If you’ve never played in a one-shot game, then you are in the minority. A one-shot is where you have a willing group of players, but only a limited amount of time in which to hold a game and so need something that will only last one session. I’ve seen one-shots that were actually two or three shots, but the idea behind this kind of event is for it to start and end in short order. Perhaps you have a group of old gaming friends that can only get together once in a while. Perhaps you’ve bought a book for a new game system and you just want to give it a run around the block. Perhaps your group happens to be free all on the same night and you want to game, but don’t want to play any of the games you currently have going. For whatever reason, a one-shot is what you do when you want to role-play, but don’t have the luxury of being able to schedule a regularly occurring game.Now it seems to me that building a good one-shot involves considerations that are not normally an issue for your standard weekly game. The time constraint makes keeping things moving along far more important than usual. In your standard, one four hour session per week game, allowing a player to waste one hour being bored sucks, but is really no big deal in the grand scheme of things. Let’s say that your game lasts a year with a couple missed sessions for 50 four hour sessions total. That’s 200 hours. One wasted hour is only 0.5% of your time. If you’re running a 6 hour one shot though and one of your players spends an hour being bored, that’s 16.7% of their total time down the drain. That’s a large difference and it will be one of the memories they take away from the game; “I was bored for a good portion of it.” So we have to keep things moving and keep them interesting. How do we do that? First of all, a one-shot is a good reason for the GM to have a game plan well in advance of the event in question. Know the story you’re going to tell and restrict your players’ C-Gen so that everyone makes a PC that will have no trouble being integrated into the plot. Normally I’m completely against having a plot when going into a game, but in a one-shot this is essential. In my standard games the entire first session is usually dedicated to letting the PCs meet each other and letting me figure out who my main characters are and where they will be wanting this story to go. In a one-shot, if you spend the whole time just getting to know people, your game will end right when things become interesting. Not good. Now when picking a setting for a one-shot don’t be too extravagant. Keep the environment something that all of your players are equally comfortable in and make sure that this average level of comfort is high. If you’re running in a published setting keep it as close to the book as possible because that will allow your players to make assumptions based on what they already know/have read. Being constantly told this and that assumption was wrong because your GM had a picture in their head that differed from the one you had access to can be very frustrating especially if time is limited. If you feel the need to make changes to a given setting, be as open as possible, as early as possible, about those changes. Know how long your game is going to last (about) and have out-of-game mile stones. Game start at 4pm. At 5pm the host NPC is murdered. At 6pm the power goes out. That sort of thing. This way you can have an external control on how quickly your PCs move through the story. In a standard game I’d say this is a bad idea because you should really let your PCs have more influence on how the story progresses. In a one-shot though there should be a solid schedule or you’ll never get through your story in the time allotted. Tangents come up, distractions happen, the pizza guy will be late and he will bring you the wrong order and yet the clock ticks on. Your game has to tick on as well. Finally, your one-shot should have a definite ending and resolution. Personally, I think that all games should have a definite ending and resolution, but such a thing is far easier to engineer in a standard game than in a one-shot. In a standard game, you can take weeks to climax and to sort out every loose end. In a one-shot, you only have one shot (lol) at it. The story has to make sense and the ending has to not only fit, but it also has to seem fair. No one likes working through a complicated puzzle only to find that their solution was neither right nor wrong but was instead irrelevant. Misdirection is good in a game, but when time is a factor, the misdirection should be dispensed with early enough that your PCs can cut through to the real culprit before the end. There is a difference in realizing you’ve been fooled just in time to attempt a change in direction and finding out that you’ve been fooled and there’s nothing you can do about it now. I know you know that already, but think about which one you’d chose to experience if you had the choice. Now give your PCs that one.
Don’t misunderstand me. In a lot of my posts I advocate listening to your PCs for your ques on where to take the game and that is what I believe a good GM does. However, that doesn’t mean you should do nothing but sit and listen. As the GM, it is your job to provide the options and the PCs’ job to choose the direction.Putting together a good game is a collaborative effort and putting too much of it on your PCs is just as bad as taking too much of it away from them. Also, if you contribute nothing, most PCs won’t move in any direction because they don’t know what their options are. So it is up to you to keep things moving along and be an active tour guide through the world you’re running. Here are the things I keep in mind when trying to do this: Rapid fire plot hooks. My style is to take five minutes or so with each of my Players and Q&A them on what their character’s feelings, thoughts, interests, aversions, and goals are at this moment and I don’t do it just once or every once in a while, but I try and do that at every single session. During this time I do word association with plot ideas. Whenever they tell me something about their character, I shoot out a plot hook or three, trying to get a lot in during that 5 minute conversation. Hopefully I’ll notice when one or more of the things I suggest spark some interest and note those down. Then I look at what I have from all of my PCs and try to figure out how the things they are each individually interested in could possibly be tied together Kevin Bacon Game style. You know, this event ties to that person and this interest which ties to another event and other people etc. In this way I boil down my PCs’ natural inclinations into a direction for the game to go in. Play ball. Once I’ve gotten lists of plot hooks that generated interest from my PCs I don’t stop there. Interests change from month to month and sometimes from session to session. What interested them last week may be boring this week and the very last thing I want is for my game to get boring. Try and think of the game’s focus as a ball that only one person can hold at any one time. Under optimum circumstances the ball will go from you to PC1, back to you, then to PC2, back to you, then to PC3, then back to you and so on. However, if someone becomes bored with what is going on you may find them becoming uninvolved in the ball game or you may find that a single PC has taken over all of the ball game. Maybe you’ve become fixated on a plot involving the underworld, but only one of your PCs has a solid connection to it or vested interest in that. The others showed interest early on, but since then their interest has waned. Time for more rapid fire plot hooks to ensnare them again. That may mean you have to toss out or tone down the underworld stuff, but it is your job to keep everyone involved in every session. No exceptions. Keep things moving. After session each PC should leave with two things: a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of curiosity about what’s going to happen next week. Keep a watch on them as individuals for where they see themselves as being right now and where they want to get to. It is your job to find out if they have a good idea of how to move from point A to point B or not. You may think you’ve left clues for them, but they may have missed those clues. Sure in the real world that means they flounder, but this isn’t the real world. Watch for floundering and give them a shove in the right direction to get what they want if they need it. This can be something as gentle as reminding them of the clue they got and promptly dismissed/forgot about or as blunt as blatantly telling them that they might want to call this contact or check that lead out. If your PCs have hunches and follow them, great, if they don’t, there is nothing written anywhere that says you can’t manufacture a hunch for them. Reassess reassess reassess. As I’ve said before people’s interests and their interest levels can and do change. You should constantly be talking to your PCs and gauging their interest in what is going on and modifying things as necessary. Think of each PC as an individually burning campfire over which you are cooking one part of a larger meal. Some times all the fires will be burning along nicely on their own and you should be checking the dishes that are cooking. At other times, the fires themselves will need more fuel or some adjustment or something to keep the heat where it is needed. Either way, you should always be looking for ways of interconnecting the dishes to form a more cohesive whole. However, you should also be willing at any time to toss out part of the meal if it isn’t going well and replace it with something else so whatever you do, don’t get too attached to any one component. The PCs are your primary source of momentum, but you are their source of fuel. You should never find yourself just observing the game as they play it. Even if they’re having an in-character group discussion, feel free to participate by clarifying certain misunderstandings or adding new knowledge that you think one of them should know or suggesting possible interpretations of the clues at hand. Real life has ebbs and flows, but your game should never ebb for any of your players. Be active and make sure nothing is stalling out without your knowledge.
When I was younger having a couple in the gaming group was rare and always caused huge amounts of drama as most things did when I was younger. However, it seems to have become more common as more and more of us pair up and start settling down. Lets face it, gamers either try to pair off with other gamers or they try to convince whomever they have decided to spend their life with that they should spend that life gaming. This can be difficult though because couple is a completely different entity than either of the individuals are on their own or even together (were they not in a relationship). Some people are less willing to indulge in some conversations and activities if their significant other is present. Some couples feel the need to confer on everything even if their Characters wouldn’t. How do you deal with this? Well, first you have to understand that this issue falls into three categories: Player/Player couples, GM/Player couples, Player/Observer couples.Player/Player couples are the easiest to deal with because as the GM you can enforce some policies that both of them have to adhere to. Most of this type of couple tend to have one member who is “more into it” than the other. What you need to watch out for is the “more into it” Player trying to play two characters for the price of one. Tackle this by starting your game with a C-gen session and requiring that significant others can’t make characters together. If the “more into it” Player doesn’t have a hand in the C-gen of the other’s character, they’re less likely to feel any kind of ownership of it. If the “less into it” person is inexperienced (and they usually are) assign someone other than their significant other to help them through C-gen or help them yourself (this latter being the better option). While the game is running, keep an eye out for the “more into it” Player suggesting courses of action to or performing the math/rolling dice for or even speaking for their SO’s character. Politely but firmly discount what the “more into it” Player has said (I’ve used the phrase “Hay! Who’s talking to you, chuckles?” and it worked well for me), make eye contact with the “less into it” Player, and ask them directly what they’re doing, what their roll was, or what their character said/did. Make it clear that they have to be involved. Also, taking them aside and running them through encounters without their SO being present will help a lot. In other words, cut the “more into it” Player out of the loop. A little time and attention can do wonders for meek Players and that’s really what this comes down to. Give them your time, but remember not to focus all of your time on this one Player or your game will suffer. Player/Observer couples, in my opinion, are just a Player/Player couple taken to the extreme. One person wants to come to game, but insists that they don’t want to play. How do I handle this? I refuse. No observers at my games. No exceptions. I mention that I don’t like observers in advance, but otherwise say nothing till the first session and then I insist that they make a character. In this way I turn the Player/Observer couple into a Player/Player couple and deal with it like that (see above). This may sound unreasonable to some of you, but I’ve never done this and not had the former Observer ending up becoming a Player for life and thanking me in the end for forcing the issue. 100% success rate. Hard to argue with, huh? GM/Player couples. That one’s a doozy. I’ve seen whole gaming groups crumble because of this and it’s hard to deal with because as the GM you’re part of the problem. I was once in a game where we were all supposed to make pirates. We all did, except the SO’s girlfriend who made a horse-archer. It was amazing how many boats we encountered that were built perfectly to house horses. All of the bad guys conveniently got close enough for the horse to jump onto the opposing ship. Every pirate’s treasure was hidden somewhere easily accessible by horse. A pirate captain even challenged our “leader” to a duel… that duel to consist of a joust followed by an archery contest. So lame… I was also told of a game where the SO alone was allowed to take a set of abilities which were (with some effort) able to double for any other abilities in the game and (because of a quirk concerning the way their SO’s character was built) those abilities would cost them half price in terms of xp. By the end of the game that Player had to imagine reasons for why their character would let the other Players participate in things rather than just saving the world on their own. Seriously, it was as if they had gotten twice as much advancement fuel as the rest of the team. I’m told the story was very imaginative and the game well run, but in spite of that the end game sounds more than a little lackluster to me because of the incredible power gap. Ouch. Here’s the best advice I have. Do your best not to steer the game completely in your SO’s direction. Include lots of face time with the other Players. Make a point of alternating which Player each session focuses most on. Oh, and for the love of god don’t let your SO become noticeably more powerful than the other players. If another Player becomes a little more powerful, no one will care. If your SO becomes more powerful than the others, it will be instantly noticed and the reason for it assumed (probably accurately). Finally, talk to your SO about it. The person with the GM’s ear for the largest amount of time outside of game tends to have some advantage in the amount of GM thought that has gone into seeing things from their character’s point of view. That’s just to be expected. However, if you acknowledge the possible issues and explain to your SO that for the purpose of game they’re just another player and that you may not want to discuss game with them at times they should understand. A good SO will anyway. If they don’t. I pitty you, and not just for your gaming career.
Well, I’m glad to see that you all didn’t fly away aboard the good ship Rapture with “Macho Man” Randy Savage over this weekend. If you had, who would read my blog? Oooh Yeah!Anyhow on to today’s topic. First, find a group. If this is your first game, any group will do, just get started asap. As with any endeavor there is always a reason to put it off till later and the longer you wait, the less likely you will start at all. Next, you probably shouldn’t be the GM, but if your whole group is comprised of first time gamers, someone needs to start the GM rotation and it might as well be you. If you’re going to GM, don’t do it reluctantly; jump on that shit. Get jazzed about it. The GM more than any other group member has to be into it and own it. Remember, it’s your job as the GM to keep your players interested and the story moving along. If you don’t really want to be there, it will show in your game. Pick a setting. I would recommend Pathfinder (or D&D 3.5) to start with. Avoid anything modern day or science fiction (and D&D 4th Ed which is a bored game not an RPG). We all have some kind of experience with the Fantasy setting even if it is just in the form of fairy tales so it is easy to latch on to. Also, with Fantasy your options are fairly limited at every stage of the game. This is a good thing to start with and I’d even recommend a further limiting by restricting your alignments to any Lawful and any Good. Evil is best left for later games and you’re not nearly as likely to offend any of your new players and drive them away so early in the journey. Now make a character while your players are making theirs and then throw yours away. You just want to know what they went through in this section, not to take on two roles in the group. Why no modern day games? Because we all know too much about modern day. If you run in a fantasy setting you can simply declare whether or not the king is evil or which countries are backward without the need to justify your declarations politically or rationally or historically. Also, if you’re running your game for a group of geeks, some of them will be more informed on some subjects than you are. Having your computer enthusiast friend play a hacker in your game and dictate to you what they can and can’t accomplish in your world is pretty lame especially for your first or even just an early GMing experience. Go with an entirely fictional world where science takes a back seat for your first trip out. You’ll thank me later. Don’t let the Players play themselves. For some reason (and I was as guilty of this as anyone) it is attractive to new gamers to try and imagine what their personal stats (the player’s stats) would be and then to make a PC that is them in paper’n’dice form and play that. Bad idea. Very bad idea. Think about it, if one of your friends playing themselves betrays you playing yourself. What does that say about your friendship? Besides, they get to be themselves everyday. This is role-playing. Bite the bullet and be someone else for a while. When you get right down to it, that’s kind of the point of this escapist past time. Use a table and keep the game regular. I recommend reading my earlier GM Tools post on Tables. Put simply, a table keeps people focused on what is being done at that table. This is good for new gamers. Keeping the game regular (on a certain night of the week, every week, with as few exceptions as possible) does what a table does with space except a schedule does it with time. With these two things in place you have a an easy path of focus for your group to adhere and most people take the easy path when given a choice. Trust me. It will help keep your group going. Start with a mod. A mod is a game story (with encounters, NPCs, maps, dialogue, and advice) that has been pre-written for you. They sell them where ever gaming books are sold so you shouldn’t have much trouble finding one. Or check the internet. I’m sure there are free mods available somewhere. I don’t use mods anymore, but I used to and when I did, they were a great help for a n00b GM. At the time I had no idea how to put together a story. With a mod it’s all right there for you. Use enough of them, and you should get the hang of what sort of developments need to happen at which points in a game. Once you have that down, you can take the mod training-wheels off your game and ride like a big boy. Till then, use them. That’s what they’re there for. Don’t fret if the PCs stray from the line-course of your mod. Actually, I’d say you should encourage this. As I mentioned earlier, I used to use mods and to my knowledge absolutely none of them ever turned out the way the writers said they ought to have. The mod is just a framework. It should only spark the creative juices. You and the players should supply the constant flow of it. If your players wander off to a section that has been left undefined by the mod’s author, make something up. It might be the wrong thing and it might not turn out well, but these are the risks GMs must take. Wing it often enough though and you’ll eventually learn to use those wings pretty well. Finally, don’t be too stingy with the xp and the gold (the advancement in other words) and keep the game moving along. An extremely easy combat during the first session is a good idea for any game regardless of the experience levels of the people involved and I’d say no more than one combat per session. If you’re finding that combat is taking up all of your game time, cut some of it out. I’ve seen 5 hours of gaming cover 5 rounds of combat (that’s 30 seconds of in game time) and that’s lame. All of the story development happens outside of combat so if you’re having too much combat, your story is going nowhere. Try and let your PCs level fairly often (once every couple of weeks) so they get an idea of how characters progress and so you can justify ending the game after 6 months to a year. You don’t want it going on longer than that. Why? So you can quickly move on to your next game and apply what you learned in your first game. If you never move on, you never get to apply what you’ve learned.
Running a game that is Player/Character oriented rather than plot oriented means that you as the GM need to cultivate within yourself a different set of skills than are otherwise needed. In a rule-playing game, all that’s really needed when there’s trouble is a rule book and your interpretation of those rules. Easy. However, disagreements that don’t stem from rules require you to look at the game and make decisions based on what’s best for the game while trying to keep all of your players happy. This is about the most difficult hurdle to get over for a role-playing GM.First and foremost you’ll need to be a decent judge of character. That’s character, not Character. What I mean is you need to know what kind of people your Players are, not who their PCs are (although you need to know that as well). There are lots of different kinds of gamers and lots of different ways you can define them. For example, every game has doers and followers. That is to say, Players whose Characters go out and make things happen and Players whose Characters primarily react to things that happen around them. In my opinion both types are necessary for a game, but a group with more than one doer is bound to involve an argument at one time or another. This is because doers decide where they want the game to go and are the sort of people to get upset when the game doesn’t go that way. There are gamers who only ever seem comfortable playing evil characters and those who always take the moral high road. There are power gamers who plan out Character builds to get the maximum bang for their XP buck and gamers who intentionally build their characters to be less powerful than they could be out of a desire for realism. There are Players who come up with plan after plan after plan and then there are Players who come up with no plans, but only contribute by shooting down other people’s plans. These sorts of differences are difficult to overcome because of the fundamentally disparate points of view from which each of these styles arise. If your plan as a GM is to focus on the role-playing though, it’s something you’ll eventually have to deal with. As Benjamin “The Man” Franklin once said though, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Judging who your Players are and what sorts of play styles they tend toward early on in your game should help you come up with ways of heading arguments off before they happen. For instance, having separated paths for Players to run on individually will help when your one power-gamer is able to single-handedly defeat an army of bad guys while the rest of your team is comprised of mere mortals who would get smeared by what would challenge the power-gamer. Send the power-gamer off into another part of the game to make use of their finely crafted abilities while the other Players run their characters in less dangerous (but no less important) environments toward the same goal. Think about the Jedi separating from everyone else in the Star Wars movies. Similarly, give your Players of evil PCs incentives to hide their evil natures while around the good PCs and opportunities to exercise their evilness away from the group so they can still get what they want out of the game without causing huge problems. Single out your doers and try to get their PC’s pointed in the same direction. If you can do this, you’re a good GM. If you can do this while making each doer feel that they, specifically, are the one in charge whose vision is being played out, then you’re a Mastermind and should really pat yourself on the back. Single out your followers and be sure to set aside Face Time for them so you can weedle Character goals from them while the doer isn’t looking over their shoulder to make sure all the goals are in line with The One True Doer Vision. Everyone has goals. Some people just need some help defining them and it’s best if that help comes from an unbiased source like the GM rather than from a fellow player. If your players are having trouble coming up with a plan they can all agree on, help them out with hints and suggestions. There’s nothing that says the PCs have to figure everything out for themselves. Just make sure that the decisions are all made by the PCs. Once you’re pretty sure of what they want, facilitating the movement in that direction is just fine as long as you limit yourself to making your PCs jobs easier; not taking their jobs from them. Suggest skills or possessions that would be useful. Point out clues they’ve missed or forgotten. Question flawed assumptions that they’re making and points of worry they shouldn’t be spending so much time on. Having all the facts really helps in making good plans that everyone can agree on. Anyway, to run a good role-playing game rather than a rule-playing game you as the GM will have to be the judge and jury on many points. However, making these judgments to yourself, and then helping the PCs come to those decisions each in their own ways is far better than making decrees. GMing requires being imaginative, but someone who is less imaginative and a fantastic people-person will make a far better role-playing GM than an imaginative troll. You’re still the judge, but an ordered plan doesn’t help at all when herding cats. A pocket full of catnip on the other hand…