I’m a fan of the horror genre. Aside from the annoying trend of classifying horror as “dark fantasy” do you know what the most noticeable change in the genre has been? Cellphones. Pay attention. In movies and books the writer always has to confront the problem of cellphones at some point or their tale loses its believability. The phone must be forgotten at home or the protagonist/victim must at some point check their phone and find that they have no signal. Maybe the protagonist doesn’t like cellphones or for some reason can’t use them? Whatever the reason, a story set in our world must first address the cellphone issue before placing any character in danger or they can immediately and easily call for help.Imagine how The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would have progressed if any of the people in that van had had a cellphone. Car breaks down, call for a tow truck, back on their way, roll credits. The internet is another good example of something in the modern world that can get in the way of a good story. So much information right at our fingertips. No need for even an ’80s style research montage. Just hit Wikipedia. The same problems present themselves to GMs of modern or post-modern RPGs. One of the big concerns in the last Shadowrun game I played in was the fact that absolutely every square inch of the Cyberpunk city scape is assumed to be covered by security cameras. I mean, such is almost the case in our larger cities today. We all just assume that in the future our privacy (such as it is) will all but completely evaporate. Most of the plots of good modern setting games though involve some degree of law breaking (from obstructing justice to breaking and entering). So in modern and post-modern games, just from what I’ve listed so far, our PCs are constantly connected to our global communications network, have easy access to the most comprehensive storehouse of human knowledge ever gathered in a single place, and are virtually guaranteed to be seen, recorded, and pursued should they put a toe out of line. How does one run a game under these circumstances? As I see it there are several options. First, you can do nothing. You can let your plots be easy to figure out with a little time spent on the internet, your PCs will completely avoid danger and never get lost through proper use of their cellphones, and they will be left with the choice of playing it safe or going to jail just like the real world. Your games will be boring, but on the bright side it will be easy to run because nothing will be happening. Your PCs will probably appreciate the realism even as they pull their hair out wondering what they’re doing wrong for their awesome character to have such a hum-drum life (be it picturesque or penal). I mean, all of these things in our society in the real world are there to increase the ease of living according to the rules. If you make your game too realistic, that’s what you’re going to get. There’s a reason most of us go to work every day and earn an honest living instead of living in the shadows. Second, you can ignore the problem. In the Dresden Files book series by Jim Butcher, magic fries electronics. It just does. No cellphones or internet usage or problems with CCTV for our hero. It’s kind of the blunt force approach to the problem, but Butcher does it in a very stylistic way and in his later books it becomes a plot point several times. He takes the simple way out, but I’d have to say he does it with style. This is not my preference because I kind of like the idea of magic mixing with technology. It works though and with only one catch: you have to decide to use it from the beginning. It would have seemed odd if this kind of magic/technology mutual exclusion hadn’t been mentioned by Butcher in the first page or two of the first book in this series. To use this in your game you’ll have to do much the same, otherwise introducing it later on will seem cheesy and too convenient and will break your believability for your PCs. Third, you can plan carefully to avoid the problem. We already have our three examples so I’ll keep using them. You can design your plots so that what the PCs are dealing with is so rare that it wouldn’t show up on the internet. Be careful though because if one of your players starts out as an internet specialist (a hacker of some kind) and their profession is completely useless that’s just as little fun for them as it would be for everyone else if internet mastery becomes the omni-skill making them the only character of use. Either way, computer pros will require a delicate touch because if how useful computers are now is any indication of the future, such expertise will in fact be an omni-skill to some degree or other. You can make what’s going on so personal to the PCs that they wouldn’t want to call for help. This is a very difficult option to take because it involves a great deal of thought on your part. You’ll have to understand the motivations of your PCs if you’re going to have them not use their cellphones of their own free wills. However, the books that use this tactic are always more interesting than when not calling out for help is simply the default. Think about it, are you more likely to call the cops when investigating a possibly framed or possibly guilty murder if that person is a stranger or if they’re your brother? Wouldn’t you want to get your brother’s point of view before tossing them to the justice system? Lastly, you can set up the places where law breaking will be happening to be places that aren’t under surveillance or where all of the surveillance is routed to a single, easy to find, and well labeled room so that once the PCs break in, they can eliminate the evidence of their transgressions. This too will will be difficult though because PCs are notoriously hard to predict and so you may have to think fast if they come up with something you haven’t planned for. However, if you give your PCs the benefit of your advice regularly when they come up with weird ideas (“you think that place might be under surveillance but this one camera’s red ‘record’ light is out so you think if you come at it from this angle maybe…”) you will probably be able to work things out with them. Of the three options I’ve listed here I think the last one will be the most rewarding for your game, but (if you’ve read any of my blog so far) you’ll have guessed that as my answer. I believe that designing your game around your PCs is always the better option to designing your game and then considering the PCs after the fact. The second option is a good one as well though. Just remember to be very upfront about everything. Make sure your Players understand that modern conveniences are not going to play a big role in your game and then live with that decision. Whatever you do don’t tell them that CCTV isn’t going to be a problem and then surprise them by having the cops catch them in that very manner. That’s just mean. As for the first option, I value realism as much as the next guy, but I don’t need an RPG to experience the real world. Keep that in mind. Perfectly replicating the real world is not what role-playing is about.
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.