Game Mastery


A quick observation on what the players get out of the game.

by on Oct.24, 2011, under game theory, GM, observations

I finally hung out with my players again.  Game ended two months ago and I’ve been reclusive since then.  They were telling some other friends stories about the game.

Without fail, all of their stories were player driven.  None of the plots that I wrote were retold.  Everything the PCs told our friends was a situation where they decided something had to happen and took the initiative to see it through.

I’m not griping that they don’t appreciate my stories, quite the opposite.  I’m proud of them for leading the narrative.  And I’m pleased with myself for giving them the opportunity.

But I want to emphasis that GMs who shut down their players in favor of a preconceived story are selfish.  Your players are not an audience.  If they want a story on rails, they’ll read a book, watch a movie, or play a video game.  They’re roleplaying because they want control over the story.  They’ll remember those times you let them drive the story.  They’ll also remember those times you shut down their plans to go off rails, but not in a good way

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Game Wrap – Travel

by on Sep.12, 2011, under dnd4e, observations, self improvement

I got a lot more mileage than expected out of the Game Wrap posts.  This last topic (for values of “last” pertaining to the original list of Game Wrap topics.  I’ll probably come up with more thoughts and observations later.  For now this is the end though) is something I’m still struggling with, because it’s something I’m still torn on.

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Game Wrap – Campaign Setting

by on Sep.09, 2011, under GM, observations, Uncategorized

This was the first campaign where I’ve fully embraced a campaign setting.  Before this I usually bit off a section of a campaign setting and ignored the rest.  We’d stick to a city or town and have an adventure there, but ignore the rest of the world.  It makes the game seem small and severely limits the scope of what you can do, which is why I preferred it for my 8-10 session long adventures.

I should add the caveat that when I say ‘campaign setting’ I mean something explicitly written as a campaign setting.  The game before this was set in George R.R. Martin’s Westeros.  I spent a lot of time rereading the books and finding resources for world info.  Going into this game, I expected my experience with Westeros to be similar to using FR as a setting.

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Game Wrap – NPCs as caricatures

by on Sep.06, 2011, under dnd4e, observations, organization, self improvement

Some time ago I wrote about trying to wear NPCs as hats.  I’m more of a method actor (assuming you can call what I do acting at all), so switching around between NPCs has always been a challenge for me.  In a previous post I discussed my plan to treat NPCs as caricatures, defining their outward traits first, never worrying about their inner psychology.

I’d link to that earlier post, but the method sucked and the beginning of the game sucked because of it.

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Game Wrap – Hold the fudge

by on Sep.05, 2011, under dnd4e, GM, observations

I’ve previously advocated the use of fudging to fix die rolls.  This game changed my mind.

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Game Wrap – If I could take back any one mistake…

by on Sep.01, 2011, under dnd4e, observations, self improvement

As I’ve mentioned, one of the themes of my last game was trying to break my own rules.  Early on in game planning I came up with a crazy idea for a backup scenario.  If a certain overpowered boss fight wiped out the party, the only idea I had for fixing it was to declare that the world had lost.  The bad guys were too powerful.  And the players would have to go back in time to slow them down, before things got so bad.  The idea only got more over the top from there.

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Game Wrap – Player Agency

by on Aug.31, 2011, under dnd4e, observations

With last post’s introduction to level skipping I encountered a problem.  I wanted to jump over some sections of the plot between levels.   When I started jumping levels, the players were in Vesperin and needed to get to Tantras.  For those of you without a ridiculous Knowledge: Geography of the Forgotten Realms check, that’s about 1000 miles1.

I didn’t want to skip over the travel.  Doing so makes light of the huge world I’ve chosen.  I use campaign settings for a reason, and to throw them out when they’re inconvenient invalidates the whole setting.  I also didn’t want to describe a thousand miles of traveling misadventure to my players.  Well, I did, but I didn’t think they’d want to listen.  Unless it came back up, they’d know it was filler.  And if it was important enough to come back up, they’d rather have a say in what happened than allow me to narrate their actions.  There’s no point in playing a game where the GM has full say in what you choose to do.

So I opted to give the players full agency of the situation.  The results were fantastic.

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Game Wrap – Level Skipping

by on Aug.30, 2011, under dnd4e, GM, observations, self improvement

This one should be short and sweet.  I thought the biggest disruption to my recent game would be getting married.  We took 6 weeks off and lost a ton of momentum.  Turns out that the Mrs. and I found another way to disrupt my GMing.  She’s due to roll character creation in about 10 days.  That’s why game ended when it did.

Being extremely slow, I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be able to run a game and manage a baby at the same time until we were about 5 sessions away from the due date.  The PCs were level 12 at the time.  I saw two options.  Keep them around this level and finish off the local plots, but leave the bigger plots unresolved.  Or fast forward between levels and story elements.  I elected to fast forward.

We played a session at levels 12, 15, 19, 24, and 30.  This didn’t hurt the story at all.  The problem was we never felt comfortable with the mechanics.  Combat was slow.  Players made mistakes.  I made even more mistakes.  Nobody felt like they knew what they were doing.  And this method gave everyone a ton of homework.

Now I don’t regret this choice, but in retrospect I’d have jumped around a little differently.  I’d have fast forwarded one jump to level 27, and then done one level at a time between sessions.  Then we wouldn’t have as much to process between sessions.

On the other hand, this 3/4/5/6 level jump between sessions really helped the narrative control, which I’ll be discussing just a few posts from now.

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Game Wrap – Let’s Start at the Beginning

by on Aug.29, 2011, under dnd4e, observations, self improvement

After game I asked the players for some immediate feedback.  Different parts of the game worked for different people.  That’s fine, it’s something I was expecting.  One of the GM’s biggest tasks is managing entertainment so that everyone gets what they like a fair share of the time.  But the one thing they all agreed on was my beginning.  It sucked.

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Game Wrap – My experience with D&D 4th Edition

by on Aug.27, 2011, under dnd4e, observations, organization

As of last night, my 4e game of the last 20 months has come to a close.   I decided to challenge myself in this game by breaking a lot of the rules I’d set for myself.  It wasn’t that I was tired of my own GMing style, I just wanted to check that my assumptions and assertions made sense.  Over the next few days, I’d like to discuss the effect of some of those changes and of some of the events of the game in general.

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