Thursday, October 10, 2013

30 Days of Game Mastering Part 1

I'm not one to jump on one of these blog memes, it's quite the commitment and I don't really have time to dedicate to 30 straight days of posting but I was drawn towards this one.  It's always useful to gain insight into methods that other GMs use in their game prep and execution.  There can never be enough tips out there for starting or veteran GMs.

So instead of daily postings I'm dropping this beat in three parts.


1. What advice would you give a first-time GM?
Go easy on yourself.  It's not all in your hands to run the perfect game, the players are part of that process too once you're all at the table.  If you've never GMed before, start with a rules-lite game.  The mechanics are generally easy to grasp and there aren't too many of theme either.  There are tons of rules-lite games out there for all kinds of genres.  Know the rules and how the mechanics work but you don't have to memorize them.  Don't plan an epic.  Put together a short and sweet scenario, one session to get your feet wet so you can get familiar with the rules and guiding a table full of people through an adventure.  And let your players know that this is your first time GMing.  Most people don't have the time or energy to dedicate to planning and running a game so they tend to be grateful that someone does and that they can participate.  They'll cut you slack.  Remember, if the game doesn't go well the first time, don't be discouraged, learn from your mistakes, adjust what you have to and give it another try.  One last point, you may think you ran a bad game but they players may thing otherwise.  They may have had the best time of their lives.  Perspective is relative.
2. What are your favorite GMing tools or accessories?
Hmm,  a pencil, some paper to jot ideas down on but I rely on the computer for most everything and transfer all my notes there (more organized and legible) .  I hand-draw my player maps but scan and finish them in Photoshop or GIMP.  I just like a more polished look on handouts and whatnot.  I use Blogger and created a site just for my campaign notes and pre and post game thoughts for me and the players.  I found that easier than all the scraps of paper I end up with.  I also use Blogger for a players gaming aid (a newspaper styled website for my ICONS campaign).  Note:  Blogger is free to use and I hate dishing out additional cash for RPG gaming stuff.  I tried Obsidian Portal, a good resource, but it was more than I needed..  Beyond that, all the random charts that I can gather from the interwebs (Hack  & Slash's right column, charts I've collected at the Home Brew).  Random charts are the greatest gift to any GM and you can never have enough.  Organizing them, however, is a different matter.
3. How do you find players?
I ask my friends.  I was looking for at least three, ended up with eight.  I think you can always find a couple of willing players out there.  They might be hard to find but they're out there.  Local gaming groups are great to get involved with and don't discount posting a flier at your game store, hobby shop, library, or college.  Start your own group - organize!  There's plenty of closeted geeks and non-closeted geeks out there!  The harder part may be finding players that are interested in the specific game you are running. RPGs are so diverse now with genres within genres that some people's tastes might be very specific.  You might have to start a bit more generic in terms of genre and then once you have a group, find more specific games you all might like to participate in.  Online is a great way to find players as well.  G+ communities or Roll 20 are good places to start.
4. Do you use pre-published adventures or write your own?
Both. I love pre-published adventures to flesh out the campaign but I hack the heck out of them - new maps or just pieces of them, whatever I need to work best in my session or campaign.  I write my own as needed using the One-Page Dungeon format.  Lately, I've just been writing outlines of 'plot-points' and 'guide' players to them or throw 'em down as needed.
5. Stealing like an artist: what inspiration have you drawn from other games, books, movies, etc?
Inspiration?  Everything from comics to movies to books.  They don't even have to be genre specific.  Western plots work well in fantasy settings or space operas as do super-hero adventures or spy thrillers.  Every type of adventure can happen in every type of genre so don't be afraid to mix and match.
6. Worldbuilding–what’s your process?
Keeping it small is the best way to go but I tend to like a general broad-stroke on the bigger picture;  the surrounding lands, major influences and players (NPCs), factions, etc.  It's not really needed at first but I just like to have a very loose big picture in mind.  after than I begin to narrow it down until I have the starting location pinpointed.  In the end, in my experience, the campaign really only takes place in a very small, small small portion of the greater world (at least at first and for a long while).  You really only need to map out a 20 mile hex.  No need to over plan but I enjoy the exercise so I work it a bit, usually I have it just running in the background of my mind and don't dwell on  it too much - letting if shape itself naturally.
7. How do you prep for the start of a campaign?
I tend to put a lot more prep into the start of a campaign.  I think it's important to set the mood and color initially, of course that  gets run off the rails pretty quickly once the players get involved.  I don't like to railroad the players at all so I like to give them plenty of options at the beginning of the campaign (rumors work well) and let them choose their path.  The rumors give the players options but I have to plan out those options, at least the initial steps.  Remember, you just have to get through that first session so you don't need too much of any one destination, but you do need an idea of what each option will have in store for the characters that first session.  After they choose a path, you can spend the time between sessions fleshing it out a bit more.  Of course, they can ignore your rumors and take things off map then you're flying by the seat of your pants.  Again, it's one session and you can flesh out that path too between sessions.
8. How do you prep for each session?
Each session takes much less time than the start of a campaign. Usually a few jotted notes if it happens to be a more open-ended portion of a campaign or reading up on the adventure (module).  Maybe writing up some NPCs.  My between game prep has really shrunk to a minimum as I try to let player actions determine the course of the session.  If I have plot points or story elements that I have planned out, I'll drop those in appropriately. I've found that if I plan too much, the players pretty much bypass all I have planned and I ended up just wasting my time.
9. Player “homework”: what do you ask of your players before and between sessions?
None.  I hate homework so I don't pass that onto my players.  We're all to busy with work and family to deal with gaming homework.
10. What are your tips for running a low/no prep game?
One or two random charts and then let the players take it from there.  The best games I've had are when I didn't have much prepared or the players took me off in some unexpected direction and I had to wing it - to participate in the unknown just as the players at the table are doing. I think that's how RPGs were intended to be played.

Coming up next:  Part 2 At the Table

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