RPT#226 – 7 Tips For Dealing With GM Add
A Brief Word From Johnn
Last Week For List Generation Project #2
The contest for List Project #2 ends this week, so be sure to get your entries in soon. Response has been quite low, perhaps due to Summer or maybe the content matter of the contest is uninspiring. Either way, if you enter, the odds are currently about 1 in 3 you’ll win something!
List Project #2 is: “Roleplaying Plots and Quest Ideas”
Issues #223 and #224 discussed tips on crafting roleplaying oriented plots, missions, and encounters. Use these tips to create roleplaying (as opposed to combat) plot, mission, and quest ideas of your own. Multiple entries are welcome to increase your winning chances. There’s no minimum or maximum length, but please try to follow this format:
GM Notes: ___________
Title: The Noble Troll
Description: A troll lives beneath a nearby bridge and is causing havoc with local travellers. It’s demanding food (in the form of live animals, such as cows and chickens) in exchange for passage across the bridge. The troll is fairly powerful and attempts to kill it have failed. The PCs are asked to do something about the situation.
GM Notes: The troll wears shredded pants, speaks with an upper class accent, and fights fencing style with a rapier. He is actually a missing local noble who was made victim to a Polymorph Any Object spell.[ http://www.opengamingfoundation.org/srd/srdspellsp.rtf ]
The troll is confused and always hungry. The noble has a grudge against the folk of the area, and this just fuels his rage when denied food. A chain around the troll’s neck carries a pendant with the picture of his former wife-to-be. The marriage was called off after the parents met the noble for the first time last week (before the troll transformation, lol).
The contest ends midnight July 3rd 2004. 8 prizes are up for grabs!
- 3 Modules: “Dungeon Crawl Classics #8: Mysteries of the Drow” from Goodman Games
- 3 “Mighty Army Sets” (Orc or Barbarian) from Mongoose
- 2 Roleplaying Tips GM Encyclopedias
Regardless of who wins the contest, everybody will win when the plots and quests are published in the ezine for all GMs to enjoy.
Email your entries to: [email protected]
Johnn Four [email protected]
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By Johnn Five
I have a mild case of it. I’ve gamed with others who’ve had it real bad. Subscribers often write in with tip and help requests without realizing they’re actually suffering from symptoms of the disease. This ailment I’m speaking of is GM Attention Deficit Syndrome.
GM ADD is when you find the actual adventure, world, or campaign creation process more fun than carrying things through to their finish. Symptoms include:
- A thousand campaigns begun and zero completed
- Frequent party kills so the GM can start fresh
- Lots of books line the shelves
- Your current campaign suffers because you’re already working on the next one
- GM burn-out from guilt about not sticking with things for very long
- Bored players (who know their characters won’t amount to much before the next Big Switch occurs)
- Jealousy of GMs who tell stories about their ten year (heck, 10 week!) long campaigns
- Many incomplete game worlds
If you think you have GM ADD, don’t despair. Don’t shake your fist at the dice gods or pull your hair out. Don’t beat yourself up. Read the tips below and try them out. Let me know if they help or if you have any additional tips for ADDers.
- Go Hard, Go Fast
Ok, step one is accept your fate. You like to try out new ideas all the time and shiny things always become dull after a (short) while? Cool! This is a strength. It’s an advantage. And I say use it. Wield it to create awesome gaming experiences for your group.I say go hard, go fast!
Forget about aiming for the long plot arcs. Next time you start working over an idea, make it as cool and fun as you can. You likely experience periods of intense energy when the muse strikes. When this happens, stay focused and explore all aspects of the idea. Don’t hesitate because you fear this will become another short-lived thing. It _will_ be a short-lived thing! So, extract every ounce of flavour from it that you can.
Guilt or worry about starting something new–again–can dampen your spirits and create lacklustre GMing performances. Your new idea inspires you, right? You think it’s cool enough to explore, right? So put 100% of yourself into it. When you design, plan, and GM, let all of your enthusiasm pour out.
Imagine that, instead of another hesitant start because you’re worried your players will be mad, you start things off with a bang and your excitement electrifies everyone. The gaming is great because it’s interesting, fun, and new.
In 20 sessions, or 10, or 3, you’re done and have taken the adventure to completion. You knew you’d only be able to go for a short period of time, so you planned accordingly. You avoided the usual self-denial of, “this time will be different, this time we’ll go for years!”
You planned for a fast story and you jammed all the cool ideas you could into it. Then the game ends. You didn’t leave it open-ended for fear of disappointing the group. You didn’t keep going, and going, and going until you became so bored that you started cancelling sessions or dreading saddling up to the game table.
You made the brutal and tough decision: “yeah, this puppy’s got legs for about two months and then it’s got to end.” You designed for this, GMed it like this, and executed your plan.
And what will happen? The players will get closure (for a change!). You’ll actually finish something. You’ll get some confidence back. And everyone will have a lot of fun along the way. The best part is–you get to try something new now! No strings attached. No failed campaign weighing you down. No disappointed stares at your screen. You start fresh with no baggage and an exciting new story to tell.
It’s true that some groups might strongly dislike this style of play. See the tip below about giving your group a heads- up to help prevent this. However, chances are very good that your group will respond positively, even enthusiastically, to playing in games where you’re animated and excited and GMing well because you’ve found your bliss.
Go hard, go fast, take no prisoners. Give every idea you run everything you’ve got, and plan to GM it until you figure you’ve reached the half-life of your idea–no longer.
- Absorb EverythingI’m reading about 20 books right now. Some are fiction, some are non-fiction. I’m reading comics, novels, text books, coffee table books. Some are D&D books, some are books for other game systems. A few titles I’ve been working on for years, others I’ve only picked up recently. Often, I’ll re- read sections or jump ahead. Sometimes I’ll pick a book up once a month or less, while other books I’ll finish in a few days.
I’m a slow reader and this is my style. I don’t think it’s a better style than staying loyal to one or two books and finishing them before starting new titles. I don’t feel it’s a poorer method either.
If you’re an ADD GM, I’d like to suggest you aim to absorb as much as you can about the thing-of-the-moment that catches your interest. Just as you did with the Go Hard, Go Fast tip, accept your style and make the most of it.
If you try to learn and absorb as much as you can about the words you’re reading at any given time, you’ll be creating and filling a huge well of ideas. This well becomes a valuable repository that you can draw from while planning or GMing.
Your GMing ADD might lead you to read a lot of gaming books, possibly at the same time. Use this to your advantage and build up your knowledge bank so you can bring it to bear, at will, in your favourite hobby.
As a fun exercise, ask others how many books they have on the go currently. You’d be surprised at how many things people are reading at once. My sum of 20 books is paltry compared to some responses I’ve received. Heck, I might have to start more! 🙂
So, if you’re worried about being the type of person who starts a lot of books without finishing them, don’t be concerned. Instead, switch your worry to curiosity and focus on absorption. Oh, and get a library card.
- Use A Common PlatformUnless you’re a completely free spirit, you’ll probably crave at least some kind of long-term campaign building feeling or thread of continuity. A good solution for this is to establish a common platform in your gaming. This creates linkage (sometimes strong, sometimes weak) between your efforts and invested hobby time that results in feelings of build-up and long-term satisfaction.
Examples of common platforms:
- Game world. Each (or many) of your games, adventures, and campaigns take place on the same planet or plane. As you switch from idea to idea, new campaign to new campaign, you are still building upon the same game world and receiving all the benefits this approach has to offer.The D&D worlds of Forgotten Realms and Mystara are good examples, where multiple cultures, terrains, and technologies are available to flesh out and explore.
- Game universe. If your ideas tend to switch genres, time periods, or styles, you might consider at least sticking with a flexible game universe that can accommodate your passions.For example, the D&D universe of Planescape allows many opportunities to create encapsulated pocket realms. RIFTS allows for some excellent multi-genre adventuring. Amber is a cool RPG with multi-universe gaming opportunities as well.
- Mythology or theme. Some combos are harder to encapsulate than others. For example, high fantasy and hard sci-fi might be a stretch to accommodate in the same universe, according to your preferences. If this is the case, try working out a common mythos or theme that you can carry through (directly or indirectly) each campaign. Check out Michael Moorcock’s eternal champion thread of books as a good example of this.Other examples:
- A universal cycle
- Alternate dimensions, alternate realities
- An uber divine entity
- Game rules. Using the same game rules each campaign can definitely help. This allows you to freely switch genres and worlds without the overhead of learning new rules each time.Some universal and multi-genre game systems:
- GM goals. It can also help to have a GM-level objective with every game you play. Pick a goal or area of improvement and work on that, regardless of campaign type or style.For example:
- NPC roleplaying
- Describing detail
- Story telling
- Let Players Bolster Your WeaknessesChances are you find some aspect of GMing arduous or boring. This often leads to even higher campaign and idea turn-over because, as soon as you hit the difficult or boring part, you procrastinate or falter and move on to the next new thing.
For example, game rules really bug some GMs. They just want to tell the story or participate in an interactive story, and the game rules bog them down. They write on reams of paper about game worlds, stories, back stories, NPCs, and so on, but, as soon as it comes time to put prose into stat blocks, they back slowly away and then flee for their lives.
A good solution is to figure out the bumpy parts in your GMing road and enlist your players’ help. The best way to ensure a long-term solution for your group is to find out what GM-related tasks your players enjoy doing (if any). If someone gets to do something they enjoy, then motivation and follow-through are much more likely.
Another option is getting co-GM. Find a GMing partner whose strengths fit your weaknesses and vice versa. A third opportunity is to tap the online gaming community. Game publisher and fan sites abound with discussion boards, pre- generated GM material, and GMing resources. Search around with a list of specific needs in mind and get the help you need.
Often a campaign goes awry because the ADD GM can’t get past tasks that he loathes. If this happens to you, then reach out and see what help gets offered. It never hurts to ask.
- Give Your Players A Heads-UpHave a chat with your group and let them know about your self-diagnosed GM ADD. Ask for their feedback and cooperation. If you decide to adopt a gaming style that suits your needs, then inform your group about this and what it could mean in terms of changed game play.
There’s a saying that goes, “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than for permission.” However, if you show up to game night and nobody else does, you’ll never get a chance to apologise! So speak up before you drastically change things.
If your players know what to expect, chances are they’ll give it a chance and enjoy it more. If you have the unfettered freedom to pursue a style that you enjoy most, players will generally appreciate the good gaming you’ll enthusiastically provide.
Some things to consider chatting about:
- Players’ likes and dislikes. You might be surprised to discover their preferences mirror many of yours!
- Players’ observations on when you start to lose interest in the game. This information might make it easier to figuring out what kind of help to ask for.
- Player concerns. Often, what worries players are things you already plan on dealing with or are things that won’t even be a factor.
Most groups will appreciate and even look forward to a game night where the GM is enthused and fun to game with. It’s true that some players seek the on-going campaign style of play, but you risk losing the whole group, burn-out, or cessation of roleplaying altogether if you’re not motivated to GM. Chat with your players, solicit their feedback, and manage their expectations so you can game master in a way that works for you long term.
- Consider Cycling The GM ChairA potential solution to GM ADD is to offer up the GMing seat more often. This can benefit you in a few ways:
- Gives you a break so you can recharge your GMing batteries
- Gives you time to flesh out your next idea and make it the best it can be
- Puts a player in your shoes so they can appreciate things from your perspective–and vice versa
When you offer up your chair, be sure to discuss the length of time the new GM will take for her stint. You don’t want a miscommunication where the player plans out a long campaign when you had intended on GMing again in the near future. Also, ask what the player plans on running so you can avoid them accidentally GMing what you had planned for next. It can happen!
- Create A Fall-Back CampaignA great compromise between long-term accomplishment and short term GMing attention span is to craft an ongoing fall- back campaign. This is a game you return to from time to time when you’re between ideas or for when you crave something with longevity and continuity. Your players might enjoy this as well to get their long-term campaign fix in.
Each time you finish a session, put the game, characters, notes, and so on, in a box so that everything is always there and ready for when you need it.
For your ADD, the old campaign will seem fresh again each time you come back to it. Plus, over time, the campaign will slowly build and you just might achieve that multi-year status campaign you envy other GMs for.
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- A Sentient Tail
From: Nathan HeironimusHey Johnn,
I’m a long time reader and a first time submitter.
I’m a relatively new DM for my group, but at one of our early sessions I had a crazy idea that turned out to work very well when the players got out of hand. One of the players was a Tiefling and he had a quirk I dreamed up of having a tail that was sentient. Its personality was different from the player’s, and I used it give him ideas for what to do and to encourage roleplay from the group.
It was a bit odd at first, but once everyone got into it, it was a LOT of fun. I’ve now done similar things in other campaigns, but usually with familiars, spirits, or other “unexpected allies” of a player. The trick is to cause a lot of good things to come from it to counteract the trouble it causes.
I hope this tip is helpful and keep up the good work!
- Write Missing Tables Inside The Covers
From: Aaron PetryIn my D&D books, I found that the index was too detailed, but the table of contents didn’t have some tables and other information listed that I always needed, so I wrote my own into the front of them.
- Fate Points
From: Mistress Lindare: “The Dice Double-Standard Is OK” from Issue #223.
An interesting twist on this kind of thing can happen with systems like FATE (available free at http://www.faterpg.com ).
FATE characters have a store of ‘Fate Points’ that can be spent to avoid some unpleasantries or inconveniences, and are earned by the GM calling on negative aspects of the character. This idea can be extended a little bit to encourage players to roleplay their characters. FATE points can be represented using counters so that they’re easy to pass around and keep track of without erasing your character sheet into oblivion.
So, your NPC tries to bluff the character. If the character isn’t biting, you just roleplay the NPC trying harder to convince the player, and slide a counter over. If the player still isn’t interested they must match your offer. Once you hit about three, cut your losses and smile as the party loses precious fate points…
Or smile just a little more evilly – after all, they’ve got no way to know that it *wasn’t* a bluff.
- Use Hanging Files
From: John GallagherGet a hanging file box-cabinet. They are mobile (on wheels), and actually much handier, since they keep your files at a convenient height for a seated GM (no stooping to the bottom drawer of a cabinet). And, with a little cardboard laid over the top, it can double as a table for snacks or other GM- type stuff.
- Another Filing Cabinet Tip
From: MalakiteI have an idea for you on organization. My wife is a practicing witch. She and her coven often go out to the canyons around where we live to perform rituals. She bought a 3-drawer plastic cabinet at WalMart. It’s great. It comes with wheels so it’s easy to move around. She filled the three drawers with all the items she needs for rituals (candles, etc). There’s plenty of room in the drawers as well. The top is flat, so when you get to the gaming table, you’d have a stand beside you to place your drink on, or perhaps some papers you’ll need handy, but not necessarily need all the time.
To keep the drawers from sliding open while it’s being moved, my wife bought some cloth straps and a package of plastic buckles, then attached them to the straps. These then go all the way around the cabinet (front to back and side to side) and fasten. The buckles are adjustable so that the straps can be tightened once in place. She loves this cabinet.
Hope this helps someone out there.
- And Another Filing Cabinet Tip
From: EricIn regards to storing books in totes, I’ve also gone to the extent of having a tote set-up for each RPG or miniatures game I play: Traveller, Rolemaster, Napoleonics, and Ogre Miniatures.
In regards to filing cabinets, my gaming files, much to my wife’s chagrin, take up quite a bit of the “office” space. So, I’ve gone out and purchased lidded file or banker’s boxes to file information. These are easier to store in the garage on shelves and can be lifted easily by myself or my wife.
I’ve got a total of about two dozen boxes, with files of old scenarios, magazines, board games, old rule books, etc. I always try to “even” the weight so the wife can easily lift a box out of the way if I leave one on the floor near the shelves. All boxes are marked on the sides to identify the general contents. Specifics are listed on the lids. I’ve also extended this system to the wife’s hobbies of model railroading and crafts. Keeps us happy and organized, and my wife off my back for being a “clutter bug.”