Friday, August 19, 2011

The Six Million Dollar GM: Faster, Stronger, Now With More Funions

Honestly, I don't remember it being so PINK.
I triple dog dared ckutalik over in one of beedo's post to do what beedo mentioned, which was "something I'd like to see more bloggers discuss is their successful table techniques that translate into good games."  ckutalik is still writing, I guess, so I'll go first. ;)  He did post up some rules for the challenge, which I probably have not followed at all, but here we go . . .

Everything important that I've learned about running a role playing game I discovered in the first few years of playing.  The remaining decades are just filled with me having to relearn these basic tenants because I've read gaming advice that sounds good, but ultimately falls short.

Now when I say YOU in the points below, I mean ME.  I'm talking to myself here, and the games that I play.  What works for other people is different that what works for me.  You probably shouldn't even be reading this because it will screw up your game.

1. Stop fucking planning.

Really dude, just stop it.  Being prepared is one thing, but sitting around, imagining what the players are going to do and coming up with some sort of tree branch decision matrix outcome generation system is futile.  It's not going to be exciting.

Let the players do whatever the hell they want and react to it on the fly.  Build the world each step of the way as the players put their foot down on that particular patch of grass.  Sure, sketch out a map, imagine some dungeon ideas, flesh out an npc - but never expect that the players will go to those lands, explore those dungeons, or meet those characters.  The players can't screw up your plans if you don't have any, and it's kind of rude to expect the very free-thinking players that you want to be playing with to hop aboard your choo-choo train of railroadiness, no matter how grand it might play out in your head.

The best 'planning' for a game is to read lots of adventure fiction, ancient history books, geology texts, and Shakespeare.  Go watch Mythbusters and play with LEGOs.  Devour information and play games.  Feed your mind the building blocks of world making so you can have the tools to build on the fly.

2.  Don't you dare open that rulebook.

Looking up monsters stat, equipment lists, or random tables is okay.  But don't waste anyone's time digging for rules DURING A GAME.  If you can't remember it - it was obviously too complicated anyway.

Recently, one of my newer players had a character in the water, fighting a sewer kraken in 4e.  I told him that he was at a negative two to hit.

"Is that in addition to the underwater combat modifications listed in the rules?"

I chuckled.  "I don't remember what the 4e rules for underwater combat are, and I don't care.  You are at a negative 2.  Go."

He looked like I was speaking Martian to him, but he continued.  Later he joined my Labyrinth Lord game as well, so evidently the way I was running things wasn't too repulsive to him.

3. Leave the damn dice alone.

If you roll the dice, accept the result.  You asked the universe a question.  The universe gave you an answer.  Deal or don't roll the dice in the first place.  The universe typically makes better decisions that you anyway, since, you know, it can't be WRONG, so you might as well go with it.  And it works because I never feel guilty about cheating or short-changing the players from the full 'gaming experience.' :)

So, there you have it, ckutalik, my recipe for LEET G4MERZ SKILLZ   You are now 'it.'


- Ark


  1. Cheater!

    Though you frame it more as advice than best practices I think though you still are in that ball park as you clearly are talking about things you do well (or at least you think you do).

    One unanswered question in #2 and #3 is "how do you do it?" How do you make both things work and what would you suggest for others making the leap?

  2. I don't recall it being THAT pink either

  3. @ckutalik - Well, of course I THINK I do all kinds of things well. But ask my son and you'll hear a whole 'nother story. :)

    Let me answer those unanswered questions . . .

    #2 Make a ruling. I think Mythmere said it -'rulings not rules.' I just pull a rule or a modifier out of thin air and apply it. I try to go with what sounds best and is fair - but still offers a challenge. When the players call bullshit, then I need to re-evaluate - but it doesn't mean it wasn't the right call. It just depends.

    What I suggest for others is that -2 is always a good number, except where -4 will do. And remember the terminal velocity for a human body is roughly 120 mph.

    #3) I just suck it up and hand the guys a STAFF OF WORLD DESTROYING, or I have that DRAGON come down and eat the players lunch. If I don't like the results on the table -why am I using that table? And if I'm not prepared to kill the player's characters - why am I playing a game based on combat that provides very specific rules on death and dying?

    So, suggestions - only use random tables that you've read and agreed with first, and tell the players "I will kill you, you know, dead an a doornail, so be prepared. Have another character handy, if it makes you feel better." That usually sets the right mood. And never hang an entire campaign's success on the survival of any particular party member.


    - Ark

  4. You are 100% correct on all three counts! Great advice to any GM in any game.

  5. I roll all dice in the open and find it very liberating.

    "Me, I like you guys. But my dice? My dice are very, very angry."

  6. @Whisk - Pink. Yup. I showed it to The Boy, and now he swears there is something wrong with the way I was raised.

    @bliss_infinte - Well, I'm correct for me at least. If it helps anyone, that's wonderful.

    @christian - Dude, I so gotta play in one of your games.

    @Matt - Quick, distract christian so I can steal that line when he's not looking.

    - Ark

  7. +Christian! The surf is up man! Let's hit the waves!

    +Ark I know right? Somehow I got to get Christian to run a game online so I can sit in on it...or somehow get my ass to Cali.

  8. I've tried a "no rule book" rule in my Lab Lord game and I love it. I approve.

  9. Great post!! Thanks for sharing!!

  10. I like your rules. I like them a lot. I would adopt them but I've been effectively playing by them since forever anyway. The only prep I typically indulge in is pre-building NPCs for games where 'build optimisation' rears its head, so that I can be sure that the NPC will provide some sort of meaningful threat or challenge, and thinking up some way that I can take the things I probably shouldn't have let the players have back off them that feels like an adventure hook and not a dick move. That's abotu as far as I go.