Tag Archives: GMing

On Game Preparation

Games are static documents. No matter what supplements or errata are released after the fact, the text of a game is just words on a page once it leaves the designer’s head. What makes a role-playing game more than that, though, is the act of play. Role-playing games are different from board games or card games because unlike those, where there are procedures and set-up and specific things to do, role-playing games in their text form merely template the play experience. In traditional role-playing games, it’s up to the game master, or GM, to actually produce the play experience.

I haven’t discussed much in the way of procedures for running a game, and this oversight became more clear as I was attempting to write about how specifically to run a long-duration game in the conclusion of Meet the Campaign: Anti-Boredom. Also, and surprisingly, there’s been some discourse about game prep recently? I was under the mistaken impression that understanding how best to prep for a campaign or session was essentially a solved issue at this point, that writing about prep would mean giving advice, not taking a position.

That all said, there is better and worse prep technique, and there are better and worse games to prep for. One reason that so much of what constitutes ‘GM Advice’ in the broader RPG discussion world is merely advice on how to prep for and run a gaming session is that the monopoly game, Dungeons & Dragons, is a poor tool for GMs. When it comes to running the game D&D has been getting worse by the edition, really, and players who were raised on earlier editions, versions of the game that were much more specific about how to prep and play them, are only getting older. So if you are struggling with running your game, my first piece of advice is to stop playing Fifth Edition D&D.

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Meet the Campaign: Anti-Boredom part 3

From time to time, you’ll see the gaming press and sometimes even the broader ‘nerd’ press pick up a story about a years-long or decades-long RPG campaign. One thing you’ll immediately notice is the focus of these articles: “Meet the GM who keeps on using the same damn world”. “This group has been playing one single game for 35 years. See how the GM does it.” The GM is the key to any campaign, but when a campaign is both long and sustained, others take notice. Long and sustained is the key for an anti-boredom campaign, and though it may not last 35 years, putting in the work will help keep a long, complex, and rich campaign going for longer than you may have initially thought possible.

GMing a long-running game isn’t about shortcuts, but it’s not not about shortcuts either. As a campaign builds history and increases in complexity, the amount of work the GM must do just to keep everything straight is going to increase. ‘Lazy GMing’ isn’t a preference here, it’s a way to make sure you can do everything you need to do without burning out. This is also where much of the content of the other articles begins to synthesize. A system with more mechanics that support what you want to do will take less effort to run. A setting that is constrained but has depth is much easier to do bookkeeping for than a sprawling wasteland of 150 dungeons and ten nation-states. That said, once the game has started, all that’s left to do is run.

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Cannibal Halfling Radio Episode 18: Master Rules

The game master rules, but what rules them? How do many games leave the one running the game out in the cold, what kind of rules do other games assign to them, and what is gained in the process? Seamus and Aaron try to figure it out!

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Pacing Problems

How fast do you burn through a storyline? If you’re like me, sometimes that core conflict is approaching a climax halfway through what you thought was your campaign. Or, if you’re like me at a different point in time, you find your players have cracked the advancement mechanics on the cool new system you wanted to try and now the power curve is shooting upwards, taking the storyline in places you weren’t ready for it to go. Whether it’s from game mechanics or your own writing, it’s easy for a GM to find themselves with a pacing problem.

There are a few issues with figuring out how to pace a role-playing campaign that don’t appear in other media. The first one is simply that other media have it way easier. It might be challenging to write a novel or direct a movie, but that author or director has complete control over how fast or slow events progress. When you’re GMing a game, with players staring back at you and wondering what’s going to happen next, that control is illusory. The second is that many of the tricks we’re taught in interactive media, like video games, either don’t translate or translate poorly back to the tabletop. Once again, a lot of that has to do with the fact that there’s more than one person playing and setting the clock.

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Cannibal Halfling Radio Episode 17: Looking For Players

Aaron, Geni, and Seamus take on the task of getting new players into the hobby – recruitment methods, mechanical choices, potential pitfalls, and what actually makes someone stick around in the first place.

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The Curse of the Wandering Eyes

It’s happened to all of us. You spend weeks, maybe even months, convincing your friends to try a new game that you’ve discovered. It takes some effort, but eventually everyone buys in and you start a new campaign. Things are going well, people are getting into it! And then…Another new game is in your sights. All of a sudden, the thing you were most excited about for weeks and weeks is now a frustrating roadblock. You are a victim of the Curse of the Wandering Eyes.

While the Curse of the Wandering Eyes can strike any gamer, it’s the GMs of the world who are most acutely afflicted, and for whom the affliction can have the most dire consequences. It’s not only the GMs who actually drop games at the blink of an eye who can create group discord, any GM who looks longingly at a game other than the one they’re playing can often let those thoughts and frustrations seep into their current game, making it less fun and possibly cutting it short. What’s worse, though, is that although the grass often looks greener on the other side, when this frustrated GM starts up their next game, often it isn’t any better, and the process repeats anew.

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Cannibal Halfling Radio Episode 15: Beginning Basics

Seamus and Aaron talk about getting your tabletop roleplaying game started – how to gather up a group of eager players, how to set things up,  and how to kick them off, followed by a trip to the local starting tavern to see what all the fuss is about.

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Changing It Up Through System Jumping

A good RPG campaign usually takes on a life of its own. The longer you play, the more the characters, the places, and the events of a game overshadow the rules which you use for the game. Ironically, it’s this shift in importance away from mechanics which can sometimes reveal that the mechanics you’ve been using aren’t going to work for an important part of your ongoing game. In another situation, your campaign has taken a dramatic, albeit temporary, turn. Your grizzled heroes find themselves masquerading as schoolteachers, or your starship crew finds a rip in the space-time continuum, or your cyberpunks have to chase a villain into a virtual reality game. Whether it’s a mid-story diversion or a permanent change, sometimes you’re going to want to jump systems.

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