Summary: I've been GMing for some time and have enjoyed it. One thing I learned is to actively learn tricks of the trade, to get better over time by seeing what works and what doesn't.
BLOT: (19 Feb 2013 - 12:15:41 AM)
Applying some rules from tremulus in my other horror RPG sessions. Or, accumulating good GM skills the long way
Gamemastering, the act of running and planning and hosting and guiding and et cetera a role-playing game, is tricky. In GURPS terms, you might think of it as an IQ/Hard skill. The best GMs, one of which I am not, are masters of improv, research, judging outcomes, direction, time keepers, world builders, and voice actors. The better GMs, one of which I like to consider myself, can juggle two or three of those things at once but often have to let the other bits sag a tad into "merely adequate". Sitting on the back end of a GM's screen is not easy, even if you have a module written out for you and friends willing to stay focused in the game and help you out. You could have a well-loved character do something stupid, like unnecessarily scale a wall, and then pay for it by failing the roll. Do you let them cling on, and get another chance, or do you force the character to take fatal damage. The former ends up making you look weak, and establishes that characters can push the boundaries. The latter can disrupt entire campaigns. Different players have different needs, as do different sessions, as do different campaigns, as do different systems.
In GURPS, the dice outcomes are fairly important so I make players roll a lot and their characters stick mostly to the dice rolls. Dungeons and Dragons is joyous in its "unadulterated nihilism", so play rolls as they land. With FUDGE, though, you can play without ever touching the dice if you want. Stuff like Call of Cthulhu, and the majority of RPGs, I find work best with ignoring some of the rules while working in custom mechanics suited for the group. But one thing I have learned, and have had confirmed with just about every new system that I come across, is that playing across many systems exposes the strengths of weaknesses of all game design, and that as a GM I can be better by adapting the strengths of one system to shore up the weaknesses of another, when appropriate.
Case in point #1: FUDGE has stats with ratings like "Good" and then the dice roll is essentially just a shifting up and down of the scale to something like "Fair" or "Great". You can generally go "They will need +2 to be Great, and +2 is a little tricky but not impossible to get, so let's say that if they describe a tricky but not impossible way they want to accomplish this task, they do it." In other words, you can look at the stat and roughly reckon the statistical chance they can roll a success against it, and then, without rolling, run with the scenario based on the weight of the storyline and the strength of the roleplaying.
Case in point #2: One of the things that Gumshoe brings to the table is that the person with the highest required stat (and/or roll, I forget off the top of my head) will succeed on those rolls needed for the storyline. If there is a computer disk that is vital to finding out the killer's identity, someone will find it. How I've used in this other games it that even if everyone fails in a roll, I have them locate the object/clue/person they need, but a failure tends to impact them elsewhere. They might find the computer disk, but then realize the computer itself doesn't work and have to go to the local library to look up eldritch digital documents.
And, for the title of the post, there were some lessons I learned from my recent pair of tremulus sessions (read about part 1 and part 2, here, if you haven't, yet, but want). I'll list them out in no particular order.
- Do away with the gamemaster screen. The GM and the players have an easier time actually role-playing if they really focus on getting into it and the screen is more of an impediment than a service to this. If you need, put print outs in a binder or behind a cover sheet, but face the players across the table on more "equal" footing.
- For some sessions, start the game with only a couple of threads, a list of NPCs and possible locations, some hazards and end game elements, but generally let the way these things fall together happen in middle of play.
- Occasionally let the characters start the session. Ask a question like "What has Tom been researching?" and when Jack says that Tom has been looking into deep-sea trenches, take that as your first thread and go. Encourage the group to help Jack come up with what Tom has been studying.
- Embrace Dramatic Irony. Sometimes the characters won't know things that the player knows. Rather than treat this as a potential flaw or something to overcome, let the player know there is a trap but refuse to let them have the character act upon this.
- Whenever a player does something stupid, especially out of character, or whenever a critical failure happens, store up a couple of "holds" against the party. Use these later to force story elements on them in "hard moves". They are not able to resist a hard move, and can only react after the fact. Make sure the players know which characters have these hard moves built up against them.
- Encourage group discussion about what the outcome should be (this is a little more Fiasco than straight tremulus).
- Focus more on the interaction between characters and treat the story-elements as background for the character drama (from Apocalypse World, et al).
- Have players sort of keep a constant chatter, and when it dies down or goes off-topic, pull out a "Keeper move" where you insert an event that happens. If you have any hard move built up feel free to upgrade it to a hard move.
As I said, though, each session, system, etc has its own unique needs, and so none of these are always appropriate, but when they are, they can help move a game into new territory. I'm going to invoke at least a couple of those in my ongoing GURPS campaign, see how they fit. Especially the opening threads and the character-drama ones. If it goes horribly wrong, I'll let you know.
OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: February 2013