View Full Version : How do /you/ go about preparing to be a GM

2008-09-15, 07:05 PM
The emphasis is an attempt to show that this thread is a little different from most 'new GM' threads. I have read the majority of the stickied thread, but I'm still struggling a little with my first time.

Predictably, I suppose, I am a new GM. I'm working out a Doctor Who/Time Agency campaign using D20 Future rules, bits and pieces from other D20 rules sets and a bit of homebrewing to join it all together (hopefully).

I've started writing my team's first mission, which involves them (as Time Agents) being told that the Graske are kidnapping and replacing seemingly random members of different races by duplicates for unknown reasons. They have been told to go back three days to just before the Martian Mardi Gras, at which Gťorge Tane, the Empire Champion zero-g kickboxer, was taken, and find out what's going on (without stopping it, so as to preserve the timeline).

I've started a bit of a flow chart, covering the different possible routes through the game, but I'm worried about not covering everything, or putting it too on rails. I've written out a lot of the dialogue for NPCs, too, but I'm worried, too, about it being to wordy, or that I'll be reading from my notes all the time.

I get a lot of the concepts explained in the aforementioned sticky, but it's the actual, most basic preparation that's getting my paranoid. So I'm asking, what is it that you do to prepare to GM. Am I over-thinking it, or is there some obvious technique or resource that I'm ignorant of?

Thanks in advance.

2008-09-15, 07:58 PM
I do a lot of prep work before the campaign begins. This consists of coming up with plots to run and the NPCs to run them. I don't do any stats yet. Just plots and hooks. At game time I like to be able to take any of those plots, stat it, and run it wherever the players happen to be. Sometimes I'll keep a couple going at once. If my players did backstories I'll go through those for plot too.

The important part of all this is in making sure that each plot belongs to an NPC and that that NPC is well defined. That way when the players throw a monkey wrench in your plans, you have the NPC react accordingly. It's much easier to do this with your NPC's story than with your own story.

For each session I write an outline of what I expect to happen. I don't like writing speeches ahead of time, but I've been trying to get descriptions down on paper. I aim for one page per hour of play, but that's something I have a hard time estimating. I'd rather write too much than run out of material for the day.

After the game I go through each NPC in the world. Well, maybe not every one. But every NPC whose plot has picked up momentum. Let them react to what went on in the game and push things forward on their own. Even if the players didn't interact with that NPC that session, I like making plots move in the background. While I generally have the overall plot in my head on a large scale, updating NPC plots one week ahead of the players is usually enough. Oh yeah, I also like to go through all the improvised NPCs from the session and see if any of them are going to turn into major characters.

2008-09-15, 08:55 PM
There is no substitute for preparation. Having said that, you can't prepare for EVERYTHING. Prepare for everything you feasibly can. One of your best resources is someone you can safely bounce ideas off of that isn't in your campaign (the Evil Overlord list refers to this as the 5-year-old child rule).

Know the rules of the game as well as possible. Know your *players* as well as possible (what they want, what they accept, what they will put up with, etc). Know your OWN cliches as well as possible (I'm completely aware, for example, that "the person who hired the party/started the plot is secretly the villain and manipulating the players" is a cliche for me).

Chances are your adventure will have at least one fight scene. I cannot stress enough how helpful it is to self-test it in advance, especially if you and/or the players new to the system. For example, I recently ran some buddies through the "Kobold Keep" adventure from the 4th Edition DMG -- after test running it myself five times. That's a little extreme, obviously, but when the time came to put the players through it I was able to spend all my time explaining things rather looking them up.

It won't be necessary to run EVERY fight scene through a pretest, but you should definitely do it for the climactic battle and any that have an odd mechanic. Going back to "Kobold Keep" for 4th Edition, it quickly became clear that the "Shifty" power for the kobolds changed what they were capable off in practice (being able to Charge nearly every turn, for example) in ways that weren't immediately obvious on paper. Similalry, I discovered that the Gluepot power for the kobold slingers wasn't nearly as powerful as it looked thanks to the Cleric having the Sacred Flame power.

Flowcharting is a great idea, but just understand your players are almost certainly going to go off of it. If I had a dime for every time the players fixated on some random NPC I threw in for color, I'd be set for sourcebooks for life...

2008-09-15, 11:02 PM
I've started a bit of a flow chart, covering the different possible routes through the game, but I'm worried about not covering everything, or putting it too on rails. I've written out a lot of the dialogue for NPCs, too, but I'm worried, too, about it being to wordy, or that I'll be reading from my notes all the time.Predicting and flowcharting PC choices is difficult if you're trying to avoid scripting the game. I'm surprised by something in almost every session...that's good though! It keeps me interested in the game. Keeps the game from being static from the GM point of view.

I get a lot of the concepts explained in the aforementioned sticky, but it's the actual, most basic preparation that's getting my paranoid. So I'm asking, what is it that you do to prepare to GM. Am I over-thinking it, or is there some obvious technique or resource that I'm ignorant of?First, prepare your setting. If you're using a published setting make sure you know it. If you're creating your own or using an alternate reality, make sure you know your basic setting assumptions and tropes.

Second, start on your antagonists / NPCs. Don't start by deciding what they're doing for the next month, that doesn't matter yet. Decide what they want to do. What are their goals? Short term? Long term? Once you know what they want, give them resources to accomplish it with. Three basic resources matter: wealth, personal power, and political power. What resources they have will define how they'll try to accomplish their goals. Third, give them a weakness or quirk. Something to make them human (or at least unique) and further shape their methods of accomplishing goals.

Now plan your antagonists' short term actions. Keep in mind one question: how will this immediately impact the PCs?

I seldom plan any long term actions, they're subject to change based on PC actions. The antagonists will do whatever they can (within their resources and limitations) to accomplish goals in spite of PC interference.

Finally, have fun gaming!

2008-09-16, 12:03 AM
I've started a bit of a flow chart, covering the different possible routes through the game, but I'm worried about not covering everything, or putting it too on rails. I've written out a lot of the dialogue for NPCs, too, but I'm worried, too, about it being to wordy, or that I'll be reading from my notes all the time.

I went through a big flow-chart phase. It looks awesome on the surface, but is usually a time-consuming dead-end.

Basically all adventures can be broken down into two parts:

(1) An arbitrary number of interesting situations.
(2) A way for the PCs to move from one interesting situation to another.

For example, the dungeon-crawl features one of the most simplistic forms for running an adventure. Each room in the dungeon is a more or less self-contained situation and the hallways provide really obvious paths for the PCs to follow in order to get to the next interesting situation.

But there are lots of ways to create interesting situations and lots of ways to hook those interesting situations together.

For example, I've designed several adventures over the years which have consisted of the PCs attending a really important party. For these adventures the interesting situations are triggered in two ways -- by having the PCs talk to an NPC or by having some event happen at a specific time. So instead of moving from one room to another via a hallway, the PCs move from one interesting situation to another via a social interaction (an NPC coming to talk to them or them going to talk to an NPC) or a temporal/sequential trigger.

You appear to be designing a mystery. There two elements to prepping a mystery:

(1) You need a sufficient number of obvious situations for the PCs to engage with in order for the PCs to make a revelation.

(2) Each revelation will drive them towards a new situation, which will allow them to make new revelations, and eventually move them towards whatever the final conclusion you want them to reach is.

What do I mean by revelation? Basically, any conclusion you want the PCs to make. Examples might include "the kidnapper must have been a zero-g kickboxer" or "we should check out the abandoned warehouse" or "we should question the Tane's manager".

I wrote a lengthy essay called The Three Clue Rule (http://www.thealexandrian.net/creations/misc/three-clue-rule.html) about how to make mystery scenarios sufficiently robust to survive contact with the PCs -- without working yourself to death and without railroading the players.

For important NPCs, I generally prep them in 5 sections:

Appearance (a short description that can be read to the players)
Roleplaying (short notes about their personality; accent; etc.)
Background (detailed information on the character)
Notes (bullet-pointed list of what I want to accomplish with the character -- facts they can convey; conversations they provoke; etc.)
Stat Block

I find this format makes it very easy to reference it on the fly, plucking out the information that I need very quickly without forgetting to hit the important points to keep the scenario moving.

To sum up: Don't try to design a plot. Design an interesting situation and let the PCs interact with it. For larger scenarios, break the interesting situation up into several smaller interesting situations and figure out how the PCs move from one situation to the next.

2008-09-16, 12:20 AM
I'll tend to make a basic outline of how long I want the campaign to last, and what sort of challenges I expect the players to face.
For Example (this is mostly hypothetical):
Level 1: Head into the temple
Level 5: Who watches the watchmen? (Corrupt cop plot)
Level 10: Find the traitor in the court.
Level 15: Find the legendary warrior
Level 20: Take down the Lich X'yaxes.
Level 25: Fight Demons in the Abyss
Level 30: Head back to the starting area for the final showdown.

From there, I advance everything logically based on PC actions. So while what PCs do will not have to much effect on say Level 1, it'll have noticeable consequences later on the plot (as such, I'm not very much ahead of the PCs in specific, but have already got the general plan done)

If I'm lacking inspiration, I go to TVtropes to get some sort of Trope I can include into the campaign that I think will go well.

2008-09-16, 12:47 AM
1st) I Plan my "main" NPC's - The big powers (aka: rulers), the bartender(s) at their favorite watering holes, the waitstaff they'll meet, people that are big shop-owners/sellers, major people at other locals (for "Modern": Coffee shops, businesses that the PC's need, common restaurants, law officers, etc...). These will basically be the "main" people the PC's will be turning to to get information and equipment for almost every adventure.

2nd) I plan a loose flow of how things will go on the adventure. If I plan deeper, I get into railroading. I don't think of what the NPC's will say, I just think of how they will say things. This saves a lot of note searches, but you do need to keep track of what the NPC knows and how they know it. Also, it assumes you can get "into the head" of the NPC's. For example, Sally the server and Ed the beat-cop, both might know the same thing, but Sally is rather talkative (and prone to getting off subject), while Ed talks in as few words as possible. So, if the PC's ask Sally, give them a blab-fest. If they ask Ed, give them "yep", "nope", "maybe", "don't know" as your main answers.

3rd) I plan at least 2-3 (sometimes up to 6) "side-quests" about 1/4 the way. These are "future" main plots, but I have them on hand because not one of my groups ever stuck fully to the main quest. Having something interesting in the works helps a ton.

4th) I double check my main quest to see if there are any "WTF's" that can happen. These are things that can break the world by either the PC's attempting something "stupid" or by them not doing something "logical". If they exist, I try to remove them. If I can't, I make sure that some NPC that can correct it is in the area (and in that area to begin with, not just show up and "save the day").

5th) I let the chaos happen. There is too much that the players can do in most games to fully plan for. All I can say is that if you plan every detail, every choice and every reaction, you will go insane. And someone in your party will still do something you never thought of. You have to be quick on your feet and readjust. Sometimes the party will get lucky and skip a ton of the adventure (or you'll accidentally do/say something that will allow them to skip over things). When that happens, you've got to be ready to go with parts you might not have thought they'd get to for a month.

I hope that helps. GMing can be tough.

2008-09-16, 04:44 AM
Q: How do /you/ go about preparing to be a GM
A: Picture the first 40 minutes or so of "Batman Begins". Yeah, that. :smallcool:

steal ideas from anywhere and everywhere
get drunk or wired (caffeine+sleep deprivation or other)
kludge ideas together into semi-coherent mush of brain custard
filter through mechanics of the game we're playing that week
leave to cool
review notes. Wonder what the hell I was thinking :smallconfused:
serve to players
watch players make a bigger mess of the plot, the setting, the NPCs, etc. than I ever did
profitI haven't listened to a single complaint yet. :smallwink:

One fun idea is to enter a name or something into factbites (http://www.factbites.com/) search engine and then combine any three unrelated factoids it spits back at you into a plot hook.

2008-09-16, 10:09 AM
I should also add that I think maps and world building are a huge time sink. When I first started writing games, but hadn't actually run any yet, I mapped everything. Every dungeon, every abandoned castle. Sometimes even the whole world. And 99% of it never mattered. I mean, individual rooms in the dungeon are interesting, but the paths between them are irrelevant. These days, if I'm even writing a dungeon, I'll draw each room and figure out what enemies are likely to be in the dungeon. Then the rest is improvisation. Any more time than that spent on mapping is time that I should be spending on NPCs and plots.

No, this isn't to knock world builders. The way I see it is that there are two kinds of GM preparation. There's what you do out of game time and what you do on a weekly basis between games. I think world building, if that's your thing, must be done prior to game start.

2008-09-16, 10:26 AM
I wrote a lengthy essay called The Three Clue Rule (http://www.thealexandrian.net/creations/misc/three-clue-rule.html) about how to make mystery scenarios sufficiently robust to survive contact with the PCs -- without working yourself to death and without railroading the players.

Nice essay. I'll have to try it. I've usually gone for preparing a couple clues, but letting the PCs get to them however they like. For instance I'll write up the love letter, but not place it in the world till the players are out searching for clues.

What I think is important with that sort of preparation is that not only are you giving the players more paths to success, but the you're also giving the players several sideplots to investigate as well once the main one succeeds. If three plots pointed to the killer and the players chose plot B, they can still back track along A and C, which may lead to still more plots.

2008-09-16, 10:56 AM
I've started a bit of a flow chart, covering the different possible routes through the game, but I'm worried about not covering everything, or putting it too on rails. I've written out a lot of the dialogue for NPCs, too, but I'm worried, too, about it being to wordy, or that I'll be reading from my notes all the time.

I get a lot of the concepts explained in the aforementioned sticky, but it's the actual, most basic preparation that's getting my paranoid. So I'm asking, what is it that you do to prepare to GM. Am I over-thinking it, or is there some obvious technique or resource that I'm ignorant of?

Ok, the first thing I'd suggest is, presuming that you are of age England (18?) that you sit down, relax, and have a beer. Have a coke or some other refreshingly legal beverage if you are too young for the beer. Chill out a bit. Running a game, particularly setting up for the very first adventure can be nervewracking to say the least but in the end, you will do fine.

Now then, I'd say that you probably are overthinking it. As others have mentioned, preparation for what you expect to happen and when is a nice idea and a good thing to do, but don't dwell on it. No plan survives contact with the PC's anyway. I'd agree with Bacon that flowcharts although nice in theory are often a waste of time in practice.

Regarding the NPC's, you have already been given some very good advice by Valadil and Raum above. I would add that although writing out speeches for the NPC's may seem like a good idea, and may in fact be one in terms of getting into the NPC's head so to speak, reading directly from the prewritten text is probably a bad idea. I'd keep the notes around so that you have an idea just what bits of information are important for the NPC to relate, but not to read from the cards directly. The players will probably get ancy if you start to monologue anyway.

In terms of my own preparation for a game I basically do the following:

For the setting:
1. Make a general sketch of the world. Not a literal sketch, unless you are into drawing maps, but a general feel. Is this a Tolkien like world? It's it a Blue Moon type world? Is it a Belgariad type world? How hardcore and lethal is the place in general. What broad political factors are in play?
2. Who are the Powers That Be in the setting? I'd generally suggest doing something similar to what Raum advises above or using the steps from The Giants Villain Workshop (http://www.giantitp.com/articles/rTKEivnsYuZrh94H1Sn.html).
3. Figure out what the PC's place in the world is. What level are they? How do they fit in to the existing broad social and political structure?
4. Where do the PC's start play?

For any given adventure I do the following:
1. Based upon the players interactions with the Powers that Be, figure out what hooks should lead the PC's to the site of your adventure. Prepare a few of these hooks. Don't make them mandatory, but make tailor them to the interests/needs of the party.
2. Steal (http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/arch/ag)or draw a map (or several) from someplace.
3. Steal (http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/arch/fc)or create some minor NPC's and monsters that are in the place and figure out how they will react to the PCs and what their motivations are. This includes typical combat tactics if a throwdown is probably in the cards.
4. Muse over a few ways that the PCs could accomplish their goals in the setting. Make some adjustments to compensate for anything that would make it too easy.
5. Sprinlke in some loot. Since I usually use intelegent enemies, most of the stuff eventually intended to be owned by the PC's will be being used by the NPC's/Monsters at the beginning. Be sure that doesn't totally overpower any planned encounters.
6. Give a litte thought to the reactions to the rest of the NPCs in the setting to the PC's sucess or failure. Some will probably be thrilled, some will probably want their throats slit. Others simply won't care.
5. Chill out, have a beer, review the notes, and wait for players to show up and go at it.

2008-09-16, 11:41 AM
With Time Travel Games, you face a double-edged sword. You always have material to work with because you can draw from almost any setting and always rewrite what has happened with the PCs and tell them it needs fixing. The bad part is the PCs can always do what is entirely unexpected but perfectly within their realm of power. No matter how much preparation you do, you will have some on the fly action. Try to get a feel for the PCs are going to do next and the end of each session (just ask them).

Before a game:
1) Draw a map with a one sentence summary of everywhere on it. I use this vague idea of a setting to draw inspiration from and set up geopolitical dynamics. In your case, it may be more difficult, you may have to have a map and a history. I dunno.
2) Not one, not two, but three initial quests. One is very simple, one is a sidequest, and one advances the plot. Whichever they do first, they will probably go through the rest later.
3) Introduction to hometown, including at least one NPC and a detailed history.

Before each session:
1) Stat out NPCs that they have the remote chance of spending time with (if they match the PC level, advance accordingly, which I do when they spend time leveling up.
2) Make sure they have a couple different options for quests.
3) Generate either a Flowchart or Map, depending on the upcoming quests
4) Occasionally write a "cinema" scene. Something that goes on in detail and is important for the PCs.

2008-09-16, 11:45 AM
I'm a new GM, my session-run only amount to 7. While preparation is great PCs will, as certain as death and taxes, bork your game. I realised this while running Star Wars Saga and decided that the only prep I would do for the last session was decide that the players were doing to Tatooine and that they would podrace. Thats was it!

And it turned out to be one of the better sessions, the droid and the Jawa planned a post race party (read trap), the Duros won the boonta eve classic and Transdoshan discovered the racing curcuit was smuggling secret starfighter plans.

Good things to do though:
At least prepare your enemies and pre-roll initiative.
Have sheets you can scribble all over with your enemies stats on them.
Think up a variety of skills and DCs for those that you will use throughout the session.
(My Saga PCs were level 6 and I used 15 [easy] 20 [hard] 25 [stonking])
Let your PCs away with whatever they like when its entirely inconsequential to combat/plot.

2008-09-16, 12:57 PM
It depends - you can plan to a certain extent but at the end of the day you have to be ready for the PCs to do anything.
I'm a DM that likes to do stories that are very open and free so the characters can do as they wish - which means I have to be prepared for anything! When playing in RL this can be tricky and can involve alot off the cuff stuff.
PbP is much easier because you have time to react!
So my big tip is don't worry too much as long as everyone is having fun it doesn't matter if things go wrong!

2008-09-17, 03:14 PM
The simple answer is: I don't

I run a completely sandbox game and make everything up on the fly.

Oh, I'll have plot hooks and stock NPCs and such, but those I usually already have thought of when I figured out the setting of the game before the first session happens. Since I never force my players to do anything, I can feel lazy and not prepare anything. :)

2008-09-18, 08:20 AM
Then the rest is improvisation. Any more time than that spent on mapping is time that I should be spending on NPCs and plots.

I myself love maps and mapping out dungeons, but I do agree that doing such can suck out a lot of available time. To speed things up I have a few tips on dungeon map making:

1) Graph paper is very useful as you can use the grid for an easy "glance measurement" of room sizes rather then break out rules and calculators.

2) Draw dungeon maps like flow charts. I tend to litter random boxes about (to represent rooms) and then interconnect them with lines. Very simplistic and effective. Improvise details as you go.

3) Index cards are great for jotting down your monsters, treasures, and traps. Put a little number up in the top corner and then jot that number on your simple map for easy locating later. PLUS, index cards can be kept and recycled for later encounters too! :smallbiggrin:

2008-09-18, 08:57 AM
The simple answer is: I don't

I run a completely sandbox game and make everything up on the fly.

Oh, I'll have plot hooks and stock NPCs and such, but those I usually already have thought of when I figured out the setting of the game before the first session happens. Since I never force my players to do anything, I can feel lazy and not prepare anything. :)

QFE or at least "QFMeToo"

I design a complex setting, and name some vital NPCs. As the players play, the parts of the setting they haven't yet seen (what I like to think of as "Schrodinger's Setting") mutate to fit the game that they're creating. I generally have some hard-and-fast rules predesigned: for example in my current campaign, all wizards (a godlike race) died a thousand years ago during the War of Madness caused by a wizard called Celast. That is fixed in stone.... until the players learn some of it and start interpreting the story as they will, and I decide some of their misinterpretations are better than my original idea and reincorporate them into my master plan, rewriting it as I go.

When I have need for a major NPC, I whip out a name of somebody from the appropriate faction, and jot down notes on how I am playing him as the PCs encounter him. I find if I prepare too much, I inevitably stray too far from my preparations within the first five or so minutes for them to be any use.

Even dungeons I rarely prepare. This is easier since I don't give my players much combat (yes, this is 4e. le gasp)... in my last dungeon, which was a trapped maze run by hyperintelligent rats inspired by Tucker's Kobolds (http://tuckerskobolds.com/), my notes were primarily just jotted down ideas for what kinds of traps the players could encounter. My favourite ones were the jillion spears falling from the ceiling as rats gnawed through the ropes, and the bear that the rats released from its cage as the PCs entered the room. Anyway...

This whole dungeon I didn't even have so much as a map. Just a list of traps and a "final goal". As the players went through, I described it to them off the top of my head, drawing it out on a pad of paper they couldn't see and making small notes for what was in every room as they entered, before they found it. When they searched I let them find secrets - often trivial - if they rolled high search checks: medium search checks gave them clues as to how the rats got around, where they got the materials and ideas for their traps, etc. High search checks either uncovered unsprung traps or minor treasures. Nothing was prepared, which left me open to launch incredibly nasty things just because they seemed appropriate or because the traps so far hadn't been hitting hard enough.

Many purists hate this kind of design, as it can be seen as a sort of reverse railroading. The PCs take the path I want them to follow because I am building the path around them. I see it as all of us cowriting the story, and me just being editor-in-chief. Either way, if you are good at thinking on the fly, this may be the way to go.

2008-09-18, 09:17 AM
Much of the advice above is good, but I think too much of it is 'how to be a GM'. The truth is, I don't think it's really possible to learn to be a GM from having it explained to you. I think there are only two really effective ways:

1. Watch a good GM in action. Do what they do. (By the same token, when you have a bad GM, do what they don't.)
2. Try things out. If they make the players happy, do more of them. If they make the players unhappy, do less of them.

The second is the important one. It requires you to a) be able to tell when the players are happy or unhappy and b) be able to tell which bits they're happy/unhappy about. This is difficult, but if you can do it, you'll automatically become a good GM given enough practice.

Instead, my suggestion would be to focus on what no-one else has so far mentioned:

Logistics: Having What You Need

Most failed RPG campaigns fail not because of a bad story, or a bad plot, or a bad system. In fact, many good GMs ignore story and plot completely, and you can have fun with pretty much any system if your group is good. It's logistics that's the killer. Here's what you need for your campaign to work:

Location: This one's pretty easy. You just need a comfortable place, quiet enough that the players can hear each other, along with necessary resources (munchies and your drink of choice).
GM availability: This is the number one reason campaigns fall apart. Successful long-running campaigns all have one thing in common: a committed GM who runs sessions regularly and on schedule. Be realistic about how much time you're willing to put into the game. If you know you can only run a regular well-supported game for four weeks max, don't plot out a campaign that'll take months. Run your game when you say you will, and don't cancel unless you absolutely have to. Short-term cancellations are the death-watch beetle of campaigns.
Player availability: The number two reason campaigns fall apart. For a campaign to work you need a core of frequent attenders. As the GM, it's your responsibility to sort this out. This means working out when everyone can make it, and (most especially!) not depending on any one or two players to be present unless you're dead sure they will be. Once some people have turned up, play the game with the players you have. Do not cancel due to low attendance unless numbers are ridiculously low.
Timetabling: Agree in advance how long you're playing until. If you're planning the session, leave lots of spare time. Players ALWAYS take longer than you'll expect to do things, so prepare for that in advance.

In my experience, players will forgive almost anything for a GM who gets these things right. It still won't help you if you seem to have no clue what you're doing, but as long as you have good logistics and do a halfway decent job with the actual gamemastering, your players will put up with a lot. If nothing else, it'll give you the time to find out what works and what doesn't (and find out what you need to improve).

- Saph

DM Raven
2008-09-18, 03:18 PM
I don't believe is short-term planning as a DM, I feel it stifles the creative process. I plan out a broad, general story of what is happening in my world around the PCs and basically let them join that story from day to day. Each game I change the story a little depending on what my players did the previous game always asking myself, "How did my player's actions affect their world?"

I do plan out dungeons and encounters, though I don't usually plan the location for the encounters...I figure this all out on the fly.

Basically, I try to be as dynamic as possible in my DMing so my players feel like everything they do affects the gameworld in some way.

This tactic is not for everyone, you have to have a very strange sort of mind for this to work well and it usually ends up giving you a massive headache by the end of the night. I don't suggest anyone DM like this unless you can be very dynamic, creative, improvisational, and put up with headaches. ;p

2008-09-18, 04:27 PM
What Iíve taken to doing lately is design and area say, a small barony. Then I fill it with the potential for interesting encounters. I type out a paragraph about some of the more notable locals and anything else that seems interesting. I stat them if I think the pcs will eventually fight them. Then itís a matter of cutting the players loose and letting them find something to latch onto. Then after that I start shaping the campaign after they have found a plot hook.

For example say I create the above barony. I could make the local baron a tyrant, which rules the area with the iron fist of his soldiers. Now I have a potential plot hook. I could shape this into a plot that catches the players up in an uprising. Or I could have the players captured and put in jail on trumped up charges. Or I could have the PCs get involved in a redemption story that revolves around the local tavern owner and his son, who has joined the baronís solders. Maybe after the pcs overthrow the baron they learn that the corruption is bigger than they thought, it could go straight to the top of the government. Or maybe the baron has been dominated by a vampire who is looking to take control of the area.

All I really need is a plot hook the Pcs are interested in and a place to put that plot hook. At least thatís the idea. whether its going to work is another matter. I call it Organic Dming.

2008-10-08, 08:04 PM
[Lots of good advice]

Thanks very much. That's a great essay, and I think reading it solved one of my main problems: Tane being the only link to the larger plot, if that buggered up, I'd struggle to go forward. I decided to add more abductees at the Mardis Gras, which, in turn, will give the players more direction, while also allowing them more options.

Thanks to everyone else, too. There's a lot of good stuff here, and I'll be taking a lot of it into account. I'll let you know how I get on. :D

Inyssius Tor
2008-10-08, 08:14 PM
Oh, this thread is gold! Thanks for bumping it back up; I'ma bookmarking this.

EDIT: You might want to check out Justin's website (http://www.thealexandrian.net/), by the way. 'S got more interesting stuff. Also, you might have better luck contacting him there, since he got banned over a Harry Potter argument late last month. Damn shame, that. Guess it can't be helped...

2008-10-09, 06:27 AM
Heh, yeah I saw. I emailed him and checked out the rest of the site. Thanks, though. ;)

2008-10-09, 06:58 AM
But what if a section of the mystery is vital to the story's progression? Not to mention the progression of an individual session? Surely having backups can only be a good thing?

2008-10-09, 07:53 AM
What I mean is - I have an overarching plan for my campaign, though there'll be more than one way for the players to get there. Surely this is allowing freedom as well as having a structured story in mind.

And in a deus ex machina isn't ideal, then why not have one or even two backup plans, to make sure your players enjoy the game and feel like they've achieved something. Having alternate routes and vague goals in a campaign (regardless of how often you stray off it) is surely better than making it up as you go along, and having players feel pandered to or robbing them of coming up with a careful plan, since you haven't got plan enough for them to get around. (That was messy. Do you see what I mean - if you haven't designed an in-depth campaign, then they won't feel they've achieved anything by beating it).

So (back to the original point) to keep this campaign intact, more than one route for unpredictable NPCs at important plot moments is a necessity, isn't it?

2008-10-09, 09:23 AM
Having more than one possible route is a good thing. You can't make all your game depend on that one scene going just right because if that scene doesn't happen your game breaks. On the other hand, there's a danger to planning several routes as well. I've seen supposedly open ended games boil down to multiple choice games.

I think it's a good idea to prepare a few routes, just make sure you don't limit your players to those routes. If they want to go off and forge their own path, let them. When I GM I try to predict where the players will go. Routes A and B are likely so I write game that can work for them. Routes C and D are less likely, so I'll have to improvise if they go for those. Routes E-Z are up to the players to invent, so I won't even try to prepare for them. The players can go in whichever direction they like, I just try to be ready for the direction I expect them to take.

2008-10-09, 11:47 AM
Ha, sorry. That should say 'unpredictable PCs', but I do take your point.

2008-10-09, 02:42 PM
When preparing to run a campaign, I make as many general preparations as possible. I list out my important NPCs, form their personalities, any strong character traits, and just put them into a location where I'd like them to be encountered (although I consider where else they might be encountered, as well).

However, sometimes you'll need more NPCs than you've prepared to have. So, I try to think up a variety of NPCs to throw in the game at any time. I give them a first name, a (basic) job description (ie Craftsman) and one interesting aspect or piece of useful information that they may or may not willingly share. If the players need someone to talk to, I have the basis for a real being. This will help when your players feel like talking to a lot of people.

Try not to write so much dialogue down, as much as remember the gist of it. When I have an important NPC explain something, I usually only have what he's talking about written in bullets (unless there is something highly specific that I need to make note of).

I keep my eyes open to what choices the players have at their disposal; although, of course, nobody can be prepared for anything. I am sometimes guilty of nudging my players into a specific direction, but I think it's necessary under some circumstances. However, I see it as a game of give-and-take, and will let the PCs take total control when I think it appropriate. Try to be as general as you can, so that you can maximize the ways PCs can form their own solutions.

If you have generic NPCs to toss around, and a flexible story, then you're free to give the PCs more say in what they do (which I'm sure they'll think is more fun). But, don't feel as if you need to compromise everything on their behalf. Sometimes it's fine to say things don't work that way because otherwise you can't get the opportunity to put them in that OMGWTF moment you planned out for weeks. Just try to be somewhat consistent and reasonable.

Dr Bwaa
2008-10-09, 02:49 PM
*snip* find out what's going on (without stopping it, so as to preserve the timeline). *snip*

I haven't read all the replies on here, so sorry if this advice has already been given. Bear in mind that these are not characters you can control; they are PCs. If you get them engaged in time travel, they will spawn paradoxes, probably in the first session, and things will get out of hand very, very quickly and all your preparation may well be for nothing. Preparation is hugely important, but if your players have access to time travel/high magic/other sufficiently crazy sh**, you will never, ever be prepared for what it is that they actually end up doing. My best advice is to get a general feel for what's going to happen and some general consequences, but don't worry over it too much. Chances are something will go astray during the game, and you'll have to make it up on the spot--and that's something (from experience) that you can only get better at be doing it over and over.

2008-10-10, 08:38 AM
Yeah, I was going to limit the time travel as a way to get to the missions, really, and I was going to make their paradoxes themes for future missions.

Paul H
2008-10-11, 06:06 AM

Was going to post - but saw that SeeKay as already done that 'Mind Read at a distance' thing on me.......:smalltongue:

(Totally agree)!

Paul H