Tips for 2008
1) Infinite Power, Ultimate Responsibilities: It is easy for a GM to kill PCs. In fact, most of the time, the GM is trying to keep them alive. The great balancing act is to keep them challenged without just making them into little smears. Without characters, there can be no game.
2) Trust is worth more than gold. If your players do not feel they can trust you, then your game is doomed. The GM must be trusted to both play fairly and honestly. Failure to do so shows that the GM is trying to "trick the players" and "win against them". If you are seen as the antagonist, then they will hide behind rules, do tricks, etc, to "Beat You". It seems funny with the Knights of the Dinner Table, but if you are one of those players, it can be frustrating. You are playing by the rules and the assumption that the game is "fair". You have no recourse but what the rules give you. The GM has phenomenal cosmic power and can smush characters faster than a player can smush their own character with bad decisions. If the players don’t think you will be "fair with them" they will be looking for another game..
3) The Stuff in the Books are just Guidelines. Never feel anchored to the game world or game elements that came with a given game. It is your game after all. After you buy it, the game developer only has a passing interest with what you do with it. Just because it is "in the book" you don’t have to slavishly follow it. However, you can not be arbitrary. Players usually "go by the book" unless told differently. Inform the players that you are making x changes in the rules or the setting before play starts. If the rules and background change and you don’t tell anyone, how can they trust anything the GM say or do?
3b) Be prepared that the players might not like the changes you make. They may have liked the setting (or rules) "as is". They may be resistant to your changing things.
4) The more things change, the more they should stay the same. If you stray from or change the canon rules/ book, try to stay as continuous to the original mechanics if possible. Players like to follow the "rules of the game". It makes things easier for them (and players like it easy, so they don’t have to sweat the rules). Why have a percentage roll magic system appended to a d6 dice pool game? Yes, it might work, but it will begin to distract people from the game as they actually have to stop and think about any mechanics, then stop and think about what they need for the mechanics, then do the mechanics, then resolve. All that "thinking about the rules" takes them away from the game and its events. By using similar mechanics to those the players expect, the players can easily work with it, have the right dice ready (actually and metaphorically), and just go with it.
And the players signed on to play a certain game. If you change it too much, you should start calling it something else.
3+4) Remember to tell them about the rules changes and how you want to handle things. Spend a few minutes. Type it up in a word processor or email. That way, the players can add it "to their book" and know how things will work.
5) It is your part. Step up or step away. The GM should do what they can to make the game richer, better, and more fun. This will require you, the GM to extra work in preparation and extra work at the game table. It will be harder on you, the GM. This extra effort might not always be appreciated by your players, but they do appreciate a better game.
6) Each character has their own part of the story Your players should have their own story lines and their personal stake in your greater story arc (the campaign that most people are running). So the campaign goal might be to "Toss the magic Chotski into the Great Magma Gorge." One might be along because his ancestor accidentally released the Chotski, and is dammed unless it is destroyed before it falls into Big Evil’s Hand. One might be along because he is avenging his family’s death at the hands of The Big Evil’s minions. One might be along because his Lord told him to destroy the Chotski at any cost. Another because to take his throne, he must go on this quest and succeed (and of course his brother might want to stop him). One might be along because his daughter was taken by the Minions of the Great Evil, and these people are heading the right direction to encounter them (and sticking it to the Big Evil for pain and suffering causes is always fun). Now each is along for their own reasons. They will follow their own goals, if properly distracted. Will this fellowship succeed? Will someone sacrifice their own goal/ need to save the world?
6b) Make sure the characters are motivated. This is the mission" is not really a great motivation. Why do characters want to go on the mission (money, fame, power, belief in the higher cause, etc)? Every character will need something "to get them moving" in every scenario.
6c) Make sure the players are onboard with their character’s motivations. "Okay, you are doing this because you "love your lord", the GM says while semi-randomly handing out motivations. "I am a thief and a coward, I don’t think so," the player is thinking. The player has to agree that the motivation of their character is valid AND one they can play.
7) Evils have a life too. Joking aside, the antagonists will have their own goals and plotlines. Some lieutenant, leaders, and minion of note will be following their own goals, rather than their supreme leaders. Greed, Revenge, Status Plays, and looking out for number one will are all motivations for these antagonists. Thus complications arise and the complexity can make things… interesting.
8) The world is a character too. Every part of the world has its own events that will occur. Each big organization will have its own goals and story lines. Events will occur as the organization acts on its goals or reacts to the world around it. Each country, ditto. "Weather", you ask? Of course (though less personal, just effects). These "other things" give players a feeling that the world is in motion and that things are happening. Without them, the world is just a flat painted backdrop, not a vibrant, real feeling, world. Actions and their Reactions, lead to new actions. Never stop.
6+7+8) The Cut Scene: We have all seen them in the movies and on TV. The camera cuts away and shows us events that are not happening "right where the characters are". They will show "the villain doing things", "what the other lesser characters are doing", "or something about the world that might be important later". In a game, the GM describes out these cut scenes. This simple too provides metagaming clues, builds player interest, and provides information about the setting.
9) Your setting is an iceberg: The rule of thumb for fiction writers is that your setting is like an iceberg, only 1/8th of the work you will do on it will actually show in your novel or story. That leaves 7/8ths of the iceberg lurking under the water. When you create a setting, there is a great deal about it that you will need to know that will never see the light of day. It will be under everything else that shows,
as a foundation
. And it should be ready to appear when needed.
10) Repeat the Mantra: I master the game, the game does not master me; step up or step out; momentum over perfection; complications more than obstacles; and no matter what, the game must go on! This little mantra sums up a better game.
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