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.
One of the most crucial parts of character development in tabletop games occurs, at least chronologically, before the campaign begins. As a form of collaborative storytelling, every character should, at least barring extreme circumstances, have some background with connections, family, and a history. Unfortunately, many games and groups overlook this aspect of play, despite the fact that it can be simple and fun to implement.
When running a campaign as a GM, especially a free form campaign, it’s important to consider what the end effect of each of your actions and stories will be. One of the most common novice mistakes, including one that plagued me for years, is failing to consider the impact of even seemingly small contributions to the campaign. In a free-form campaign, this can mean that the game doesn’t gain traction and doesn’t get the full dramatic effect, but it can also have dramatic consequences for any game, including a gradual descent into meaninglessness.
One of the challenges as a GM of a decently sized group is being able to know how everyone will act with their characters. The largest issue I’ve seen with this comes from d20 games in which there is a Lawful/Chaotic and Good/Evil scale, or with characters who are inspired by similar “I’m X and Y” archetypes, because quite frankly I’ve never seen two people with the same definition for any alignment who haven’t exchanged notes beforehand.
One of the crucial steps to becoming a great GM is to figure out the style in which you operate. This will help you figure out the pathway to successful games that don’t burn you out and that allow you to create the best experiences for both yourself and your players. This style really boils down into three parts; your relationship with your players, your role at the table, and your way of storytelling.
Cheating in games is considered one of the prime misbehaviors to occur in a roleplaying experience. As a long-time GM, I’ve seen all sorts of cheating, and there’s probably more that I didn’t see going on. However, as a GM, I’ve learned that the solution to cheating is not necessarily just going and cracking down on players who fudge stuff, but rather to make sure that you create an environment where cheating is not a naturally desirable behavior.
One of the greatest things that I’ve seen kill campaigns is the same plight that many writers and authors face: “Writer’s Block”. It’s a major problem, especially if the GM is the central driving force in the campaign. At a certain point, either they can’t work through the current issues they’re facing or they don’t have the willingness to continue with the campaign because they’ve lost interest.
One of the things that can bring a campaign to a halt is when the players are all divided on their goals and cannot make a constructive decision to handle their progress through the campaign. It’s a problem that can plague even a good game, and it frustrates everyone in the group equally. Fortunately, someone who knows what to look for can navigate their path past indecision and continue the game constructively without causing hard feelings or ruining the narrative.
One of the important balances a GM must strike at his table is the difference between a game that follows conventions and expectations, and one that is very spontaneous. As a narrative experience, tabletop roleplaying requires a particular mindset and flexibility, even when it focuses more on numbers than on people. An important element of this is to figure out what players will enjoy, and offer them an appropriate experience; games are not fun by default, they must be made fun through the events within them.
One of the things I notice a lot of GM’s doing when they’re making a game is providing false choices. That is, they assume that they know how every character will react in a context, and they fall into the trap of intentionally leading decisions. Unfortunately, this can backfire quickly; if a player gets stuck in the middle of a situation where there is no good choice left, they make “false choices” under duress, and then the whole process is likely to continue to spiral toward an increasingly dissatisfying experience. Continue reading