I’ve played a lot of different games in my time. Some of them were good. Some sucked. Some were unremarkable except for a single new mechanic. A few were awesome.Probably the best Superhero game system I’ve ever encountered has to be White Wolf’s Aberrant. It’s a great dice system and the powers are list driven (as opposed to free-form or lego styles). Those of you who are familiar with White Wolf should have some idea of what their dice systems are like. All rolls are non-percentage based d10 rolls. Skills, stats and powers are on a 1-5 scale and most rolls combine a stat and a skill (and sometimes a power) to make a pool of dice you roll against a given difficulty and then count up successes. Finally you have the White Wolf patented power stat (every game has one) that is rated 1-10 and which rates your power level in the grand scheme of things and which you will never really get higher than 4 in any given game (not sure why, but this is the way White Wolf makes their games). This system is at the same time simple and very flexible and once you understand the basics, you can crank out a character in 10-15 minutes. Two things the Aberrant setting has going for it are the realism factor and the lack of comic book representation. Running a game in the DC or Marvel worlds can be interesting because of the shared understanding and love of those worlds, but it is also problematic. People who obsess about those worlds tend to be the ones who want to play in them and because of their obsession, they are also the ones who can’t take it when you modify the world. That’s a flaw in any system set in those worlds because most problems can be solved by one NPC or another in those other worlds far better and than they can be solved by the PCs. As a GM you now need to come up with some reason why these other beings are indisposed without (god forbid) killing them off. Makes for a very lame experience all around. I say the Aberrant setting has a good realism factor and what I mean by that is it really represents how I think our society would change with the introduction of super heroes. Super charismatic rock stars, super strong sports players with enormous product endorsement deals, scientists cutting up super heroes to find out what makes them super, secret government super hero groups, the old X-men stand by of “live with the humans or dominate them”, etc. There is still the problem of the world containing NPCs who are far more powerful than the PCs and so would probably be the ones to deal with the really serious problems. However, most Players won’t get nearly as bent out of shape if you decided to kill off Divis Mal as if you killed off Magnito for the sake of reducing the power level of the world in general. The lists of powers are even pretty comprehensive. I can only really think of one style of comic book hero that is difficult to make in Aberrant: Spiderman. Walking on walls, super strength, the webbing, even the “spider sense” are all doable. The problem is in the fact that Spiderman survives most things by not getting hit rather than being tough. I don’t know what to tell you, all of the White Wolf systems universally have that problem. It is always easier to build the character who can’t miss than it is to build the character who can’t be hit. Just a quirk of how the rules come together.
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.
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.
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.
I may be alone in this but whenever I meet a gamer who wants to tell me back-in-the-day stories about their campaign that went on for twelve years and everyone eventually ruled the world and killed every dragon and beholder in existence the only opinion I can muster is one of “Oh you poor thing.” In my experience games tend to fall into two categories. Those that go on for freaking ever because the GM or fate won’t/can’t let it die, and those that fizzle because schedules change or there’s an unsurvivable disagreement or whatever. I thought about this long and hard and realized that these two categories exist for a single reason: most GMs have no idea how to tell a cohesive story.A good story has (among other things) a beginning, a middle, and (pay attention here) an end. Most GMs can manage the first two, but have it in their head that their game shouldn’t ever end for some reason that completely escapes me. All things end. Make peace with the idea. There, now that you’ve made peace with it, plan for it. The games I run usually last around a year. Any more than that and they seem to be dragging on to me. Any less than that and they usually feel like they’ve been cut off mid sentence. That’s how I run my games and that’s also how I like to play in them. Much like when I read a book, if a game doesn’t have a definite story to it with a climax, resolution, and ending it becomes boring. Now I can hear your question already. “If you say that planning your game out in advance is bad, how do you plan out an ending?” Good question. This has to be done while the game is being played so you’ll need to have a good sense of timing. Remember, planning something before your players have told you they want it is bad. Planning around the things they’ve told you they want to happen is good as long as your plans are extremely flexible and easily junkable should they prove unnecessary. Use the beginning to figure out what stories each of your players want to adventure through and define some goals. Use Face Time to ensure that each of your Players has personal goals and progresses toward those goals and Group Time to work on group goals in the same way. All goals should come from character histories and descriptions. As few goals as possible should be simply inserted by you. Short term mile markers (little victories) should be used in the beginning to keep the game clipping along. The middle should be where you and your group learns more about what their goals actually look like, learn what is in the way of those goals, which of those goals are more important than which ones, and work toward defeating the most relevant and pertinent obstacles. By this time you should have weeded out many the lesser goals and such that you gathered in the beginning. These goals should be solved as little victories and tied in to longer term mile markers toward the end goals. Try as best you can to have most resolutions point in similar directions toward the goals that are rising to the surface for your group as the important ones. Above all else keep in mind that you should be listening to your players for which goals are more important than others because it’s the level of importance to the PC that counts. The ending should be when everything is tied off, ultimate success or failure determined, and the whole thing should be rounded off with a big Q&A session so your Players can ask you about the bits they didn’t get a chance to fully explore. If you’ve done your job up till now you’ve found ways of tying together many of the personal and group goals so that everything the PCs are concerned with is moving in largely the same direction. By now you should have been able to find something that is equally important to all of the PCs (saving-the-world-esque) so that even if they are not the most compatible of groups, they all will work together for this common goal. Having a group that splits up to follow their own tracks in mid game is not a bad thing as long as you already have an easy trigger to bring them all back together again. Then all you need is a big finale. A two-parter is usually a good idea because it makes the whole experience all the more memorable. Success shouldn’t be guaranteed, but keep in mind that your players are at the same time the readers of your story and the main characters. A resounding failure will probably not make anyone happy so if you help them plan for success, they will be able to succeed and still feel that it was their planning that did it and not you just letting them win. It’s a fine line to walk, but after a year of playing this game, you should have the benefit of the doubt from your players. Then when everything is finished don’t forget to explain all ambiguousness that might be left over and it is okay at this point to tell your Players when there was something you had no idea what to do with. Full disclosure in the end is best, in my humble opinion. So, beginning, middle and end. Then switch GMs, jump systems, or if you’re all in the mood for more of the same, start over with new characters and new goals and whatnot. The end of a good story is always a little sad, but if none of them ended, we’d only ever get to experience one in our lifetimes…
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.