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.
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
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
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
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
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
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. We’ve probably each heard that several thousand times, but it’s especially true in the case of the Game Master. Burnout is a serious obstacle for many campaigns, but it is also a problem that can be alleviated or prevented entirely with a few simple considerations. Continue reading
In the last installment of Play With Purpose, we looked at how to create an exciting and deep setting with an intentional “Reveal”, basically an important event that defines an end-goal of a less linear campaign. Today we’re going to look a little more into the players’ side of things, and look at the Motive.
One of the most important tasks that a GM has in a tabletop game is coming up with the micro-scale setting. This is the sort of thing that adventure writers worry about most, but even if you’re just running a game for a few people and don’t want to use solely pre-written content for whatever reason, there are a few steps you can go through to make your content better.
One of the things that I’ve noticed throughout my experiences as a tabletop gamer and game master is that there are often times when villains are really the driving, dominant characters of the players’ adventures. They’re one of the few characters that the GM has almost unfettered power over, and when they’re done right they can become great backbones of an interesting campaign; when they go wrong, on the other hand, they become in-jokes and disparaging references.