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Lessons you've learnt that made you a better GM and/or player

Brad J. Murray

VSCA
RPGnet Member
Validated User
While I may never actually play Burning Wheel I found that it was full of ideas that I've since gone on to use elsewhere.

Let it ride. Let one roll of the dice be enough until the situation drastically changes. Less is more.
Let it ride is so important that now it seems obvious. It wasn't at the time (for me). It was revelatory.
 

1of3

Registered User
Validated User
Setting is the most difficult kind of rule. We usually think there is setting and rules. But the very idea of a rule is that it tells us what to do and what not to do in the game. And certainly settings shapes our behaviour in such ways. Except, while those numbers are usually nicely explained, with cheat sheets and bullet points, setting is all too often opaque and convoluted and people don't even realize they have to learn and teach it, if they want it in their game. My play became much better, when I started going it rules-light, i.e. minimal setting.
 

GrahamWills

Member
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Here's my view: when done correctly, "prep situations not plots" reduces the need to improvise because you're coming to the session armed with tools to respond to whatever the players do. By "tools" I don't just mean you've statted out NPCs, it also includes situations, challenges, encounters and rewards you've prepared in advance and can present to the players whenever it feels appropriate. By contrast, when you prepare a plot, you either need to railroad the players into it, or you need to improvise as soon as they deviate from it.
You know, I'm not sure there's a strong line between situations and plots. If you prep what the bad guy's reactions are going to be to, or what they will do if no-one interferes, I'd call that a plot, but others might call it a situation. What I do for campaigns like Dracula Dossier, which have a lot of continuity in terms of many actors in the world pursuing goals, is:
  • Spend a lot of time on defining goals, locations and personalities (the "situation")
  • Spend some time defining how the various parties will try to achieve their goals (very loose plotting, is what I would think -- maybe plot threads?)
  • Spend a little time envisaging how the players are likely to react and making sure appropriate material is available for that (classic "plotting")
So Dracula who, in my campaign, is a warlord and not that good at magic, wants to gain some magical protection against Countess Bathory. So I flesh out a Romanian Sorceress who he will kidnap and force to work for him. Because I want my players to hate me, I use an NPC one of the player characters has formed a romantic attachment to and adapt that person.

I *expect* the players to go and try and retrieve her (this is the "expected plot") so I flesh out the area she is trapped in; I'm going with a Rupanzel theme -- honestly mostly because the picture I'm using of her has long dark hair -- so I put her in a tower in the woods. I have it guarded by werewolves.

When the day comes round the players decide that trekking through enemy woods is not their favorite plan, and instead they decide to infiltrate a Romanian air base and steal a helicopter. So we improvise a base, have a fun encounter there, then a quite exciting scene as they try and get the sorceress out on a rope dangling down with werewolves below and incoming air strikes. Followed by an air-based chase scene.

Overall about ¾ of my prepped material was used; this actually had more improv than usual as the player plan was a lot more aggressive than their usual more stealthy approach. My werewolves commando force was shelved and re-used later to guard Dracula as he tried to vampirize Putin so even that prep wasn't wasted.

Is this creating a plot? It feels like it to me, but maybe it's what most people would call creating a situation?
 

Random Goblin

Esquire
Validated User
This is one way to do it. Though I try to filter what they think they know through what I do know before I give them anything, partly to keep consistent and partly so they still get some surprises.
Eh, if a player comes up with something cool on the spot, it was just as much a surprise to everyone in the room as it would hav I had been holding the card up my sleeve the whole time.

Never ever say "I don't know" or "it doesn't matter" to your players about your setting or game

You are the GM, you should know and you should care. If you want player immersion and investment then you need to know even if you don't know the answer, and you need to care even if you don't. If a Player asks the name of a place, thing, or person do not say "I don't know" or "it doesn't matter" that will destroy a player's immersion in your setting. If you are trying to sell players that your setting is a living breathing place the PCs should care about, then "I don't know" or "it doesn't matter" are not acceptable answers to player questions. Those answers are signals to your players that they shouldn't care about your setting or your game. You want your players to care! Which leads to my next bit of advice:
Assuming that immersion is one of your goals, I guess? It is very specifically and explicitly not a goal when I run a game. Like I said before, I run games with the hood up, and the results have been pretty consistently fantastic. Your mileage varies, I'm sure, but just consider the possibility that immersion is not self-evidently, necessarily or automatically the goal of a roleplaying game, and there are a lot of ways to have fun that set immersion by the wayside. Personally, I find that I have to sacrifice too much to make immersion work, and even then it's too ephemeral to consistently maintain. Too much work for not a consistent enough payoff.

But in any case, I agree with you that "I don't know" and "it doesn't matter" are bad answers because, whether you are trying for immersion or not, they shut down avenues of gameplay instead of opening them up. In short, they are not fun answers.

So if I really don't know, I make it up, or turn it back on the player ("you tell me!") or punt ("let's play to find out!").

Setting is the most difficult kind of rule. We usually think there is setting and rules. But the very idea of a rule is that it tells us what to do and what not to do in the game. And certainly settings shapes our behaviour in such ways. Except, while those numbers are usually nicely explained, with cheat sheets and bullet points, setting is all too often opaque and convoluted and people don't even realize they have to learn and teach it, if they want it in their game. My play became much better, when I started going it rules-light, i.e. minimal setting.
Huh, I never thought of it in those specific terms, but it's the direction my games have been going over the past 4-5 years anyway. Minimal setting lets us define things in interesting ways as we go, instead of having to mentally run every new detail through the entirety of a complex setting canon.
 

Mr. Meister

Grade 3 de Bifrons
Banned
I think it's already been said, but don't foil the players' plans if it's not deserved.

You have already planned The Encounter With Mr.Boss, and your players have a better, funnier and "badasser" way of dealing with it ?

If it's a good plan, go with it, and too bad for Mr.Boss, he'll have his zeppelin-based appareance for next game !

Nothing worse for the players than scrounging their brains for a logical (game-wise) way to beat the opposition, only to be rebunked because the GM wants to let his cutscene roll.
 

Grimble

Registered User
Validated User
You know, I'm not sure there's a strong line between situations and plots. If you prep what the bad guy's reactions are going to be to, or what they will do if no-one interferes, I'd call that a plot, but others might call it a situation. What I do for campaigns like Dracula Dossier, which have a lot of continuity in terms of many actors in the world pursuing goals, is:
  • Spend a lot of time on defining goals, locations and personalities (the "situation")
  • Spend some time defining how the various parties will try to achieve their goals (very loose plotting, is what I would think -- maybe plot threads?)
  • Spend a little time envisaging how the players are likely to react and making sure appropriate material is available for that (classic "plotting")
So Dracula who, in my campaign, is a warlord and not that good at magic, wants to gain some magical protection against Countess Bathory. So I flesh out a Romanian Sorceress who he will kidnap and force to work for him. Because I want my players to hate me, I use an NPC one of the player characters has formed a romantic attachment to and adapt that person.

I *expect* the players to go and try and retrieve her (this is the "expected plot") so I flesh out the area she is trapped in; I'm going with a Rupanzel theme -- honestly mostly because the picture I'm using of her has long dark hair -- so I put her in a tower in the woods. I have it guarded by werewolves.

When the day comes round the players decide that trekking through enemy woods is not their favorite plan, and instead they decide to infiltrate a Romanian air base and steal a helicopter. So we improvise a base, have a fun encounter there, then a quite exciting scene as they try and get the sorceress out on a rope dangling down with werewolves below and incoming air strikes. Followed by an air-based chase scene.

Overall about ¾ of my prepped material was used; this actually had more improv than usual as the player plan was a lot more aggressive than their usual more stealthy approach. My werewolves commando force was shelved and re-used later to guard Dracula as he tried to vampirize Putin so even that prep wasn't wasted.

Is this creating a plot? It feels like it to me, but maybe it's what most people would call creating a situation?
I'd call it creating a setting. Essentially, you are designing the locations and NPCs you expect the players to interact with. You are giving the NPCs motivations, and deciding what they will do in the absence of the PCs. On game day, we drop the PCs into the setting, and see what happens.
This is a valid and oft-recommended approach. But it's not the only one.

A different approach might be:
Think of your prep like building a Magic deck. Each "card" is an interesting NPC (with motivations), or cool location, or a set-piece challenge or encounter, or a reward/treasure. You don't define, or only define very loosely, when and where they may occur or be found. You show up at the session with your "deck of cards", maybe introduce a hook to get things started, and let the players drive the action. You present appropriate "cards" from your deck in response to what the players do, and the plot develops organically from there. I call this the player-facing method, because rather than designing "the world", you're only designing things in terms of how they interact with the PCs.

I'd love to discuss the pros and cons to each approach, but that probably deserves a whole separate thread!
 

Corvinity

Registered User
Validated User
Monster of the Week taught me not to pull punches (assuming a system that won't just kill the characters if I don't).

If part of the point of the game is for the characters to show how awesome they are, they can actually do that better if I put them in really tough situations. If I make it easy, it's not as fun for the players to overcome the challenge, and it doesn't bring out as much of the characters.

To be even more specific, it taught me to first telegraph something bad that's about to happen, then give the players a chance to do something about it, then let it actually happen if they fail (again assuming a system and genre that can accommodate).
 

ElvisSavage LordSideburn

Dilletante of all trades
RPGnet Member
Validated User
When on of my players said, "The DM must be mad at us, he's making us investigate...." I realized that by brillaint puzle with a couple of red herrings was going to flop badly. I have since made sure that every important location has at least one clue to the other locations, and NO dead-ends. I tried to explain this to an exalted storyteller who kept changing plot lines on us because one or more players did not follow something up.
 

soltakss

Simon Phipp - RQ Fogey
Validated User
HeroQuest taught me that Players can contribute to a setting's background and that I don;t need to stat everything up, I can have an NPC with Thief 50% to indicate that it can do thiefey things at 50%. Yes, I know that HeroQuest doesn't use D100 skills, but I play a lot of RQ/D100.
 

Calonnau

Registered User
Validated User
If you want to be a better GM you must run more games. Also make sure *you* are having fun - don't run something you don't want to just so people will have a game.
 
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