MoonHunter’s Top Tips 2006
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I am always giving advice to various gamers on various game forums. I am constantly giving the same advice over and over again (cut/ paste repeat). Once a year I think about the advice and put together The List. These are this year’s ten most common pieces of gaming advice I have given out. They should be useful to you to some level.

Note to regular Strolenites, most of you have heard these before ... from me… from one of my common rants. Here they are all in one place to refresh your memory.

1) Think of the game and campaign in terms of stories you know. Is it a movie, a tv series, a TV series with a story arc/ mini series, a comic book, or a book series? This will give you a comfortable mental format for how each session will be run, how stories are put together, and the kinds of characters and their development for the campaign. Make sure to tell your players what kind of “format” the campaign will have, so they will have the same expectations.

2) Every character should be involved in no less than four plot and subplots at a time. Everyone has a complicated life, thus so should your characters. Every character in the game is involved in the main plotline of the campaign (at the time). When created, every character should have: one main personal plotline that dominates their life - often related to the main plotline, one personal subplot of the players choosing, and one personal subplot for the character of the GM’s making. Note: all these plot lines (normally) will NOT be active at one times. This process makes GMing easier. The GM just needs to choose which plotlines the character will be involved in for a given session and find an appropriate scene for it. That way every character and player has something important for them to do every session.

3) To keep a campaign moving, a GM should have more than one major story arc running at any given time. This way there is always something important and interesting going on. Even if you have one overarching story arc, several lesser ones should be happening along the the way. These lesser plotlines can link the players to the next overarching story arc. In addition to notable plots, the world keeps running along as well, so there is always some tangental story arc dealing with changes in the world. (Someone invented what? Who is the crown now?)

4) Start with a bang, end with a bang, and make the middle interesting. Every kind of plotline, from a minor personal subplot to an over-arching campaign spanning story arc has a beginning (which motivates the PCs) and an ending (which gives a satisfying conclusion) and some interesting bits scattered in between to lead the character from the beginning to the conclusion. The beginning and ending “Bang” of a plotline should be equal to the importance of said plotline. The more attention you draw to something, the more the PC’s will focus on it and think it is important.

5) Block your shots out. Each plotline consists of a number of key “scenes”. Determine the important scenes for each plotline. Each scene will list what is important to happen, some useful flavor text, any special rules needed for the proposed action (like the falling rules, or holding breath rules, or some spell), and ways in and out of the scene. Then all you have to do is find events to transition you between the given scenes AND you can insert scene blocks from other plotlines between them.

6) Description : As the GM, you are the characters’ senses. Utilize the journalistic approach for description: Broad to narrow with bullet accuracy is the key. Start out with a general broad description of the person/ place/ thing. Use the familiar to help describe it more clearly (It is like a Horse, he looks like Val Kilmer, it is like that Castle in the movie we saw yesterday). Once the broad strokes are set down, hit all the important elements of the scene or item or person. Each important element has its own bullet point (short clear description) expressing what is different than expected OR important. (It is like a horse, except it is red and has six legs.) Remember to somewhat tailor the amount of description on what is important to the campaign or scene. The important should have more description associated with it, while the unimportant might be mentioned briefly.

Note: There is a big difference between description AND narration; besides One describes and the other explains, one is factual, the other is artistic. They follow different rules.
7) The Gold Standard: “If some element of your game could not be part of a published fantasy novel, it needs work. That is what you should aim for.” If your item/ npc/ plot/ setting is not as well described and developed as something you would find in a published (fantasy) novel (excluding most DnD licensed novels), then it is not equal to the gold standard and needs work. This standard is really not that hard to meet. You do not need to be a professional writer. You just need to put a little effort into doing it right. Remember to be complete. Remember to sprinkle in some details. And, Remember to give the element as much attention as it deserves.

8) Presentation is important: You are the voice of your game/ character. When you are in the spotlight, you have to think of yourself on stage. Speak clearly and strongly. However, every character (and in some ways, every scene) is a little different - different sound, tone, or timber, different diction, different mannerisms, and so on. You should think about these things and practice how you are going to present the character/ place. Some people practice in the car or shower, but that could be distracting. I recommend practicing characters and certain parts of description in the mirror. A few minutes in front of the mirror can help you hone your delivery and make it from “eh” to “wow”.

9) Movie, your game is a movie. We used to all think that games were like writing. Over the years I have figured out that games are stories (told) over time, just like movies. Treat your game like a movie: make your descriptions visual, plan your scenes like a movies, keep the action moving at a movie’s pace, and have big exciting/ dramatic scenes. After you have studied movies and script writing for a bit (and implement what you have learned), you will find that your game mastering skill will improve and that your players will respond positively to the change. Note: even if you are treating your game like a comic book or a novel, it will still flow better with some movie related techniques.

10) Find the right tool for the Job: “I don’t think anyone is going to argue with you that story is more important than mechanics. However, bad mechanics can take away from a great story. I find it hard to immerse myself in a story if I have to spend twice as much time rolling dice and doing math equations than I do moving my character along. In fact, I think most people would agree that the less seemingly trivial die rolling and chart checking, the better,” said MoonHunter. So find the right system for you and your style of play. Learn to use it well and play.

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