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Admiral Terghon

Star Wars Game Mastering 101

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The following is my attempt to let my player's know what kind of GM I'm intending to be for our upcoming Star Wars campaign.  In the past, we've had some very adversarial campaigns (other genres and other GMs as well).  Suggestions solicited and welcome.

 

Star Wars Game Mastering 101

 

Episode I

GM versus Players

 

Many role playing game campaigns devolve into the players against the GM.  This happens for many reasons.  Some of those reasons originate with the players.  Many originate with the GM and these are the ones I can prevent.

 

The object of my Star Wars campaign is to tell a story.  I have some great ideas for this story.  But this isn’t just story hour in the Star Wars universe.  If I wanted 100% control over the characters and events of the story, I would simply write it.  This story is different.  To tell this story I need my players’ help.  Accepting that help means I have to accept some aspects that a writer wouldn’t. 

  1.  The characters are going to do things I didn’t plan on.
    1. Some of those things will be stupid, this is ok.  Apply negative consequences if necessary, but otherwise accept that sometimes the characters do dumb things and move on.
    2. Sometimes they’ll overcome impossible odds.  This is what heroes are for.  Occasionally the dice will grant the players incredible powers and my carefully crafted encounter will fall to the ground in pitiful fragments.  This should happen once in a while.  Not too often, or the players will feel like there are no consequences to their choices, but now and then the players accomplish things that are unreasonable to expect.
    3. ADHD happens.  Sometimes my players are going to ignore every story hook I dangle in front of them and go do something else.  This is where the principle of “Yes, and…” is most important.  Just because I didn’t plan it, doesn’t mean it’s not good.  In fact, it may even be brilliant.  But if I block it, we’ll never know.
  2. Not every idea will make it on stage.
    1. As above, sometimes the players will ignore story hooks.  I can recycle them to try again later but if it’s clear the players aren’t interested I can’t simply force them to it.
    2. When the players do something unexpected that skips something cool I have made I need to allow it.  Maybe I can recycle that cantina into another setting later, or bring a cool-but-overlooked NPC into another scene.  Sometimes I will just have to let it go.  If the characters leave Tatooine without visiting the Dewback Bar & Grill I spent eight hours creating, I won’t make their ship crash just to make sure they see my work.
  3. Some of the players’ ideas will be better than mine.  This should be a cause for excitement and joy, not jealousy and resentment.  My ideas are not inherently better simply because I’m the GM.

 

The rules and dice are part of the framework for the story but they should not get in the way of the story.   They absolutely should not be used as roadblocks for the players.  In the FFG system the rules specifically state that Threat and Despair results on the dice don’t cancel Successes.  This is true mechanically and in narrative principle.  For example:

 

The group’s slicer attempts to access a locked blast door.  He rolls a Success and two Threat.  I could say: “You unlock the door, but a trooper on the other side sees the lock light go green and throws the manual override.”  The character succeeded, but I used the Threat to undo that.  That’s not the right way to use Threat (or even Despair). 

 

Dice and rules should not be used to thwart the players’ actions and choices.  My job as GM is to help the players tell their part of the story.  The dice and rules should assist that.  In the FFG system, more than any other I have played or run, the rules and dice are designed for cooperation, not competition.

 

Defeating the players is not a “win” for the GM; it’s a tragedy for the story.  There will be times in the story where the characters cannot win a fight.  As a GM it is my job to make sure there’s another way out and that the possible defeat makes sense to the story.  There will be times when no amount of good rolls or assisted skill checks will get the characters the answers they seek.  This shouldn’t mean they can’t get the answers, just that they need to find another way, or go get help, or something else.  I should always provide the players with a way to get through an encounter even if it isn’t the path they’d prefer or are most used to.  I should never set up an encounter to “stop” the players until they’ve figured out whatever puzzle or trick I want them to.  Some encounters may be inherently puzzles, but there should be many paths to success, including giving up and asking a patron NPC for help.  I should not put encounters in place simply to penalize players for going somewhere I didn’t expect or particularly want them to go.

 

As a GM, I want to challenge the players by challenging their characters’ abilities and skills.  But the point to remember is that you are not only cooperating with the players but helping them succeed.  Consider this analogy:

 

You want to teach a child to swim.  You put them in water over their head and hold them down every time they try to get a breath.  If they start paddling you grab an arm or leg and stop them.  You don’t let them drown but you prevent them from swimming in every way you can. 

Or, you put them in water over their head and support them so they don’t go under.  You guide them in how to paddle and assist their movement, making sure not to get in the way of their little arms and legs as they try to push themselves through the water.  You nudge them in the right direction but allow them to go somewhere else if that’s what they really want.
 

The second way is the way a good GM should approach the game.  You are the players’ ally in developing their characters’ stories, and they are your allies in developing the overall story.  Adversarial and competitive play is fine for board games, but in a role playing game, especially FFGs Star Wars games, cooperative play is far more rewarding and longer lasting.

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I "like" it, but if your players are like mine, they won't read it... I hope you have better luck :)

I had to laugh so much when I read this. My players are... I love them, but they are lazy (or uninterested) when I ask them to read out-of-game things I prepare for them.

 

May be we should start a sort of GM International association

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I "like" it, but if your players are like mine, they won't read it... I hope you have better luck :)

I had to laugh so much when I read this. My players are... I love them, but they are lazy (or uninterested) when I ask them to read out-of-game things I prepare for them.

 

Yeah, mine are "into it at the table", and pretty good about being focussed while playing, but away from the table is another matter.

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