Author: Dave Mattingly

Dave Mattingly has a background in technology, writing, and speaking, who works with data for a living. He loves learning, and speaks at database conferences on topics such as geospace, governance, and analytics.

Technologically, he’s spent twenty-five years of designing, developing, databasing, documenting, and directing a variety of projects in many industries. Some projects include space travel, anti-fraud, anti-terrorism, data accuracy, virtual reality, and automated systems. Some industries are safety, gaming, healthcare, and finance.

Bookishly, he’s written hundreds of magazine articles, cowritten several books, led three magazines as editor-in-chief, edited about five million words, and created an independent small press which has published over a hundred books.

Spiritually, he works for the Lord to reach his fellow nerds and weirdos. He preaches at conventions dedicated to games, science fiction, and other geeky hobbies. He serves as vice president of the Christian Gamers Guild, and sector commander for Fans for Christ.

Dave founded the TechFest conference in Louisville, KY. This event attracted techies and business leaders via keynotes, seminars, panels, workshops, demos, a hands-on technology gallery, and live music. Topics included healthcare/biotech, the internet of things, leadership, emerging technologies, gadgetry, 3-D printing, virtual reality, and more.

A Reason for Hope

Dave Mattingly is currently the Vice President of the Christian Gamers Guild. He has been instrumental in coordinating worship services and panels at conventions and liaising between several Christian fandom organizations. This article was originally published at davemattingly.net.


I’m a Christian, and sometimes a teacher/preacher.

Here’s a look at my own story of coming to Christ. This is a very personal story, and won’t necessarily have the wide applicability of some of my other sermons and lessons. I encourage all of you to map out your own walk with Christ.

A Reason for Hope

The Bible tells us to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” I am ready. In fact, that 1 Peter 3:15 verse is a good summary of my testimony.

“Come, let us reason together,” says the Lord.  (Isaiah 1:18)

Read more

Experience Talks: Good Campaigns

Now that we have good players, heroes, and villains, we have to put them to work. A campaign is an ongoing series of adventures in a game world, made up of several ingredients. First, the campaign’s premise must be sound. Good campaigns are consistent with the world you adventure in and have clear and worthy objectives. A good campaign is built from a good premise. “What if” questions are good starting points for finding a good premise. What if aliens secretly contacted Earth governments during the Wild West era? What if superheroes were all created by a single time-traveler? What if the barriers between dimensions begin to break down? Take the basic premise, and follow it through in as much detail as desired. Read more

Experience Talks: Good Characters

Heroes

Playing good characters is another important aspect of role-playing games. Although a good GM and good players can have a good game with bad characters, it’s much easier to have a good game when the characters are good. When players create heroes, it is far easier to have fun and eliminate many of the conflicts that often arise as a result of good role-playing. A group should be well rounded with well thought out backgrounds and personalities.

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Experience Talks: Good Players

Experience Talks, Part I (WT&D Issue 1) discussed the contribution of the GM to a good gaming experience. Part II discusses the role of the players, characters, and campaigns in creating a better gaming experience for everyone. 


Good Players

Good Players are essential to any game, especially any role-playing game. A player’s attitude, willingness to adapt, and attentiveness can make the game more enjoyable for everyone involved. Several characteristics that are common to all good players will be addressed in this article. First and foremost is the player’s attitude, from which all their other qualities derive. Other traits that excellent gamers possess include adaptability, attentiveness, and a desire to help out wherever he or she can.

Attitude is the most important trait Read more

Experience Talks: Closing Thoughts for Game Masters

Over the past few weeks, Dave has talked about six roles the GM plays—Director, Writer, Referee, Host, Actor, and Tactician—and how each of those roles helps to make a fun and memorable game.


During the Game Summary

A good GM runs a smooth game by making his players comfortable immersing themselves in the game, by running a game that his players want to play in, and by making quick, appropriate decisions relating to his game world.

Some people are a bit more prepared than others.
Some people are a bit more well prepared than others.

Away from the Game

Another aspect of running a smooth game is to make sure everything that needs to be prepared ahead of time is already taken care of. Read more

Experience Talks: GM as Tactician

German_advance_through_Belgium,_August_1914

A GM also has to be the tactician for the NPCs. There are various ways for GMs to run the opposition in battle.

Reactive Tactics

The opposition can react based on what the players’ characters do. If the hero brick squares off against the villain mentalist, the villain speedster could intervene. If the hero swordsman prepares to attack the enemy wizard, the enemy archer could attack the swordsman first, or else attack another hero who may be a more dangerous threat.

Read more

Experience Talks: GM as Actor

GM as Actor

GMs also need to take on the role of actor. When heroes encounter villains, allies, or neutrals, they want for them to be interesting enough to be able to tell one from another. When the NPCs perform their heroic or dastardly deeds, they should remain feasibly consistent with what the players have already learned about them.

Cult of Personality

Don_Knotts_Jim_Nabors_Andy_Griffith_Show_1964
Don Knotts as Barney Fife and Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle

NPCs are people too! They need to have personalities. Often, by taking an existing character that the GM knows well, whether it’s Barney Fife, Ferris Bueller, or his own second cousin, he can use the existing personality for an NPC (without letting the players know about the hidden connection). This will guarantee consistency, as long as the GM keeps straight that Miles Brogan, barroom brawler, is actually Rambo in a different body and an Irish accent. Read more

Experience Talks: GM as Host

GM as Host

The GM is also the host of the game. Whether the game is at the GM’s home or not, it is still the GM that is responsible for the game.

New Players

When new players want to join, they should feel welcome so that they enjoy the experience and want to return — make them feel at home. Make sure they know where the bathroom is, and where the phone is. Offer to get them something to eat or drink if you notice that they aren’t digging in.

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. 

Seating

Having enough chairs and table space makes it easier for the game to get going. If the table is covered with boxes, papers, and dirty dishes, players might feel like intruders in the GM’s home, instead of the important guests that they are.

Traditional roleplayer rations.

Food

Food and drink wouldn’t seem to be an integral part of a game, but even when playing, people need to eat and drink. As with any social gathering, especially one that lasts several hours, drinks and snacks are vital to keeping the guests happy.  Read more

Experience Talks: GM as Referee

 

GM as Referee

referee-1149014_640GMs also have to act as referee/judge when running a game. In other games that require a referee (such as football), the referees must know the rules in and out, and be ready to make a call instantly. GMing is a little different, since the GM not only enforces the rules like other referees; he’s also free to change them to suit the story.

Example: In one game, the GM had us write up Champions characters, but we may as well not have bothered. The game was run extremely freeform, and felt more like a Marvel Super Heroes game. My speedster had a 9 SPD, but in combat, it didn’t matter at all, since everything was handled descriptively, instead of taking it phase by phase. 

This took some getting used to, but it was kind of nice to play Champions while taking a break from the rules for a while. 

Example: In another game, I was mind-controlled to hate a demon that got stronger whenever he was attacked in hate. Since the mind control attack barely hit me, the GM offered me a chance to dodge. Surprised, I said, “Okay, what do I do?” He told me to roll the dice and tell him if I made it. 

I rolled 3d6 and got an average result, and told him that I guessed I made it. He told me that the mental beam just snagged me in the foot as I was getting out of the way and that I now had a medium dislike of the demon. This was a nice rule-bending that added a partial effect to mind control, which is normally all-or-nothing. 

I ended up attacking a structure behind him so that it collapsed and knocked him out. 

As a referee, a good GM should exercise fair, quick, consistent judgement, and should accommodate disagreeing players. Read more

Experience Talks: GM as Writer

GM as Writer

writing-1209121_1280…and then the elephant said, “Not with my trunk, you don’t!”

A good GM also acts as writer, whether he has written the stories himself or not. The situation is similar to a playwright who has created a script, yet has to endure the director’s differing interpretation, the casting director’s questionable role assignments, and the actor’’ mediocre performances. The end result of all this is often quite different from what the writer had in mind originally, but given good people, the resulting play can be greater than its original manuscript.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) 

Interdependence

Writing a game scenario is different than writing a book or a play. The characters involved get to change the script as they go. It’s similar to improvisational theatre, in which the actors are (sometimes) given a topic, and they develop their own characters and plot as they go.

A GM can start with a great story, but what happens when the players don’t do what the GM expects? The GM has the choice of giving the players complete freedom to do what they want and go where they want, or of railroading the players onto a predetermined path. Or, of course, something in between.

A good GM finds the compromise that best suits his players and himself. This is not always easy to do.

Some GMs are great at improvising as they go. I’ve played with some GMs who can craft a wonderful story, and always seem to have the answer to what happens next, with only ten minutes to prepare (“We need to you GM tonight.” “Oh, okay.”)

But not all GMs have the gift of quick thinking. Some rely on fluid scripting. For example, a GM might set up a crossroads for the characters, and want them to take the left fork so that they will gain the ally they need before they take the right fork to battle the enemy. But then the players insist on taking the right fork, so the GM ensures that the ally just happens to be traveling the right fork on the way to battle the enemy anyway, and the party is fortified even though they did not do what the GM expected.

Example: In my Star Hero game, the heroes got caught in a hyperspace whirlpool, and got transported to a universe where magic works. There was a planet right in front of them when they emerged into the new dimension. As I had planned it, the planet was the inadvertent cause of the vortex, because it was drawing magical energy from hyperspace. 

My players found it odd that a planet was right there, and debated whether or not to explore it so they could possibly find a way back to their own universe. Eventually, they decided that even if they decided to go somewhere else to explore, whichever planet they landed on would end up being this Planet X which was in front of them, so they decided to land after all. 

I was relieved that they decided to land on it, since logically, no other planet would have been causing the whirlpool. I was a little insulted being thought of as a railroader, and if they had gone elsewhere, I would’ve had to probably postpone the session, since I had nothing else planned. But it all worked out in the end. 

Writer Summary

As a writer, a good GM needs to tailor the game to the players’ interests. By plotting a script that everyone wants to be a part of, it becomes much easier to keep the players following “their part of the script.”


Dave barely touched on the many writerly jobs the GM performs. Creating the plot is the cornerstone, of course, but there are characters to be developed and a world to build as well. In what other ways do the skills of a writer transfer to the craft of Game Mastery?

This article was originally published in The Way, the Truth, & the Dice. Due to the original article’s length, it is being serialized for this format.