Moving From Good to Great
We role-playing nerds often dream of hearing the player accolades that comes from a game well narrated. Whether it's Storytelling in White Wolf, Game Mastering in Dungeons and Dragons, or even Animating in the game Toon, it's always the same. Some rise Game Masters rise above expectations and give the players an experience that movies or even books cannot compete with. If you have wanted to be one of these Game Masters or would like it to happen more, then keep reading.
Learn to Say NO
Some Game Masters, in an effort to keep everyone happy, allow poison players to play or allow plot killing classes, races or powers. Bad ones will wonder why the game tanked, people lost interest and why organizing players always feels a bit like herding cats. Good ones can typically manage bad players or unbalanced parties and settle the ongoing squabbles that threaten to ruin the game. But a great Game Master doesn’t allow it to happen in the first place. Some players need to be told when they are being obnoxious, choosing inappropriate characters, or if they don’t listen to reason; to go home. A great Game Master doesn’t make the party suffer because one person wants to be the “star” or because the person doesn’t understand that having a character with flaws is essential to having a great character. When you come across this in your game do try to keep everyone as happy as possible, but never at the expense of good plot hooks. If you can’t picture how you’re going to work a Garou into your Anti-deluvian campaign just tell the player that you can’t make it work, go make a Gangrel.
Describe the Scene
Some Game Masters are content to say, “Your in bar, what do you do?” Those people are either being lazy or they are not cut out to be a Game Master. A great Game Master tells you the name of the bar and knows how the bar got that name. He describes the decorations, the sounds, the temperature, the smells and even the amount of care put into upkeep of the bar. They also knows the bar keeper’s name, should the characters care to ask for it, he knows that the bar keeper has been cheating on his wife and that the bar keeper’s wife has been stashing money and is planning on leaving him soon. The great Game Master knows how many patrons there are in the bar, has a brief description of each of them and keeps detailed notes on a few patrons that could make interesting plot sidelines. If the characters don’t use any of these sidelines, relax, you can recycle them for the next bar.
If the players begin realizing that they can talk with anyone in the game and when they do they seem like real people, players will start working harder to uncover mysteries and get more in character. You will begin to notice that as good players experience complex social environments more regularly they will start making well balanced characters so that they can shine in the bar and not just the battle field.
Unexpected Plot Devices?
Why Brief Descriptions of Bar Patrons Can Help You
Know Your Audience
A bad Game Master will point out details that lead characters on wild goose chases, a good one leads characters where they want them to go and a great one makes the characters feel like they’ve decided on a course only to find that the course was exactly where the story was leading to begin with.
How does a great Game Master do this? He knows his players more then they know themselves. Nearly every player has plot hooks they just can’t resist. These plot hooks could include; the damsel in distress, the poor widow, the big score or even the impossible mission. These hooks typically, but not always, transcend their characters personalities but a great Game Master takes character motives into play as well.
Let’s say that James is a player that can’t resist the big score and his character is a disgraced Dwarven warrior who is looking to regain his honor in a magnificent death. A plot device like a Dragon Horde is a shoe-in. unfortunately, other characters are a little harder to motivate because they are ether unsure of their character’s role or they don’t know how to jump in as a player. In these cases feel free to lead into the plot a little more directly until they see the motivations and begin to decide directions all on their own.
Another thing a great Game Master does is make adventures where each character will get a chance to be the “star”. Include a puzzle for the Mage, a secret for the Nosferatu, a trap for the thief, and a fight for the warrior. If you make sure to do this every game, all the players will be blathering on excitedly after the dice have been put away.
Plot is King
The most important part of being the Game Master is keeping your story coherent and epic. Every story needs to have conflict that builds to a climax which is followed by resolution. Before you make many plans and long before the start of the first game, talk with the players and find what story they want to tell with their character. Feel free to use terms like western, epic, horror, etc… to get a good loose definition to work with. Take each players story desires and do your best to incorporate them into the story your developing. If the characters feel like they’ve helped shape the plot they’ll feel more invested and work a little harder to make their character motives fit into the story. No matter what hair brained schemes the players cook up, which characters die or even how much your players surprise you, you need to keep the story alive. Let’s face it; sometimes players can make our lives hell.
I’ve had character’s kill the main enemy in the first scene, go on quests far above their pay-grade, and even commit to suicide missions I had never intended for them to go on. When this happens feel free to take a break and work out a fix. Don’t just run with it all the way into the toilet or allow characters to off themselves ingloriously. You owe it to the work you put into the story and to the quality players you now surround yourself with to rein the story back in and get it back on track. The better you get at knowing your characters the easier this step will be.
Know When to Hold 'em...
Some games are worth fighting for and some need to be let go so a new one can be born. A bad Game Master will flog a dead plot or just throw characters against random encounters until everyone gets bored, a good Game Master can “wing” a story with some half decent plot hooks but a great Game Master can read the signs and know whether or not to call it quits. Great stories can be birthed spontaneously but usually they take preparation. If the story is alive and well and still meeting your high standards then go on as long as you like. But if the story has lost its wind, call it a night, the sooner you deny mediocrity to quicker you can achieve Game Master greatness. Ending a game isn’t without its perks, time to hang out at the end of a great game is a time to find out what worked, what didn’t and glean ideas from player predictions about what’s next.
Have any great advice on being a GM or looking for advice, leave a comment below.