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What I've learned as a Gamemaster…

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What I've learned as a Gamemaster…

Post Number:#1  Postby The Keeper » 11 Sep 2010, 14:00

I got started in gaming in 1983. See my story here.

I became a Gamemaster only later, though, in 1986. And it wasn't AD&D or even D&D. It was Mechwarrior, 2nd edition. At that point I had always been the player so going from interacting with the story to presenting the story was a jarring transition for me. I did not know what to do or how to do it, even if I knew the rules. My style of storytelling was essentially, "You're here." "What are you doing?" Not exactly motivational I suspect. Learning how to be natural, or at least able to smoothly relate the details the players needed to know was a process. I will come back to that a little bit later. But if you want to get an idea of that process now, go here.

Once I had the process down though things finally began to even out and I took to running a campaign in AD&D around 1992. AD&D being what it was the rules were easy and I was able to smoothly (or so I think) relate my plot points and details. In 1995 I switched to Rolemaster as a player. I eventually started GMing for RM in 1996 or so. I just converted my AD&D campaign over. At this point I was with a group of intelligent players (two of whom are long time friends, one of them already having been in my AD&D campaign). This was another difficult transition for me as RM had far more rules and I was doing far more thinking of how to utilize the rules than I was relating the story or plot details. I was reacting and not being proactive.

I mention this bit of history to point out the importance of planning. I'm lazy, so even though I like to game, I hate to plan a game. However, this is something I have learned that I need to do. If I have things planned then I can focus on referring the game and not trying to figure out where things are going at the same time I am trying to work through game mechanics. That's also another point. Know the rules! If you know the rules, then you do not have to think about things other than referring and following your storyline when you are running the game. I have recently had to smack myself upside the head for both things.

Another thing I have learned is in relation to wanting people to like me. That's a bad fault to have in a GM. Sometimes the players are not going to like your decisions. But I have long allowed the possibility that a decision may not be liked or a certain occurrence may not be liked to dictate my decisions. It's had the opposite effect. I have killed NPCs that the PCs have liked and I have created paper tigers for combat scenarios. Both things have led to a certain lack of respect for my GMing, although I hope that by now I have made up for it. This too, is again, where planning comes in to it. If you know (generally) what the plan is then you aren't reaching to pull a rabbit out of your hat only to find it's either too powerful for the PCs, not powerful enough or just something that nobody cares for.

Planning also allows you to consider possibilities and plan for those. It gives you the ability to consider more than one way to solve a problem and then give that concept to the players. Nothing (I have discovered) is more irritating than for the GM to present a goal, the players to follow it and then because of the GM's lack of planning or the deficiency of the characters involved, the goal becomes unattainable! Always provide a way out of any situation (combat included) for the PCs. If they are too recalcitrant or dumb to take the out, then that is their problem!

Which leads to something else I have learned recently regarding character death. Death of a character was one of those major things that I avoided at all costs! I knew how attached I was to my characters. Most people are the same way - especially when you have invested many real years in to the character (as some of my players have). But what I recently learned was to let the die rolls lie. Sure, you can cover for bad luck and crappy rolls sometimes, particularly when it's important, but in general, let the die rolls lie. And that goes double if the problem the PC is in is because of their own stupid mistakes (especially if they had warning signs all along). This is easier to swallow if you have a system such as I have adopted. Fate Points (FPs). A player can burn an FP for a reroll of a crit or a skill roll, or whatever. They get a second chance. If they burn through their FPs or not, then that's on the player. I used to look down on this idea until I realized that it provided the best of both worlds for me. The players know that they have an option to save their character and I as a GM know that if the call means really bad news for the character then the call was arrived at fairly and the player had their opportunity to save themselves. There can be no argument or hurt feelings.

Getting back to my very first point, this frees me to just be a GM. Which I have also recently learned is what I should be doing. I'm not a storyteller and as a GM, I don't have to be! My job is to relate the details and referee the decisions. I can focus on doing that now because I am not worried about whether or not I turned a good phrase or described something in a cool manner! Which brings up another point.

We are all involved in RPGs (any game) because we want to have fun. If only one side, the players or the GM, is having fun then there is a problem. If no one is having fun, then you have a big problem. As the GM it is your job to give the players a good time. That's what they are there for. Let them direct the path of your story. Let them determine which direction they want to go in, whom they wish to interact with and what plotlines they care to pickup. Do not throw obstacles in their way to get them "back on track!" Depending on where they go give them options that expand or support that direction. As a GM you'll have fun too. If they decide to follow your storyline than great. They will be far more likely to be involved and do what you hope than if you try to force them to go where you want. Also, do not delay them. I mentioned obstacles. Well, don't give them an objective and then block their way. And by that I mean with side adventures or material. The naturally occurring things, like the evil wizard trying to stop them from killing him is fair game. But creating new things that are not related to the objective distracts and irritates the players.

Now I am going to add some things I have learned because of the current form my gaming takes. My friend and I game on Sunday nights. Since he is in California and I am in Arizona the only possible way to do this (free of charge) is via Skype. So, we connect and go. But we have only about 4 hours or so. What this has meant is that as a GM I am now defining one goal per session so that something is achieved by the end of the night. I have passed responsibility for dice rolls to determine damage caused to NPCs by my friend to my friend while I take care of the damage done by NPCs to him. This has removed a considerable burden from me as I am no longer flipping between charts making him wait and chewing in to our session time. This along with dice rolls standing, and FPs have made things much quicker.

I'm still trying to work out however, how to visually get my concepts across without having to send my friend a sketch all the time!

I hope this has helped someone. I welcome all comments, especially if they help me become a better GM.

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