Sep 21, 2017

Posted by in RPG | 1 Comment

Advice for Game Masters

I just listened to the Game Master (GM) centric episode of Rogues Exposed.  And like all their episodes, it was a blast. It’s not often that you can have a good time listening and learn a lot. Here are a couple of things that I took away from it, and a few things that got sparked either by the discussion, or things I noticed when I listened to their actual play podcasts.

Play the game, don’t discuss the rules

When you’re at the table, you want to play. There might be times, when a discussion about a certain rule comes up. It’s ok, if you don’t know the rule in question. In this case, lean back, listen to the discussion for a short while. And then make a decision. And stick to that at least for the reminder of the evening. Make sure to look up the question afterwards. If you can’t find a definitive answer, you might want to ask for help on the rules forum of Paizo’s website (if you were playing one of their games, which you should, because they are awesome). Report your findings to your players the next session, and tell them how you’re going to handle situations like this in the future.

Give an outline, let them paint the scene

Use your player’s imagination. You don’t have to describe every detail. If you give something they can visualize, they will fill in the gaps. If you give them details, they will concentrate on that, and leave the rest mainly blank.

Another thing is, that most humans are really bad with exact measurements. We like to compare stuff, because we’re much better at that. If you describe the size of a room, compare it to something. Make your dance club as large as a basketball field. Or as small as a single car garage.

Describe how many people are in a public scene. “You enter the Astral Plane club. The place is crowded!” These two bits of information (club, crowded) will often be enough to give the players a pretty good visual. Now add some sound: “The latest Drow Melodic Death Metal makes your bones vibrate in the the rhythm of the music.” And then, try to add another sense. Smell, taste, touch, you name it. Even some of the lesser called out senses like balance work well. A club could be filled with narcotic smoke. A martial arts dojo could smell like sweat and leather. A lonely street could smell of despair. Or Goblin urine.

Add subtle details to the scene. Describe the lighting, You could bathe the club scene in a blueish tint. Light the street with flickering neon lights. Or the shine from shop windows.

And while you didn’t give them much information at all, the image in their head will be full of detail.

Let them do the work

You can prepare everything. And you don’t have to. One of the situations I dreaded when I started GMing was the PCs going shopping. They will go into areas of the city you didn’t prepare. When they enter “Biff’s Magic Emporium” they won’t go to the desk and ask for the binder with the magic item index. Nope. They stroll through the shop and want you to describe every single thing in there.

The good thing is, you can use that. Describe them a shelf. Put random stuff on there. Say you have shelf full of tomes. Tell them that there are all kind of books. Small ones. Big ones. Some leather bound and others just a collection of papers. When they grab something, ask them what they grab. Let them describe it for you. Why should you come up with something, when they can?

You can go even further. When they look at stuff, like books, masks or figurines or ceremonial daggers, ask them about the history of these items. What they have been used for. And go with it.  A book on magical creatures could grant them a one time bonus on knowledge checks to identify a creature (if they bought it). If they find a magical tome of unbelievable power, go with it. But also ask them how this book came into existence and how it got there. Also ask, why nobody has used that book so far – and they just created their very own quest. And maybe some people that might come looking for it as well.

Find out what they like

Watch your players. Some players enjoy combats and min/maxing the heck out of that. Others like to solve riddles. To navigate social minefields at the royal court. Watch how they react to  what you present to them, to ensure you adjust your upcoming adventures a bit, to add the stuff they like. You can, and should ask your players what they liked about a session. And also, what they considered not quite ideal. Write it down. Sleep about it. And then work on changing the not so ideal stuff slightly. This might require that you throw away your idea of the deadly dungeon of amazing puzzles. But believe me, that’s better than working it all out and then see their disinterested faces.

  1. Another great write up! Love reading your stuff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *