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Musings of a neophyte GM


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#1 Locque

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 06:37 AM

Hey all, I'm documenting my experiences as a GM on another forum, and if you guys don't mind, I'd appreciate some advice and feedback also. Sorry for the typos, incidentally, i was really tired when i first typed all this out. So, here goes everything:

I GM'd my first ever RPG last weekend, and things occurred to me. This is in part, just some musings on what it's like to be a first-time GM as well as my pitiful pleas for help from you guys.
The game was Dark Heresy, and had come into being quite naturally through my daydreaming up a storyline while bored one afternoon, and jotting a couple of ideas down. I was hanging out with my friends one weekend and my story came to mind again and I asked, purely on the spur of the moment, to borrow the DH rules book, since the roleplay group there is pretty heavily geared towards White Wolf games. I spent two weeks learning the rules (badly) and writing out the actual storyline of events and what that would mean in roleplay mechanics.
the big day rolled around quite unexpectedly ("sometime this weekend" became "tonight" quite unexpectedly) and my sorta-finished notes would have to do to run the game.
Wow. Standing in front of your friends and having them all stare expectantly at you is really unnerving. I've barely RP'd (like literally 3 or so times since the age of 10)
Suddenly my evocative thespian performance, which I hadn't written down, vanished. I stumbled, forgot things, clumsily strung things together. My players were all on board the starship that comprised of the prologue wandering around bored and wondering what the hell was going on. It was embarassing, my stammer came back. I was standing in front of my friends and delivering my lines as the gruff interrogator constantine- one of my favourite characters, and I was sucking at it. My players were amused, with the exception of our hung-over cleric. and I could feel myself blushing. once the cell got planetside and started their murder investigation, things started iomproving. I was dealing with more familiar material, and I was playing the characters better. It must be said it was easier, since all the characters were a bunch of civialns who were slightly intimidated by a heavily armed inquisitorial cell kicking the door in and asking questions at gunpoint.
The PC's didn't get as far as I thought they would by the end of the session. Mind you, we'd been playing 6 hours by the time we stopped, but I wanted them to have moved a little fartherm, uncooperative jerks.
the real triumph came though, shortly before the end scene. I'd had the PC's stumble across an operation making synthetic child homonculi using real human parts, and they'd just run into a meat locker full of rotting, damaged or rejected specimens. As they prepare to leave the room, one of the horrid little cherubim wakes up, drags itself free of its hook, and attacks the party. I looked around at the faces staring up at me as I described its atavistic cries, and how it wrenched itself free of the hook through its body. They were impressed.
Theey were immersed.
The feeling was bloody marvelous.
The rules were working surprisingly well, it's all a percentile system, so it allows for a lot of depth without getting too scary. Nobody was overly confused. In combat, people weren't quite sure of the options available to them, so I'm going to have to make a little table explaining to my PC's what they're capable of in combat. They're more comfortable with the investigative side of things ATM.

 

 

So, thoughts? Advice? Observations? Questions? Derisive laughter?



#2 FFG Ross Watson

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 07:34 AM

 We've all got to start somewhere! :)

Reminds me of my early days GMing in fact.

Sounds like an excellent game, kudos for getting your players involved. Come back and tell us more after your next session!



#3 Luddite

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 09:02 AM

Locque said:

Wow. Standing in front of your friends and having them all stare expectantly at you is really unnerving. I've barely RP'd (like literally 3 or so times since the age of 10)

Aye it can be a bit of pressure eh.  Everyone relying on you to make the evening a good time!  Thing is you've usually got a willing audience.

Trust me, like all skills, GMing gets easier the more you do it...

Locque said:


Suddenly my evocative thespian performance, which I hadn't written down, vanished. I stumbled, forgot things, clumsily strung things together.

  Sounds about right.  Every session i Gm is a constant fight against these sorts of things happening.  All i can say is, don't worry! 

Locque said:

I was standing in front of my friends and delivering my lines as the gruff interrogator constantine- one of my favourite characters, and I was sucking at it. My players were amused, with the exception of our hung-over cleric. and I could feel myself blushing.

I guarantee you were doing fine! 

As Winston Churchill once said, 'when you're going through Hell, keep going!!'

One of the key skills you need to work on as GM is improvisation and quick thinking.  Combine that with thinking before you speak, and a steady methodical approach to decision making and you'll make a GM players will clamour to play with...

Relax.  Get it clear in your head what you're trying to achieve.  Set up 'seeds' for the PCs to follow and then react to what they do.  If they ignore the seed and head of at a tangent, the REAL skill is laying the path before them that gets them to where you want, while making them think they got there themselves....

Locque said:

The PC's didn't get as far as I thought they would by the end of the session. Mind you, we'd been playing 6 hours by the time we stopped, but I wanted them to have moved a little fartherm, uncooperative jerks.

NO!  This is great.  the worst is when they finish too quickly.  typically a GM will throw a bunch of thugs at them to string out the session...

If they didn't get to where you were trying to take them, as long as the session didn't 'drag', thats a good thing.  there's always next session to carry on the adventure!

Locque said:

They were impressed.
Theey were immersed.
The feeling was bloody marvelous.

And THAT's why we GM...those little satisfactions.  I've had players tell me they don't know why i do it.  they hate GMing.  Its so much more hard work and effort than playing...

Its for those little moments when what you're planning comes right...

Locque said:

 

So, thoughts? Advice? Observations? Questions? Derisive laughter?

Keep at it.

Relax.

Keep the pace right.  Don't force the players on, but be aware of when they're started to lag...

Talk little.  Say the minimum needed.  Set the scene and let the players fly.

LISTEN to the players.  Especially when they don't think you are listening.  Their ideas, plots and plans can be stolen and used in your upcoming games...and players love to be right so when you use their ideas, and they scream, 'see it TOLD you he was the bad guy', etc....well...

One tip i'd suggest...its not your game.  Its as much your players game too.  At the end of every session have a 'debrief'.  Discuss what happened, what went right, what ent wrong, etc.  That way you can inprove things from session to session.

 

Good luck!  Post up your progress...



#4 FFG Ross Watson

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 09:24 AM

Luddite said:

LISTEN to the players.  Especially when they don't think you are listening.  Their ideas, plots and plans can be stolen and used in your upcoming games...and players love to be right so when you use their ideas, and they scream, 'see it TOLD you he was the bad guy', etc....well...

One tip i'd suggest...its not your game.  Its as much your players game too.  At the end of every session have a 'debrief'.  Discuss what happened, what went right, what ent wrong, etc.  That way you can inprove things from session to session.

The above is excellent advice. I try to do both of the above as often as possible when I am GMing a game, and they have both paid great dividends over time.



#5 Locque

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 10:20 AM

LISTEN to the players.  Especially when they don't think you are listening.  Their ideas, plots and plans can be stolen and used in your upcoming games...and players love to be right so when you use their ideas, and they scream, 'see it TOLD you he was the bad guy', etc....well...

One tip i'd suggest...its not your game.  Its as much your players game too.  At the end of every session have a 'debrief'.  Discuss what happened, what went right, what ent wrong, etc.  That way you can inprove things from session to session.

 

Good luck!  Post up your progress...

That's absolutely excellent advice. In the two sesssions we've played, I've occasionally let slip to players "well there were a couple of leads you didn't follow up" or "I meant for you guys to take them alive, actually" after the session, but a "debrief sounds like a great idea. I've already started stealing my players' ideas though, since our tech priest is an aspiring secutor seeking to enter the Divine Light Of Sollex, I'm goin to let him... provides he spies on inquisitor Nihilus for the local magus. Of course Nihilus is a pretty sharp customer, so how much risk is our tech-priest willing to undergo to get in there? Mwahahahaha. Ideas come quite easily once you start listeing to the players. I'm trying to get them to exercise their free will a little more, but then again, I realised just moments ago, that to my players, the world is very small, since I tend to pinball them between crime scenes and following leads. Perhaps I should leave them without a definite destination adn get them to explore a little, and make some more contacts. Anyway the second session happened on Sunday, I'll post the summary in a few minutes.

Thanks very much for the advice, and the support, Ross and Luddite.

 

Curses, can't properly implement quotes. A pox on you, forum software!

 



#6 Darkshroud

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 11:20 AM

Another thing I'd advise is if you don't have it yet pick up the GM screen cause it saves looking up a ton of stuff

And yea expect stuff to go wrong or things that you would of never thought the players would do in a million years to happen.



#7 Locque

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 02:01 PM

Here we go, chop n' change

 

Session 2 was on Sunday, postponed due to illness, and we were two players down. However, our three man group performed spectacularly. I was able to spend a lot more time with each player, and their characters really grew. One developed a mean streak, the other a kind streak. And one is sowing the seeds of betrayal that could bring him into conflict with the entire party, excellently.
The session was pure investigation and roleplay (though one person insisted on a brief combat sequence, so I obliged her)
My notes worked better than last time. Based on the strength of last week's advice, I made just about every note into bullet points.... but I made a lot of them. It really works well, I can take as much or as little information as I want to give to my players without having to edit anything. I was much more comfortable in my own skin too, so I didn't blush or stumble over my words when interacting with the players. A couple of times when my player did unexpected things, my improv wasn't nearly as convincing as I'd like, but oh well. Better than last time, which counts for something. I actually started the game with the idea of a short 3-5 session campaign, but coupled with rewrites and the way my players are tackling the story, I could see this going on for a long, loooong time, depending on player enjoyment of course. This session brought home to me something missing from the last game. Personality. Telling the story is all well and good, but my players need chances to manifest their personalities. I'm still surprised how engrossed my players get. I don't regard myself as a "good" GM, but the storyline does genuinely seem to have some power over my players. One in particular got genuinely upset while searching for some missing children.
Storytelling has power.
Note to self: exploit this.



#8 Locque

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 02:02 PM

Here we go, chop n' change

 

Session 2 was on Sunday, postponed due to illness, and we were two players down. However, our three man group performed spectacularly. I was able to spend a lot more time with each player, and their characters really grew. One developed a mean streak, the other a kind streak. And one is sowing the seeds of betrayal that could bring him into conflict with the entire party, excellently.
The session was pure investigation and roleplay (though one person insisted on a brief combat sequence, so I obliged her)
My notes worked better than last time. Based on the strength of last week's advice, I made just about every note into bullet points.... but I made a lot of them. It really works well, I can take as much or as little information as I want to give to my players without having to edit anything. I was much more comfortable in my own skin too, so I didn't blush or stumble over my words when interacting with the players. A couple of times when my player did unexpected things, my improv wasn't nearly as convincing as I'd like, but oh well. Better than last time, which counts for something. I actually started the game with the idea of a short 3-5 session campaign, but coupled with rewrites and the way my players are tackling the story, I could see this going on for a long, loooong time, depending on player enjoyment of course. This session brought home to me something missing from the last game. Personality. Telling the story is all well and good, but my players need chances to manifest their personalities. I'm still surprised how engrossed my players get. I don't regard myself as a "good" GM, but the storyline does genuinely seem to have some power over my players. One in particular got genuinely upset while searching for some missing children.
Storytelling has power.
Note to self: exploit this.



#9 Kage2020

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 02:49 PM

Locque said:

Storytelling has power.

Note to self: exploit this.

Such a good point, you said it twice. 

In all seriousness, it really is a good point, at least in my mind.  If you've got a group that you know, I say throw in manipulations of the players as long as it forwards the narrative.  Well, that and as long as it doesn't make the player feel uncomfortable.  Of course, playing on phobias is right out.  I had one player that had a morbid fear of moths.  When necessary, the aura of suspense for that player could be deepened by descriptions of the lights around a campfire flitting with moths... Strange, but it did it for him.

Kage



#10 Locque

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 03:34 PM

One of them is incredibly arachnophobic. They're in a hive city. I have reasons to send them into the underhive. Eventually.



#11 Luddite

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 04:01 PM

Locque said:

I was able to spend a lot more time with each player, and their characters really grew. One developed a mean streak, the other a kind streak. And one is sowing the seeds of betrayal that could bring him into conflict with the entire party, excellently.

Gotta love players that oblige so readily! 


Locque said:

The session was pure investigation and roleplay (though one person insisted on a brief combat sequence, so I obliged her)

Very good.  Its key to give the players what they want.

From the perspective of session design, i tend to have a rotation of 'encounter types'.  this sounds suspiciously 'D&D 4e' but its really not.

What i mean is there are certain types of 'encounter';

  1. Investigation
  2. Interaction / social
  3. Chase scene
  4. Combat
  5. Skilled task
  6. etc. (it can vary by game type)

So to prevent a session bogging down (the most common of which i've found to be a simple series of fight scenes) i'll try and put two or three different types into each session.  that said, the players should lead you on this one.  If they're really getting in to an investigation, then go with the flow...

But its something you might want to try...


Locque said:

My notes worked better than last time. Based on the strength of last week's advice, I made just about every note into bullet points.... but I made a lot of them. It really works well, I can take as much or as little information as I want to give to my players without having to edit anything.

Excellent approach.  Like public speaking i've found the least effective way to GM is from longhand notes.  Its why i never use published adventures.

Bullet points are a good way to go, and if they work for you...excellent.

Something i use is what i call a 'nodal map'.

Its a bit like a 'mind map' ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map ) or a 'flow chart' ( http://en.wikipedia....wiki/Flow_chart ).

Essentially i detail the key things, or two or three main events /scenes i want the PCs to get to for a session.  I'll map out the two or three ways i think the PCs might get from point A to point B, to give me a bit of a head start...

This might be something worth trying.   

Locque said:

A couple of times when my player did unexpected things, my improv wasn't nearly as convincing as I'd like, but oh well. Better than last time, which counts for something.

It'll get easier.

Locque said:

This session brought home to me something missing from the last game. Personality. Telling the story is all well and good, but my players need chances to manifest their personalities.

You've hit on the golden rule of roleplaying in session two!  

Well done.  Never forget this and you'll mature into a good GM.  The PCs are the heart of the story.

I once heard it said, 'if you aren't playing the most important person in the room, you're playing the wrong person'...its not entirely accurate of course, but as much as possible your PCs have to be the 'movers and shakers' of your story... 

When you can achieve the synergy and sychronicty between your players PCs, their development, and the narrative progression of the story you're trying to tell, you'll have a game that will be talked about by your group for years to come.

Locque said:

I'm still surprised how engrossed my players get. I don't regard myself as a "good" GM, but the storyline does genuinely seem to have some power over my players. One in particular got genuinely upset while searching for some missing children.
Storytelling has power.
Note to self: exploit this.

And again, right from the top, you've hit on the absolute critical core of what roleplaying is about.

Storytelling.

Characters in that story.

GM & players getting immersed in the narrative. 

My hats off to you...it took me a good long time to sort that out.  But then when i started playing there was only one RPG...basic D&D...

Really concentrate on developing and retaining this - its what the hobby is about...

If you ever find yourself stringing a bunch of combat encounters together and calling it a roleplaying adventure...take a break.  Go play some skirmish wargames, and come back when you've been reinspired!

 

But it sounds like you've made a cracking start.  Keep up the good work! 

 



#12 VarniusEisen

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 09:02 PM

Rule 1: The GM is God(Emperor).

What I've found is that having an idea for a character is onething but he/she/it really comes alive when you start describing them to your group.

It's important to talk to your players outside of the game to find out what they like/dislike and to find out what, if any, are their charcters ambitions.

Locque, your first adventure sounds great. The whole investigation and then the OMFG horror really does sound like the very essence of DH. In fact I may pinch your idea for a future game.



#13 Victus

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Posted 10 December 2008 - 04:23 PM

Advice for you. Don't cheat de dices in DH. I know that some games say to do so, but keep in mind: players have Fate points that regenerate after each session of gameplay! That make them incedibly strong if the players are not stupid. And remember: the 41st millenium is a dangerous time and the way a character died is always a good storry to tell. So, Kepp inmind that the atmosphere of fear and dark is verry important...

 

I Read something about asking gunpoint: you should teach your characters that screaming out loud: ''I'm sent by the inquisition, freeze!'' will get enemys baited... Use it as an advantage, maybe someone will remember them a long time and maybe wasn't he a normal citisen?

 

Good luck

Victus Maximus



#14 Kage2020

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Posted 10 December 2008 - 04:35 PM

Victus said:

Advice for you. Don't cheat de dices in DH. I know that some games say to do so, but keep in mind: players have Fate points that regenerate after each session of gameplay!

Alternately, get rid of Fate Points as the crutch that you can argue that they are.  (This doesn't mean that they are a crutch, just that you can argue the point.)

Kage



#15 Locque

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Posted 11 December 2008 - 01:09 PM

Good advice, but I'm a firm believer in fate coming around and ripping my acolytes a new one if they behave unwisely. saying "We're with the inquisition!" ESPECIALLY when they can't back that up without contacting their friendly neighbourhood interrogator can land them in a whole world of hurt.



#16 Kage2020

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Posted 11 December 2008 - 01:25 PM

Yes, but is that a question of Fate Points or fate?

Kage



#17 Locque

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Posted 11 December 2008 - 01:44 PM

I actualy like fate points as they are, but frankly I'm not going to allow a player to burn one and stay alive when he presses the self destruct button for the ship he's standing on. I will allow him to burn one and survive if he loses a combat against some thugs when the odds were in his favour.



#18 Kage2020

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Posted 11 December 2008 - 01:48 PM

Fair enough.  Just thought that I would ask!   It's almost as if you use a form of "narrative armouring," which I don't have a problem with as long as, as the name suggests, it is in service of the narrative.

Kage



#19 Luddite

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Posted 11 December 2008 - 02:05 PM

Locque said:

I actualy like fate points as they are, but frankly I'm not going to allow a player to burn one and stay alive when he presses the self destruct button for the ship he's standing on.

BAD Loque! 

Not using your GM head here mate. 

As a GM you've got to love the Warp haven't you?  I mean it gives you a perfect narrative 'out' in events like this.

So the PC presses the big red button and the ship he's on goes nova?

How are you going to get him out of this one?  Well, you could have his part of the ship survive in a sealed fragment and have him rescued shortly after...or....

...you could have him awake in a lush meadow on a nearby world, surrounded by butterflies and a warm balmy breeze.  Blinking in the light he wakes up with one thought, 'how on Terra did i get here??'...

That unprotected journey through the Warp, triggered by the rend in space as the plasma generators when boom, is going to haunt him for some time.

Fate.  It kept him alive.  But that doesn't mean it has a plan for him he's going to like... 



#20 Victus

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Posted 11 December 2008 - 03:49 PM

The way I see fate points: Each time you use one: you where lucky. When you burn one, you are aproachingdangerously of your coffin... you may as survived, but when you'll run out, what can save you if not the emperor himself?






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