GM tips | KingSpoom's RPG Design & Theory Junkyard

GM tips

Okay, this time I'm going to talk about GMs and a couple of the things they can do to improve areas of their game. Although some of these things could draw parallels to video games, the primary focus is on pencil and paper games.

There are a few things that I don't like about standard pencil and paper games (now to be referred to as pnp games) that exist in just about every campaign, but really don't have to. All it takes is a little effort and these things can be ehanced. Not only that, but everything based around them is also improved. Let's start with entrance sequences.

Little attention is often given to how things (ie: the party) come together in the beginning. Many times you will find that a misfit group of adventurers is sitting in a bar for no apparent reason, all individually at this point, and something happens to which they all react and form a group to overcome. We've all seen it a million times by now. The problems I have with this 'technique' is not just the rare occurance of something like this happening. Sometimes there's little to keep the group together after the fact. The last thing you really want to do is get people thinking, "Would my character stay with these other guys and do X?", especially right at the start of the campaign. It will lead down a long road that can change the flow of the game.

Why is that such a big deal? Well, the point to be taken is that it's so easy to avoid, especially with characters that don't start off at the bare minimum adventurer level. The simplest thing to do is to start them already adventuring in a group. Before the campaign has started, let everyone know that they are in a group with everyone else, and don't skimp on the 'why's or 'what's of the situation. Many people in authority just don't have the resources or time to manage the problems of all the land they control. At the point where they start losing influence (and likely well before), it makes sense to look for a sort of 'task force' of adventurers that can get the job done, be paid a reasonable salary, and perhaps even make the person in authority look good. It's the kind of thing the player's can enjoy because of the continuity (ex: the lord may give them quests to keep the game going), and the extra rewards for a job well done.

Another problem that commonly occurs is a breakdown of story. This isn't anyone's particular fault, but it does generally occur because of the GM. There are a couple of things to remember here. First off, you shouldn't base a key point of the story around a single clue with a single answer, especially when time is on the line. If the player's fail to solve the problem (or they only do so by metagaming, and their character's wouldn't be able to solve it), then you end up at a sort of dead end. In practice, that's not necessarily a bad thing to do. If you run your game like a storyboard as it relates to each major aspect of the game (instead of it relating to the PCs and how they will interact with it, and the results), you can avoid a lot of the pitfalls of the party running the story into the ground. It is also nice for the PCs to have a place to return to when they are lost about what to do next, and this is where the authority figure comes into play. However, recognizing that we were just bailed out by an NPC isn't something most players will want to see, much less see often. Riddles, puzzles, and mysteries are fine, but you should reward the characters with valuables, not the story. Be especially wary of brain busting activities that take a lot of time to solve, even if it's easy.

One more thing, before I end this post. The rules. The rules are important, because they are the things that give the player power. Yes, they do also limit the player in ways, but the rules are a standard between which the player and GM communicate. PC-1 wants to charge and grapple his enemy. If everything is in place, both the GM and PC know what is going on, and how to resolve the situation. The problem comes in when the GM tries to change a rule on the spot.

Changing rules isn't always bad, but you should try to get all the rule changes done before the campaign starts. When you have to change the rules in the middle of a campaign, you've likely retroactively changed the path a PC has taken. Situations like this in pnp games are some of the reasons why people will quit groups. The great thing about pnp games is that, since it's easy to change things, you can also offer to the PC, the ability to retrofit his character with alternative things he would have picked. Some other things to help avoid this is to pick a system that is familiar to you and to allow a situation to pass that you think was unbalanced, and then discuss it with your players. If you feel the situation is likely to return, you can come up with a compromise together. Perhaps, though, there is already a solution in place that you missed. Such is the case with the d&d spell Rope Trick.

1 Comment:

Whamms said...

One of the best campaigns I ever led went from somewhat interesting to fantastic because of a split-second, time-filling decision. 1 of my players was gonna be 3 hours late, 1 had to leave four an hour and a half, but 2 were ready and rearing for action upon arrival. So rather than continue the campaign, I did a prequel adventure, introducing the latecomers as they showed up. No one cared that the party was 3 levels higher than they started out, and since I hadn't bothered with an explanation at the outset of the campaign, this gave the characters a lot more connection to one another in a very organic way.

Great blog, btw.