Monday, January 19, 2015

My Two Pieces of GM Advice

The Dungeon Masters Guide for 5th Edition was recently released admit great acclaim.   Apparently, the most glowing praise is that it is "chock full of DM advice and random charts."

Okay, its the AD&D 1st DMG reincarnated.  Big whoop.

Everywhere I look, I've seen people demanding a rulebook contain a section on how to be a better DM/GM/Keeper/Referee/Storyteller/Dude Behind the Screen.   But when push comes to shove, the people who need that section the most (newbie or poor GM)  is going to gloss over things and do what they want to do.

And let's be honest, even the Call of Cthulhu d20 rulebook, which is universally applauded for their How to Run a Game/Be a Keeper section, did not provide any deep dark secrets.

The two "duh" rules of running a game

#2 Be prepared with the material

#1 Be organized

and of course, Rule #0  If everyone has fun, throw just about everything else out the window.

That all is good and fine, and it gets you to the table, but there's got to be something else if you want long term playability in a game.  So for this guidance, I look to... myself.

For all my years of GMing, I've consistently received two compliments:

A) I can step up to anything any player can throw at me in any system.  I have an answer to just about anything without cracking open a book or substantially delaying the game AND my on-the- fly decisions aren't detrimental to game play.  Even in the most railroaded scenario, where you are the engineer, starting forward, you need to at least know where the side tracks and spurs could take everyone, even if it derails the train.  And in the most extreme situation, you need to know subtle things like, what colors are the leaves beside the tracks.  Details that are consistent with game-logic should be created on the fly, not just to keep the with campaign coherence, but more importantly, to maintain GM control.  Even the friendliest players can smell blood, and even though (most) games aren't a competition, it can devolve into that quickly. 

A lot of this can be applied to the practical corrolary of Rule #0:  Never say no to your players, but the price of yes might be too high.

B) I can also take a step back, observe what's going one and formulate the ramifications of significant actions, on screen and off.   I have an uncanny knack of keeping the campaign world connected.  Not every beggar child the PCs push around becomes an evil overlord seeking vengeance, but PC actions (or inactions) may logically affect anything in the world, from allowing evil centers of power to regroup/disappear, to simply affecting the price of wheat in the region.   I pre-ordain some NPCs inherently good, while others are rotten to the core, regardless of any but the most extreme measures the PCs take.    I also try to maintain full command of the campaign setting.  My Georic fantasy games have an every expanding future timeline which progresses largely regardless of player actions.  The PCs may have affected the price of wheat in Khemmet, but that just added fuel to the fire of the civil unrests that local opposition had planned months before.    Likewise, power vaccuums are to be abhorred.  Someone, or something needs to fill that void, even if it's temporary. 

During the Journey of Mutumbo, two of the party members got kidnapped by cultists and the party was unable to rescue them, barely escaping with their own lives.   Unlike some who chalked them up as lost forever, I played out the actions of the captured PCs and NPCs around them behind the scenes.  While I let the dice fall as they may to determine who broke their charm first and used their background and previous history to determine what would happen. 

Luckily, Dalmar Sworin was the first to break the charm, smart enough to realize that playing along was the best option, and once other broke the charm and could aid him, everyone could escape and he had significant influence over these new people, even more so that the PC's party.  From there, he decided the best option was to travel the opposite direction the party had been going, and settled in the town of Saltmarsh.    The rest is documented history.

Trust me when I say that if someone else had broken their charm before the mage, the Duchy of Sworin in any form would not have existed and the power of the Kingdom of Crosedes would not be challenged as it has been since.

And pray for the entire southwestern corner of Crosedes if Thundarr the half-orgre barbarian had somehow made his save first.  

Thundarr, in his Hulk cosplay


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