Tag: game master

Designing Single-Session Adventures part 2

In part 1 of this series on single-session adventures, Michael gave the broad strokes of adventure design, from the desired playstyle to decisions on system and settings. Now we move into more specific adventure construction advice.

If you missed the previous article, find it here:

Designing the Adventure part 1


Consider Multiple Environments

George Lucas explained that when making his original three Star Wars movies, he wanted three very different environments in each film. This practice conveys to the viewer three very different moods in a single movie (in just a few hours), and it also lends a slightly epic feel to the story. In the original Star Wars, we have the barren desert of Tatooine, then the cold and colorless interior of the Death Star, and finally the black vacuum of space as the rebel ships try to destroy the Death Star. In The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas gave us the frozen wastes of Hoth, the humid swamps of Dagobah, and the ethereal cloud city of Bespin. In Return of the Jedi, we start in the lifeless desert of Tatooine, move to the lush forest moon of Endor, and end inside the colorless reconstructed Death Star. Gary Gygax, consciously or not, used the same approach in G1: Against the Giants. The PCs first infiltrate the timber-framed steading of the hill giant chief, then invade the glacial rift of the frost giant jarl, and conclude in the volcanic halls of the fire giant king. Read more

Designing Single-Session Adventures part 1

Part one of a four-article series on designing and running a one-shot, single-session adventure. See the end of the article for links to the rest of the series.


Unfortunately, I’ve never been to a gaming convention, but for years I have been intrigued by the early tournament adventures of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

At Origins II in 1976, several DMs ran Gary Gygax’s new science-fiction/fantasy crossover, later called S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. This stand-alone adventure was a simple one-round affair, in which various gaming groups competed. A uniform scoring system allowed DMs to give each group a score (and perhaps each player—I’m not sure).

Later, Gygax expanded the scope of his idea to a series of linked adventures. At Origins IV in 1978, over the course of two days, DMs ran dozens of groups through Gygax’s new, three-part adventure, later titled G1-3: Against the Giants. The groups that did best with the first adventure in the first round got to play the subsequent adventures in the second and third rounds, either later that day or on the following day. The sequel, D1: Descent into the Depths of the Earth, was not used in a tournament, but at GenCon XI that same year, DMs ran two follow-up adventures in the series, namely D2: Shrine of the Koa-Toa and D3: Vault of the Drow. Two years later, at GenCon XIII in 1980, DMs ran players through the entirety of Gygax’s new Slaver series, including A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity, A2: Secret of the Slavers’ Stockade, A3: Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords, and A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords. Sometime after each convention, Gygax published the adventures. Generations of gamers have rated several of these series as their favorites of all time.

An experienced DM that tries their hand at writing a single-session adventure, whether for their personal gaming group or for strangers at a convention—whether as a scored tournament or not—will quickly find that it requires a very specific design. You simply cannot plan it in the same way that you would a long-term campaign or even a stand-alone adventure that will take many gaming sessions. What are the required differences? What tips can we use to produce successful single-session adventures? Let’s take a look. Read more

RPG-ology #4: The Big Game

This is RPG-ology #4: The Big Game, for March 2018.


I’m going to begin by apologizing to the Christian Gamers Guild President, Reverend Rodney Barnes. It seems we often find ourselves arguing opposite ends of a question. Years ago (maybe decades) we both participated in the Magic Symposium in The Way, the Truth, and the Dice, and his contribution, Magic as Part of Creation, suggested handling the issue in exactly the way that my contribution, Magic: Essential to Faith, Essential to Fantasy, said was the wrong way. Now a year ago he wrote The Numbers Game, in which he suggested keeping a strict limit on the number of players in your game, and it seems that I am writing to contradict him once again.

Let me say that this is not really my intention, and I do understand his point. When I run Multiverser games, even at conventions, I try to keep the game to four players at a time, and if it stretches beyond six I usually try to get someone at the table to work with me as a second referee to run some of the players. But E. R. Jones and I had the experience of being two of maybe half a dozen known Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™ Dungeon Masters in our small county, and when we ran the game the rule was always that anyone who wants to play is welcome at the table as long as someone already there will vouch for him. I sometimes ran thirty players in my living room/dining room; he sometimes ran fifty in cafeterias and snack shops.

So I’m writing to tell you how to do it, or at least how I did it, and what I know of how he did it, having watched him from the player’s seat. Read more

The Numbers Game

CGG President Rodney Barnes begins a series about how a Gamemaster can be a Servant to their roleplaying group. 


Too many personalities to handle?

How big should your RPG group be?

There is not a set answer to the question of how big your group should be. But here are some helpful guidelines to help you in establishing a group size. 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.