Rutskarn’s GMinars CH1: Your Job

By Rutskarn
on Apr 23, 2016
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

Before we get into any specific advice or instruction, I want to rectify the most basic and chronic misunderstanding about what goes into running a good roleplaying game.

Anyone can spot the external functions of the GM: you’re referee and storyteller. You enforce the rules, you describe people, places, and events, you establish how difficult certain kinds of actions are. If you’re good at all of those things, great–they’ll absolutely make you a better GM. But they won’t, by themselves, make you a good one–and you can be terrible at one or all of them and still run a good game. They’re your job, but they’re not your real job.

They’re not your core responsibility, which I will state as bluntly and unromantically as possible:

As a GM, your real job is to give your players something to do.

Obviously I don’t mean just anything. Worksheets, dirty dishes, and yardwork are unlikely to form the nucleus of an enriching tabletop session. But never forget that your players are not there to watch a movie or play a boardgame; they are there to play a character. They’re there to encounter situations and respond to them, and you, above anything else, are there to give them those situations. Your GM superpower isn’t that you know the rules or get to describe what the carpet at the castle looks like–it’s that you can conjur from thin air consternation, obstacles, opportunities, and mysteries for players to interact with.

Making sure your players have things to do is the only skill you absolutely need as a GM. If you can tell an interesting story or administrate the rules fairly, that’s great. If not, that’s absolutely something to work on. But if players get bored because they’re not doing things, that’s a critical problem no amount of skill at the other stuff will address.

Once you start looking at your job not as referee, not as storyteller, but as stuff-to-do-giver, it takes some of the pressure off–and makes it a little easier to prepare. Approach the job as though coming up with stuff for your players to do is your only real job and you’ll be off to a fine start.

At the very beginning, before you’ve even figured out what your game’s about–before you know anything about your system or your storyline–talk to your players and figure out, above all, what stuff they want to do. Do they want to explore dungeons, kill monsters, gather treasure? Do they want to fight or lead a war? Do they want to run a kingdom–or tear one down from the inside? Do they want to hunt vampires? Solve mysteries? Fix spaceships? Are they going to want to react first, think later–more suited to a madcap game where things happen with little warning and problems are smacked down as they emerge? Do they want to sit and think through problems–as they could in a game with riddles or mysteries or grand-scale tactics? What kinds of movies, books, videogames do they like? All of this is crucial data you need to prepare the right game.

When you know more or less what kind of game you’re going to run, share that idea with your players. See what they think. Then study up on how players can make characters in your chosen system, teach them those rules, explain the basics of the setting, make clear the broad scope of possibilities, and let them all make the kind of character they want to play. And most importantly, for the love of god, do this before you do any more planning–before you name a bad guy, create a faction, or plot out one session.

Why? Because by creating their characters, in a very real sense, your players have just created your campaign. Your job is to come up with stuff for those characters to do, and there’s no sense starting to do that before you know what the characters are and what they’re about. Your players didn’t create a big tough bruiser just to play in a game with no opportunities to fight, wrestle, or bully at important moments. They didn’t create a character with a terrifying appearance only to encounter a world full of disaffected, jaded people who aren’t moved by scary looks. They didn’t create a battlefield mechanic because they don’t want stuff to break on them all the time. Plan a game where their character’s skillsets are suited to:

  • Fix imposing short-term problems (warrior defeats an ambush, mechanic fixes a busted truck, doctor heals a broken leg)
  • Drive forward action (warrior seeks better weapons and armor, mechanic knows where to get the part to fix important machine, doctor directs quarantining efforts)
  • Resolve long-term problems (warrior defeats dark lord, mechanic gets the ancient spaceship restored to its full power after a thousand years, doctor uses hard-won samples to cure the global virus)

Now, if your players are creating characters that pull in vastly different directions–if one’s all about running for congress and everyone else is about knife fighting and explosives–that might be your cue to talk to your players and get them to tweak their characters a little. Then again, maybe a campaign where one guy uses his knife-fighting mercenary comrades to win him a seat in congress is a really interesting campaign and, if you’re up to the challenge and do a halfway decent job, everyone involved in it will remember it for decades because it was weird and unexpected and quintessentially theirs. Maybe the guy who created the congressman knew exactly what he was getting into–maybe he doesn’t mind sitting out of the combats because that makes him feel like a boss, sitting in casual safely while his partners do all the dirty work. Maybe he’ll be happy as long as he gets to make a speech or two and act like a used car salesman in between fights. Maybe the knife fighters enjoy that they get plenty of action and like that it’s in service of a fellow player character’s goals and not somebody else’s prewritten narrative. Don’t count stuff like this out–often unconventional parties make for really cool stories.

Maybe it’s not the story you would have come up with on your own–and maybe that’s what your players are for.

So when character creation’s finished you’ll sit down, you’ll scratch around in your notebook–and as always, you’ll make some things for your players to do. The congressman wants to run for office? Then he needs an opponent. He needs scandals to fight against, debates to win, constituents to appease, journalists to dodge. Come up with a few ideas. Now come up with things for the rest of the party to fight, because that’s what they’re all about–they’re fighters and that’s what they want to do. They’ve had a good session if they’ve beaten somebody else in combat. If you’d like, this is when you can come up with a few specific things that are going to happen in the first session. If you’d really like, this is when you can come up with a few long-term story twists or goals. Do what you have to for your players to have a good time, but know that–as long as events flow naturally from one to the other and they always have interesting things to do–they’re not going to know or care how much of it’s preplanned and how much of it’s totally improvised. That’s something I’ll get into at great length later.

Obviously, I’ve still got a lot to talk about as far as planning session and campaigns goes. But I wanted to take a full post to drill this principle, because I cannot stress enough how much it is the foundation of an engaging roleplaying experience. Forgetting this is a sure way to end up with bored players and a bored GM.

And now some homework questions. I’ll share my example answers next week, but for now, see what your answers to some or all of these are:

  1. The party your players came up with consists of three traveling musicians and one warrior. The warrior’s player describes her character as a “strong silent type,” someone who tries to avoid violence but ends fights decisively. While the three musicians are playing a gig at a tavern, what’s something you can throw at the warrior to give her something satisfying to do?
  2. Your players create a party of monster hunters for your vaguely-medieval-European setting. It’s a band of no-questions-asked daring adventurers who use skill and cunning to defeat their foes. What’s an interesting challenge for them all to face together in their first session–something that reflects not just the campaign setting, but their characters and the way they want to approach situations?
  3. Choose a really boring scene, chapter, or episode from a movie, book, or show and come up with something for the characters to do that would have made it more interesting.

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From the Archives:

  1. Chad says:

    1. Some local toughs decide, with the advice of the strong dwaven whisky they’ve been downing the whole show, that they don’t like the looks of this big guy at the bar. Bonus XP to the musicians for keeping the show going and aiding their friend at the same time in the ensuing bar fight (even more bonus XP if one of them breaks out in “Ballroom Blitz.”)

  2. Syal says:

    1. A drunken patron is clumsily hitting on the warrior and trying to get her to dance, OR a small child is heckling the musicians from within leg’s reach.

    2. There’s a werewolf in the nearby village, and their client insists the werewolf is the town nice guy, Bread Guy Steve. The party is hired to murder Bread Guy Steve no questions asked.

    3. A party of dwarves is riding barrels down a river. You could have an elaborate fight between local elves and invading orcs that the dwarves could take part in along the way.

    • Gordon says:

      Why. Why would you remind me that Peter Jackson turned the goddamn barrel rider scene into a goddamn action sequence? Why??

      Whyyyyy?!?!

      I didn’t realize I was still mad about that.

      • Syal says:

        “Well spotted, Master Baggins”, the Dwarf says, as they look upon a carved Dwarf statue that is literally a hundred feet tall.

        Man that movie was fun.

      • Tom says:

        I’m still mad about that entire forced trilogy. It hurts so much because its makers tried hard to be respectful to the source when they did the original trilogy and, while their version of LOTR did diverge significantly from the books at times, it was far more faithful an adaptation than just about anyone actually dared to hope that it would be. After that, it’s baffling how they could make such a horrific, tone-deaf mess of the Hobbit, showing barely a shred of regard for the original book, and producing not so much an adaptation as what seemed to me to be little more than a bunch of actors who should know better fooling around in costume in some kind of Middle Earth theme park.

        • Zak McKracken says:

          Learned my lession with the second part of the trilogy. Haven’t even watched the third and probably won’t. It’s enough to have Star Wars spoilt…

          • Don’t bother; they introduce these weird borderline-offensive teddy-bear aliens with stone-age technology, and the main plot gets way too caught up in the whole ‘space magic’ thing they have going on. Don’t even get me started on the space station – oh, and you won’t believe what they did to Luke & Leia’s relationship.

            :P

            (For actual serious though, I’ve got to say Hobbit 3 does feel like it’s about 1/3 battle scenes, and that’s being generous. You do get to see Cate Blanchett go crazy sea monster mode again though and Martin Freeman continues to do the understated ‘help me what have I got myself into’ Bilbo thing pretty well. OH! And Sir Christopher Lee’s Saruman is always lovely, even if he’s only in the one scene for about thirty seconds. But yeah. I enjoyed it; I wouldn’t really call it unmissable.)

          • Shoeboxjeddy says:

            Watching all those hours already, I feel like its worth it just to see where they were going with MY OC ELF WARRIOR HOTTIE, do not steal, and all the other movie original stuff. And Smaug actually does the thing described in the title of the second movie!

            • Zak McKracken says:

              Yeah, I did not actually expect the movie to be bad but I realized that I had only watched the second one for the sake of LotR memories, not because I had liked the first one so much. I felt like it somehow got the tone all wrong. And seeing that the second movie had more of those silly Indiana-Jones (or shall I say: Marlow Briggs?) scenes in it, rather than (as I had hoped) fewer … the whole business with the dwarfen statue and the dragon was kind of very silly, too. Now, the book definitely has its silly moments, too, but they’re of an entirely different kind.

              I can criticize many of the details but in retrospect I think it’s mostly that the tone is all over the place, and mostly not where it needed to be for me.

              • Blackbird71 says:

                The missed-tone feel of “The Hobbit” begins to make a lot of sense when you realize that Peter Jackson’s first experience with Tolkien was not in fact reading any of his works, but rather Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 “The Lord of the Rings” animated movie (in fact, several of the scenes in Jackson’s movies directly mirrored scenes from this movie).

                Peter Jackson did not have a grasp on the rich literature and broad spectrum of works Tolkien had created. He had some knowledge of “The Lord of the Rings,” and so he thought that was what Tolkien was. The fact is that even though the stories are linked, “The Hobbit” is a very different tale than “The Lord of the Rings”. “The Lord of the Rings” is an epic tale of dark battles and wars, individuals and nations either succumbing to or overcoming temptations of evil and power, culminating in a struggle for several races very survival. Contrast that with “The Hobbit”, which is a rather lighthearted and whimsical romp of adventure and discovery. This is where Jackson failed in doing “The Hobbit”; he failed to understand the story’s very nature, and instead thought that it should be more like “The Lord of the Rings”, because that was the Tolkien he knew.

                Maybe if he had watched the Rankin-Bass 1977 version of “The Hobbit” he would have better understood the tone and done the story justice? (I’m half kidding here)

                As for the “forced trilogy” aspect others have pointed out, Peter Jackson addressed that in some of the behind the scenes material – when they wrote and began filming “The Hobbit”, they felt that they had too much material for two movies, but not enough for three. So faced with the decision of either cutting much of the planned material and sticking to two movies, or adding filler to stretch it out to three, they opted for the latter. Clearly, this was the wrong call.

                Thankfully, there are a number of fan edits out there that reduce the whole trilogy down to the neighborhood of 2 1/2 hours. I haven’t had the opportunity to view any of these myself as of yet, but plan to do so in the near future. I’ve been told that many of them actually make the movie both enjoyable and true to Tolkien.

        • The difference is how they got to make a trilogy out of the source material: For LOTR they had to cut and trim; for TH they had to enlarge and add. They are smart enough to know what the story can do without, but are completely inept when it comes to what additions it can do with. Not to mention the type of stoned action sequences Jackson likes, which were already hinted in the LOTR trilogy, with the shield riding from the Helm’s Deep and the Oliphant climbing in the Battle of Pelennor.
          I wouldn’t be surprised if the first idea Jackson had for Tauriel was a half elf/half dragon/half celestial/tiefling priest/monk/ranger/shadowdancer chick and they told him to just make Over Power Girl.
          The scene of the barrels made me wish to travel to his house with a big sledgehammer. And that Legolas thing at the end of the third. FFS I need a time machine to kill his father before he had children just to avoid that.
          I also could barely believe my ears with the porn scene in the elven dungeons of the first film.

  3. Atlas says:

    1: Local Watch demand to see the musicians licence in the attempt to win a bribe.
    – Warrior witnesses a ruffian stealing some nice lady’s handbag.
    – Local toughs are harassing the owners for protection money while everyone is distracted by the music.
    – The ever so classic Bar Brawl.

  4. silver Harloe says:

    1. The warrior sees/overhears the barkeep hiding/planning to hide most of the night’s take and stiff the warrior’s musician friends. Maybe the barkeep can be intimidated, but maybe a couple bouncers need to be knocked around in the process.

    2. The local ranger has been turned into a vampire and is feeding on the village at night. The party is hired to find his lair in the woods, which is full of traps because the vampire remember his ranger days.

    3. Instead of knocking Catherine out between buildings, have her and Simon talk about things related to his condition/the world/transhumanism while he’s in the vast underwater boring bits. Give the player the choice of what to ask about but have enough questions that Simon can’t ask everything before they get to the next place.

    • Benjamin Hilton says:

      How would you enforce the third? I would just sit in one spot and ask all the questions. And even if you could enforce it I have always hated arbitrary “you must stop talking now” segments in games, when it’s clear I have plenty of time.

      • silver Harloe says:

        Me personally? I wouldn’t enforce it. If that’s your jam, you talk all night.

        • Benjamin Hilton says:

          “Give the player the choice of what to ask about but have enough questions that Simon can’t ask everything before they get to the next place.”

          Saying they can’t ask everything implies they can’t ask everything.

          • silver Harloe says:

            Sure, my bad, I left out some important qualifiers:
            I meant “**if the player is trying to progress through the game at a ‘normal speed’**, they can chat while moving, but then they have a choice of what to ask; though if the player chooses to sacrifice speed, sure, they can sit around and chat all day and run out of things.”

            The important thing was to (a) give the player something to do while looking for the next spot in the long, boring underwater bits, and (b) give them a potential for making a choice about how to direct the conversation (unless they don’t want to make a choice and just exhaust the tree in the first go, returning the underwater sections to their previous boring state).

  5. Zaxares says:

    1. It seems that someone in the audience (perhaps several someones) does not fancy the musicians’ song. They heckle the players, make disparaging remarks about their skill, fashion and/or nationality, and perhaps even escalate to throwing small objects at the party. Sooner or later it becomes obvious that the warrior has to intervene, because nobody else is going to. (By way of explanation, perhaps the heckler is someone of noble birth, and nobody else in the tavern is willing to risk the wrath of their noble parent by stopping the heckler.)

    Depending on what the warrior does, the noble may ask them to step outside (this may have been what they wanted all along; the noble may fancy himself a much better fighter than he really is, but again, due to his birth, nobody dares lay a hand on him), switch his attentions to insulting the warrior instead, or even pull a weapon right there and then in the tavern.

    2. This is a bit more tricky. What’s the power level of the party? Are these neophyte adventurers just starting their careers or veteran monster slayers who’ve seen a few battles? Do they enjoy facing challenges that ordinarily would be far above their skill level and seeing if they have the wit and ingenuity to achieve victory anyway? Or do they prefer facing challenges where they have a decent chance of winning?

    Depending on the answers, it could range from anywhere from trying to save their village from a surprise overwhelming attack by orcs (the advance force, well over a hundred strong, for an invading orcish horde), or (if we’re looking for more of a horror setting) having the players become trapped by a vampire in his castle. They are temporarily spared by the arrival of daylight, but they must find a way to escape through his guards and traps before night falls and they are all slaughtered.

    3. Can’t think of any boring scenes off the top of my head right now. Pass. XD

  6. LCF says:

    1) The warrior will display impressive feats of knives juggling (three or four at the same time), then dance on the music (folk dances from her semi-exotic and somewhat remote birthplace).
    2) At first, it seems like a Monster of the Week. After the deed is done, there is in fact a twist, to surprise/hurt/grieve them. Reflexion on the nature of Monsters and Humans, distinct Witcher/Eastern Europe feeling. (Have them clean a full village of shape-shifters/werewolves at night and show them all the human-form civilian corpses at dawn?)
    3) Walther White’s son, in Breaking Bad. Give him a couple interesting faults and guilty acts of his own. Cerebral palsy does not mean always-nice, jelly-brained idiot.

  7. Florian the Mediocre says:

    1: The local drunkard gets loud and obnoxious, and it’s starting to hurt the entertainment. Can the warrior shut him up without causing a scene and spoiling the mood?

    2: During their travels, the party reaches a tiny village next to a river. The mayor asks them to rid the village of a monster that haunts it every night, scratching on doors, screaming and leaving strange marks as the peasants cower in their hovels. It always vanishes just before dawn.
    One night a fisherman didn’t come home in time and was found drowned the next day.

    -If they wait until night to fight the monster it will stalk them, making noises out of sight, throwing things out of the shadows and running away immediately when seen. (If they pursue it, it dives into the river.) They catch glimpses of it, though, and it looks like the old, bloated corpse of a woman.
    -If they ask around town about the monster they will hear theories ranging from mischievous faeries over witches with strange powers to bloodthirsty demons. More concretely, the monster seems to spend most of it’s time near the town’s church.
    -If they ask about the town’s history or look through the church’s records they will find out that the town drowned a witch a couple of years ago. At least they think it was a witch – they seem pretty superstitious, and the reasoning was kind of flimsy, but the priest gave the go ahead and administered the last rites.
    -If they talk to the priest, he will be a bit of a self-righteous asshole. He sleeps well behind the thick walls and heavy iron doors of the church.
    -If the priest dies, the haunting becomes less severe.

    Potential ways to resolve this:
    -Use the priest as bait*. The monster will go after him if he’s exposed at night. He may or may not survive this, depending on how the players do this.** The players might be driven out of the village by a lynch mob depending on how they play their cards.
    *He will not consent to this.
    **I.e. opening the church doors at night, then locking them once the monster is in, waiting until morning and then burning the now lifeless body of the monster***.
    ***Found lying on top of the dead priest, bathes in the morning light coming through stained glass windows.
    -Dive into the river during the day where the witch was drowned, find the (inanimate) body, cut the had off.
    -Be creative with traps.

  8. Joshua says:

    One thing that I’ve seen so many people make mistakes on when running games is thinking that they have to come up with a story, when in reality they just need to come up with a story template, and let the PCs come up with the actual story.

    • Tizzy says:

      A million times that! I GM’ed most of the games I’ve ever played, and with experience, I learned to let the players lead me.

      And the important lesson is that this can work in any setting. All the GM needs to do is listen to players and take the rules as merely helpful suggestions. So for beginning GM’s, I’d encourage the use of pre-made adventures. That takes a lot of the guesswork out of the prep. The framework is already here for you to set your players loose in.

      This is a lot harder to pull off if the players are unwilling to cooperate with each other, though. E.g., if their idea of fun is radically different. This is not something I’ve experienced much: usually, if you can get them to sit around the table, that’s already half the work. But you do hear horror stories, and the dynamics are probably different if you’re playing using that newfangled internets thingy.

  9. Regrettably, I think I failed Rut’s key “GMing 101” rule in the last game I tried to run. :( Ah well, something to bear in mind if there’s a next time… (Also, I forgot to bloodily slaughter the first person to make a Monty Python joke, as an example to the others.)

    Homework!

    1. The usual group that play that tavern are disgruntled about the New Hotness moving in and wooing “their crowd”, so they enlist some local roughs to break up the gig.

    2. The party arrive in a small town that’s being menaced by Something(s). The townspeople request their aid in securing the walls and then tracking the beast(s) to their lair, which turns out to be a local Nature God’s shrine. Any examination of the shrine will show that some children have been playing here recently…

    3. …Alright, not boring precisely, but have Wotzizface* in The Last Kingdom actually LISTEN to the DAMNED ADVICE someone’s giving him now and then. Was he cute? Yeah. Was he also as dumb as a box of rocks? *sigh* Yeah…

    * Uhtred. No wonder I forgot it. Thank you, IMDB.

    • Amstrad says:

      Your idea for #1 was exactly where I was going with this

    • AdamS says:

      I actually did something like this in a D&D game I ran a while back. The specifics aren’t important, but the party dynamic was that my group was three theater majors and a chem major. The theater majors LOVED RPing with each other. They’d talk in character, one of them drew sketches of the PCs, and the bard even wrote an IC poem. The chem major….was burned out mentally bc our school’s chem dept was ridiculously demanding. She didn’t talk in character more than half a dozen times, almost all of them being hilarious threats. (“I’ll shove that mug so far down your gullet your piss will taste of pewter” was my favorite.) But she loved combat, coming up with clever taunts and the aforementioned creative threats, as well as strategizing with her fellows and detailing gruesome kills. So when the party had to escort a diplomat to a negotiation and they failed all of their checks to realize she was being poisoned once they arrived, I had a problem. The theater majors all wanted to fill in for the poor dead diplomat, but that would involve copious talking. Poor chem major would have nothing fun to do for close to an hour. So I offered her a chance to earn some extra gold AND stay away from all the talkers by working as a gate guard. A sudden volley of crossbow bolts wipes out most of her compatriots, and she ends up holding the gate single-handedly against a platoon of rebels trying to break up the talks. I kept the pace moving by cutting from combat to negotiations every 3 rounds so the theater majors could make all of their arguments. (Which is a great system, btw, because it lets players deliver their points in snippets. No one can RP out an entire debate-style paragraph off the cuff.)

      The best part was after they’d finished negotiating and came back outside to find the chem major, bloody but still with positive HP total, surrounded by puddles of blood and piles of chopped-up rebels, drinking a stein full of beer (in character AND out of character!)

  10. Rob S says:

    1. The warrior is enjoying the music, but a group of drunks at the next table have been heckling the band the whole night. When they eventually start throwing things at the musicians, the warrior can step in to try and calm them down. That’s when things get ugly. This could also be a good way to introduce non-lethal fighting (They’re just a bunch of noisy drunks, after all – she doesn’t really want to hurt them even if they are trying to hurt her.)

    2. The party is hired to take out a monster occupying a nearby old keep.

    What they aren’t told is the “monster” is a lesser noble (4th cousin to the king maybe) who recently moved into the keep to oversee the collection of new taxes and tributes. The townsfolk object to this during the harsh times the area has been experiencing.

    The party doesn’t learn the truth until after they complete the mission, thus putting them in a tough spot – royalty doesn’t react well to one of their own being killed.

    Additionally, they find evidence to suggest that the noble was not actually a monster, so now they can’t even claim that as a defense. *Or*, they find evidence that the entire royal family *are* monsters, thus putting an entire, very powerful clan with special abilities on their trail. :)

    3. That’s a tough on. I’ll have to get back on that. The problem with boring scenes, is that I tend to forget them fairly rapidly.

  11. Benjamin Hilton says:

    1. There is another silent patron who is acting all kinds of shady before slipping out the back door: see how the player responds. Could be anything from a pickpocket to a clandestine meeting to an attempt to separate and capture the fighter (who either fights off multiple foes epically, or must hilariously be rescued by the band)

    2. While in town have some people casing the place for a raid. After a few rounds they leave to prepare, and after a few rounds more they attack. How it plays out depends on the players attentiveness/response, with the best case being the players catch the bandits unaware in their den while they are preparing, and the worst getting completely surprised when the bandits attack town.

    3. I haven’t been annoyed enough in a scene recently to have anything off the top of my head.

  12. LowercaseM says:

    1. A ragged man stumbles through the tavern door, wrapped in a cloak. He hurries to the warrior at the bar. As he hands the warrior a bundle bound in gauze, the warrior sees that beneath the cloak, he is dressed in *exactly* what the warrior is wearing. “They said nobody would get hurt…” he rasps. “I’m so sorry…” He collapses to the floor, and the bundle starts to wriggle. There is a commotion in the street outside.

    2. A human-appearing monster has joined forces with a small town in the path of an approaching band of conquering steppe horsemen. The monster, who is tied to the area by a curse or by nature, is assisting the town in preparing to defend against (or hide from) the coming horde. The PCs are hired by the dissolute remnant of the town leadership, who have been replaced by the competent and skilled monster. “Put us back in charge”, they say, “and you can have first cut of what goes in the townsfolks’ wagons as we evacuate”.

    3. A man comes into the room with a pistol. Heck, it worked for Raymond Chandler!

    • Ooooh… That gives me an idea.

      I have to remember to drop in an encounter some time with shapeshifters/illusionists who try to scam people by posing as their future time travelling selves. It’s a bit more fantasy than I usually like to go but it’d be really funny if you had the right group of players.

  13. 1. There’s always the drunken, violent heckler, who I might make the local strongman to give the warrior a bit more of a challenge. A slightly more creative option…. the normal bouncer ate some bad mutton, and the tavern owner hires the warrior to take his place for the night. Goal is keep troublemakers out (or escort them back out) with a minimum of fuss and disruption to the performance. The musicians could even get involved by providing louder/more raucous music at times the warrior’s likely to need a bit more noise-coverage.

    2. A band of undead have wormed their way into the leadership of the local thieves guild/merchants guild/whatever. (Basic idea is a guild that is very powerful with a long reach so if the characters really piss ’em off it’ll be an issue for a long time). There are a few living leaders left, and no one really seems to be complaining about the leadership. Sure, you can try a dramatic TURN UNDEAD at the next full meeting but turning a good 2/3rds of the leadership to dust might not go over so well.

    3. The Animaniacs bounce through the room going “boingy, boingy…” I’ve actually used that before in a Mage game where the players had gotten bogged down in planning against the Big Bad who was turning the world into a cartoon, just to hint that um, time, not on their side, and also because it was a great WTF moment.

  14. Neil W says:

    1. Another trio of musicians wander in and suggest a good natured battle of the bands. However after every round the stakes get higher, the contest more heated and someone – that shifty looking guy in the hood who followed the NPC musicians in maybe? – seems to be trying to sabotage our PCs. Meanwhile rowdy audience, someone’s significant other is jealous of the attention they are giving the band etc to give the warrior some things to do.

    For bonus marks the songs the other party sing foreshadow next week’s* adventure.

    * Based on my current game scheduling “next season”.

    2. Nothing too fancy. Evil Wizard and goblin henchmen kidnap someone/ steal something and party are hired to get it back. Opportunites for negotiation, stealth/thievery and violence for the party to choose from. Also test the tone; goblins could be dumb comic relief and wizard evil schemer or goblins cruel and violent while the wizard gives gleeful supervillain monologues.

    Also the wizard gets away. Or if you really want to motivate the PCs, the wizard gets away and takes their reward with him.

    3. I find it difficult to remember boring scenes. Cut to something more interesting I guess. No, alright, someone is giving a speech in the Galactic Senate in one the Star Wars prequels. Our plucky heroes could try and put a tracker on their speeder, or break into their office or find someone and interrogate them, and it has to be done before the session ends.

  15. CZack says:

    From someone who’s not already a DM:

    1. Maybe it doesn’t have to be dramatic and high-stakes. Have someone challenge her to a drinking contest.

    2. There’s a town plagued by an inordinate number of dragon attacks. All the dragons are young and sickly, and they run away at the first sign of real resistance. The source of the problem (unbeknownst to the players) is a nearby smuggler’s den that found a clutch of dragon eggs. The good ones they raise and harvest for leather, the runts they set loose to starve.

    3. The train scene in Dogma. It’s long and nothing happens until the end. Have an evangelist show up at some point to try to convert Jay and Silent Bob.

  16. Ramsus says:

    1) Bar brawl or just a tough person like the warrior who is also a violent (or just loud and obnoxious) drunk. Assassin(s) hired by the competition for the band or angry husbands. An old friend/kindred soul for the warrior to sit down and have a chat with, even if that chat is just a series of nonverbal gestures and grunts.

    2) Perhaps setting it up so things up so that there are two threats heading to different nearby towns that must be dealt with. Maybe one is a large group of smaller monsters and the other is a single massive one. They then have to choose which to deal with and how given maybe some interesting terrain features or have to figure out how to deal with both before either reach their respective target town. So they wind up either making a hard choice (which gives them good roleplaying opportunities and will give you information on what their character’s prioritize) and figuring out tactics and having some fun combat or they make a risky (also informative) choice and likely spend most of the time figuring out their strategy and executing it and get to look forward to some neat battles the next session.

    3) An uneventful ride through some grasslands/forest. Actually… I probably wouldn’t do much of anything. I’d try and play up the scenery as much as possible and just ask if they want to have some in character discussion. If not I might have them see something interesting but far away just for some world flavor and then skip ahead to the next scene.

  17. Felblood says:

    1. A drunken rowdy is heckling the band and harassing women in the audience. The warrior needs to remove the patron without making a scene or doing anything that will bring legal consequences down on the party. Every good band needs a bouncer.

    2. An obviously skeezy wizard contracts the party to retrieve a powerful but mysterious artifact, from the lair of a powerful monster. He doesn’t have specific instructions on how to deal with the monster, but one can assume this party will go for the direct route. Either way, on the way back to town, the party is accosted by a woman dressed as a priestess of a healing order, who offers them a better price for the artifact. Players need to decide whether to honor their contact, or take the better price from the less shady looking buyer.

    3. A laser sword wizard is attempting to woo a queen, by complaining about how much he hates sand. A team of assassins is attempting to murder the queen, and the players must dispatch the hired killers as quietly as possible, so as to not disrupt the date. For added difficulty, players could also be tasked with keeping the knight’s bumbling gecko-man sidekick out of the room.

  18. WWWebb says:

    Oh, look! This post has ended with giving something for the readers to do in the comments.

    As for the ideas in the article…it’s advocating pretty hard for the GM to be a creative snowflake that can come up with their own adventures. For the people who don’t want to (or have time to) create something from scratch, how would they find something that matches the PCs’ style?

    Searching for adventures is fairly primitive in most of the stores I’ve seen. Adventure search engines are organized by system and maybe level. Style or mood or type of encounters might be mentioned in the description or reviews, but usually you just have to read between the lines.

    • TMC_Sherpa says:

      You can steal ideas from anywhere. Books, movies, TV, music, comments on internet forums (Hi Ruts!). Change a few names and Bobs yer uncle. I still have the scroll I made based off of King Crimsons’ (I’m not making this up. Deep breath) The Court of the Crimson King including The Return of the Fire Witch and The Dance of the Puppets.

      If you’re talking about modules then yeah, you’re kinda screwed. If there is a FLGS to rummage around there is probably a box of old Dragon, Dungeon or White Dwarf you can thumb through. Most of it will be combat related but there are a few odd gems around.

  19. SlothfulCobra says:

    I wanna see an entire larp designed to get the adventurers to do your yardwork now.

  20. “Now, if your players are creating characters that pull in vastly different directions–if one’s all about running for congress and everyone else is about knife fighting and explosives–that might be your cue to talk to your players and get them to tweak their characters a little.”

    I like to do this myself, but I’m also a “team player” in a game so I make sure that my weird offside character has a REASON to hang out with the rest of the group and support them. And when I run, I give the players (particularly new players who have never run with me before) a little lecture about the fact that I expect this of them. It’s okay to make a fuss and say “I’m leaving!” and storm off in character–as long as you *already have in mind how you’re going to rejoin the group*. I’m all for in-character drama. I’m NOT up for people sidetracking the entire game because of their special snowflake complex.

  21. guy says:

    1. Acting as bodyguard/bouncer, particularly if the group has managed to anger anyone important recently.

    2. Kobolds have taken over the mine! Take it back. That seems to be the plot they have signed on for.

  22. tmtvl says:

    1: Take out my “50 interesting bar encounters”, roll one up, enhance where necessary.
    2: Help town from baddy, prolly using monster horse to keep it low fantasy.
    3: In the Manos opening, it’d be a good idea to have the characters be a bit wittier.

  23. Abnaxis says:

    So, I just finished GM-ing my first full campaign. I learned a lot about myself…

    Namely, I’m really good at coming up with things for players to do, but really terrible at execution.

    See, my brain short-circuits if I try to read notes and speak at the same time, and I’m terrible at improvising. I had a high stakes political intrigue encounter prepared for one of the players interested in that, only I lost my shit before they got to it so it never saw the light of day…

    I need to figure out a way to do a GM version of Cyrano de Bergrac and still have fun doing it…

    • TMC_Sherpa says:

      That is still worth a Woot! from me. The good news is practice makes perfect. The bad news is you can’t shoot free throws at dusk when no one else is watching. Everyone games differently, there is no One True Way, so you sorta have to work things out for yourself. But that isn’t going to stop me from giving unsolicited advice. Leave a few gaps that are less important to the story where you can say I need to get from A to B and toss out adjectives on the fly.
      You walk down the street, it smells like bread and sweat.
      You hear a cabbie swearing at a delivery van blocking his way.

      Now, you need to be careful about this. You never want to tell the players how they feel directly but you can influence it with word choice. Unless the players tell you they are cowering in fear the second you say “As you cower in fear” you’ve lost them.

      I don’t remember where I was going with this but hopefully someone got something out of it.

      Dirt little secret No.2:
      Never throw out an idea. It doesn’t matter if it’s 99% of a campaign that failed or an encounter[1] the players missed. You never know when it will be perfect for something later on. I should still have notebooks and scraps of paper from 20-30 years ago in a box somewhere. Is most of it garbage? Yes. Is most of it illegible because you wrote it in pencil when you should have been paying attention during math(s) class?….Yes. TXT files kids. Fonts you can read, searches you can do and no smudge marks because the eraser died.

      1 The word encounter used for simplicity. Feel free to use sed and change it to whatever sounds appropriate to you.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      For my first or second adventure as GM, I had the grand finale all planned out, within some margin: Big bad cult meeting somewhere in the wilderness, to summon a demon (by sacrificing a person — the really big bad type of demon). The script called for the demon to break loose and kill most of the cultists, then the players figuring out how to banish it.

      I even had a soundtrack (first and last time I tried that) ready for extra mood!

      …and then the players just realize what’s about to happen before the ceremony really starts, kill a few cultists (despite being heavily outnumbered), hold the sacrifice hostage (who is needed alive for the ceremony), thus prevent the demon from ever being summoned, and retreat in safety because that poor fella is not just anybody but probably the only person suitable for that ritual … end of story.

      Looking back, I could just have ditched the backstory at that point, at least as far as the players didn’t know it yet, and just turned things around and still provided a showdown. Anyway, they actually fought and parlayed their way into and then out of a supposedly unwinnable situation, and they were extremely proud of it, so I let them have it. That shortened the adventure a lot but there you go…

  24. venatus says:

    in my opinion trying to figure out what to do can be just has much about knowing the player as knowing what kind of character they’re playing. so here’s a couple ideas I came up that I think would work great for some of the players I’ve seen, but I know won’t work for everyone.

    1. a sort of bar brawl is tempting but it’s hard to imagine that not interrupting the concert. so my instinct is to give the fighter some intriguing plot hooks, maybe she over hears something, maybe there’s a case of mistaken identity. but she gets the hint that something bad is going down soon. possibly an attempt on the life of one of the musicians, maybe something a little less drastic.

    ultimately the point is to turn the “silent type” into something of an investigator/observer and to turn their style of avoiding violence or finishing quickly to incentivize solving the problem without disturbing the concert.

    2. the problem with a group wanting to use cunning is that it can take a session or two before the players and the GM have an idea how how they’ll play off each other. so for the first session I’d present them something that looks straightforward. so I’m thinking they’re hired to take care of a dangerous but not particularly bright monster, preferably something sapient just not very bright, like a dim-witted lycanthrope. twist is the person hiring them is another monster who simply wants a rival out of the way.

    simply doing the contract will make life pretty miserable for a lot of towns folk but they will be capable of repairing that by going after their employer at another time. the true test of cunning is trying to see if they pick up on who their employer is, and how they decide to proceed.

  25. Primogenitor says:

    1) Battle of the Bands. But the other bands bouncer is less of a pacifist.

    2) That’s hard, giving players options without knowing what options they want. Throwing plot twists at the players may be fun for the GM, but if the players just want a “monster of the week” scenario then its not necessarily going to make for a fun campaign. So I’d go for a very simple “local village attacked by cultists pet demon” scenario making sure there are plenty of hooks on the cult for the players to follow if they want to (e.g. resource trail, deity background, where did the demon come from, superiors, etc)

    3) I can’t really think of any boring movies, because if they were boring I forget them. So I do another 1) someone/thing sneaking backstage, instruments etc moved / missing – its a mega-fan that actually an innkeeper in disguise whose livelihood was ruined by a riot after a previous gig and is out for revenge.

  26. 1. I’d have a suspicious character show up and grab the warrior’s attention just enough that she’ll follow them out, do a short alleyway chase and reward it with a lead on the next leg of the adventure and maybe a bauble or two. Doesn’t have to be anything too fancy, and obviously the chase can’t go too far otherwise the party ends up all over town, but I figure if the fighter’s a fighter and not a singer then they may as well fight. Also if the chase starts to go on too long I’d throw in some events at the concert so the musicians still feel like they’re doing something worthwhile.

    2. I’m a bit of an arse when it comes down to it, so if the party had all gone for a fairly similar theme and approach to problems, I’d give them a mid-term goal to aim for that lines up nicely with that (like, say, finding and dispatching a big nasty monster) but throw in a couple of (relatively forgiving) situations none of them are really built to deal with along the way and see how the party handles them. Things like ‘dealing with bureaucrats’ or ‘operating complex machinery’. After all, I’m playing too and that can be a lot of fun to watch (and as a player those sorts of situations often end up being my favourites anyway).

    3. My first reaction here was ‘pick any of several dozen scenes from the wheel of time’, but I don’t really know how you’d fix those to make them fun to play without radically changing the whole scene. Maybe have the party wait outside while the long-winded exposition about politics and prophecy happens and throw in a travelling salesman with a whole wagonful of ‘angreals’ (magic items) that run the gamut from worthless junk to dangerous worthless junk. For compensation the party could find out where the guy got his loot from and potentially raid it later for something actually nice. It’s not meant to be a super long encounter after all.

    • Syal says:

      3. Every sentence is punctuated by progressively more dangerous Shadowspawn breaking in.

      “There are seven bands of Aes Sedai…” Trolloc breaks in.
      “Yellows are healers” Myrdraal breaks in.
      “Greens are boy-crazy ninnies” Forsaken breaks in, maybe one of the handsome ones to keep it topical.

      Good excuse for the players to not ask so many questions, too!

      • Haha!

        You mean like, “What happened to those parallel universes?” Six more copies of the same Forsaken pop into existence around a portal stone

        “Seriously though I really thought all those extra bits and pieces were pointing to a more complex cosmology than just-” Ten additional copies appear; oh look, he’s high-fiving himself

  27. Volfram says:

    1: The bar is actually populated by the undead minions of a local necromancer, a fact of which the party are never informed. Bar patrons attempt to rush the stage during the entire performance, and more keep spilling in as the show continues.

  28. Sleeping Dragon says:

    Question: while this is an excellent advice, and I’m actually going to write down “coming up with stuff for your players to do is your only real job” despite being a GM for many years, are you going to cover running precreated scenarios or even with precreated characters, say something like you did in the “desert town” game (the name eludes me now, I think you covered it on chocolate hammer a few years back?

  29. DeathbyDysentery says:

    1. Personally, I would have a harder time making the actual performance interesting to play for the musicians. I guess that it would be a kind of ‘encounter’ for the musicians in the same way that a troll attack is an ‘encounter’ for an adventuring party, but I don’t know of any tabletop system that makes musical performance as interesting or deep as combat is in most RPGs. Surely the interesting gameplay and roleplaying for a party of musicians emerges from the obstacles and drama associated with running a band, and not from the performances themselves? I suppose you could throw hecklers or something at them sometimes during the gig to test how well they handle them, but assuming they are good at what they do, you shouldn’t have to dwell on the performances themselves that much because they should just be going smoothly.

    Because of this, I think it’s actually a lot easier to give the fighter player something interesting to do during the gig. They are the only one during this scene who is free to make interesting decisions (whereas the musicians are pretty much stuck performing for the entire time). This fighter’s attitude also suits the party well; during a gig, the focus of the crowd should be on the talent, not their body guard, so disturbances are best dealt with quickly and quietly. This gives them an interesting challenge: silence a problem without ruining the party. Any ‘problem’ will do: rowdy drunkards, a stalker obsessed with the singer, an assassin hired to kill the musicians, etc…

    2. Ideally, I think I’d want to give them the opportunity to complete their first hunt by the end of session 1. Future quarries might take multiple sessions to track down, research, and destroy, but it’s important to give a sense of early accomplishment. To this end, the first monster should be menacing enough that pacifying it feels like a real feat, but not so powerful that there is nowhere left to go in future sessions; we want something between a basic skeleton mook and a nation-controlling vampire lord.

    Since their interest seems to be mostly in the daring adventure, I think I’d give them something physical to deal with first, like a werewolf or a man-eating troll. These monster choices not only make for interesting combats, but they both also incorporate elements like tracking, weakness exploitation, and dealing with locals, which are really the things separating this campaign from a more standard dungeon crawling adventure. In addition, they’re well-known monsters which the players are probably familiar with, meaning they’ll more easily hook players who may not yet be fully engaged with the campaign.

    I’d further tweak the hunt based on what kind of setting this is and what the players seem to want. Can you reason with/cure some monsters or must they all be killed? Can the players interact with helpful supernatural phenomena, or are all unnatural things evil and despised? Are locals helpful, grateful, and generous, or will they be a problem to deal with? Should the hardest part about hunting a monster be fighting it or finding out how to kill it?

    3. PULL OUT A GUN!

    I can’t actually think of any appropriately boring scenes; usually in media (and in TRPGs for that matter) ‘boring’ parts are just skipped over. If you think a scene is boring, either you have a low attention span or the writers shouldn’t have had the scene there in the first place. My inclination is not to think, ‘What could I add to spice this up?’ but rather, ‘Just skip or shorten this and get to the good stuff!’ In general though:

    -Give conversations stakes and make them failable. If it’s exposition, make it short and sweet, and preferably make it relate directly to the player’s goals. They won’t care that the giant’s parents are a golem and a fire elemental unless that tells them how to kill it.

    -Keep travel fast and focus on important decisions and encounters. Over the mountain or through the mine? Through the despotic city or through the dangerous desert?

    -Shift fights towards more interesting singular monsters/unique encounters and away from identical mooks

    • Decus says:

      For things like “turning _____ into something as interesting as a combat encounter” you’d want to use a system that isn’t explicitly built for dungeon exploration/combat/specific settings in the first place. In terms of relatively newer systems, FATE and its variants can work but require a lot of system knowledge and players willing to lose to GM in an interesting way. Strike! is easier to GM and has interesting team conflict rules with slightly more crunch and less GM calls, but still requires some “strictness” in you and the other players being willing to collectively put your foot down on “stretching” the rules or skills.

      In terms of the “this system was made for dungeon crawling” stuff all of it is pretty bad for non-combat across the board, but 4E can be “easily” re-flavoured such that you use something similar to combat rules, with new powers and even classes, for non-combat conflicts.

      There is also–and this really, really depends on your players–improvisation in the rules department more generally. Similar to the 4E example, you’re always free to make up encounter-unique rules and make something work on an interesting system to better engage your players. For some players, what’s in the book is good enough and from there it’s on you to make the result interesting. For other players, adding more “crunch” to the “make the results interesting” part is in itself more interesting though. Like, for combat you could technically just do one generic combat roll and read out the result, right? That is, after all, what most of those systems boil other conflicts down to. But you could also add the additional crunch that most systems add–choosing “weapons”, having feats and powers, etc.

  30. Groboclown says:

    I’m too tired to chime in on the others. The first one was the one that grabbed my attention.

    1. A trans-dimensional demonic group of sound eating demons transport into the bar. Can the band make bad enough music to disrupt their intestinal systems? Can the warrior protect the musicians long enough from being mind controlled? Will the bar’s manager be able to turn into a giant were-sloth in time, and how will the party react?

  31. Disc says:

    1. A tavern brawl maybe if he wants to stay there and/or acts as a bodyguard for the musicians. Depending on how popular they are, she either gets to deal/fight with (over)eager fans or an angry crowd. Otherwise I’d try provide her with her own little sideshow somewhere else.

    2. (I don’t know how doable this would be, but it’s just from the top of my head) There’s a war going on between two big factions and they’re hired mercenaries on a special job to infiltrate an enemy stronghold to assassinate the “monster” in charge and grab intel etc., while a bigger force assaults the ramparts. If to draw inspiration from Medieval Europe being kinda bleak time and place to be, it could be humans against some another race or a collection of races and they’re treated collectively as monsters by humans and vice versa to set the tone for it. Sentient races with wildly different cultures and religions that generally distrust and/or hate each other and fight each other over territory, religion and politics.

    3. Can’t think of any for the moment. I tend to forget that stuff. But in general: If it’s an ongoing event, I’d prolly try to find angles to spice it up and harder to predict. If it’s a character, I’d try to make them stand out in a positive way and/or possibly give them a hook that draws people in. Or if it comes to it, get rid of the boring thing asap and come up with something else if need be.

  32. MrGuy says:

    1.) A local town official (whose assistance you need for a main quest in progress) is drunkenly hitting on a local girl. She’s clearly trying to resist his advances, he’s clearly ignoring her wishes, and he’s making vague but clear threats about what will happen if she continues to ignore him. Your fighter can ignore this (abandoning the girl to whatever might befall her), intervene (risking the official being upset and withdrawing his aid in the main quest), or see if she can find a way to intervene without being clearly identified as the intervener (slipping something in his drink, whacking him just hard enough on the head when his back is turned, etc.)

    2.) The party meets a man at the inn. He offers them a large reward for retrieving a particular book from the library of a private guild based in town. He doesn’t tell the party why he needs it – just the name of the book to retrieve. Admission to the guild hall is for members only, and the door is always guarded. Within the guild hall, the library is restricted to those with a valid order from the guild president. If the party accepts the quest, they need to determine a way into the into the guildhall, and also into the library. They also need to decide if they’ll deliver the book no questions asked, or if they’ll read it and see why it’s worth so much.

    3.) Working on it…

  33. Sleeping Dragon says:

    Disclaimer: I’m writing this before I go through the other comments so as to avoid idea stealing, even though I do expect some considerable overlap anyway.

    1) For the purpose of the exercise I’m going to focus on something that doesn’t send the warrior away to do their thing but keeps them in range of the scene, the possibilities are nearly endless so I’m going to just pick a few that come to mind. The bar fight is an obvious idea but it is disruptive to the whole scene so I think I’d only go for it if either there’s a good reason for it or the musicians do a really bad job. Considering the warrior is in a public space but everyone is otherwise occupied this could be a good moment for someone to approach the warrior (an old rival, an established antagonist or their agent, a questgiver, someone from the warrior’s backstory… the possibilities are numerous). Another obvious idea would be a commotion at the front door, say some unruly people want to enter and the warrior has a chance to step out and act as/support the bouncers (opening options for both violence and intimidation). If everyone is distracted (especially if the musicians are doing a good job) the warrior could spot some shady type (seemingly?) threatening the owner/barkeep, then walking with them in the back (depends on the warrior’s willigness to investigate, can be additionally motivated by seeing the barkeep or the shady type grab the pouch of coins they were supposed to pay to the musicians).

    2) If it’s the first adventure my initial instinct would be to make it a straightfoward monster hunt (assuming the players are a witcher type literal monster hunters), maybe spice it up a little with a choice between doing something “right” and something “profitable” (say finding jewelry on the body of a monster’s victim, who left a family behind) and be accommodating if the team wants to handle the hunt with brains rather than brawn. Or, if we want to establish the team as “will do anything for money” mercenary types have them hunt a “unicorn type” creature, something dangerous only if disturbed and maybe even venerated by some people.

    Right now, being more experienced, I’d probably make the first quest a bit more wacky. Something like: have the traveling circus/freak show (I don’t really care how common those would be during the period) cart fall over and crash releasing all sorts of weird creatures into the village where the players were hanging out, the circus owner is hysterical and offering good money for the return of his prized possession, and the player being monster hunters (again, operating under this assumption) would be people to both know their critters and have the skillset to chase them. So use a variety of creatures and situations to have player test and learn varying mechanics, also learn each others (and their own) skillsets and see what approach comes naturally: a chameleon type creature for perception and searches, a climbing/flying creature for various modes of movement, something skittish for sneaking, animal handling or traps, have a villager (or even better a child) catch one of the creatures and refuse to give it back opening options for negotiation, intimidation, bribery or outright robbery, let the player co-opt the help of villagers if they so desire and have a way to obtain it, let the player have a taste of combat with either an aggressive critter or two or an angry peasant, or even the circus folk who try to back out on the deal. If they’re being paid “per critter” failing to catch some is not a deal breaker, and if they did a good job it could result in a longer term contact or even give the team a chance for another quest or two, for example traveling along with the circus to the next big town and trying to obtain a new attraction or two along the way (or if they part ways the same circus could show up somewhere else at a later date for a handy questhook or two, or have the owner write them a paper recommending them to someone who provides him and other clients with strange creature related services).

    3) Gonna pass on this one as I can’t recall an appropriately boring scene, in my defense it’s nearing the end of my nightshift so I’m a bit on the tired side.

  34. I wonder if the following idea would be possible:

    The Twentysided gang agrees on a setting and Rutskarn is the GM.
    But the readers act as the random generator (aka the dice), so at certain points Rutskarn asks the readers if path a or b should be chosen (optionally hinting at what each might entail), a poll system might also be used to count votes I guess.

    If there was a way for readers to vote on options but without the Twentysided gang seeing the options (except Rutskarn obviously) or details then that would be ideal.

    The pacing of the game would be slow and would be as verbose or terse as the GM and players wish it to be. If anyone recall play by email story games from way back when this would be similar. Except that the story would be displayed on the site.

    I guess it might also be possible to have say Shamus code a actual game system that would allow this. The people (players) that get the game will be voting on choices/paths that the GM will put the cast through.
    In that case Rutskarn could be given admin access to the game/app and the cast could be given actor access, and the players would be given observer access.

    The whole game itself is just a narration in text with maybe the odd media here or there (music/sound/image).
    Sometimes a actor or the GM may write a paragraph or text other times just a short line.
    Players that get the game “late” will be able to scroll or page through the narrative created so far.
    Once a player has caught up they will usually see a two (or more) choices they can vote on as to how the narrative should unfold further, only the GM and players will see the vote and the description of choices and the vote results, so the actors are completely in the unknown. (This means the actors need to refrain from the urge to play the game secretly to see the options, and even if they should be sneaky they won’t see the vote results anyway).

    The tech behind such a game can be very simple. I’m thinking a webbased (HTML + CSS + + Javascript) solution might work. The game would also be a direct sale game (via PayPal or a payment service).
    The game would run over a long period and might lend itself to a n-months or monthly subscription fee (a very tiny one).

    Sorry, just brainstorming here.

    • TMC_Sherpa says:

      If you want to use existing technologies (and speed things up) a combo of twitch and skype/voip could do the trick. GM runs the chat, you could have a few sub only questions or tippers making demands if you wanted a few bucks out of it. You would need a reasonably sized audience but saying we’re playing two hours on Wednesday is much easier than the cat herding involved with PBM or PBF. The upside is the voters have context about whats going on. The downside is the GM would have to be Josh :)

  35. Zak McKracken says:

    1: Brawl. Obviously, the fighter will have to play security during the gigs. If brawls during gigs are getting old: The guys on stage are so good (or the town so boring otherwise) that the inn they’re playing at is overfull, and still more people try to get in, while inside patrons are getting angry what with being pushed around and not being able to move.

    2: Obviously, the regular set-up for monster hunters: Some monster does something and needs to be dealt with. Smaller, not monster-related episode: Somebody at the local inn (turns out: the owner) robs their money, but the rest of the townspeople really trust him, but do not trust the players at all. This is a dark world, and you need to watch your backs.

    3: Hmm… boring scenes… okay, so the pod race would definitely have been more interesting if there’d been more stuff to do for the non-racing members of the crew. Figure out very very quickly what the next element of sabotage will be, then get to the ambush before the racers do … if you wanted to save the movie, though: cut it. The existence of the entire scene can only be explained by either player incompetence or players trying to sabotage the GM’s plans…

  36. Decus says:

    2. The system itself should differentiate characters with the same goals well enough that so long as I was having them do what they wanted–hunt monsters–it would be inherently interesting. That is, you wouldn’t want to use a system that treated monster hunting as its own class/its own skills/its own feats/etc. such that every character was literally the same sheet. Instead, you’d use a more flexible system–perhaps one that let the players make up their own skills–to better differentiate each individual character. Or re-skin a stiffer system such that everything can apply to monster hunting specifically while taking the monster hunter specific stuff off the table.

    The system should let characters with the same goals use different skills to achieve them and ideally it also has other systems in play built to bring personality into mechanics. Maybe they’re all daring, sure, but perhaps one character happens to have a certain crippling fear, perhaps another is fearless to the point of it being a weakness and perhaps yet another is only daring if they know they can win or only daring if they think they might lose! All of those possibilities should be possible to represent in the system as well as a “none of them at all, my character is just generally daring”. If everybody was dead-set on using a system that didn’t inherently do any of that I’d just house rule the system so it did–usually that’s easier than teaching entirely new systems, but not always.

    Similarly, any more details on “how to make hunting monsters interesting with this party” would come from the party in question, what their personalities and individual skill sets are actually like. If none of them wanted to bother with tracking segments or “face” style gameplay to collect information I’d just assume that, as monster hunters, all of their characters had the ability to some extent but since no relevant skills are on their character sheets they obviously didn’t want to play it out–I’d just narrate it, with the outcomes taking their personalities into consideration. On the other hand, if somebody specifically built their character for that–perhaps a monster hunter who isn’t the most skilled at hunting big game, but rather is the most skilled at searching out weak and rare game first–then I’d want to play that portion out. The basic take-away is that interesting is always, always going to be letting the characters do what they were built to do and glossing over or moving quickly through the stuff that they were not. Unless and until the players themselves suggest otherwise! Or you have a hunch that they might enjoy a slight change of pace, so long as it’s a “cool down” before something really great that you have planned.

    If all of my players decided to actually, actually roll up the exact same character, from personality down to skills, I’d not be willing to run that campaign until somebody budged. No two people are exactly the same in the real world and there are plenty of systems/ways to house rule systems out there such that no two people are exactly the same mechanically either. Some players are better at breaking down their vague concepts into more specifics than others, but with the right guided questions I’d say almost anybody can do it and should be pushed to do it.

  37. Jabrwock says:

    1.A. The trio knew someone was chasing them, and hired the warrior to keep them safe. Farmer shows up with his 7 brothers, including the town sheriff. Seems the farmer’s daughter is preggers, the trio stayed the night at his barn a few months back, and while the girl is set to marry a local boy at sword-point, the stain on her reputation needs to be cleaned up…

    1.B. The warrior, looking for someone to write their ballad, encounters the trio at the skeeviest bar in town. Just in time for the happy hour brawl.

    1.C. The trio has settled down for the night doing a gig at a local tavern. The warrior is hired by the bar to bounce for the evening. Unfortunately, this night the local toughs decide that the trio is conducting “an illegal public performance” and decides to make an example of them, lest anyone else get the bright idea of performing without a “permit”.

  38. Grudgeal says:

    Well gee, now I just feel like a terrible GM in retrospect. At least this way I can get better for next time around. If there ever is one.

  39. Shirkey says:

    1. I ask the warrior’s player: “Your party is making music. Whatchu wanna do?” If she has something in mind, I help them get to it. If not, I tell them what there is to see around ’em. Depending on what seems good at the time, I give them, say, an arm-wrestling competition, or a pickpocket, or someone selling illicit stuff, or thugs, or hecklers, or a drunk, etc. No planning ahead here, just whatever comes to mind. If i wanna tie it into a storyline, maybe some creepy fortune teller.

    2. Doing a Witcher type monster quest seems fun. Alternatively, do away with the moral seesaw and give them something really brutal that they will have to thoroughly prepare for – if the players want a more Bloodborne/Brotherhood of the Wolf kinda setting.

    3. Take any random talky scene between some oldschool aristocrat types, and make it clear to the players that the NPCs arent just faffing about, but actually engaged in a direct power struggle for status, and their bland nothing back-and-forth is laced with attempts to gain more information than they give out, veiled by politeness and plausible deniability. The problem, of course, is that this requires actual proficiency in circle-strafe communication.

    3.

  40. Chauzuvoy says:

    1: Depending on the player and the table, my first thought was to have a local drunk start making awkward advances, which creates an awkward situation for a less social character but that doesn’t necessarily turn violent. I think poking at the fringes of a character’s concept like that can lead to some good roleplaying moments, especially earlier in a campaign when people are still getting a feel for their characters. Alternatively, have her notice a thief pickpocketing his way through the crowd. Does she try to stop him without interrupting the show? Does she start planning to deal with an angry crowd finding themselves without their purses? Which could actually turn into a campaign hook if the party gets very interested: The thieves have been following this troupe of musicians all through the city, getting rich off of their distraction.

    2: I’d probably go with some variant of monster troubling a small village. People who venture into the farthest fields are going missing, and it all started when that new merchant rolled into town. He didn’t realize he was being followed by… let’s say shadows trying to claim a piece of jewelry he bought the last town over. The specifics of the development are about giving the players a lot of different angles to approach from. If the monster wants something, they can use that to set a trap. Based on the specific monster and the local area, they might choose to track it back to its den, find the source of the curse, figure out who in the village is actually a werewolf, or some other appropriately clever method. So long as you’ve put a reasonable amount of detail into the situation, it’s pretty easy to help the players’ chosen line of inquiry lead to the right conclusion.

  41. Mousazz says:

    1. The barkeep hires the warrior to escort a troublesome alcoholic patron back to his home. On the way, the warrior notices whatever villain(s) of the week shuffling around in the alleys. Dilemma – bring the patron back home, or abandon him and go after the villain(s)? (bonus: have the bards overhead in the pauses between the gigs something about the villains’ plans, and go after the warrior, only to appear just in time to save him)

    2. Karl the farmer hires the PCs to protect his sheep/cows for the night and get rid of whatever has been slaughtering them lately. Of course, if the PCs start questioning why the animals are out at night in the first place…

    3. The adventurers have just been briefed by the detectives about who the replicants are, and where they may be hiding. On the way to Tyrell corp. in the hovercar, have the characters (or even the players, OOC) communicate with the GM to establish potential hotspots for future scenarios.

  42. pdk1359 says:

    1. Arm-wrestling-contest night. If Mr. silent but deadly doesn’t want to participate, he could be called on to judge. Whether or not Mr. silent but deadly enters, half way through one guy will lose and get belligerent, start pulling a weapon, and he may or may not have buddies backing him, who may or may not be drunk depending on the amount of challenge called for.

    2. A job to capture something that most people expect should be killed, either living too close to lands where the local lord will also have others hunting the critter or just far enough from civilization/their drop off that managing the captured beasty will be a follow-up challenge, if they manage to get it alive.

    3. err.
    I’ve got a poor memory for long boring sections, for some reason.
    Okay…
    Eh, say it’s a long-boring-speech-by-someone-important.
    I’d start people off rolling perception checks, with the idea that there are quiet exchanges going on around them; this girl is whispering to her friend looking at the other aisle, those two are exchanging notes, back behind them someone is tapping their feet in something too much like a code. Give little Xp bonuses or whatever when the notice little things and a bigger bonus for one random event. Shortly the speech is getting ignored as they’re trying to A) figure out what’s going on and B) share information collected. of course, Xp should be granted for clearing informing an ally, more if subtly.
    You don’t even need a real plot, just let them come up with ideas and go with whatever has the best ratio of cool : thematically productive.

  43. Norman Ramsey says:

    Great! Looking forward to more like this.

    In homework 2, figuring out how to create opportunities for “skill and cunning” is not so easy…

  44. Zak McKracken says:

    Wait! Where are the example answers we were promised? Just read through this and the next post, including comments, only to find none…

  45. Fred B-C says:

    My most successful campaigns have basically solved this issue by putting people into a Special Forces-type role: “You’re badasses. There are problems to solve. Get to it. Do I have to ask twice?” That way, players are proactive agents. Once that happens, I can throw whatever arc villains, whatever labyrinthine twists, and whatever else at them, because their characters know that there’s no shortage of stuff to do.

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