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10:06 am: Help Needed: Game Master Classes

So…I’ve promised the Talking Boys that I will give them a weekly “Moderator’s Class” in how to moderate a roleplaying game.

But…my mind is kind of blank.

So, I would be grateful for any comments y’all might have on what makes a good roleplaying game master or good storytelling in general. (Because, in truth, isn’t a Mary Sue story–a real one, not when people smear a perfectly good female character by calling her a Mary Sue–really just the written version of the Game Master’s Pet NPC?)

Thanks!

 

Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon.

Comments

From:mythusmage
Date:January 11th, 2011 03:45 pm (UTC)
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Start with this secret, that game moderation is performance art. As the moderator you are putting on a performance, playing the role of all the encounters, all the non-player characters, monsters, and odd encounters. Learn how to get into character, and how to change character fast. Learn how to make each character distinct, unique. Most important, learn how to get involved in the game, and how to get your players involved, engaged. If you're not engaged, your players won't be engaged. So forget all that bloviating crap about being cool and disengaged, of focusing on the mechanics, and get your freak-on.

Take one encounter from one adventure and flesh it out. Who are the NPCs, why are they there? How do they know each other, why are they together? How do they get along? What are their goals? How determine are they to attaining those goals? How open are they to compromise, how apt to stick to a plan? How pervasive are they?

You know, you could also use this in your story telling. :)
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From:eric9854
Date:January 11th, 2011 03:51 pm (UTC)
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Secrets are great. Really good suggestions here.

Also - if the character isn't one you considered previously, keep a "cheat sheet" of random names on hand. It sounds more convincing if you encouter Deloria Backwater rather than "barmaid 'A'". Once you've used the name, make a note. Players will remember and come back to these folks. This works for business places too.

Don't over design - wait to see what direction the players pick. Feels more organic that way.
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From:arhyalon
Date:January 11th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC)
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>Don't over design

This made me laugh, because normally that is not a problem for the boys.

Though lately, they've been trying to run a game where they are trying to follow someone else's story, say Harry Potter or One Piece, and they want to follow the events exactly...that doesn't really work as a game.

I told them last night that the key is to know what the NPC's goals and motives are...then you are free to let your PCs go wherever they want.
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From:eric9854
Date:January 11th, 2011 04:12 pm (UTC)
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Not sure the reading level(s) you're working with, but using Star Wars might be a fair example here. All the books written now are about what happens that *isn't* in the films.

Harry Potter - what about the other kids in class? What are they doing? May or may not tie directly into the stories, but gives you room to play in the world.
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From:arhyalon
Date:January 11th, 2011 04:46 pm (UTC)
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Ooo! Asking them about scenes in stories they like and to come up with alternate scenerios as to what other actions could have taken place or what other characters might be up to is a great idea. They would LOVE that.

(They are so amused at a friend's idea that Neville Longbottom tells the story so that it seems as if he really did all the work while Harry hid in the forest.)
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From:marycatelli
Date:January 11th, 2011 06:40 pm (UTC)
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That's not a game, that's a dramatization.
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From:arhyalon
Date:January 11th, 2011 06:49 pm (UTC)
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Intesting that you mention that. We have on occasions talked about doing "story games" which would be the opposite of a good roleplaying game. The child gets to tell a story with all the major characters as NPCs and the rest of us participating in only a side way.

The idea here being to develop storytelling and let the child share an idea without being derailed by players.

There may be room for both.
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From:marycatelli
Date:January 12th, 2011 01:05 am (UTC)
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I don't DM for the very reason that I do not generate loose, open-ended scenarios that the characters can warp as they will.

Though it does tend to give my stories focus.
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From:arhyalon
Date:January 12th, 2011 03:26 pm (UTC)
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It is the big difference between games and writing. One needs a much larger grasp of the world and the motivation of the NPCs to run an open ended game than to write...but writing allows a kind of focus games lack.

The boys are starting at a disadvantage because no one I've ever heard of runs games as naturally or as open-ended as their father. Gives them a skewed idea of what is possible. ;-)
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From:arhyalon
Date:January 11th, 2011 03:55 pm (UTC)
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>You know, you could also use this in your story telling. :)

One of my thoughts is that any roleplaying thing we do with the boys will help them in their storytelling. In fact, how to put a story together is a big part of what I hope to go over.
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From:eric9854
Date:January 11th, 2011 03:47 pm (UTC)
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Being a good game master is always relative to the group you're playing with. I'm exceptionally picky about my game groups.

Most important things I can think of:

Don't ever forget that it's a game. Have fun. As soon as it's not fun, you're wasting your time - and everyone else's time too.

Create house rules. Make sure everyone understands, then stick to them. My favorite rule is: once the group is established, nobody else joins the mix unless there's a unanimous vote to allow the new person to join. Keeps the chemistry right if things are working.

IF the rules don't fit, a rules lawyer can ruin a good story. A character might do something successfully even if the "rules" say they wouldn't. Allow your game to flex just enough to avoid bad story results without throwing the rules out the window.

Be prepared for smart players and be flexible. Don't create epic level door guards in a small town just because you think it's too early for the players to have figured out your hook (or where the bad guy lives). If you force the story, the players will feel they have no control and that's not what an RPG is about.

Best I can do on short notice.
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From:arhyalon
Date:January 11th, 2011 03:58 pm (UTC)
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Thanks. I'm putting everything recommended here in a file so I don't forget any of it. Then, I'll reorganize it into subjects.
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From:princejvstin
Date:January 11th, 2011 04:00 pm (UTC)
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What makes a good GM?

I've been GMing for years, and made my share of mistakes, but I'd like to think I know a thing or two by now.

I'd write a whole essay but that would be awfully arrogant of me...so maybe an idea to start?

Let the PCs be Awesome:

NPCs are important, crucial to a game's success. The game should never be a highlight for them. The game is for the players and the PCs, not for the GM's characters. When in doubt, let the PCs and players do it.

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From:arhyalon
Date:January 11th, 2011 04:06 pm (UTC)
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If you feel like writing an essay at any point, feel free.... (Meanwhile I've recorded what you have here.)

I was actually thinking of you when I wrote this post. I hoped you'd chime in. ;-)

Edited at 2011-01-11 04:07 pm (UTC)
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From:juliet_winters
Date:January 11th, 2011 05:35 pm (UTC)
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A good referee thinks about what the players want...what situations do they need to have a good time. For some, it will be a fight scene. For some, it will a chance to encounter interesting NPC's, for some, it's solving a puzzle.

A bad referee makes it all about himself and acts immature when the players wander off the limited imaginary map he's set up. Likewise, a bad referee will make fun of his players or refuse to let them do what they want--within the reality limits of the game.

Again, a good referee knows what is possible and what is not possible even in imaginary world. It's important to know this to rein in power players who will spoil it for everyone else. Also, the referee has to know what kind of world he is running. If there is no concept of good and evil, things will get out of hand very quickly. So, it helps if there is a "big bad" for the season and various lesser bads per episode.

Knowing in advance that a campaign needs to have rising and falling action like any story is another good trick. Most campaigns should have a pre-imagined stopping point or points, where you can switch games if you have a mind to do so.

I think that studying both acting and storytelling (there are books on it designed to teach kids) would help them a lot. It's hard to have a good game if you are not a good storyteller.

--Mrs. Johnson
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From:arhyalon
Date:January 11th, 2011 06:08 pm (UTC)
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Thanks. As I said to another commenter, it is my hope that what we do in these classes will make them better storytellers. I also hope to develop tools to help them solve problems they struggle with. These tools might be tossed away when they are older, but right now, some simple ideas to fall back on could help. (stuff like "Make up three events" or "here's a simple chart for wounds so you don't have to make the players merely completely succeed or completely fail.)

I thought of sending the question to Steve, as he both moderates and deals with youths...but I didn't know if he might be too busy.
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From:juliet_winters
Date:January 11th, 2011 08:24 pm (UTC)
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G.U.R.P.S. is an easier system than D & D. Do not recommend going anywhere near the Champions system.

I mentioned the social issues because if they don't get those down, they will have a hard time finding people who want to play with them outside of their immediate circle.

Teaching storytelling skills with material from one of those books, such as "Stories in My Pocket: Tales Kids Can Tell" and "Medieval Tales that Kids Can Read and Tell" would be excellent practice for story construction and maybe something to add to your next magic show.

Will ask Steve. Right now he's got his hands on a lot of projects...
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From:arhyalon
Date:January 11th, 2011 09:08 pm (UTC)
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THanks. Perhaps Steve will have a word of wisdom or two that you could pass on for him without us troubling him too much.(Unless he is interested.)
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From:juliet_winters
Date:January 12th, 2011 03:23 pm (UTC)
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Steve had these suggestions:

Because you potentially have 4 people competing to run games in your household, he strongly recommends that you stick with episodic adventures where there's a set problem to solve and when it's solved, that session is over. Otherwise you're going to be "running" on top of each other and it's going to get extremely confusing and unsatisfying.

Every game Steve runs is at its core a mystery. Each episode has a piece of the mystery to be solved either by thinking or fighting or sometimes both--how the players solve it is open-ended. The campaign consists of finding out the answer to the overall mystery. This dovetails with the little bads/big bads I mentioned earlier. You can see this type of construction in earlier seasons of Buffy, for example.

In Steve's case, not only is every game/campaign a mystery, it is also often a Cthulu game in disguise. As one of our fellows said, "I don't care if it's a space game. I'm bringing Holy Water."
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From:carbonelle
Date:January 30th, 2011 04:19 am (UTC)

Second that!

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From runnning games for teens (and young teens) in the Star Wars, Toon & Pratchett 'verses, Steve's model is the way to go.

Also learned from those experiences: laugh! Bring on the funny. Have at least one ridiculous NPC character and plan for at least one scenario where the problem set up is going to involve a lot of silly humor.

By the way, if I have failed to appreciate the spectacular wonderfulness that is Steve's Harry Potter RPG framework/game system, not to mention all the work he did with background characters, professors, etc. I apologise. When it comes to designing a game system for school-age kids, **cue Wayne's World Music***: I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!

Not only was the game I ran (based on Steve's excellent fairy-tale scenario--one of my all time favorites--such a treat) a success, but one of the girls who attended in 2009 took his system and successfully ran a followup game for the 2010 SRP. Wow!

A thousand thanks!
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From:arhyalon
Date:January 30th, 2011 02:12 pm (UTC)

Re: Second that!

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Funny really helps!

So far we've had two lessons: thinking of another optioin for a scene and damage and hit location.

We've decided to go with the dradle system (called that because it works well with a dradle instead of dice.) Which is that there are four options for the outcome: very good, somewhat good, somewhat bad, and very bad. We even went over how this can be applied to percentiles, six siders, etc...changing the percentage for each thing (playing with a one in four chance of something very bad happening is hard!) But it is a nice system for small children...gets the point across and moves them beyond absolute success or failure.

What is Steve's Hogwarts game system like? We love the one we play with It has a number of functions that really fit Harry Potter (though like any system, it could use a little work.) Our favorite thing is the star. You can put your star in any area and you suddenly become exceptional in some way in that area. (For example: Lucy Pevensie has a 10 * in Familiar. Her familiar is a little lion named Aslan....we call him the Comfort Lion, because he shows up and takes the edge off our pain when we are sad.)

Having the star allows characters with similar numbers to have different emphasises. It's really cool. John has started given the boys a star in other games, too.
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From:juliet_winters
Date:February 4th, 2011 03:41 pm (UTC)

Re: Second that!

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Sorry, I missed this the first time through. Will pass on to Steve and he will be most pleased that he could help.

You're right on about the humor. In our current GhostBusters game, the fall-down-funny guy is a character named Fergus Ferguson. He's a loud and rowdy Irishman with a heart of gold--literally. Originally designed to be one of 7 henchmen of Malakith the Accursed, he's actually a gold elemental harvested and put in an earthen body. His "brothers" are iron, lead (a bit of a thickee), etc. but all have regular names.

He and his brothers (who can not leave the Earth) tried to help us in Faerie Land by dumping large amounts of cold iron on Stone Henge. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time...until the anti-terrorism squad showed up.

We have new players who are mystified as to his origins but find his actions and his accent to be wildly amusing.
"Who IS he?!"
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From:kokorognosis
Date:January 11th, 2011 09:06 pm (UTC)
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I suppose it depends on what system you guys use and moderation style, but our first forays into roleplaying in these parts were the Robotech RPG. I wanted to make a campaign that felt like an episode of the show and put them up against 500 or so enemy mecha.

Rick Hunter and Max Sterling were quite capable of defeating that!

Yeah, well. (In hindsight, I also remember it being mentioned that if characters from the show appeared in a campaign, they'd generally get absurd roll bonuses.)

I guess... Don't try to emulate source material too closely. What makes for an amazing episode/chapter/scene doesn't always make for fun gaming for your gamers. It might wind up just being frustrating.
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From:arhyalon
Date:January 11th, 2011 09:39 pm (UTC)
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>Don't try to emulate source material too closely.
That's a really important one.
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From:ccr1138
Date:January 11th, 2011 11:39 pm (UTC)
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The 4th Edition of the Dungeon Master's Guide (Dungeons & Dragons) devotes quite a large section to this, and I find it is good advice. It analyzes what motivates players, and gives useful tips on how to make the game both challenging and fun, mediating disputes, etc.
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