Saturday, March 25, 2017

12 Things I Wish I Would Had Known Before Running My First Game

Well, +Ripper X started it on his blog over here. It's a fun idea for a post (thanks, Ripper!), so I thought I'd take the opportunity to post a little something myself like that for you guys to ponder on this weekend: what's the things you'd like to have known for your first game(s)? Comment them, post them, share the love wisdom! Here's my (very personal) take on the question:
  • People are strange. Or in other words: no campaign construct, regardless how elaborate, will survive enemy player contact.
  • Let the players talk and take them serious. DM makes the pitch, players run with it. Or: you give the motor, they give the fuel and you'll never run out of fuel for the game if you let them talk. It also gives you room to plan ahead!
  • About those pitches: always let your agenda have agendas. Think moves ahead in your game, like you are supposed to in chess.
  • Never pitch the problem itself, let it manifest. Letting the players realize the problem is half the way of getting them to solve it. Give it all room and time to unfold.
  • One of the first things that will happen, is that you describe a little strange fact on the side and the players will jump on it as if it's the first crucial clue in the mystery that is life itself (42 ... just saying). It'll happen. Don't be annoyed, run with it, push it even, quote it later if you can.
  • As a matter of fact (and it deserves a point on its own), little strange things make a narrative tick, be it some strange NPC behavior, a weird character idea a player has, some unexplained magical effect or just a random, puzzling thing the players find on the dungeon floor or hear or smell or feel ... have some of that ready if you can (and chose them according to the atmosphere you want at the table).
  • Keep the players on their toes. It might be one of the most difficult things to do in the beginning, but never (ever!) let them have no problem to solve. Throw something strange at them if things get idle ... see above. A good way to keep the ball rolling is adding little problems to problems that are already in play.
  • About being idle. Be ready to get your game derailed as soon as players don't feel engaged anymore. There is no evil intent behind it, the freedom to do anything you want is just scary like that.
  • Randomize everything. You'll never be more concrete in your ideas than you are after letting go of the illusion of control. DM tools are there to help you and free you.
  • We have a tendency towards harmony (I have, anyway) and I think it can be kind of hard to give disharmony room in the game. Not on a social level, but in the narrative. What I'm trying to say is, don't jump on the obvious and satisfying solution that emerges in a session but think about the implications first and let the players be the force to establish (short term) harmony with their decisions.
  • Don't care about your non-player characters, make the players care instead.
  • And finally: NEVER let discussions (about rules or politics or any other topic not relevant to playing the game in the moment they occur) bring the game to a halt. Resist the urge to join the fray and put a stop to it as firm as you can and rule what needs to be ruled to solve the thing on the spot. Then move on. You should always give those issues room to get discussed after the game or during pizza break or whatever, though (unless it's a poisonous topic, then kill it right where it sprouts).

I aimed for 12. Maybe I'd come up with more if I'd think harder about it. And it seems that the things I missed are mostly about the skills we need to be aware of to "work the crowd". Anyway, friends and neighbors, please feel free to comment and share your thoughts about it. And if you have a blog (or any other means to contribute!), please do so ... make it a community thing :)

Now +matt jackson followed up with a nice piece on his blog (bandwagon!).

And +Eric Diaz is with us now with this great collection of advice on his blog (rollin', rollin', rollin' ...)

13 comments:

  1. Great idea and observations. I had to learn to "Know your Audience" and the mechanics of creating atmosphere beyond sight and sound. Those mules start to stink in an 8' passage . . .

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    1. You are right about those mules :D It's entries like that I miss in monster compendiums: "red dragons smell like a rotten egg bbq" or something like that ... I mean, the smell alone of hundreds of Goblins living underground. Or what does a Flailsnail smell like (or taste like, for that matter?)? There is a whole D&D universe to discover anew.

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  2. Very good points.

    I've pointed in my blog posts in Brasil, is that listem your players and take them seriously improve the game and engage them.

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  3. This is a great post. Thank you very much for writing it.

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  4. "Dung doesn't lie" was a common theme in the early crawls and Wilderness adventures. If it eats, it poops. Unlikely that a marauding goblin band will sprinkle kobold dung around a campsite in an effort to throw us off the proverbial scent. In my free-form (solo) email adventures I run a dice check against combined Int/Wis to see how much can be gleaned from used torches, offal, campsites and all those little things that speak of bigger things. Most of D&D is about asking the questions, rather than seeking the answers!

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  5. Thanks, folks!

    And @HackSawyer: that whole dung & traces concept is completely underdeveloped in most rpg games. It deserves further exploration, I think. Great ideas! "Why do those Goblins have Kobold poo with them?!" Heh, I'll be using that at some point :)

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  6. In 2014 I played a fairly basic farmboy-turned-caravan-guard type on a "Distant Smoke Rising" patrol in mixed terrain. He was a tough young man, but none too bright, and his low charisma prevented him (name was Abdar Ben'Jendo) from expressing his ideas or experience among the comrades. We ran through several campsites and other areas where the Player (me) would know how to scrute the traces, but the Character (him) lacked the intelligence or charisma to gain valuable information that might prevent mutilation and death later. And oh-how did we suffer later! The Dungsmear Illustrated Guidebook . . . available at your local Apothecary . . . Classes starting in two weeks . . .

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  7. Thanks for the traffic Jens, you flatter me! I really like this list, especially the Harmony bit. Harmony leads to being predictable, and a predictable DM is a boring one. That took me years to learn as well. I'm still working on the balance between sound logic and the bizarre. It isn't an easy thing to achieve on a regular basis, logic has a way of spoiling the soup.

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    1. You are very welcome. I'm a bit surprised, too :) But it struck a cord or something. There are also some good comments on g+, so maybe you might want to check that out! Thanks for the inspiration, man. The most interesting part is how much of it overlaps. Might be worth taking a closer look.

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  8. "And finally: NEVER let discussions (about rules or politics or any other topic not relevant to playing the game in the moment they occur) bring the game to a halt. Resist the urge to join the fray and put a stop to it as firm as you can and rule what needs to be ruled to solve the thing on the spot. Then move on. You should always give those issues room to get discussed after the game or during pizza break or whatever, though (unless it's a poisonous topic, then kill it right where it sprouts)."

    This one while correct only holds with my group when we play on the regular. When we finally get together at the table after a long time away it is hard for the conversation not to stray into strange territory here and there. However I think we would tighten that up quite a bit if we were able to get together inperson say , monthly.

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    1. I really didn't factor friendly banter in. I actually imagined people arguing in a destructive way ... so there is some overlap, but not much. I guess it's different when playing with people you are close to and not just people that meet to game. But not all of us are lucky enough to have that kind of luxury and in general I'd say, if someone tries to argue, stop it and get back to gaming :)

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  9. "A guitar solo is not a song". I have always been lucky that barring one or maybe two extremely isolated incidents, our adventures never got bogged-down in rules or inflated discussions over details. We had one strange event where voices raised over whether a dwarf standing partly behind a fighter was actually caught in a blast radius, and another over combat rules (slipping on blood) in small corridors. Somewhere along the way I learned the Executive Term "lingerie" (really!): lingerie is nice, but it just keeps us from what we are really after.

    Common sense was the rule. And moving the game along was the rule. If we wanted to fuck around with rules and arguments, we would got home and hang out with our parents.

    Move the game along. What lurks around that next dark corner . . .

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