Emotions Before the Game
I’m reading an interesting GMing book right now called How to Run by Alexis D. Smolensk. And Alexis has a pre-game welcoming stage I think is brilliant:
“…I must motivate [the players], provoking their attention and creating the shared experience that is game play.
“At the start of the session, the players enter the theatre, that being my living room. They come in a few at a time and this is a settling in process. In many ways it is an influential time for a DM. I must be cheerful and welcoming. I should apply myself to the players’ needs and resolve any issues they may have brought in with them from outside.
“If they need to tell a story about something that has happened, I must listen. However, I should not listen like a friend, but like a priest. I want to offer support and comfort, but I do not at this time want to take advantage of speaking my own troubles, or giving my opinions extensively upon the player’s woes.
“My goal is to take the players from the outside world into the world of the game – and this is not done by unnecessarily expanding upon what the player has to say. Players need to unburden before a game, in order to free their minds. I am here to enable this unburdening; not to solve a player’s troubles.”
This is smart. It lets players transition from the real world to your shared imaginary one. It lets them shed their day’s troubles and connect with their fellows as preparation for reaching the same wavelength conducive for collaboration and gaming together.
It also lets you reform empathy with your group. During the game you want to don your many hats, such as the referee and Master of Ceremonies ones. You want to reforge bonds with your players, bonds temporarily broken by time passing between sessions and your own daily dramas.
I do a terrible job of this. My players just let themselves in and come downstairs to the basement where I’m setting up my screen and maps and whatnot. When all but the last player arrives I interrupt to get the game started. And I’m fairly abrupt with transition from social to hard core gaming mode.
Having healthy emotional I.Q. is important for my goal of becoming an Epic GM. Welcome players. Let them make that journey from reality through the misty veil of your milieu. And facilitate transition through stages of unwinding, reconnecting, and journeying into the boots of their characters. I’m going to call this my Welcome Mat.