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Author Topic: The Role of a GM  (Read 1400 times)

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Offline MyrleenaTopic starter

The Role of a GM
« on: January 07, 2010, 10:37:30 PM »
Iím not the most eloquent person in the world, and I know it.  I get into arguments like everyone, and am opinionated.  So I know that this is only one way to do things, but Iím going to post it anyway.

To give some background, Iím 24, and have been GameMastering for the past nine and a half years.  I was introduced to roleplaying games for the first time the summer just before I turned fifteen, and it will be my 10th anniversary of that chance encounter as of June.  I will say, my start was rocky.  I was introduced to 3.0 Dungeons & Dragons by one of the most vindictive, controlling GMs that I have ever encountered.  We werenít allowed to look at half of the books for several sessions, when it was too late to go toward particular advancements, and the second session he killed my character without a second thought in an encounter that was supposed to challenge the eight player party, when three of us were there.  And it was simply supposed to capture us, no less.  Seven sessions after that he showed up, killed every character there, and left, never coming back or telling anyone he was canceling the game.

I loved the game, in spite of the jerk who introduced me to the game.  For that I will always thank him.  I learned what I loved and what I shouldnít do.  Since I couldnít find a gaming group to join, my friend and I chipped in to buy a set of the core three books ourselves.  Which was silly, since 3.5 D&D came out two months later, and we had to update.  I ended up GMing our first game, in spite of not knowing the rules, and we kept going, gaining new players, losing old ones, and joining new groups throughout High School.  Even my friend drifted in and out, while I kept going with a passion that has never faded.  Iíve played under a dozen different Game Masters at this point, and each has had their own quirks and problems.  But each has had a love for the game that Iíve respected, even if I couldnít stand the rules.

But through all of this I have run games.  Save for two six month periods, I have never not been running a game.  Iíve run everything from low level games, starting at 1st level, and running an Epic Level game for a year and a half that started at 21st.  Iíve run short Exalted games with limited success, as well as the Hero System and a number of others.  Now I play Pathfinder for the most part, which is the successor in my mind to the game in which I began.  This is who I am.

Now Iím going to get to the part that others may disagree with.  These are lessons that I have learned over the years, and my golden rules of GMing.  Most of them apply most directly to TableTop Roleplaying, but many can be applied to gaming of any sort, whether on forums or by Instant Messaging.  Theyíre also most applicable to System games, but can help in Freeform as well.  Here they are, many of my thoughts on how I should Game Master games.  And I should say that I do not mention the rule of 'Have Fun' because I view that as the entire point of Roleplaying.

1)   The first and most important thing.  Roll with the punches.  Donít directly railroad, but rather attempt to guide a group, if thatís what you are trying for.  Have multiple plot hooks that all lead to the same place in the end, or simply scrap your first idea and roll with it.  If you canít, youíll likely burn out in short order.
2)   Unless you tell the players from the outset, adapt the plot to the players.  Donít try to force them into a storyline that they will hate, or which completely negates their characters.  They only have their characters.  You have the whole world.
3)   Make the world live around them.  Donít make it a cardboard cutout.  Try to make the characters live and breathe around them.  Donít smother the players, but try to make them care about the world their character is in.
4)   When a game is going slow, and you aren't certain what to do, try a murder attempt on someone in the vicinity.  It tends to cause reactions from everyone in a hurry.  And remember, it doesnít have to be a PC.
5)   When the party wants to go off course, and your hints don't work, let them.  Let them deal with the consequences of a villain's plan going right.
6)   Sometimes perception is everything.  The party wants to loot the evil temple?  Let them.  And let them suffer when the evil artifact possesses one of them.
7)   When a player has a neat idea that might work, let him try it.  And if itís a bad ideaÖwell, let him anyway.  Either way, let him suffer the consequences.
8)   Never build an adventure around a single PC.  It kills the game for everyone else much of the time, and you lose much of the plot if they vanish off the face of the earth.
9)   Never force characters down a single path.  It usually upsets them and makes your job much harder.  Instead, make them want it, and curse when they get it.
10)   When the dice come up to kill someone, maybe hesitate, but remember this.  Without a sense of risk, many players lose interest.  Kill characters, yes, but donít be vindictive about it.
11)   Make clear expectations.  Find out what your group expects, and make certain they know what you expect.  Donít leave it up in the air until it comes up.  If you do, you may lose friends.
12)   If you are concerned about the validity of a characterís actions, you should speak to them privately about it, rather than bringing it up in front of everyone.  Donít be the enemy, try to understand why, and help them figure out why, as well as learn why.  Only take things up in public if you have to, or it is something unimportant that you forgot.
13)   Beware of powerful NPCs.  They should exist, but they should be part of the background of the world.  The PCs are heroes in most games, and should feel like theyíre heroes.  Donít upstage them.
14)   And last, take responsibility.  Donít make yourself out to be infallible.  Be consistent in your rulings, and admit it when you make mistakes.  It gains the trust of your players, and eliminates much of the stress of your position.

These are mostly the ones that came to mind at 3 AM in the morning, but these are what Iíve based my gaming around.  And I must be doing something right, because I have never lacked for a group, and Iím still contacted by those whom I havenít GMed for in five years.

Offline Fragile Dreams

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Re: The Role of a GM
« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2010, 07:52:15 AM »
That's a wonderful read Myrleena, thank you for posting it. You helped me a lot now with this list, as a GM and made me craving to start up a story. :D

One thing I would add to the list, and it's mostly for players who play at home, with their buddies and others. It's description. Be as descriptive as you can get. During a fight, describe both the player's and the foe's actions, body positions and surroundings. That will help the player not only to be in the fight, but also try alternative ways to win the battle, for example if there's dirt around they could use it to blind the enemy. Other than a fight, describe the people around you, as you mentioned Myrl, GM has the whole world, so the GM is also the 5 senses of the players, so let them know what they hear, listen, see, taste or touch.

Description really helps them to get IN the game and feel like their characters. To help that, I as a GM, use music. I try to find music and songs that would match with each scene and would give images to the players to be part of the story. Well, I babbled a lot. :P

Offline Mnemaxa

Re: The Role of a GM
« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2010, 07:59:02 AM »
I am a veteran gamemaster, for tabletop games, for over 20 years.  There is not a single thing I would disagree with in your description.

Offline HairyHeretic

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Re: The Role of a GM
« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2010, 08:23:12 AM »
In regard to point 8, you can build a scenario around a single player, but it tends to work better in pen and paper groups where you have a better idea of your players and their reliability. What I would say is if you do a scenario centred around one player, give each player a spot where they can shine.

Offline MyrleenaTopic starter

Re: The Role of a GM
« Reply #4 on: January 09, 2010, 01:21:16 PM »
Thank you, Fragile and Mnemaxa.  And as for your point, HairyHeretic, I do agree.  I mentioned my Epic Level game, and it was a case in point.  The game ran for one and a half years, and I only had one character stay the same through all of it.  I had every other player change characters at least three times.  They never built an attachment for their characters, or gave me enough information to get to know them.  And as such, it was hard to get them in the game.  I prefer to tailor a game to characters as a whole, but I only knew one character, so I was forced to use her.  Amusingly, it's my Girlfriend's character, though at the time neither of us had had a clue that we liked each other, and I didn't even realize I liked her.  Not until about a year later.

Offline MasterMischief

Re: The Role of a GM
« Reply #5 on: January 09, 2010, 04:54:16 PM »
Quote from: Myrleena
Yes, that's why I have '11)   Make clear expectations.  Find out what your group expects, and make certain they know what you expect.  Donít leave it up in the air until it comes up.  If you do, you may lose friends.' in there.  My games are hard on PCs, and I know this.

I do not believe expectations and creative agendas are the same thing.  I think it is important to not only know what your players expect from any given campaign but what they would like to see in a campaign.  I also believe some responsibility should be laid at the feet of the players to help the GM create the things they want to see in the campaign as well.  I believe this point is often overlooked since the GM is the de facto leader.

Offline Thufir Hawat

Re: The Role of a GM
« Reply #6 on: September 22, 2010, 06:39:50 PM »
Interesting, I have that bookmarked, but haven't commented on it.
Well, having GMed for some 10 years now, I can't agree more, except I'd take a harder stance on some points.
And since we already have the Oath of Drake, why don't you start the Vow of Myrleena for GMing games >:)?

Offline MyrleenaTopic starter

Re: The Role of a GM
« Reply #7 on: September 22, 2010, 06:48:53 PM »
Heh, just when I was considering doing another Blog, this one on brainstorming plots and running games, though it would primarily be geared toward tabletop, it would easily be applicable here.  And while I doubt that I would start a vow persay, it might be worth starting a thread on helping people come up with plots for solo or group games...thoughts on either idea?

Offline Thufir Hawat

Re: The Role of a GM
« Reply #8 on: September 22, 2010, 06:59:48 PM »
Heh, just when I was considering doing another Blog, this one on brainstorming plots and running games, though it would primarily be geared toward tabletop, it would easily be applicable here.  And while I doubt that I would start a vow persay, it might be worth starting a thread on helping people come up with plots for solo or group games...thoughts on either idea?

My mantra has always been "the plot writes itself, if you allow it to help you and let the players loose".
Hold on a moment, I just noticed someone at RPG.net made a full compendium of links I find useful. It's not me, altough I aprticipated in some of these discussions, but anyway, here it is!

Offline MyrleenaTopic starter

Re: The Role of a GM
« Reply #9 on: September 22, 2010, 07:06:19 PM »
Heh, I actually rarely need inspiration for plots.  I was more thinking for those who have some difficulty.  I'll have to consider things, though.

Offline Thufir Hawat

Re: The Role of a GM
« Reply #10 on: September 22, 2010, 07:17:00 PM »
That's what is being discussed in the links in my last post, how to make a game most fun with the least amount of work :D!