GM Interview: Jared (Scrasamax)

Our 11th Interview is with Jared, (a different Jared then the one from interview #9) a creative GM who’s adapted to a more free form style gaming and is in search of a larger gaming group.

Introduce yourself.

My name is Jared, and I’ve been a gamer since 1998, when a friend in High School introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons, 2nd ed. I participated as a player for about a year, the main games being basic Dungeons and Dragons, Vampire the Masquerade, and Mechwarrior.

It didn’t take me long to decide that I could do better than my friends running the games and that is what I have done since then. I do take a special pleasure in playing now, knowing that the main responsibility is off my shoulders and I can just enjoy.

In real life, I am a factory technician, keeping machines running correctly and efficiently. I have a gamer wife and a collection of random animals, ranging from a defective Chihuahua to a pair of retired race horses.

What would you improve about your GMing right now?

Two things: less freeform and a new gaming group. I don’t currently have an active gaming group (aside from my wife) and I miss the multiple person dynamic.

I originally started gaming with a regular group of 4-6 friends, with a range of personalities and basic approaches to everything from combat to problem solving. Between a poet and a power gamer, I learned to GM. I miss that.

The first thing is after several years of online PBeM and forum gaming, I have become more reliant on freeform gaming, without character sheets, dice, concrete experience points or systems.

I enjoyed watching characters grow in skill and ability. Freeform characters are sadly more static, generally only lasting for about one game session. Online, this is about a month to six weeks of play.

Describe your typical gaming set-up.

I enjoy using props, ambient music, and the like, but I honestly seldom use these things. Where I game is where the players are, or where they can easily gather. A table is the main thing needed, but a large open room also works. So long as everyone has a spot they can claim and a place to put their drinks and dice. I have run games everywhere from a front porch to a table at Pizza Hut.

How did you first get into GMing?

I was playing under one of my friends. I kept having questions about what he did, what his characters did, etc. He wasn’t a bad GM, just a sloppy one. I have interests in history, literature and mechanical cause and effect relationships (nothing happens in a void).

Rather than being a problem player I was left with a persistent feeling that I could do better. So I sat and read the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the other game books of that stripe and soon just stepped up to the plate. The rest, as they say, is history.

Do you create your own stuff, use published materials, or do a bit of both?

I am a horribly creative person, so I largely use my own stuff. But, you don’t let opportunity pass you by. When I come across something good, I have no issue about confiscating it for my own games.

As for things like pre-packaged dungeons and pre-made games, I do not use them. I have no issue against using them, it is just a matter of personal preference. Many things I do in a game are to provoke an emotional response or to be reactive or proactive playing against my players.

I do not mean in an adversarial way though. When I run a combat-heavy game with a group not psyched up about combat, the fighting is going to be swapped for intense negotiation or espionage. With the pre-packed game, the course is plotted out like a movie, scene to scene.

How do you prepare for campaigns and sessions?

Campaign preparation is fairly simple. Basic end goals are put in place, and like a rock wall in a gym, points of interest are placed. I make up a few NPCs I’d like to use, and we are good to go. I usually keep these notes in a spiral notebook.

Sessions are mostly the same: decide what the end goal for the session is, and a few potential ideas for how it can be reached. I dislike the linear approach. I also dislike the railroad approach. Free will in a game is important, even if it is only the illusion of free will.

When I make my sample characters, the PC s will meet them no matter which path they take, and their final destination is going to be the same.

Describe in a few words each of your players and their playing style.

I will describe my old gaming group: C, S, R, and G.

C was the poet and had a tragic streak, the most likely to play self-sacrificing or highly idealistic characters.

S was the power gamer, and had a knack for finding places where a game system could be broken and abused.

R was the berserker, and there were few problems that couldn’t be solved with a good attack role, but combined with a strong sense of right and wrong.

G was the kender.

Describe in a few words your group’s playing style.

Bulls in a china shop, lol

What are the top qualities you look for or need in a player?

Knowledge of the system, willingness to work together with other players, respect for the GM (which must be reflected back to the players) and a decent reaction time. I don’t want a game to bog down explaining the basic aspects of the game, contrariness, ridiculous demands, or waiting fifteen minutes for a player to decide that yes, they will stay in the inn for the night.

Explain your GMing style.

Improvisation and a full world view. I like to immerse my imagination in the material, the setting. I don’t write out scripts, or anything more than a loose outline of what I would like to happen in the game. I also like to know ahead of time who is playing and what generally they will be playing, so I can plan accordingly.

If your players don’t think you are a little off, you should probably get a little deeper in the material. BE the NPC when they speak, don’t speak through them like mouth pieces. I also dislike anvils of morality, and absolutes like pure good and pure evil. Shades of gray, conflicts of interest and fundamental ideals rather than arbitrary conflicts.

I also view the setting not as a static map, but a dynamic entity. A good example of what I am talking about is the typical humans versus orcs rivalry. In a setting I would run, the orcs and humans are in conflict not because the evil humans are trying to destroy natural resources (green anvil) against the shamanistic orcs, nor are the evil orcs killing humans because killing humans is good fun and XP.

Rather, both the humans and the orcs are competing for the same basic resource, in this case, land. The humans need pasture land for livestock; the orcs need it for hunting. Now the orcs and humans are fighting for basic survival and expansion at the expense of the other race. Neither is evil, neither is good, and from this basic conflict can arise the other angers and hostilities that fill out the backstory or a setting, or the central axis of the campaign.

What is your best GMing skill or ability? What advice would you give to a GM to improve in that area?

It would be a tie between the ability to think on your feet, and empathy with your players. Improving these skills can be daunting.

To think better on your feet, be well informed and well read. Don’t just read game books and supplements. Read the classics, read popular literature. This might sound sexist, but if you want to look at something with an alternate gender perspective read magazines geared towards that gender. Cosmopolitan and Glamour for female characters, Maxim and the like for male characters.

Also, it is important to know your system, and that your players respect your decisions. The second is trying to put yourself in another person’s shoes so to speak. Watch body language to see if players are engaged in the game, if they are hanging on every throw of the dice, or if they are bored, tired or just disinterested. You can’t keep everyone engaged all the time every time, but as long as everyone gets into the game at some point, and stays that way for a good while, then you’ve done well.

What are your favorite GMing reference books, other than the rules?

I loved the resource books for Wraith: the Oblivion. They were beautifully illustrated, and dark and grimly written. Unfortunately, none of my players was interested in playing ghosts. I am also quite fond of the CthulhuTech books for the artwork and the unholy mixture or mecha anime and Lovecraftian horror.

What are your favorite online resources for GMing?

After answering these questions, what would you like to learn about and work on next to become a better GM?

Two words: More game.

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