Motivating Yourself As A GM

From Kit Reshawn

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0391

A Brief Word From Johnn

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Voices From The Dead Side by Ria Kennedy

Roleplaying Tips reader and contributor Ria Kennedy has a new book out. “Ghost stories, ancient myths, a young girl tormented by a restless darkness… Voices From The Dead Side is an anthology of horror stories that will take you from confrontations with ageless evils, to the darkness of the human soul. Seven new and original short stories appear in this volume.”

Congrats, Ria!

The book is available at Amazon: Voices From The Dead Side

5 Room Dungeons Volume 11 Ready To Download

The next volume of 5 Room Dungeons contest entries is now ready for download. Featured in this volume:

  1. The Mercenary Shrine (sci-fi) by Ancient Gamer
  2. The Cursed Keep of the Wastelands by Captain Penguin
  3. The Well by Bert Isla
  4. The Governor’s House by Anthony Hart-Jones
  5. Blind Pack by Jean-Christophe Pelletier

Download (PDF 1 MB) – 5 Room Dungeons – Vol11

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Johnn Four
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Motivating Yourself As A GM

This was written in response to the cry from help from the GM who is finding it hard to find motivation. Below is a list of tips that help keep me motivated and avoid GM Burnout.

Keep A Designated GM Planning Time

Get into the habit of planning. Set time once a week (or two weeks, or however often you game) where you sit down and do what planning you need. You can also use it as a brainstorming session, or maybe just a time to think about things you feel are problems and their solutions.

The goal is to get yourself into a habit. One problem that often hurts GMs is they do not get into a groove when planning. This usually leads to poorly planned sessions, which can also hurt your excitement for GMing (it is never fun to scramble to put things together at the last moment, or to watch things fall apart due to poor planning).

Forming this planning schedule prevents this problem from happening. Even better, you will start to find that, if you keep to the schedule, it becomes easier to do the planning. This is because you train yourself to get into a mindset more easily when you keep something regular.

I have always liked to have this planning right before a session (3 hours before, usually), and will do last minute alterations to the current session as well as layout plans for the next session. This way I have:

  1. Fresh in my mind what we will be doing
  2. Clear vision of where I want to go
  3. In mind all the neat things I know are coming up

Others I know prefer to have their planning a day or two in advance.

[Comment from Johnn: great tip, Kit. I can vouch that this works. I GM every other week on a Thursday, and I consider the off Thursday I don’t GM my planning night. So, I set it in my head – and in my schedule – that I GM every week, and on weeks I don’t have a game I’m doing the prep. Works well.]

Don’t Work Too Hard

This is a very important rule, no matter how “into it” you are at the moment. Keeping a set planning schedule is good, but make sure to also place limits on how hard you will work. I never work on GMing more than 2 hours straight, no more than 1 if I can get away with it. I also try not to work on it more than 4 hours a week once I have my campaign running.

Working too hard is a sure way to burn yourself out. It turns GMing from a nice distraction to another job that will ruin your fun. I once knew a GM who would spend maybe 10 hours a week planning. His sessions were absolutely amazing But, ultimately, he would lose interest because it was just too much work for him.

Also keep in mind this pertains to the early planning stages. Have an idea of where you want to go, but don’t bother to set things in stone. Have a loose timeline that will guide you, but be willing to add/subtract/deviate from it wherever necessary. Have your major NPCs made, but don’t try to plan every minor character the players might encounter.

Planning too much too early often results in things going wrong. Players can and do ruin your big, fabulous plans, and it can be frustrating when you have whole story lines hinged on this. Instead, try to not have things planned out more than 2 sessions in advance. This makes it easy to change gears, if necessary, and also keeps you from feeling depressed when all your work is “ruined” by the players.

Know What Players Want

This does not just mean the players themselves, but also the PCs. Often, GMs will not have fun if their players are not, and players usually do not have fun if their PCs aren’t getting to do what they want.

Sure, someone playing a scholarly character might want to investigate a mystery, but I once knew a player who ran a scholarly character who wanted to prove his strength to his father by becoming a warrior. Do not assume you know what the players want their PCs to do just because of the class they picked. Ask. And ask often because it will change.

At the same time, there are things players want from a game session that might not depend on their PCs. For one of my gaming groups, the RPG was just a sideshow that was an excuse for us to get together once a week and socialize.

Knowing this, it was easy to plan for a campaign with the understanding that it needed to have lots of space for “talking breaks” where everyone would gab for 15-30 minutes. Another group was focused on actually RPing, so to keep things fun I would need to keep on topic and discourage OOC comments.

It is possible what your players want will result in conflicts. For instance, some players might want to socialize while others want to RP. In this case, your job is to figure out how to give everyone what they want as much as possible. The more fun your players have the easier it will be for you to have fun as well.

Know What You Want Too

*You are a player.* It is easy to forget this because the way you play is different. Of all the players in the game you have the heaviest burden. You are expected to plan, make rulings, create interesting scenarios.

Make sure you are doing things you want as well. If you do not enjoy mystery campaigns then do not run one. This is not to say you should ban all mystery from a game, but rather, if you do not like it you should not make it the focus. Got an idea for a neat encounter? Work it into the campaign. Have a nasty trick to pull on the players? Put it in and see if they fall for it.

The best ideas you come up with will often be the ones _you_ think are fun. These are the ideas you will not mind doing work on because you already know they are going to be cool. Your players will enjoy it more because you will have fun running it. Notice how you will have fun when your players are, but also your players will have more fun when you do as well. Find something to be enthusiastic about and your players will often catch onto it as well, which in turn will feed your own enjoyment.

Will your players always love the things you come up with? No. But they will enjoy it much more than something you came up with and do not like. There will always be a difference in the quality of the work.

Stop In The Middle Of Things

This is a common tip that can help a lot in many different ways. For example, the classic cliffhanger end to a session:

The PCs have just barged in on the bad guy as he is about to sacrifice the princess. His army of goblins bursts from hidden compartments in the walls as their NPC allies rush to shut down the portal that will allow the dread god of Kul-ab-Zule to enter the realm. Can the NPCs shut the portal in time? Can the PCs save the princess before she is killed? Come back next time to find out.

This type of end to a session is great because it makes people excited to find out what will happen. Hey, I even want to know what happens next in that session and I made it up. This excitement will help you work, but also give you ideas. It is a great way to end a session.

But you can use that reasoning for planning as well. One thing I always try to do when I plan is to stop in the middle of a scene (or adventure, or whatever). In the middle of a word, usually. Make a few notes of what I was doing on a pad of paper and then put it down until the next planning session.

Why would I do this? When you leave things unfinished they nag at the back of your mind. People hate to leave things unfinished, and your mind will slowly churn away at the unfinished story, even if you are not aware of it. Then, when you come back to plan, you sit down, read your notes, read what you left off in the middle of, and you are ready to go. You can’t wait to get down all these new ideas and finish the scene.

Let The Players Write The Plot

Here is one of my biggest tricks, learned quite by accident. Often, I don’t even bother to write my own campaigns. I have my players do it for me. Now, they don’t realize they are doing this, and I figure they would probably be a bit miffed if they found out, but it is still a wonderful method that removes a whole lot of workload.

Here is what you need to do:

  1. Get your players working on some problem in the campaign.
  2. Give them a scene where they can talk it over amongst themselves in-character.
  3. Listen to the conversation quietly and take notes.

This will almost always give you new ideas because your players have a unique perspective.

A twist on this technique is to walk up to one of your players out of the session and ask them what they think is happening. This not only lets you get a feel for how well players are absorbing the information you provide for them, but also points out interesting possibilities you might not have considered.

This method completely altered my campaign plot the first time I used it. The character I had intended to be the big bad guy suddenly became a pawn who was being used while another character worked to release a great evil (who was also, consequently, a pawn of an even more clever individual who wanted the great evil released to allow a war against the gods themselves). This method has also changed minor encounters into pivotal story points, and made minor characters’ integral to the plot.

Next time your PCs are talking about what they think is happening, just sit down quietly and take notes. When one of them says, “Well, I think the baron is just being used because…” you can sit with a smile and think “Oh, really?”

Add The Ridiculous

It pays to add something ridiculous to the campaign on occasion. It gets people’s attention and gives them something to think and talk about. While you should avoid going too over the top with it, do not be afraid to add in something that is completely strange and unexpected.

Let me stress that again. Do not go over the top. For you Star Wars fans, we want Ewoks, not Jar-Jar Binks. The thing you throw in should be somewhat plausible. Do not have aliens appear in your high fantasy campaign unless you have a good reason (and a whole lot of amazing back story to explain it). Feel free, however, to add a Halfling that continually struggles with his too-big clothing since that is all he can buy in a human town.

Next time you come to a showdown with the big bad guy and you have a flight of fancy, don’t discount it. Who knows where it will take you? Once, I had the baddie grin and slowly open a cage, thereby releasing his pack of vampire lemurs! And, by the way? Best boss battle *ever*.

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have some GM advice you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Do Player Recaps After Sessions

From Varianor

One method of encouraging roleplaying that always goes well is doing a player recap. After each game, go around the table and ask each player to comment on at least one good roleplaying moment, one clever idea, and one good contribution to the group’s success for each of the other players. Invariably, the group will discover that everyone has contributed almost equally every session – even the quiet players.

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City Mapping

From Tony and Jane

A subject dear to my heart. There are a few problems I have had with handing out maps of entire cities to players, especially in a fantasy game.

Unless the PCs are familiar with the city (they grew up there or lived there for several years) they are not going to know about a lot of stuff that would appear on an accurate map. Obviously, you’re not about to put a big “X” where the thieves’ or assassins’ guilds are, but also such stuff as the layout of the streets in areas they’ve never been, or where all the shops, taverns, and small-temples- that-they-don’t-belong-to are.

If they’re new to the city, they are going to know little about it – basically where they are staying, major buildings, famous sites, that sort of thing. They might only know areas of the city as the “peddler’s quarter” or the “foreigner’s ghetto.” And if they are foreigners (or perhaps even locals) parts of the city might be off-limits as well.

In a fantasy game, maps are not going to be at all accurate or detailed. Take a look at some of the historical map links below to see what I mean. They are generally pictures, picking out rows of houses and the major landmarks in a city. Not something I’d like to rely on to find Ye Olde Alchemist’s Shoppe. You can use this to good effect – an inaccurate or out-of-date map is a great plot hook, and you can stuff it full of teasers (such as the magicians’ guild, which is no longer there).

Where the characters do have some knowledge of a city, then a rough map is a good idea. The joy of this is it is easy to produce, and still leaves them pretty much in the dark as to precise details.

Start by sketching out the city walls and bits outside, and locate a few of the landmarks they are familiar with. Label other areas by the standard of housing, who lives there, or what the locals call the area. The area outside the walls might be the Foregate for instance, and the better-off bit might be called Rich Hill, and an area with the tannery, slaughterhouse, and mushroom farm might be Smellsville. PCs who know the city well will know the layout of the streets, but you can simply describe this to them when they are in the area rather than map it out.

The advantage of not giving the PCs a detailed map is you can add to their rough map as the adventure progresses, and plot new locations as your players come across them (or you think of them).

Eventually, you will have to re-vamp the map, but by then your players will know a lot about the city. You could even rope one of them into helping with your cartography.

SF and modern games are a different matter – there will be accurate maps for most locations, and the Internet can provide you with a lot of what you need.

Here are some links. Solis is a fantasy city and well worth checking out for ideas. The others are old maps or maps of old places to illustrate what I mean.

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Another Vote For Wikis

From Quicksilver

Wikis can be handy things. They can be a reference the gamemaster provides to his players, and a repository of accumulated knowledge and notes contributed by the players. For those that don’t know, a wiki is a collaborative, easily editable, hyperlinked series of blurbs, articles, or notes in a browser viewable document. For those of us who are older, it is similar to a small, contained version of the early days of web-browsing. 🙂

  • A gamemaster can set one up before a campaign begins with his world background, house rules, etc.
  • Players can log on and add notes, thoughts, storylines, adventure logs, character activities, or whatever else they think is noteworthy or will contribute to the development of the game or aid in group recollection of things past.
  • The Gamemaster can read what the players contribute and get a better feel for what they enjoy, what they took note of that might reappear in the future, reap new adventure hooks from their speculations, find out what they might be missing in the form of clues, correct misconceptions (or create them), etc.
  • The players can keep a version of their character sheet on the wiki and access it from any player’s home computer.

There are several free hosting options out there. I would suggest first trying one of these places:

Tiddlywiki is a flexible do-at-home option, but it isn’t the easiest for online collaboration: Tiddly Wiki

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Chess Board Encounter Idea

From Samir

Looking for an innovative way to fill one evening’s game, I hit upon what I hoped was a unique idea. I set up a chess board with a chess player in a room separate from the normal game room. When the game started, I had each player roll for initiative. In initiative order, players got to go into the other room and choose what chess piece they wished to play (no pawns).

The first player also chose the side of the board that our heroes got to work from. (As it turned out, the player with the least experience in chess won the initiative.)

The players characters were not allowed to interact in-game with each other during the match. Each player would go into the chess room and make one move. So, a team with a variety of skill levels in chess had to play against one person of excellent skill.

Each time a piece was taken, the combat board would be brought out and the represented piece used to fight. The side that made the attack move received automatic initiative. If it was a pawn, I would ask for the players to think of any NPC that ever adventured or worked with them, and then that NPC was placed on the combat board for the players to control.

When the player’s side lost a battle, not only did the piece come off the board, but they as a team lost a D6 of ability points, bumping up the danger level.

When the player side won, their chess piece remained on the board and they earned back half of what they lost in ability points from one previous match.

In between chess piece combat, I had also photocopied a series of riddles and Mensa puzzles as handouts. I appointed one player to hand one out to anyone he chose, and that person would try to solve the puzzle.

As the chess game progressed I would hear cries and moans from the other room. “Oh my god! Who made this stupid move!” Eventually, the players started suggesting tactics to each other (no one actually told anyone to make any specific moves).

At first, players were afraid to move other people’s pieces. But, as they each got into the spirit of the game, they began moving each other’s pieces into and out of danger (especially after they found out they could not heal each other). After the game was over (the players won, by the way) I was asked to keep this adventure handy. Some wanted to play that one again, and I noticed 3 of the 10 players had broken out their chess boards after the game.