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Morashitar
05-17-2014, 07:33 AM
What are the 5 most important suggestions you can give to new DM / GMs that you find essential in providing a great game?

Malruhn
05-18-2014, 12:13 AM
1. LISTEN TO YOUR PLAYERS.
2. Be flexible - SUPREMELY flexible.
3. LISTEN TO YOUR PLAYERS.
4. Figure out background crap before you ever ask anyone to play.
5. LISTEN TO YOUR PLAYERS!!

You might note a theme to my suggestions...

For more info:
2. Just because you plan that the group is going to enter town through the main gate, you have to be flexible enough to react quickly if they decide to take the super-secret entrance around the side of the mountain. Just because you set things up to have the group rescue the princess, you have to be flexible enough to react quickly if they decide to go hunting dinosaurs instead. If you have a bunch of folks gaming with you that are JUST LIKE YOU (same gender, same race, socio-economic background, same religion, same school, etc), you may be just fine... but the MOMENT you let that ONE PERSON in that breaks that mold - all bets are off. If you are a guy, the first woman you have in the group with TOTALLY change things up - because they don't THINK like guys. The first person that is of a wildly different faith than you, expect mayhem. Race... wealth background - it's ALL a mess of game-changers!!
This is exactly why I _LOVE_ to game with folks that aren't like me... it's all about diversity with me - and folks that are wildly different than me keep me on my toes as a DM. That group that is just like you? THEY will be the ones to go through the main gate in town. That group that is different? Those will be the ones to ride hippogryphs into the NEXT town and then take a rented submarine into the town you intended.

For _ME_ - it's what keeps gaming interesting!

4. That background crap is stuff like who runs the next town over? Who made this dungeon? Who runs the general store? If I rob this tomb, is it illegal, and to whom can I sell the booty? If I am arrested for a crime, what is the legal system like? Who heads the thieves' guild in town - and how do I join? That's background crap. This way when a player wants to buy a diamond encrusted, three-handled credenza, I know who they need to see.

As for the rest of the list, if you don't listen to your players, you are DOOMED so badly that you will have to spell it, "dumd."

Before you ever pick up dice, ask them what kind of game they want. High magic? Low Magic? Lots of combat? No combat whatsoever? Heavy role-playing? Heroic?

One of the things I do before a players starts a new character is to ask them the following:
You are in a rocking chair in the Old Adventurers' Home - and a small child is playing nearby. They approach and say, "I think I know about you? What did you do that made you famous?"
It's up to the player to answer. Were they easy and say, "I was just rich and famous"? Did they rescue the fairy princess? Did they slay the dragon?

This gives you fodder for your campaign. If two of the four players say, "I slew the dragon," then you had BETTER have some dragons in your campaign!! Same with the princess... or prince.

Just LISTEN to them. After every session, ask for input. How did it go? Was combat too slow? Was there too much/not enough RP time? Did I handle your change of tactics properly?

And remember - have thick skin. If they complain, find out WHY they are complaining. It could have been something YOU did... or it could be that their life is falling apart right now and they hate EVERYTHING and your game is actually okay. You may have hit a nerve with something you did that offended them (treatment of different races, gay/straight NPC's, treatment of women/kids/pets). I once had a player that blew up because an orc targeted his DOG during combat - and he hated cruelty toward ANY pets. He didn't have a problem cutting and gutting PEOPLE, but he didn't want to play in a game that treated DOGS poorly.

Listen to your players. They can guide you... and save you.

Good luck!

Morashitar
05-18-2014, 08:18 AM
Brilliant wisdom! Thank you!

jpatterson
05-18-2014, 06:20 PM
I certainly agree with all those, and I also would like to stress that it is also very important for players to do the counterpart to that, from their perspective, toward the GM. There is as much shared responsibility and trust that the GM places in the players that they place in the GM, to not intentionally torpedo things.

But for GMs:

1. Understand what GMing IS - and is not. It is NOT a "power trip" or opportunity to just "control stuff". We WISH, after about 30 minutes in, that's how GMing worked. We wished that was a 10th of how it worked. GMing is a responsibility, not just to provide the challenge and obstacles to let the player characters shine, but a much more delicate and serious one: it is being the soft, firm voice of authority, reason, objectivity and reason, at a level that no other entertainment form or endeavor requires, besides clinical counselor. You have to remember that RPGs are about imagination and people's fantasies, creativity, desires and wish-fulfillment and escapism. Be CERTAIN that you understand, at some point, you are going to have to think FAST and DEEP about issues that WILL arise at some point during a game, and how to deal with the unexpected. You know all those awkward moments, silences, topics that you silently cringe at when you're watching a movie with people you know may have an issue, and you're thankful you're in a passive medium and no input is required or expected, and the whole thing will just pass and the movie will end? You don't have that luxury when in a character in a game suffers from an issue such as racism, abuse, loss of a child, divorce or a thousand other things, that there's no way to know is something one of your players has a problem with.

2. Players put their trust in YOU, to not screw them around, to not sweep their actions or character into the background or marginalize them or be unfair or kill them off without a fighting chance or at the very least, a glorious, meaningful death. Your "control" is an illusion, because it is really a heavy but extremely profound responsibility that you make sure you treat the players and their characters with respect; that the players feel heard and active, and that their characters are important and instrumental, or vital.

3. While as I said, LISTEN to your players is a REQUIREMENT that I totally am 100% behind, there is something I feel that precedes even that, and that is to ASK for them to SAY something. A great many players, even good ones, will often "suffer in silence", either just to keep from rocking the boat, or to see where you're going with things, or because they're inexperienced and not sure how things are supposed to work in a game, or in some cases, the players may have low self-esteem and feel like if their character isn't important or is treated unfairly (even by accident), then it's par for the course - they won't speak up and take issue with things that may be rankling them or even causing them resentment. ASK for feedback. Tell your players, "If something happens that you don't like, if you have questions, if something happened in what you feel was an unfair way - TELL me - I WANT to hear it. I may not agree, or I may not be able to 'fix' it, but you will have your say and I will do whatever I can to see if there IS a problem".

4. Point 3 is important, BUT, it is superseded in most cases by this: Spot Rule Now, Final Rule Later. If a player takes issue with a way something is done in the middle of a game, such as a modifier or a judgment call, a die-roll fudge, whatever, acknowledge it and say "Let's note that, and we will deal with it, after the game or sometime before the next one, but in the interest of keeping this game moving and not bringing everything to a halt, I'd like to get your okay on me making this spot-ruling here on this, so we can move on, and we'll address if it needs re-thought later". This is like an "IOU", to prevent a stonewall in the middle of the game, but shouldn't be used as a way to dismiss issues players have - these MUST be addressed and dealt with as legitimate concerns, later.

5. Although this is at the end, it really is more of a summary: Have FUN! The entire reason for gaming is for everyone to have a bit of escapism, kill a few hours away from work and normal day-to-day responsibilities, free the creative side, tell some stories, roll some dice, socialize and share some memories. While there have got to be some guidelines and structure for play, remember that everyone is there for FUN. Some people are rabidly antagonistic toward "min-maxing", others demand three-page story backgrounds, others want to be rules lawyers, still others percolate if everything isn't done "by the book" - everybody has their preferences and way that THEY feel comfortable and most "at-home" in gaming, and as GM, you want to try to accommodate all those as well as you possibly can, but there is simple no way to do it to everyone's total satisfaction, and yours as GM will need to both, take a backseat, and also be the guide. Apply what you feel are your most important, basic tenets that you feel are game-breakers-or-makers, that you cannot bend on (mine are no torture or graphic 'intimate' scenes or themes and if a rule is too complicated or would make a scene/story worse, then I'll fudge it), but be willing to compromise to other players' preferences on things if it will help satisfy them (such as more involved research checks or more accurate difficulty modifiers). Different players will have different ways they want to play at different times. Sometimes they'll want to be all investigative. Sometimes they'll want to be combat monsters. Sometimes they'll want to fade into the background and hardly say or do anything. Often all with the same character. Sometimes in even in the same session! I'm okay with that - I'm not going to tell them they're "having fun wrong" unless it is actively interfering with or disrupting other players or the game itself. Whee and let whee!

Carodwen
05-20-2014, 02:20 PM
1. LISTEN TO YOUR PLAYERS.
2. Be flexible - SUPREMELY flexible.
3. LISTEN TO YOUR PLAYERS.
4. Figure out background crap before you ever ask anyone to play.
5. LISTEN TO YOUR PLAYERS!!

You might note a theme to my suggestions...

For more info:
2. Just because you plan that the group is going to enter town through the main gate, you have to be flexible enough to react quickly if they decide to take the super-secret entrance around the side of the mountain. Just because you set things up to have the group rescue the princess, you have to be flexible enough to react quickly if they decide to go hunting dinosaurs instead. If you have a bunch of folks gaming with you that are JUST LIKE YOU (same gender, same race, socio-economic background, same religion, same school, etc), you may be just fine... but the MOMENT you let that ONE PERSON in that breaks that mold - all bets are off. If you are a guy, the first woman you have in the group with TOTALLY change things up - because they don't THINK like guys. The first person that is of a wildly different faith than you, expect mayhem. Race... wealth background - it's ALL a mess of game-changers!!
This is exactly why I _LOVE_ to game with folks that aren't like me... it's all about diversity with me - and folks that are wildly different than me keep me on my toes as a DM. That group that is just like you? THEY will be the ones to go through the main gate in town. That group that is different? Those will be the ones to ride hippogryphs into the NEXT town and then take a rented submarine into the town you intended.



As for the rest of the list, if you don't listen to your players, you are DOOMED so badly that you will have to spell it, "dumd."

Before you ever pick up dice, ask them what kind of game they want. High magic? Low Magic? Lots of combat? No combat whatsoever? Heavy role-playing? Heroic?


Just LISTEN to them. After every session, ask for input. How did it go? Was combat too slow? Was there too much/not enough RP time? Did I handle your change of tactics properly?

And remember - have thick skin. If they complain, find out WHY they are complaining. It could have been something YOU did... or it could be that their life is falling apart right now and they hate EVERYTHING and your game is actually okay. You may have hit a nerve with something you did that offended them (treatment of different races, gay/straight NPC's, treatment of women/kids/pets). I once had a player that blew up because an orc targeted his DOG during combat - and he hated cruelty toward ANY pets. He didn't have a problem cutting and gutting PEOPLE, but he didn't want to play in a game that treated DOGS poorly.

Listen to your players. They can guide you... and save you.

Good luck!

^^ This

Lazarus
05-20-2014, 05:26 PM
So far, there have been some great replies. My personal five suggestions are:

1: BE FAIR!!! Everything else that follows has to start with this as a foundation or the campaign will not survive. You cannot play favorites or let one player bend a rule or otherwise get away with something and not give that same consideration to others.

2: Be flexible, its already been stated, but you really can't stress this enough either. Players will do things repeatedly that you never considered. They will miss the most obviously of clues and hints, but will think up things your own mind couldn't process if you asked it to. Keeping the action going is far more important than a 20 minute pause to look up some obscure rule. As GM, make a house rule on the fly and keep the cameras rolling. If you find out after the game, offer the player some sort of compensation if they got hosed in the deal.

3: BE PREPARED!! Know the setting, know the rules, know the skills that are critical for the system that a new player might overlook. Know the adventure you are running. Few things are as frustrating for players ready for an evening of daring-do than to have to wait as the GM tries to set the scene, or the skills of the NPCs or whatever. The players gave you the respect to be on time and ready, you owe it to them to return the favor.

4: Character death can be a traumatic event for some players, so cut them some slack. As GM, the deck is stacked hopelessly in favor of the house. The players know this and play anyway, but there is no reason to be a jerk about the power the GM holds. If a character gets into trouble due to bad luck, and not the fault of the player, then it's okay to have them survive "grievously wounded" or to even suffer a permanent injury. The caveat to this is, was the player gaming well and were they trying to be heroic? If the answers to either is yes, then it's okay to throw them a lifeline. If the player was doing something they know they shouldn't have, like kicking Darth Vader in the shin because it would be funny or something equally stupid, then in that case, too bad, so sad.

5: Remember the idea of role playing games is for everyone to have fun. How you get there is completely immaterial as long as everyone had fun. Keeping everyone engaged and contributing can be a struggle, especially in a group larger than three. If you have a larger group, don't be afraid to break the cardinal rule of gaming and SPLIT THE PARTY. As heretical as that might sound, with a little practice, the use of cut scenes will keep everyone on the edge of their seats as you orchestrate multiple mini-cliffhangers as you switch from one group to the other. The cut scene is a great tool for a GM to maximize engagement for everyone.

Carodwen
05-20-2014, 07:10 PM
So far, there have been some great replies. My personal five suggestions are:
4: Character death can be a traumatic event for some players, so cut them some slack. As GM, the deck is stacked hopelessly in favor of the house. The players know this and play anyway, but there is no reason to be a jerk about the power the GM holds. If a character gets into trouble due to bad luck, and not the fault of the player, then it's okay to have them survive "grievously wounded" or to even suffer a permanent injury. The caveat to this is, was the player gaming well and were they trying to be heroic? If the answers to either is yes, then it's okay to throw them a lifeline. If the player was doing something they know they shouldn't have, like kicking Darth Vader in the shin because it would be funny or something equally stupid, then in that case, too bad, so sad.



My 4E group basically had a TPK this weekend and rather than have us all start over with new PCs he had us captured and roll saves. 2 of us come out nearly unscathed. The other two not so much. One is now missing an eye and the other is missing an arm. and we are trapped in an abandoned prison.... With webbing's everywhere. I feel a spider battle is in our future lol. has upped the fun level by 100%

Lazarus
05-21-2014, 12:16 PM
Sounds like the GM was fair, flexible, prepared, and cut you some slack as well as everyone had fun, so looks like he hit all five of my suggestions. :)

Morashitar
05-22-2014, 08:27 AM
Great advice jpat and Laz!

Malruhn
05-25-2014, 11:52 PM
^^ This
Yeah, and I was gonna post that for the other folks that answered as well.

Be fair? OHMYGOD YESSS!!! But this also works for your monsters and NPC's as well. Why does the BBEG have a +2 sword in his locked footlocker? Why isn't he USING it??? Why are the kobolds throwing themselves at the PC's and dying to quickly? Why don't they run away and set traps? Be fair to the monsters as well. Yes, there will be a time when the BBEG wizard has all fire-based attack spells and the party has just bought a butt-load of fire-resistance potions - but there will also be times when the BBEG wizard has all sonic spells and the party has a butt-load of protection from evil...

Which goes to PC death. TPK's suck - they REALLY do - and I've been on both sides of them as player and DM. It usually happens when the party doesn't get the fact that they can turn and RUN AWAY and thinks they have to attack and loot everything they see, but sometimes it just happens through dumb luck (and/or great/crappy dice rolls!!). In the Middle Ages, it was VERY common for the Black Knight to "slay" the PC and then nurse him back to health so he could get ransom for the PC's life, equipment and mount. MANY fortunes were made (and lost) though this tactic. That werewolf clan may not be keen on letting you live, but even goblins see dollar-signs when they get the chance.

These are all good ideas... and I can't find fault in ANY of the suggestions!

Lazarus
05-26-2014, 10:49 AM
Malruhn you are absolutely correct that there is no reason for NPCs to be stupid. Properly prepared kobolds can take down 10th level characters if played properly. There is no reason every NPC has to attack the PCs by leaping on their weapons or into the area of effect of their spells.

nijineko
05-26-2014, 03:55 PM
tucker's kobolds.


a brief thought on the other side of the equation. why is character death or a TPK the end of it for so many? it was a very interesting campaign when after the TPK, the party had to continue to complete their quests as ghosts. with the added risks of the afterlife flora and fauna after them as well. ^^

Soft Serve
05-29-2014, 01:19 AM
I want it to be known I only read the original post, and none of the others. I did this to make my answer more organic without influence of other answers and without worrying about "copying" anyone which is something I do all the damn time. Even when I'm ordering food with someone I try to order first because if they take the thing I was thinking about getting, I won't get it because I'm "copying." Something is wrong with my brain... Anyway, my suggestions.

1. Memorable / Fun
2. Simplify
3. Pacing
4. Adapt
5. The MST3K Mantra

1. Memorable / Fun

Role-Playing Games are a merge of two very important core concepts. Role-Playing and Games. When you play a role you are acting a part. Being something you are not normally. Pretending and living a surrogate life. Some people tend to take this core more seriously than others, and there's nothing wrong with that. When you do this though, it is important to make the role interesting, not fun. The highlight of the Role-Playing core is always how memorable it is. Good or bad. Live or die. The memory of the role and how it is played is what is important to this core. The Game core is where you want to be fun. The game is the part that takes care of how much someone enjoys things.

In other words the story, the drama, the flourish and flare are supposed to be memorable. They should be talked about outside of the game at the watercooler and in the car. Your players should remember your NPCs they should look a little happy when they remember the silly dwarf and a little sad when they remember the innocent civilian who died in their arms. Think about the way someone talks about their favorite TV moments. Your story should inflict those same feelings.

Your game mechanics, your character creation, your combat, your interaction rules should be fun. Those should be simple, easy to understand, and above all else, (even realism) they should be fun. Usually this stuff is done for you when you play a game like Dungeons and Dragons, the only part you really have to worry about is the Role-Play all the "game" core is handled for you, with some houseruling exceptions of course. Which leads us to...

2. Simplify

Rules are made to be broken. Most books will even tell you "What the D/GM says, goes." and list this somewhere among their top and most important rules. This is because, while some people will find tables upon tables of information useful and require they be used, others will look at the books more like the Pirates Code and call them "Guidelines" and ask for a roll, or even determine their own fate to an encounter just... well because it makes for a better story.

And doesn't it make for a better story? I remember running a 3.5 game and not having the rulebook handy for a druids lightning spell. They were underground and we weren't sure if the lightning could strike while underground since it came from the sky. I ruled it a "no" and forced the party for deal with the giant spider another way. The fighter whittled the health down while the rogue distracted it, the mages used support spells and heals where they had to. It made for a much better encounter that way. Later we found out that they could have actually called lightning down. Instead of working as a team, with that entertaining and drawn out battle, it would have ended some 3-4 turns earlier with the fighter just smacking it a few times and tanking the hits. Even though I was wrong, simplifying the game for the sake of pacing made a better experience for all of us. Speaking of pacing...

3. Pacing

Always. Keep. Pacing.

I can never go a full game without a distraction. Never. Not once in my life have I ever made it through a game without ending up in stupid discussion about something silly or dumb. And that's perfectly fine. It's ok to take those little talk breaks for a minute or two. But when your climactic moment, when your drama is just about to drop, keep the pacing up. Do not allow a silly distraction. Keep focus as best you can. It will make the story better.

I once accomplished this in a live game by having a horde of Kythons (Book of Vile Darkness) roaming around a small village. I had an HDMI from my computer to a 40in TV right next to our table and on the TV was a timer. I marked the map with 6 sections and rolled a d4 and a d6. The Kython swarm would move to the section I rolled with the d6 and stay there for d4 minutes of real time. If a player was caught in the section they moved to without hiding first, they were torn to bits. My players listed their actions, stood around the map like generals planning a war, and took extreme care to not get torn up. They set traps, used distractions, and carefully planned their way through the encounter without a scratch. It was the best I had ever seen a group play. And this same group of people will sit at a table and make fart jokes for a half hour. The point is, no matter how focus-impaired your group might be when you get that pacing right, when you set the tone and the moment well, you'll be damn proud of yourself and create a memory to last.

4. Adapt

An important asset in any D/GMs armory is adaptability. The ability to think on the fly balanced with a little bit of preparation will take you a long, long way.

It will never hurt to write an NPCs backstory. But it might never be rewarding either. A trick you might use is to write one or two of these stories and save them for when a player asks or takes interest. You can apply them to whoever you want whenever you want. There's a sweet-spot of vague and precise and its different for everyone. Find your comfort zone.

Think of the example in the Art of War (from memory, not exact). A scout sent forward to appraise the tactical advantages of the land can come back with three types of information. Telling his general "it's grassy" is too little, and useless. Telling him precisely what types of flowers and trees and counting exactly how many of each there are is too much information, and equally pointless. The middle ground of where there are thick trees, where there is open field for fighting, and where the ground is too soft for cavalry to ride is exactly what they need.

5. The MST3K Mantra

Just in case you've never watched an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (do yourself a favor and get on this as quick as possible by the way. Always on Netflix and Amazon Prime.) The mantra is as follows.

If you're wondering how he eats and breathes
And other science facts
Just repeat to yourself "It's just a show
I should really just relax!"

This message is in the back of my head always. Remember, it's just a game. No matter what happens, no matter who dies and who lives, who rolls poorly and gets their champion killed, who rolls too well and breaks the game, it is, and always will be, just a game.

Just a story. Just a gathering of friends with the intention to have fun. When you forget that message, the most important of messages, is when the game is over. And what then of the memory? The story isn't remembered. The NPCs dialog, all that you've written and worked so hard for, is not what they'll say. They'll remember the time "We took it too serious." Which might be the saddest thing that can happen to someone who truly loves the RPG.

And now that my wall of text is done, I'm going to go read some other answers.

Morashitar
05-30-2014, 06:56 AM
Wow what great suggestions Soft Serve. I can't but help to think that we have some of the best GMs in the world posting in here right now. :)

Soft Serve
05-30-2014, 09:41 AM
Thank you Mora. I'm inclined to agree with you since a lot of our suggestions are rather similar.

Malruhn
06-06-2014, 05:51 PM
Soft Serve, once again you have done an amazing job!! Well done, Sir!!

Morashitar, I'm going to ask you to rhetorically edit your last comment about us being some of the "best GMs in the world." We are ishy, smelly people - who have made so VERY many GMing mistakes that it haunts us in our sleep. BUT - we are grown up enough to admit them.

I am betting that every suggestion here is from direct, first-hand experience, where WE screwed things up and we felt like crap about it afterward. EVERY item that other people brought up reminded me of when _I_ did (or failed to do) those things.

Live, game, screw-up, and learn. And KEEP PLAYING!! Even crap GM's can teach you something about gaming - even if it's, "Dayum, I'll never do that in _MY_ campaign!!"

Soft Serve
06-06-2014, 07:59 PM
Soft Serve, once again you have done an amazing job!! Well done, Sir!!

Morashitar, I'm going to ask you to rhetorically edit your last comment about us being some of the "best GMs in the world." We are ishy, smelly people - who have made so VERY many GMing mistakes that it haunts us in our sleep. BUT - we are grown up enough to admit them.

I am betting that every suggestion here is from direct, first-hand experience, where WE screwed things up and we felt like crap about it afterward. EVERY item that other people brought up reminded me of when _I_ did (or failed to do) those things.

Live, game, screw-up, and learn. And KEEP PLAYING!! Even crap GM's can teach you something about gaming - even if it's, "Dayum, I'll never do that in _MY_ campaign!!"

I think of myself as the Kanye of RPGs. :p

jpatterson
06-07-2014, 09:14 AM
Scuse me, Soft Serve, I'mma letchoo finish, but I wanna say that I agree with Malruhn said, that all these replies are great, and I have complete certainty that not a single one isn't from a lesson learned from a mistake made. The ability to learn from other people's mistakes is definitely a vital component of ANYONE in life doing ANYTHING, and we are lucky when other people will admit to their mistakes and share exactly how they feel they went wrong, and what they did to correct it.

I feel it is our duty to pay that spirit forward and do the same for others, and this case is made no clearer by the fact that I know for myself, and likely every person that posted here, knows even now things they've recently done wrong and learned from and will change the next time, and we ALL will always need to strive to be better, to recognize and fix and plan things better, because much like in science when you decide "Welp, science is done, it knows everything", if you ever find yourself saying "Obviously I won't consider this complaint or possibility because it might mean I'm wrong", you quit being a true explorer and seeker of truth and betterment, and just fall into an artificial complacency with your own self-satisfaction over how good you are. And I congratulate everyone in this thread for not falling into that!

Morashitar
06-10-2014, 01:33 PM
My 5 suggestions

1. Patience
2. More Patience
3. Even More Patience
4. Extreme Patience
5. and then have fun

Some say Patience is a Virtue - how patient are you as a DM?

DMMike
06-19-2014, 07:44 PM
Hmmm...besides all the great suggestions so far...

1. Keep the game moving.
2. Include all players.
3. Be prepared.
4. Be flexible. Ask, "what would be cool here?"
5. When in doubt, fudge it in the players' favor. I'm really bad about this one.