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December 22, 2005, 5:47 pm

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Running a Game, the MoonHunter way


Running a Game, the MoonHunter way. It is pretty bare bones, but it is pretty self explanatory.

The best game sessions require work before they ever occur.  Do the pregame work on the game setting, character generation, and main story arcs. 

Be involved in character development.  If you aren’t involved, you get what you deserve.
Before I start a campaign, I make sure the players have a full campaign write up/ packet. This write up includes background material for the world, guidelines for character creation, and rules modifications we are using.

All book keeping is handled between sessions by phone, email, or even snail mail. I also a downtime sheet, that players can detail their down time actions in order of priority (I go buy this.. I research that.. I go look up X and talk to them about Y)..

I also do all my plot/ story prepwork before game (usually in the hour or two before the game). The story/ plot lines are either part of a grand campaign arc (in the B5 tradition created when the campaign was developed), a mini arc (like a series some of them are scripted when the game starts, some are created as a response to the game, and some are just filler sections), or which personal subplots I will pull up (based on the character’s history/ disads/ and actions or fillers in case of emergency).

As my players settle in, I pass out the results of any downtime to them as appropriate. I relay any info and provide any updates to the campaign packet. This encyclopedia moment usually captures their attention, as I tend to review anything that will be important to the campaign (thought I occasionally throw some info in that will not be, just to keep them guessing).

Each campaign has a its own starting bell. We might go through the theme song (played on CD), or a roll call/ story introduction in a TV opening sort of way, a bell ringing, or our current favorite, “When last we left our intrepid adventures….”

A quick recap of last week or important events.

Some original narration occurs to set the current scene, including locations, events, and in media res that I wish to inflict.

I like to start with an action sequence, but you can’t always have everything.

I try to alternate back between development scenes and action scenes of varying intensity. Just like good TV shows. do.

We have a planned break midway through game, but that does not always happen on schedule or at all. By having a scheduled break, people will “hold it” and not disturb game getting up to do things (when ever possible).

Try to end on a cliff hanger, but that seldom works out.

Hand out downtime sheets if appropriate.

Have post game. We vote for the MVP of tne night (getting an extra karma point or ep), the best scene (ditto), and go around listing 1-2 things we would like to see in the future of the game (NPCs/ types of NPCs, scenario types, places to go, plots we want, things we DON’T want, and anything to make the game more interesting for the given player or GM).

Most of my gaming advice can be looked up at in the tips section. Search for GM for GM tips, Player, for player tips. Most tips will have a title, where if you search for it, you will get more tips of the same type.

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Comments ( 12 )
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November 10, 2005, 0:23
You've really made a science out of it!
Voted Agar
November 10, 2005, 0:23
That is a bunch of great advice. It's aslso a great deal of work. You have to keep a careful balance of effort to make the story worth the players investment of time and fun for yourself.

When I start planning, I tend to over plan and get bogged down in irrelevant details that will never come into play. Like the inventories of the three different bread shops in a town. The players are going to come into town, maybe ask for bread and just buy what they want. They don't care about the small things. So I finally had to bring myself to stop, and so I went to the other end of the extreme: No preparation.

If you're not having fun, or delaying the start of the campaign in planning that doesn't seem to stop, just stop planning. Crabby stressed out DM's are no fun to play with. Instead of planning, just take the first session on the fly. We've all played enough toe have a general idea of how campaigns start, throw a plot hook at the characters and see how they react. They're actions determine their adventures. After a few hours, everyone wraps it up, you ask them what they'd like to see and they leave. That's when you make your notes. What they did, who they meet or pissed off, and ideas for the next session.

It all works out into basically popping the clutch, but it gets the campaign started. I've done that far to often when the guy who was supposed to be the DM couldn't show and everyone was sitting around bored on a saturday night. Just quick adventures to pass the time, but they always turned into month long campaigns.
November 10, 2005, 0:24
Actually I am fairly lazy.

It is easier to do a little prework and expand upon it, than have to scramble and make things up/ fix things that are not consistant.

I normally only do prework in Broad Strokes, making up details as I need them in game. If there are going to be important details I know they will be needing for a given session, I will usually create those details in my game prep time (usually about 30 minutes of time, sometime before the game.

Lets face it, Dip Happens. You will always have some Dip (development in play) no matter how much Das (Development at start) you do. The point of DAS is to make any DIP easy.

When developing any element of the game there are two good checks.

The Detail check: Every time you start creating details for your game, ask yourself one question...
"Will a player really need to know this to have fun?"
If the answer is no, ignore it unless a player... in game... needs to know it. If the answer is yes, continue to create it.

Another Gold standard would be the Movie Check.
Gamers learn a great deal about story telling and gaming, from movies and television. They are storytelling mediums that all of us are familiar with. When you are creating details, ask yourself "Would this detail be found in a movie?" If the answer is no, then blow it off.

Agar: You hit upon some classic GM issues. You needed this rule a while back.

The Mona Lisa Rule: This great masterpiece was never actually finished. What you see today is a piece of work that is really only 1/3 done and took several years to do. What should we learn from this? Only to put as much work into something as what you are going to get out of it. A masterpiece is not a masterpiece if no one ever sees it. Two years for 6 hours of play is not a good trade off. So invest a few hours in a game environment, for a few hundred hours of gaming pleasure.
Voted KendraHeart
November 12, 2005, 0:19
This is really good. I am glad I stumbled into the article section (following the random links). This is really useful stuff.

How do you apply this to the play by mail games? I am not sure how you would set it up? Or is there some totally different set of rules for PbEM?
December 22, 2005, 17:53
In play by mail games, because of the rate of play, you should think "Novel" instead of movie. This changes the concepts of "pace" and "scene" a bit.

Most of the story arc work (major, personal, subplot) is still done ahead of time. I plot out, in broad strokes, the story arc. This converts into a group of important scenes for each arc.

The starting of a game must be with an interesting "bang", this engages the players and they are more likely to stick around. However the campaign seldom has "episodes" or sessions, as table top players know them. That is why you think novel, instead of TV show.

My job as a PbEM is to keep people posting. If you let people get lazy in a PbEM, it dies. So instead of being primarily an editor and director, I am more coach. I keep people going. I ask them for the directions they want to go. I keep them posting. I switch limelight from time to time. I just work at it.
Voted Mourngrymn
May 25, 2006, 16:25
I am having a time of article research it seems. I have read many of these on more than one occassion and these are great to read for any GM...
Voted epsilon
July 25, 2007, 19:35
Another great read, if only I could assimilate this info quicker ;)
One thing I can say in response is the plan vs experience ratio. That is the more experienced you are the better you can wing it. Some, like myself, love to thrash out details and get annoyed and "grumpy" when others miss these wonderments or worse still, don't put similar work into their own parts. Like anything as a beginner we fall back on pre planning, attempting to ensure that all possible routes are covered. However, protecting our pride in this way does not always make for the "fun" game.

As a beginner tho, it is this copious amount of pre-planning which eventually sinks into our deepest recess of the mind and becomes experience. This experience we can then fall back on with ease, when placed in the situation of, playing on the wing and prayer. As you build up the library of information, both as paperwork or files and as memories, at some point it becomes a little easier, the mechanics are water brushed on in sweeping, foundation building, strokes and the "fun" part the "artistic license", the poetry of the encounters can then be given the prime time of our mind.
July 26, 2007, 16:10
Ah the DIP vs DAS debate see Dip Happen By MoonHunter. Sure that is for world design, but really it applies to scenario design as well.

My "pregame work" is actually just a few minutes of choosing plot elements for the night. If something special is going on, I might work on that element. Most of my plot/ story work was basically done at world design and character creation. I just have to choose how to adapt those ideas to the current situation (and build in those transitions).

Part of the prework that new GMs have to do is create all those "places" and "npcs" that they will need for that night. They need to stat things out and having the map pre-prepped. Once you have enough of those under your belt (and are really familiar with the rules so you can generate character elements on the fly), you can pull them out of your file or your memory.
Voted Chaosmark
April 21, 2009, 21:47
I like this article. Not sure why I haven't ever read it, since I've gone through before and read a massive amount of MH articles on GMing and World Development. All the more reason to keep on coming back. You never know what you'll find in the archives of the site.

My own little plug for Development at Start: Putting some thought into the makeup of your world can also help you put in the little things that help reinforce the consequences of what you chose to include. Not everything that gets a bit of screentime needs to be vitally important to the players. Some of it can simply help bring them deeper into the game world.
Voted axlerowes
November 1, 2010, 8:35

This is a nice list of things, I started putting a nightly MVP vote into games. You should just right up a play by play of one of your secessions.
Voted Ramhir
November 4, 2010, 23:07

I agree with axlerowes, this is good advice. I, too, will try an MVP vote into my postgame stuff.

Voted valadaar
September 2, 2015, 13:31
Great stuff! I like the idea of the downtime lists. I tend to run my games - well, ran, with the entire time on camera, though I've come to see that's not always the best thing to do.

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In the middle of the sky over the land of Dankij there is a door. The door is fixed in an upright position and appears to be fastened to the very sky itself. Worldwide rumors say it has been there since The Creation. What could be behind this door?

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