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.
If you’ve been gaming as long as I have you’re sure to have encountered one or more of the following player types.1. The Bearer of the Perfect Character
This is the guy who comes to your game with a character whose history and experience is detailed and extravagant. At first you’re amazed at how much thought obviously went into this C-gen. Then you hear the seven words which make your heart fall “The last game I played him in…” Now you understand that the history of this particular character is so detailed because this player has been playing this same character since it was a zygote. Beware this guy. He may be willing to tone down the accumulated power of his character or change the name, but in his head the character will have reasons for this (in hiding, power drained by a big baddie, amnesia, etc), but he will always want you to allow certain things based on the precedents set by his old GMs. He will also only be able to hold on to his thin veneer of newness for just so long. Eventually he will want his character of many faces and many names to be revealed for the well traveled, knowledgeable, and powerful juggernaut he truly is. Don’t fall for it. Tell them they have to make a new (brand new and unrelated to any old PCs) character or take their business elsewhere. Trust me. You’ll be happier for it. 2. Curly
This is the guy who comes to your game, often as someone’s friend who wants to learn to game, and can’t take the game seriously. They have their character say or do things that are amusing to them Out Of Character and make no sense In Character. Usually these outbursts are followed by phrases like “C’mon. It’s just a game.” or “I’m just having fun.” or “What’s the big deal?” Dump ’em. I know that sounds harsh, but unless you’re playing something comedic like Paranoia all they can do is detract from your game and they won’t ever understand your reasons for not liking this. Getting into character and taking the game seriously are necessary parts of this past time. This person will pull the other Players out of their characters and out of the setting. Think of it like you’re directing a play. If one of your actors constantly shows up not knowing their lines or can’t get through a single scene without breaking character, your production would be better off with someone (anyone, even an NPC drone) in their place. They may be the blood brother of one of your players, but that doesn’t give them the right to ruin your game. Give them one chance to shape up and then politely ask them to go to a bar somewhere and play the class clown instead of doing it in your game. 3. Perry Mason
Also known as The Rules-Lawyer. This is the player who knows the book rules of whatever game you’re running inside and out; probably better than you do. They have all the books and have been playing in this setting for years and can guess what monster is lurking in the shadows from the first three words you speak about it like they were playing Name That Tune. How lame is that? Perry is a hard player to deal with. First of all, he wouldn’t know this much about the rules if he didn’t have a section of his heart hollowed out specifically so he’d have a place to carry the rules around with him where ever he went. He loves the rules. It is the first part of his joy from gaming. He like maps and minis and pouring over indexes. Most of all he loves being right. My primary advice is to run using a setting Perry is inexperienced with. Believe me, it won’t take him long to become experienced with it (see the above paragraph on loving the rules), but it will at least give you time to learn it along with him so you don’t have to constantly be interrupted by this guy telling you that you’re wrong. Further, you should state at the beginning of your game that you reserve the right to modify or flat out junk any rules you see fit with no warning. All modern games come published with this advisement printed somewhere in them, but it usually helps to be up-front about it. Finally, you should encourage them to give logical reasons why something should or shouldn’t happen rather than rules based reasons. “The car shouldn’t blow up because gasoline isn’t flammable in that fashion” as opposed to “The rules say that a car needs to take 30 points of structural damage before blowing up and it can’t have taken more than 25 because of X, Y, and Z.” Reward one and shrug off the other. If you’re consistent, Perry will learn this rule as well. 4. Samson
A hair cut? Really? That’s it? This is the Player that takes flaws which are extremely crippling, simple to exploit, and a little silly because they believe that if they throw themselves upon the mercy of the GM, they’ll get the extra build points and never have to deal with the flaw being used against them. Paraplegic hackers who never leave their homes, blind monks who “see” with other senses, modern day characters with phobias of elephants or polar bears, etc.Deal with this guy by being blunt as well. State at C-gen that all (not some, but all) flaws will come into play in your game and that the intensity with which they will do so will be based on the number of bonus points they granted the Player in question. The paraplegic hacker’s home will be assaulted early and often. The blind monk will have to cut the red wire. Afraid of elephants? Well the big baddie wants to meet under a flag of truce… at the zoo. Make sure this is understood at the beginning and then take a player who still tries this aside and make sure they are fine with a game populated by polar bears before beginning. Tell them that if they wanted something like this to be more flavor than substance, then they should take it for no points and you won’t worry about making sure it comes up. Then create a check list of your Players’ flaws that gave points and make sure each of them gets kicked at least once a month in a real and hindering sort of way. If you do this and follow through on it, these guys will eventually learn to take flaws based on a character idea rather than just for points. Remember to not be vindictive though. Be sure that you use your imagination and incorporate these flaws into the game in a believable fashion. There are more of these, but this post is getting a little long. I guess we’ll add to it later.
So how many people here have been associated with a game set in a borrowed universe? By that I mean any game where the contents of a story book (not a gaming book), a movie, or a television show were considered to be cannon and necessary knowledge to get by in the game? How dreadful was that? In my experience, pretty dreadful.We all love Doctor Who. However, who wants to be the local yokels staring on in wonder while the Doctor solves all the problems? I’ll tell you who: no one. We want to be the Doctor or at least one of the Doctor’s companions. However, as a GM you can’t really allow a player to be the Doctor. Too powerful, too long a history all of which happened off camera, and he’s the linchpin of his universe. The character is so central the universe (Hello? It’s named after him?) that even his secondary cast is off limits just from being so near him. Story universes like this are a bad idea because of what I like to call The Dune Effect. I’ve played a Dune RPG. It was awful. Then again, I’m not sure what I expected. If you’ve read the books you know that it is set in the future where there are three very powerful factions who control the universe. These factions have an iron grip on all that happens and no one is ever allowed to accomplish anything without their superior immediately taking the spoils of that success for their own which their superior takes from them and so on. The reason the books are neat is because they are the story of the Messiah coming to deliver humanity out of this centuries old, bureaucratic system of slavery. Without the Messiah, the universe is horrible and unpleasant unless you’re at the top. So do you edit out the Messiah and play in a universe where no advancement is possible? Do you let one of your PCs be the Messiah and edit out that central character from the story line? If so,which Player gets that PC? What about the others? Or you could try the alternative of letting the PCs be peons observing the universe changing from afar while the Messiah works his mojo. They can’t really be central to the story or the story changes because those are as set in stone as things can be (read the books and you’ll understand), but they can spend one night a week listening to you talk through the events in a book series they do have the option of simply reading on their own. Do you see where this bus is going? Same place the Doctor Who bus was heading: Lamesville. I fundamentally disagree with any game that is not drawn from a book so much as it is a carbon copy of that book. Any game of urban fantasy where you could go and meet Harry Dresden is a bad idea. Any game of high fantasy where you could find Gandelf or Frodo is a bad idea. Any science fiction game where you could go and clash with Luke or Vader is a bad idea. Period. I know we love these stories, but come on people! Do we not have better imaginations than this? Now I’m not saying that all reuse of things we’ve read is a bad thing. On the contrary, if you chose to run your game in a world that was similar to one you read about, but in which your group of PCs is the universe’s linchpin instead of the characters that were in the book, I say go for it. You just have to be careful not to reuse any important characters or plot from the book world you’re thinking of. Use the setting only. How do you tell which characters were important, you ask? Easy. Did they have any lines or walk on stage at any time? Them’s the ones. They shouldn’t even be mentioned as living in another town or something. They should be gone from the universe. Not dead, never existed. The distinction is important. What if one of the characters in the book/movie/show/whatever is a required figure for the universe to have any appeal (see Doctor Who)? Then you’re picking the wrong universe. Sorry to be so blunt, but these are the facts, people. Time to grow up a bit, flex those big imagination muscles most gamers possess in at least some amount, and think of something on your own. Oh and all of this is doubly true for D&D novels. Screw Drizzt. I mean it. Screw him till he dies from it. I hate that guy. I have never even read a book with him in it. Yet I have heard enough about him from losers mooning over evil (but not really) elves with scimitars that I can recognize Drizzt art at any con I go to for what it is. Jeez.
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.