Play games. Tell stories. Have fun.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

More GMing Advice from Clever People

Back on International GM's Day, I posted five pieces of GMing advice from some quite clever folks. I posted that advice because I don't think you should ever stop trying to make yourself a better GM.* And one of the ways that I improve is by reading about how other GMs run their games and trying to examine my games in the same way.

I'd strongly recommend seeking out some GMing advice blogs, forums, and/or podcasts, because—while I occasionally sprinkle in some tips among my tables—this is generally a content and ideas blog, not an advice blog. In fact, to the right of this post is a list of RPG sites that I recommend. Several of those are focused on delivering tips and advice to GMs with varying levels of experience.

(That said, I'd be happy to offer advice on specific situations, just ask.)

With all that out of the way, today I'd like to offer some additional advice from some additional clever folks.

"Don't prep plots, prep situations."

- Justin Alexander (AKA The Alexandrian)

Even if you have a story you want to tell through the game, set it up with interesting situations and dynamic NPCs. If you try to plot out your game like a book or movie, you're not going to get anywhere. That familiar adage comes to mind: "No plot survives contact with the players."

Think about the kind of story you want to tell, but be flexible, and don't forget that the players want to tell a story, too.

"Ask your players: what does that look like?"

- The RPG Academy

Especially with rules-heavy games like Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder, players rarely get to describe actions beyond the initial intent: "I want to draw my sword and stab the goblin in the gut." Because those actions are limited by the roll of the dice and by information that the players don't know (like enemy armor and health), it usually falls to the GM to narrate the results. Next time your player succeeds at a task, especially if they really nail it, ask them to describe it instead of describing it yourself.

Even if the player goes a little farther than you anticipated, roll with it. Incorporate their details back into the game.

"Adventures should be very simple, to give the players freedom and agency."

- Jerry NeLeave and Micah (from Obsidian Portal)

Very similar to the "Don't prep plots, prep situations" advice, but with a broader scope. You should be able to pare your adventure concept down to a short sentence. (Say, maybe, six words?) This simplicity allows the players to steer the adventure without interfering with your overall plans, since your plans don't say how they get to the City of Towering Shadows, only that they need to arrive eventually.

Even players who like to follow a clear path still want to be able to make decisions that will change the outcome of the adventure.

"Don’t save your cool stuff for your next session."

- Newbie DM

This is very similar to advice I've heard from comedians about stand-up comedy. The idea is that if you save your best stuff, you fixate on that and it becomes hard for you to move past it and think of other ideas. But if you are constantly using and sharing your best ideas, you are forced to think up new and better ones, and your brain doesn't have to work around a pile of stuff you're "saving for later."

Always give everything your best, because if you don't, you might not get another chance.

And here's a final piece of advice from DMing with Charisma's personal laws of DMing. Just like the motto of The RPG Academy, I don't this one requires any explanation.

"The goal of the game is to have fun."

- DMing with Charisma

*This also applies to being a human being in general. Never stop trying to better yourself.

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