In the last post I spoke mostly about what not to do and that can be helpful, but not nearly as helpful as positive advice can be. If someone who normally plans out every little detail of their games decided to follow yesterday’s instructions, they’d be left with very little to go on and no experience with this method to draw from. I thought about that and decided what I was asking wasn’t very fair. So today I’m going to go over the generic steps I take when starting a game up through the first session. This will be a little long, but worth it (I hope).The first step is, I feel, going to prove to be the most difficult, but I covered a great deal of it already yesterday. Basically, when you know a game is in-coming and that you’re going to be GMing, decide upon a setting so your Players can start thinking about PCs and plan nothing else. The longer the period between when you decide to run a game and when it begins the more difficult this will be and so I’m going to repeat my instruction. Decide upon a setting so your Players can start thinking about PCs and plan nothing else. Nothing. Not even the opening scene. Nothing at all. Read the rules, look through the prepackaged scenarios and stats, it can even be helpful to make a PC yourself as long as you make peace with the idea that it will never get played. Plan nothing for the game though. Did I mention that? Nada. I know this may feel under-prepared for many of you, but it is something you’ll get used to. As a Player, I really can’t tell you the joy it gives me when I hear a GM apologize at the beginning of a game because they have nothing planned. Those are always the best games! No one but the PCs (not the Players) have come to the table with an agenda; all possibilities are open. The world, or at least the game, is your oyster. Learn to trust your PCs and love that feeling! Character generation (C-gen) should probably use as close to the baseline rules of whatever game you’re using as possible till you get used to thinking on the fly. However, I’m of the opinion that PC’s should be better, smarter, faster than the average bear and so I usually give a little boost of building points/stat points/whatever. Not much, but a bit. Also asking your PCs to come up with detailed backgrounds is a good idea and most games have useful questions for this process listed in the C-gen section. Having this from everyone will make your job as GM far easier. Restricting C-gen is something you should do with a goal in mind. For example, restricting alignments in D&D to any good and or any lawful usually makes GMing much easier. The likelihood of having PCs start out at each other’s throats is less likely. Another good thing to note is the ‘hater-changes’ rule. If one person makes an elf and another person makes a character who hates elves, the hater changes. It isn’t fair for the Players to start dictating what other Players can and can not make. That, my fellow GMs, is your job. Pulling a class because it has a mechanic you don’t want to deal with is also okay. We’ve made it to the first session and we’ve planned nothing at all for it! Right? Right. Now you’ll be tempted to simply let the PCs start out knowing each other. This is both lazy and boring. A better option is to take each Player aside and have them describe their character’s past and present to you. Take notes and contribute to the tale whenever something comes to mind. At this point most Players don’t have everything fleshed out anyway. They’ll probably appreciate you taking a personal interest in their specific PC. As you take notes, you should be able to start seeing little ways each PC could conceivably cross paths. Underline these things and keep them in mind. Remember that the scenario doesn’t need to be particularly believable or involved (the Players will be giving you the benefit of the doubt on the first session, they always do) but it does need to come from the PCs backgrounds and you’ll need to work a fight into it. I don’t care what kind of game you’re running. The first session should have a fight and I don’t mean just any fight. I’m talking about a group of adventurers/pirates/mercenaries/whatevers vs the evil kindergartners. There should be no moral ambiguity at all in the fight and no way in hell that the PCs will lose (a ‘feel-good-stomping’ if you will) while at the same time allowing every member of the party to participate. These are brand new PCs!!! They all have shiny new powers that your Players are just itching to tear the shrink wrap off! Let them. It’s okay. The PCs are the heroes of this story. Let them establish dominance on page 1. There is a caveat though. This fight should open some kind of can of worms for the PCs to deal with during the second session. They’ve kicked the crap out of a bunch of kobolds, but one got away and is telling ‘the boss’ who might have a hostage or two. Something. Again, try to pull as much from the PCs backgrounds as possible or from anything that has been mentioned which seemed to spark their interest as a group. (For this you’ll have to listen because more likely than not, the PCs rather than you will be the ones doing the mentioning) Now they’ll need to close the can of worms as a group. How do you keep them all working on it together? Easy. If you pulled enough from their backgrounds in forming the first encounter, they’ll all be invested in seeing it through. There. First session over. From here on out there are only five things you need to remember:
1) Listen to the Players.
If you do that, they will tell you where they want the game to go.
2) Keep it simple but not too simple.
Don’t throw option after option after option at them and don’t give them a single golden path to walk down. Two or three options is usually enough at any one time because they’ll make up new ones for you.
3) It’s okay for the PCs to win, but be sure that everything has consequences.
Usually, chasing after consequences is what makes up the focus for the best games.
4) Keep the game moving.
If the PCs get confused or stumped, it is 100% within your job description to give them a hint. Check their sheets, look for a background or a skill or whatever that looks like a good vector for the hint and then give it (no roll necessary because you want them to have it) to that player to do with what they choose.
5) Listen to the Players. If you do that, they will tell you where they want the game to go.