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Storytelling Part 5 “My Advice to New GM's” Recently one of the RPG games I play in during the week (of which there are 2) came to an end and the GM decided to temporarily step aside while he got ready for his next campaign (a series of interconnected RPG game sessions) with us. My cousin wanted to try his hand at GMing (which he had never done before) and everyone was happy with this however he ended up backing out before he ever had a chance to get started. Without delving into his reasons, it amounted to one too many unexpected complications at that moment and he felt he couldn’t really give it his full attention. He was finding the whole idea just a little too stressful though from my perspective it is anything but. I’ve been a GM for almost 30 years (as of this writing) and I actually find the whole experience to be relaxing; for me it’s a good release if life is weighing on me a little too much. Of course the difference here is that I’m very experienced and comfortable with what I’m doing (which, of course, my cousin isn’t). This got me thinking that perhaps a bit of simple and basic advice to new GM’s might who want to get started might not be unwelcomed. My first advice is this, know your material. You wouldn’t try to fix your brakes if you hadn’t at least watched a video or something. The same applies to a game you want to play or run however there is a big difference between a game and your car. When it comes to an RPG you really only need to know the core game mechanics to be able muddle along OK, the rest you can figure out as you go. Let’s face it, memorizing all that information could be a daunting task and is only going to come with experience. Now by Core Game Mechanics I mean stuff like how does the combat system work, what are the armor rules, how does healing work, things like that. Your Players are going to be operating on certain assumptions with regards to their characters and these will be based on the core game rules. If you arbitrarily change them or don’t take the time to properly understand what you’re doing you will have some pretty upset people on your hands. Again, you don’t have to know everything but you should know the basics. My second advice is something I like to call the Three Minute Rule. What this means is that if you don’t know something and it takes you more than three minutes to find the answer in the book you should probably just make something up or make a judgment call and move on. You will get it wrong plenty often but at least nobody is sitting around getting bored. The main thing is to keep the game moving, make a point of learning the missing data for next time (take notes) and do a better job on the next session. If you really do need more than three minutes then call a break (people love a chance to go out and smoke or hit the can) but don’t take more than fifteen minutes. It’s easy to lose your momentum and the patience of your Players will only go so far. However also bear in mind that your ruling may be flat out wrong and if it violates one of the core rules or (even worse) a special ability that one of the characters has then you definitely made the wrong call. This is a corollary to Advice #1. Now it’s OK to have House Rules (every group has them) but you need to be very consistent about it and make sure that everyone is in agreement on what they are. But, bearing that in mind, House Rules also need to be in alignment with the core rules and what a character is supposed to be able to do. You don’t want to make a ruling that screws over a Player if you can avoid it. You may have a Rules Lawyer in your group. This is basically the Player who memorizes every book (or at least thinks he does) and knows it better than you ever will. Sometimes these guys just have a knack for knowledge but some of them are on a quest to win (sometimes at the expense of everyone else around them) and take great pleasure in beating the GM at his own game. If you have that guy then I’m sorry but if you’re new it is very likely someone at the table knows the rules better than you do. Take advantage of this when you can because friends help each other out and most of the time your Players will be more than happy to show you where the reference is in the book (hopefully with politeness and courtesy). My third advice to a new GM is to Follow a Script. Nobody expects you to knock it out of the park on your fires try and, frankly, telling an epic story and also learning the rules as well as handling the chaos of 3 to 6 Players (and lord knows how many NPC’s) may not be the easiest thing to do. One of those things is probably going to fail. At the beginning of the hobby there was only one game, Dungeons and Dragons. TSR did a very smart thing in that they created a series of products called Adventure Modules. These were prewritten adventures that a GM could purchase and run his Players through over the course of several sessions. Everything was there from treasure to maps and monsters as well as every NPC they would interact with. Each Module was set up to match a specific party level and could easily be adjusted as needed for the group. When you finished one Module you could then buy another one that was suited to where the party was at the end of the story and just keep on moving. Many of these Modules were based on famous fantasy novels and a group could play in that setting and move through the same story they read and enjoyed or take things in a new direction. Modules still exist today and games like Pathfinder have been quite successful in breathing new life into this tradition (sadly, when D&D was purchased by Wizards of the Coast the practice of producing Adventure Modules was not continued like it had been under TSR). I always felt that Modules were the great strength of D&D because ANYONE could be a GM with a minimum of skill and do a pretty good job. All you had to do was follow the story and be able to think on your feet enough to improvise when your Players inevitably went off script. Modules have been produced by tons of game companies over the years and many are intended to be universal (meaning they don’t apply to any particular game system). You can actually use any module you want from any game system though this may require conversion of NPC’s or creating new ones to replace the stats in the book. Either way, it makes your work a lot easier and I highly recommend it when you’re still learning. Plus let’s face it, not everyone who wants to GM is going to be a good storyteller or will have very good ideas so this might be the right solution for you. If it works, stick with it. My fourth bit of advice (and one I will probably get into again later) is Know What Rules to Ignore. This is probably the toughest thing for a new GM because you want to learn the game and obviously the rules are there for a reason but I would direct you back to Advice #2. The key point is to keep things moving and not bog the game down with unnecessary details. In fact many games will have this very point built into the game. If your Player is trying to drive a car he probably doesn’t have to make a skill check to pop down to the corner market for a gallon of milk. It would be ridiculous to make him do a skill check for routine daily activities. If your player wants to use the Streetwise skill to find a gun vendor you could make him roll to see how good the weapons he finds are or you could just say that it takes two hours and call it good (in real life you Players could probably tell you where to find ten pawn shops right off the top of their heads and none are likely to have that skill themselves). Any Skill or Ability that depends on a die roll should only be rolled when it impacts the outcome of the story, lives are on the line, combat is occurring or at some appropriately critical moment. In the first example, you wouldn’t make a driving check for a trip to the store but you might if someone tried to side swipe you on the way there or if it turned into a car chase somehow. Knowing when to apply the rules and when not to is probably the one thing that new GM’s have the toughest time with. I was once listening to this really cool Shadowrun session that a group recorded and posted on YouTube. I was really impressed with the GM’s ability to present his NPC’s and the story was entertaining however this was his first experience as a GM and he really didn’t know the rules all that well. He was making his Players do skill checks for some of the most ridiculously mundane things and he frequently had gaps in the recording for up to five minutes where he stopped to look up a rule he didn’t know. It just became impossible to listen to even though I was enjoying it (he probably should have edited it down rather than just putting it online as is) and the Players sounded like fun people. But this is a good example because it illustrates the importance of keeping things moving and not wasting time with trivialities as well as having a solid handle on the basics (which the GM sadly didn’t quite have as good a grasp as he should). But I will say that he did have a good attitude about it and was constantly trying to do better. The final advice I leave you with is Don’t Get Discouraged and Persevere because every skill depends on drilling for proficiency and you will never be perfect right out of the gate. Take criticism in stride, check your ego at the door and take every challenge as an opportunity to learn & improve. Woody
Unusual Terms Hi, My name is Woody Arnold. I like to write comics and play RPG's. People tend to write about what they know and so I am writing a Blog about RPG's (specifically how to run them) and how those storytelling techniques apply to other things. With almost 30 years under my belt I think I might have something valuable to say on the subject "but" people who aren't familiar with RPG's may not know what I'm talking about. For the uninitiated you can find an ever expanding glossary of terms below (terms in Bold have definitions elsewhere in the Glossary): aI: Artificial Intelligence; This is a term for extremely complex computer programs that possess the ability to think and reason like people "or" are sufficiently well programmed to make it look like they can. They aren't necessarily considered to be alive though that depends on the genre and setting you are using. Boss Fight: Also known as the Boss battle, it is uncertain if this term originated with video games (likely) or ported in from RPG's. This refers to an Encounter where the Players are taking on a major villain, an extremely powerful enemy/monster or the main leader. In video games the main bad guy is usually way more powerful than the characters however in RPG's he is often comparable in power or just a little higher (possibly benefiting from better gear). The main threat can come from traps, some aspect of the environment or more henchmen/soldiers. Campaign: This would be a series of sessions of a Role Playing game that are played in sequence and form ongoing chapters in a continuing story. I can be anything from two session to five years worth of play (or more if you're really dedicated). Character: In RPG's, this is the identity that is assumed by the Player. It is a specific individual that is created using exact rules, recorded on a character sheet and usually created using several dice rolls (for randomity). Characters are distinguished by such things as Basic Attributes (Strength, Endurance, Intelligence, etc.), Race, Skills and Special Abilities. Different types of gear can be equipped on the character as well (sometimes granting additional special abilities). The pan difference between Pen & Paper RPG's as opposed to video games is that RPG's grant about a million times more control over customization and character selection. Cyberpunk: Named after a Role Playing Game by the same name, the Cyberpunk genre usually takes place in a near future with significant advances in technology including cybernetics (often available to the average citizen), advanced weaponry, virtual reality internet (see Decker below) and oppressive governments or corporations. It is usually presented as a dark future setting though this is not always the case. Psychic powers or magic may be elements of this genre. The Shadowrun RPG and Ghost in the Shell would probably be the two most famous examples of Cyberpunk. Decker: In the Shadowrun RPG a DEcker is a person who uses a Cyberdeck to become a super hacker. A Cyberdeck is a powerful piece of computer hardware that allows for full immersion VIrtual REality and includes powerful programs to assist in the process of hacking. This sort of thing is common in SciFi stories, especially those taking place in the near future. the best example of this process can be found in Ghost in the Shell: Stand along complex. Fantasy: This is the Genre made popular by such novel series as Conan and Lord of the Rings. The first Role Playing Game (Dungeons & Dragons) was exclusively a fantasy game. The Fantasy Genre commonly includes magic (with great variability in how common it is), medieval european tropes (though other cultures are often substituted or included), fantasy races such as Elves & Dwarves, classic monsters such as Orcs & Goblins and fantastic creatures such as Dragons. Castles, epic quests and magic artifacts are frequent tropes of this genre. Encounter: This is a RPG term that refers any battle or dramatic social situation that can occur in the game. Encounters don't necessarily have to be deadly but are expected to be challenging (or just entertaining). A general rule of thumb is that if the GM instigates the encounter it is either dangerous or moves the plot forward in some way. If the Players instigate the encounter they probably expect to win and at least think they have the advantage. Boss Fights are not generally referred to as encounters. Game Time: This is the amount of time that occurs during the course of the story, which is going to be very different from the amount of time your Player's experience. Game Time is very fluid in that you could skip forward hours, days or even years (glossing over what ocured in the interim) while a 2 minute battle could take more than 3 hours to play out. Gamer: This term refers to anyone who plays games of any sort on a regular basis as a hobby (and occasionally a profession) however it is often taken to assume that a person primarily plays Video Games. See Pen & Paper below. Genre: This would be simply defined as a particular style of world setting which includes such things as styles of clothing, tech level, the presence of psychic abilities or magic, specific races and other specific things that are usually associated with that genre. Every genre has certain things (sometimes uniqute to that specific setting) that fans have come to expect. GM: Game Master. This is the guy who runs a Role Playing Game. also known as a DM (Dungeon Master), referee and all manner of other clever things. Megacorporation: These would be corporations that are so big and powerful that they can stand toe to toe with national governments. They are truly global conglomerates with holdings in every continent and participate in a wide variety of business ventures (frequently being so diversified that they are also completely self-sufficient). Megacorps are commonly depicted as being completely separate from national government and not bound by their laws even when operating on their soil (corporate land is considered to be sovereign territory). Megacorps are a key part of the shadowrun RPG and are a common element of various sciFi settings. Pen & Paper: Pencil & Paper would probably be more accurate, but this term is generally applied to the tabletop rPG genre to distinguish it from the video game RPG Genre. Historically speaking, Pen & Paper came first however the video game industry stole the term to describe the video games (such as Final Fantasy) that were being created based on this style of game. As a result of the massive jump in popularity of the Video GAme Genre in the 80's & 90's, video games overtook their predecessors and the terms RPG & Gamer came to be applied more to people who played video games. As a result it became necessary to clarify and redefine the type of game when one refers to himself as a Gamer to avoid any confusion. Player: These are the people in a Role Playing Gamer that are actually playing. Usually they only get to control one character at a time. RPG: Role Playing Game; It's a lot like improv acting with rules. A Game Master sets up the scenario and the Players (who have fully fleshed out characters with all kinds of cool special abilities) get to go on an adventure. It's very similar to games like Final FAntasy however the storyline is usually waaaay more free form & flexible. Session: this is a single session of a Role Playing Game, usually running about 4 to 6 hours depending on the group. setting: For Role Playing Games, the term "Setting" refers to a particular game world that the characters exist in. This is a technical term separate from (though similar to) the usual dictionary definition. A Setting in an RPG would usually fall under a specific Genre but have qualities and characteristics that set it apart from other world settings. Differences could include such things as higher or lower levels of technology, the presence of magic (to greater or lesser degrees) and unique countries & histories. Space Opera: This is a sub-category within the SciFi genre that usually focuses on faster than light space travel, encounters with alien races, interstellar wars and space exploration. Good examples of this would be Farscape, Star Trek and Star WArs. Super Heroes: This term is jointly owned by Marvel & DC (or more correctly Disney and Warner Bros now) but is also used to describe the Genre these companies created. The Super hero Genre is usually contemporary and focuses on exceptional individuals with special powers, skills and/or training that set them apart from normal people and allow them to accomplish superhuman feats. Characters in this setting are either Super Heroes, Super Villains or some sort of secret organization (or government) that is involved with or opposed by either group. The Heroes are usually champions of the average citizen while the villains tend to be focused on using their abilities to make money, get revenge on a hero or dominate the world. Epic battles between heroes and villains are common. Space travel and contact with alien races is a common Trope of this Genre. In this Genre the world usually looks the same as the current time period however the average tech level will be a few grades higher and specific people may possess technology that is centuries ahead of the average. The comics published by Marvel & DC are great examples of this Genre as are the films produced by those companies. Table Top: Though technically it could refer to RPG's This term generally refers to board games and occasionally card games as they must be played on a flat table top. This term was recently popularized on Will Wheaton's show on GEek & Sundry. TPK: Total Party Kill; This is a scenario where all of the characters are wiped out in a single evening without being able to bring in replacement characters. This is frequently the end of the story whether it was planned or not. Trope: websters defines a Trope as "a common or overused theme or device." BAsically a Trope is a common element you will see in a particular Genre and forms part of the flavor of it. Tropes are not necessarily good or bad but are instead just what is usually done and the quality or effectiveness of it depends a lot on who is telling the story and the interest level of the person experiencing it.

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