GM Tips: Questions to ask about Settlements

village-1043623_960_720GM Tips articles offer advice and ideas for gamesmasters to help hone their techniques and run their games, these lists are not exhaustive but provide some tips to point a GM in the right direction.

One of the most important things a GM can do when designing a campaign is to ask themselves questions, by doing so you ensure consistency and might also through up some important elements of your setting that can be woven into compelling stories. Continue reading

GM Tips: Nothing is universally right

After I posted my GM Tips: 5 Tips to Help Describe a Scene article a few days ago I was sent some feedback (I love constructive feedback) from Dave Sherohman via Google+, I was pleased to hear that David agreed with some of my offerings, however he did take issue (as I suspected a number of people might) with tip #4:

Original article:

When you’re describing a scene, if possible ask the players some questions to have them fill in some of the finer details, this can take a bit of getting used to if you are accustomed to a more GM-heavy style of game, but it not only saves you some work, it also gets the players more invested in the scene. That said, if the player seems to be struggling for an idea, don’t hold up the game waiting for them, tell them not to worry about it and move on, either throwing it open to the group or making up a detail for yourself.

David’s response was:

David:

I was right there with you up until #4.  While asking players to fill in details may increase investment for some players, there are those of us who will be violently torn out of the game by it.  “What does the sign say?  Why are you asking me?  My character didn’t put the sign there and has absolutely no control over what it says.”  Asking me to help you create the game world during play destroys any sense that the world already existed before I got there.

I’m not saying that technique is universally wrong, but it is not universally right, either.

This isn’t an article to get at David, like I say I love feedback and his point was very well made, but rather to point out that he was absolutely right to bring this very valid point up, something I agree with wholeheartedly.

There is no absolutely right way to GM

There I said it, what may work for one people may be no good for others, and what doesn’t work for someone else might be just the thing that your own game needs, you may hear some people on the internet bang on about secret-techniques of GM-ing or running games the right way, and TBH I think that’s absolutely rubbish.

My GM Tips articles are not designed to provide you with a 100% foolproof way of GM-ing your games, how on earth could I do that? I have no insider information on how your games run or what works for you in particular?

So you might ask yourself why I make GM Tips videos or blog posts if this is the case? Well it’s because over my years of GM-ing I’ve picked up a lot of techniques and tricks that I find work for me in my games, and I’m picking up new ones all the time from talking to other GMs, getting feedback from players, trying out new systems, running one-shots and campaigns, etc. All I can do is tell you what works for me, in my games, and hope that some of the techniques will maybe work for you or at least inspire you to think slightly differently about your own games; if one of my tips isn’t working for you then feel free to discard it, it’s not like I’m hiding in the bushes waiting to whack your hand with the back of a ruler.

That said I will be altering the intro to my GM Tips videos to make it clearer that I’m presenting you with techniques that work for me, experiment with them, test them out, if they work great, if not then either change them to work with your game or discard them.

Thanks again for bringing up a very valid point David 🙂


Picture is part of a Doré wood engraving illustration from The Divine Comedy labeled for reuse on Google Image Search, the original image can be found here.

GM Tips: Ask Questions and listen

GM Tips articles offer advice and ideas for gamesmasters to help hone their techniques and run their games, these lists are not exhaustive but provide some tips to point a GM in the right direction.

In this article we offer a few tips related to that most useful of GM resources, the players. Continue reading

GM Tips: Use Pinterest for RPGs

I’m sure most of you are already aware of Pinterest, effectively an online corkboard where you can post links to any images, web pages or articles that take your interest; this is made even easier by a variety of add-ons and extensions for most popular browsers, allowing you to right click on images and such-like in order to quickly add them to your account. Pinterest also allows you to create different boards so you can group your pins by certain themes, for example, I have the following boards on my account:

  • Interesting RP articles
  • RPG Imagery – Fantasy
  • RPG Imagery – Horror
  • RPG Imagery – Science Fiction
  • Fiction
  • LARP kit inspiration pics
  • RPG apps
  • Fantasy airships/tech
  • Fantastic landscapes
  • Spaceships
  • Weapons/equipment

Pinterest works great for quickly saving those images that you see on the net now and again but can’t think of a way to use them in your game immediately, don’t risk losing them, just a couple of clicks can add them to your board and in future, when you need some inspiration, you can look through the images and see if anything strikes your fancy.

If you want to have a look at my own Pinterest boards you can find them here: https://uk.pinterest.com/largejo/

Picture is part of a Doré wood engraving illustration from The Divine Comedy labeled for reuse on Google Image Search, the original image can be found here.

GM Tips: Introducing people new to RPGs

On 15th March Tim Kearney posted on the RPG Brigade Facebook group asking how you would go about introducing someone unfamiliar with RPGs to this great hobby of ours, in my initial response I posted the following:

I would start with something like Fate accelerated but I would introduce the slightly more gamey elements of it gradually, also setting the game in a world very much like our own using familiar setting elements from a film or a computer game that the players new.

I actually did this with some friends of mine and ran a Grand Theft Auto/Cthulhu Fate mashup as one of my first online games:

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwYzttPDj7E
Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JV1i1Xa0Bg

I wouldn’t mention the numbers behind the various verbal descriptions of stat levels, I’d handle the number just asking them to give a word rating and would take them through a very simplified stunt process (luckily Accelerated has only two simple stunt rubrics: you either get +2 for certain actions due to skill, equipment, training, etc or 1/session get to do something cool) and then jump straight into the game.

I’ve been thinking about this more since posting my original response; like any hobby the longevity of RPing depends not just on existing players and GMs but on bringing new people into the hobby, luckily the prevailing attitudes towards fantasy, sci-fi and other such things have changed from being solely the province of the geek or nerd to gaining wider acceptance (you only need to look at the popularity of TV shows such as Game of Thrones to see that). However, this increased acceptance is counted (at least to some extent) by other forms of entertainment that clamour for people’s attention, game consoles, HD films, etc.

So, keeping that in mind I thought I’d write this article containing a few pointers about getting new people into RPGs, please note this list is not exhaustive:

  1. Use a genre that your prospective players are familiar with and enthusiastic about
    If your prospective players are always bending your ear about how much they love Star Wars, the works of HP Lovecraft, Conan or whatever then consider running a game set in a version of that universe, not only does it mean that the player will be comfortable with it, providing one less barrier for them to overcome, but if the subject is popular and well-known then it will make your internet session research a lot easier.
  2. Choose a very simple rules system
    It must be very disheartening for someone potentially interesting in RP to sit down and then have to trawl through a really lengthy and tedious number crunching session to create a character, you want as few barriers to their interest as possible; either choose a very simple rules system or, if you must use a crunchy/simulationist system, try to take some a lot of these rules onto your own shoulders leaving the player free to concentrate on the exciting story and getting involved.
  3. Emphasise the element of personal choice
    One of the main differences between tabletop RPing and things like computer games it that the PCs can attempt almost anything within a TT RPG whereas you are normally restricted to pre-programmed responses in a computer game. Make the player aware from the start that they can do anything they want within this fictional world (although there may be consequences in game), I would also advise having a few pre-genned encounters tucked away though, if the player struggles with what to do then you can always wheel one of these encounters out to keep it interesting.
  4. Make your plotline simple with a definite goal
    For the person’s initial game you want them to come away with a sense of accomplishment and having enjoyed the game, this makes them more likely to come back, the player will be getting to grips with the idea of the game during their first session there is no need to further bamboozle them with some intricate machiavellian plotline, make your first plot simple, a few suggestions are given below:

    1. Rescue someone from a villain or monster.
    2. Retrieve a treasure or item.
    3. Explore a dungeon or ancient stronghold.
    4. Bring a villain to justice for a crime.
  5. Sell your setting and the hobby
    Assuming that you want the person to become a regular player than you really need to sell the setting and the hobby in general to them, make your descriptions vivid and interesting, put on some silly NPC voices, if you have them use some props and pictures to bring in a visual element, that way you can be sure when the person goes away they enjoyed themselves and were enthused by the game, this makes them much more likely to return.

 

Picture is part of a Doré wood engraving illustration from The Divine Comedy labeled for reuse on Google Image Search, the original image can be found here.

GM Tips: 5 Tips to Help Describe a Scene

GM Tips articles offer advice and ideas for gamesmasters to help hone their techniques and run their games, these lists are not exhaustive but provide some tips to point a GM in the right direction.

In this article we offer five tips to help with that most important of all GM skills: describing a scene.

1. Make liberal use of adjectives

Adjectives are words that describe a noun or object (for example: ancient, bleak and deserted), using a slightly different term to the usual can help to reinforce your description of a scene.

For example: Rather than saying

You approach the old house.

Try saying

You walk towards the decrepit, abandoned mansion.

The second example has far more impact and builds more of a picture in the player’s minds, if you need some samples to get you going you can click here for a handy list of adjectives.

2. Don’t neglect the other senses

Although vision is a keep sense for most of us and features greatly in our descriptions, do not neglect the other senses, how does a place feel? What is the temperature like? Are there any sounds? Is there a taste in the air? All of these sense can help to boost your description, to use our abandoned mansion example

You walk towards the decrepit, abandoned mansion, the air feels cold and there is a coppery tang to the air.

3. Show, don’t tell

If it’s possible, rather than telling someone that a building is old or that a pathway is much used, show this using the environment; perhaps if the town is abandoned then buildings are literally falling down or plants have overgrow much of the architecture, or perhaps the cobbles of the path are worn smooth by the passage of many feet.

You walk towards the abandoned manion, it’s cold and there’s a coppery tang in the air, the windows of the building are broken and cobwebs cover the building.

4. Encourage your players to fill in some of the details

When you’re describing a scene, if possible ask the players some questions to have them fill in some of the finer details, this can take a bit of getting used to if you are accustomed to a more GM-heavy style of game, but it not only saves you some work, it also gets the players more invested in the scene. That said, if the player seems to be struggling for an idea, don’t hold up the game waiting for them, tell them not to worry about it and move on, either throwing it open to the group or making up a detail for yourself.

You walk towards the abandoned manion, it’s cold and there’s a coppery tang in the air, the windows of the building are broken and cobwebs cover the building. There is a peeling sign on the lawn, Micheal what does the sign say?

5. Have your NPCs and events reinforce the theme of the description

If NPCs are really at odds with their surroundings this can be quite jarring, for example if a bouncy young estate agent came skipping out of our abandoned mansion; if that’s the effect you want then great (perhaps the building is due for renovation and the estate agent represents progress or the gentrification of the area), however, if you want to reinforce your description then the NPCs and encounter should reflect it.

You walk towards the abandoned manion, it’s cold and there’s a coppery tang in the air, the windows of the building are broken and cobwebs cover the building. There is a peeling for sale sign on the lawn, sitting in a rocking chair on the veranda is an ancient man with a wrinkled face and a white beard running down past his knees.

 

Picture is part of a Doré wood engraving illustration from The Divine Comedy labeled for reuse on Google Image Search, the original image can be found here.

GM Tips: Plot planning – Excel method

Here is a simple way of laying out and tracking plot, based on a post I saw on a Facebook group about writing and planning out structure for novels. Continue reading

Tabletop Rambling: GMing Voices in Your Head

Whenever anyone prepares to run an RPG there are various questions and worries that go through your mind, this is short video about that:

How I use Fronts in my Jadepunk Game

Recently I chatted on-air with James Chambers about the organisational aid called Fronts that is featured in the various ‘powered by the apocalypse’ games (Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, Monster of the Week, Tremulus, etc) and how they could be used in other games to help a GM organise their plots and keep track of what is going on. You can find the video here:

You can also find more about Fronts and how they work specifically here: http://www.dungeonworldsrd.com/fronts

Essentially a Front is a GM tool where you create adventure and campaign fronts, each of which features a number of dangers (opponents, hazardous lairs etc), an impending doom (how the world will be changed for the worst if the plot reaches it’s conclusion) and grim portents (events that occur as your campaign progresses to move your plot forward). Each of the PbtA games offers a number of different potential dangers (related to their theme and type of game) and sample moves or actions for those dangers to take.

For example: An oppressive government might have “kidnap an enemy” as one of their potential moves.

This great as a GM tool because it allows you to create your fronts and have them written down for easy reference, the abbreviated form forces you to think about what is important for this particular plot rather than going OTT and writing hundreds of pages that don’t end up getting used and also any time you have a spare moment or a lull in your game you can have a look at the list of moves for the dangers on your Fronts and use one or more of them to move the plot along.

 

I think Fronts are a great way of GMs keeping track of their information and it is a technique that I have taken to using in most games that I run; below are some examples of Fronts used in my currently running Jadepunk game.

If you are one of my players then please do not read this until after the game has concluded.


 

Campaign Front

  • The 13th Governor’s plans for Kausao.

Dangers

13th Governor (warlord, dictator (Apoc World), impulse: to control)
Impending doom – Tyranny (creating a world government with Kausao at the head)
Grim portents:
1 – Uses Windrider crash to justify more draconian laws.
2 – Recruits volunteers to create a new organisation ‘The All-Seeing Eye’, building a new facility on the site of the old Council of Nine building.
3 – Marries Kaiyu Misake, Empress of the Kaiyu Nation.
4 – Uses black jade clockwork and allies to take control of Aerum Nation.
5 – With two of the major nations behind it Kausao becomes the new capital of the world, Governor declares himself Emperor with the head of each nation serving as his viceroys.

Isaku Sota/Sota Family (grotesque (Apoc World)-crave mastery, impulse: to create a clockwork empire)
Impending doom – Pestilence (the replacement of weak flesh with machinery, and the rise of clockwork over primitive biology)
Grim portents:
1 – Provides clockwork warriors in return for access to black jade.
2 – Performs horrible experiments in an attempt to understand black jade.
3 – Manages to create the worlds first “synthetic jade” blood jade.
4 – Discovers a way of using blood jade to create intelligent clockwork creatures.
5 – Sota’s clockwork warriors forcibly convert their creator into a clockwork creature like themselves, he becomes the Iron King.

Kaiyu Misake (impulse: absorb those in power & grow)
Impending doom – Tyranny (ensuring that the Kaiyu nation (and herself personally) become one of the pre-eminent world powers)
Grim portents:
1 – Misake becomes Empress of the Kaiyu Empire following her father’s death.
2 – Brings Kaiyu navy to Kausao to support her husband, becomes a devout follower of a deviant sect of the Way of Suffering.
3 – Calls upon Kaiyu allies to help overthrow the Aerum Empire.
4 – Begins to host lavish parties for nobles, encouraging debauchery and that they take joy in their exalted status.
5 – Is given control of the All Seeing Eye, Kausao becomes a place where no-one dare speak out against the Governor or Misake lest they be arrested by the secret police and enslaved to one of Misake’s Sybarite dens.


Adventure Front

  • The Aerum War on Kausao

Dangers

Kausao Government (ambitious organisation, impulse: maintain the status quo)
Impending doom – Usurpation (replacing the current Aerum regime with one more sympathetic to Kausao)
Grim portents:
1 – Isaku Sota presents the Governor with mechanised armour for his soldiers (adapted from his own clockwork armour).
2 – Using the mechanised armour the Governor launches a full scale assault (backed by the Kaiyu) on the airship fleet.
3 – The Kaiyu are unaware that a group of Shadow Warriors were dispatched to the Aerum Nation as soon as the Governor received word of their potential dissatisfaction; the Shadow Warriors strike and kill Aerum Koji the ruler of the nation.
4 – Using agents in the Aerum government a puppet ruler who follows Kausao’s lead is chosen; he then requests the assistance of Kausao in putting down rebels.
5 – Governor sends mech-armoured troops to back up his puppet ruler, Aerum nation now becomes a satrapy of Kausao.

Aerum Koji/Aerum Nation (Horde, impulse: to grow stronger and overcome all resistance in Kausao)
Impending doom – Tyranny (annexing Kausao and making it a province of the Aerum Empire)
Grim portents:
1 – Aerum Koji realises that Governor is moving to a pro-Kaiyu stance and realises that the Windrider incident was designed to disgrace their nation as a prelude to most overt hostile actions by the Governor.
2 – When word of the wedding is received Koji dispatches an assault airfleet to demand the Governor stands down.
3 – Airfleet come under attack from the Kaiyu Navy and the Governor’s forces, eventually they are defeated by the new mech-armoured troops.
4 – When word of Koji’s assassination occurs and word of his replacement reaches the airfleet many of them realise that the Aerum Nation belongs to Kausao, and rather than give in they take their ships and retreat into neutral lands becoming rebels and hoping to one day free their homeland.
5 –

Uddoratto Syndicate (ambitious organisation, impulse: to infest from within/take by subterfuge)
Impending doom – Impoverishment (seeking to prolong the conflict so that they can get maximum profit out of it)
Grim portents:
1 – The original plan was for the Kausao forces to wait until they were fired upon first, a member of the Uddoratto accidentally ordered a bombardment from the Kaiyu navy to begin.
2 – Uddoratto members attempt to leak plans for the mech-armour to the Aerum forces.
3 – During the chaos looting is widespread, many of the goods stolen fall into Uddoratto hands or are fenced by them.
4 – When the Aerum are defeated, it is a member of the Uddorratto Syndicate who is elected to rule the country on the Governor’s behalf.
5 – Under their rulership the Aerum Empire becomes a dark place ruled by bandit lords and brigands.


 

 

The Importance of Feedback in RPGs

No-one starts off as the world’s best GM, when I think of how truly shocking that very first game of WFRP I ran was I give a little shudder, but at the time we all had fun and we learned a lot from that first game; I always say to people that there’s nothing wrong with not being a perfect GM as long as you’re always trying to improve and you’re putting that effort in.

One of the best ways to improve you games is to solicit feedback from your players, now you can ask players for feedback in the aftermath of a game session but some people don’t feel comfortable giving feedback in-front of others or need a bit of time to reflect on the session and get their thoughts in order; I find it best to ask for feedback a day or two after a session has completed. One other issue with feedback is that it can be difficult for players to know where to start or what sort of feedback you are looking for, after all someone just saying “the session was crap” might be accurate in their eyes but it’s not particularly helpful from the perspective of a GM seeking to improve their game.

So what can I do?

The best way that I have found to get feedback is to make a feedback form available to players shortly after the session that asks them to rate various facets of the game and also asks specific questions, this not only makes it easier on the players but also ensures that you get the sort of feedback that will be useful to you as a GM.

You can find an example of the feedback sheet that I use for my Jadepunk game by clicking on the link below:

Click here for Jadepunk Player Feedback Form

feedback-t2