Drawing Inspiration For Games

As a GM, one of the greatest things that I found kept me back when I first started trying to provide a gaming experience to my players was my desire to create an “original experience” for them.

This led to a number of things that didn’t work: trying too hard to be original can mean that you reject the useful methods of the past that have been proven successful, and it can also mean that to compensate for the lack of existing material, you simply pass over into the realm of spectacle.

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Improv GM’ing Dos and Don’ts: Connect the Dots

If you missed the previous entry in this series, Improv GM’ing Dos and Don’ts: Improv is not Unprepared, I’d suggest going there now and checking it out.

This is part 2 in an ongoing series about improvisational Game Mastering for tabletop roleplaying games. As such I’m assuming you know more or less where I’m coming from with regards to the preparation you need to do before starting the game.

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On Archetypes, Heroes, and RPG Characters

This was originally going to be a velotha’s flock post, but I decided that some of this should be a stand-alone thing. One of the issues with game design, I feel, is that most of it doesn’t really go down the road of storytelling. Even more narrative-focused games often do so with a focus on “story over rules” rather than following any sort of storytelling praxis.

I think that there are a few reasons for this, and I’ve got a brief breakdown of what I think GMs and designers can do to prevent mediocre storytelling in their games.

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Improv GM’ing Dos and Don’ts: Improv is not Unprepared

When I GM a game, I’m an improv guy. I can’t do it all the time, and I can’t do it with every game, but when I run a game, I tend not to do a whole lot of work ahead of sessions on specific sessions. Recently I’ve been running pretty hard on the improv stuff, and encouraging some other people to take up a similar style, but I think that I need to point out that there are a few caveats to consider that I don’t know I’ve fully explored elsewhere.

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Archetypes at the Table

As someone trained in literature through a liberal arts program, one thing that I like to think about as I design games, and as I run or play in games, is the way that modern roleplaying games fit into and defy the literary tradition. There are a lot of things that go into this; classic forms bend, break, or prove strikingly resilient when subjected to the conventions of a tabletop game; the imposition of rules and mechanics often designed to be simulationist rather than serving a narrative frequently muddy the waters and make it difficult to be fully certain where a roleplaying game session lies.

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Table Reflection: Player Responsive Tailoring

I see a lot of GM horror stories that essentially amount to “The game isn’t going the way I’d planned! Now I’m on fire, and my pet Chihuahua is wearing a fake mustache!”. Well, I actually hear a lot of the first frantic exclamation, and very little of the second, but it’s been a long week and I’m taking some liberties from reality. Frequently, the way to get what you want as a GM is to give what your players want, and use it to shape their interests toward what you will do. Continue reading “Table Reflection: Player Responsive Tailoring”

Table Reflection: Better Game Mastering Through Questioning

One of the most useful items in the human intellectual toolkit is the ability to question; as a fundamental tool of analysis asking questions is a core function of being an effective Game Master. When running a game for others, it is important to ask questions about the rules, yourself, and the players at your table to craft the most meaningful experiences for you and your players. Continue reading “Table Reflection: Better Game Mastering Through Questioning”

Table Reflection: Creating A Welcoming Table

As a long-term GM, one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced is dealing with novice players who are more than a little intimidated by joining a gaming group. In addition, many veteran roleplayers I’ve played with prefer to play in groups where they know they are welcomed and valued, and while I don’t think many GM’s host games just to belittle and exclude their players, it’s still crucial to consider presentation and readiness. Continue reading “Table Reflection: Creating A Welcoming Table”

Table Reflection: Snatching Defeat from the Brink of Success

As a GM who runs a lot of darker themed campaigns, be they cyberpunk or gothic fantasy, I’ve encountered situations where the players should not be allowed to win, but they shouldn’t be totally crushed and leave unfulfilled. The challenge then comes down to providing a satisfying play experience without giving the players a victory that unbalances and complicates the narrative. Continue reading “Table Reflection: Snatching Defeat from the Brink of Success”

Table Reflection: Seven Deadly Sins of Campaign Management

I’ve noticed that there are a lot of warning signs that I’ve seen in campaigns I’ve run or campaigns I’ve played in that can be indicators of a dangerous decline. These things, however, are all avoidable, and are hallmarks of a negligent approach to running games. After the break, I’ll explain what they are and how they can be avoided. Continue reading “Table Reflection: Seven Deadly Sins of Campaign Management”