information was there, if the players cared to read it.  There was actually a lot of content there, but it was by and large ignored.  With the exception of our “rotating DM” game, I’ve never seen a game’s website get any real use or serve any purpose other than to frustrate the GM.  Long story short, I’ve been discussing this online and somebody posted a very simple, elegant way to get your players to use forums.

Post experience and loot there.  Even if your players aren’t loot whores, nobody wants to miss out on some good magic gear.  Level ups even less so.  Use the loot to get your players into your forum or wiki, and once there they may actually use it.  I think the best part of this idea isn’t even that the players will use the forums, but that division of loot will happen outside of game time.

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Kickin’ it up a notch. Musings about how to add flavor to my games at the expense of plot.

by on Feb.10, 2009, under self improvement

As I mentioned in my Lessons of NaNoWriMo post, one of the things I learned about my writing is that a structured outline does not inhibit my creativity, it simply displaces it. Instead of coming up with crazy plot twists on the fly, I start filling in details when all the plot twists are set in stone.

My biggest problem GMing recently has been a lack of flavor. NPCs turn out bland. Locations lack description. Flavor exists in the world, but I don’t bother publishing it. My theory (which came at about 1am last night and kept me up till about 2am last night) is that if I stopped writing complex plots by the seat of my pants I’d take time to invest creative energy into juicy bits of detail. After I finish this game I’m going to try running somebody else’s published adventures just to see what happens. With any luck I’ll start leaving my mark as colorful NPCs instead of Lost-esque plot twists.

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Yet another random observation

by on Jan.22, 2009, under self improvement

I had a thought.  My games tend to focus on story.  I like writing story.  Building powerful enemies feels like homework, but story is always new and exciting.  In all of GMing, nothing is more fun to me than spawning a new plot thread or tying two plot threads into one.

As much as I like story building, I don’t like story telling.  In my head I know that a story is about the journey, not the destination, but when I’m speaking (something I do frequently as a GM) I rush it.  And it’s not because I have a super cool ending that I have to show the players.  Far from it.  I rush to the end because I want to find out what happens.

If I’ve written a plot correctly, it’ll be up to the players to handle the conclusion.  So they’ve killed off the BBEG?  That’s not the end of the story.  The end of the story is what they do once they’ve stumbled into control of whatever power he was amassing.  Done correctly, I’ve given momentum to the plot and then set the players free to resolve the final conflict.

But when I get excited and rush it, the players don’t take over when I hand the game back to them.  What’s supposed to be the grand finale sputters and halts.  I’ve handed off the game to the PCs, but they’re left bewildered and don’t know that it’s their turn to take over.  I can’t blame them for dropping the ball.

Strange as it sounds I think my GMing would benefit if I hogged the spotlight just a little (this goes for NPCs as well as giving plots enough time to boil over).  I should take time to tell the story instead of pushing to see it resolved.  The more I steal the limelight, the more the players will want it back.  As it is, they’re used to taking control whenever they feel like it, and I let them because I want the game to be open and sandboxy.  Maybe denying them control is the best way to make them want to take control.

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