Author Topic: Some Advice on being a Game Master  (Read 12736 times)

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khoras2

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Some Advice on being a Game Master
« on: August 13, 2005, 09:39:51 AM »
Advice On Being A Game Master

[Years ago, I got an email from a game master who was judging a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. He asked my advice on how to deal with a troublesome player and, more broadly, how to be a good dungeon master. Below is my reponse. It has some good bits of DMing advice].


First of all, how long has your group been together? And how old are they? It sounds like they are in the early stages of their gaming career. Many times, when players are young or are just starting out, they focus too much on killing and acquiring treasure. Combat and treasure are good and have their place, but you're right... the game is MUCH more fun when the players develop real personalities and motivations and work toward long range goals.

By the way, I have to pause here and say a few words about that ranger. What the hell is up with her? First of all, rangers are supposed to be GOOD. At least that's the way the class was originally conceived. They were the protectors of the forest, brave woodsmen, and all that. And elves are generally good too. Elven rangers are almost NEVER evil. It's ridiculous that this guy is playing her that way. If he wants to kill and pillage and sleep around, then he should be playing an orcish barbarian. Not an female elven ranger. He is playing her completely wrong. And tell him I said so.

There is only one exception to that. I would allow a thoroughly evil female elven ranger in the group IF and ONLY IF he created a good background story for the character that explains WHY she is so evil. (And he is definitely running her as evil. If she "kills anything she sess, attacks people as well as her companions", then she is the very essence of evil.) If he wrote up a brief but creative story that explains her life and gave reasons why she kills everything she sees, then that would be ok. But it would have to be a pretty darn good story.

I give my players a lot of freedom in choosing class and race (I've been known to allow the most bizarre creatures to be run as player characters). I also give players a lot of freedom with how they run characters. But there always has to be a reason.

Forgive me, but I'm going to get long-winded in this email. I can tell... There are always consequences to every action. As a DM, remember that. Here's an example. Let's say that the evil elven ranger kills a gnome tavern keeper in a city because the gnome tavern keeper was trying to break up a bar fight. If she kills him, fine. But let's say that that gnome barkeeper also is a brewer. He brews his own special ale in that tavern (in the back). It's a popular ale around town. It's so good in fact, that it's the favorite drink of the reigning champion pit fighter from the capital city. Every now and then, he makes a special trip out to this town to have some of this ale. Next time he's in town, he finds out that some elven ranger bitch has killed the brew master. Now he's pissed and he may very well HUNT HER DOWN. And when he finds her, he rips her to shreds. And he can, cause he's one of the best warriors around.

Of course, it doesn't have to be that elaborate. Say she kills an ordinary average orc. Turns out that orc was the son of an orcish chieftain. An orcish chieftain who just a month earlier lost his other son. Mad with grief, he calls upon the war drums to sound to gather the orcish clans to ride down into the valley and wipe out the human or elvish infestation.

Elven ranger kills a wolf? Guess what. It was the pet of a witch that lives in the swamp to the south.

Elven ranger chops down a beautiful tree because she didn't like the look of it? Guess what. It was a magical tree that a local wizard has spent the last 6 years working on through magical genetic engineering. Six years of work ruined. He's pissed.

Attacks one of her OWN companions. Well, gee, why are the others putting up with that? Why don't they just gang up on her and kill her?

Attacks one of her own companions (Bob) when the two of them are alone. Guess what? Bob isn't really Bob. Bob has been replaced by some kind of doppleganger/shapeshifter and is MUCH tougher than she anticipated. The real Bob is in a dungeon and the party has been walking around with this shapeshifter (in Bob form) for two weeks. The doppleganger kicks her butt, robs her, and leaves her half dead, naked and tied to a tree.

Any of these events could be an interesting start to a much larger storyline.

Anyway, I'm in a kill-the-bad-player mood. There are lots of ways to nudge players back on track and away from bad gaming habits. Some of them subtle, some not so subtle. The point is that as DM, you have complete and utter control of the entire universe. In the blink of an eye, you can create/destroy/alter whole people, villages, histories, timelines. Every place, person, plant, animal, object, rock, blade of grass in your world has a history. And has connections to everything else. It's a wonderful intricate web that players often don't think about.

These were just quick examples off the top of my head. If you sit down between sessions and really think about it, you can come up with great stuff.


« Last Edit: August 15, 2005, 05:52:00 PM by David Roomes »

Offline sid6.7

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Re: Some Advice on being a Game Master
« Reply #1 on: August 15, 2005, 11:57:39 PM »
this is a skill i am lacking in...i am playing in a traveller game right now
MAINLY to watch what a GM does...

i also go down to my local game store and watch the D&D game going there..

its a must that you play a few games before you GM...the more you play
before.... the more info you have to GM later...

« Last Edit: August 18, 2005, 09:51:13 PM by sid6.7 »
come see Kramxel at  http://cruzan.info/kramxel

Offline Spence

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Re: Some Advice on being a Game Master
« Reply #2 on: May 02, 2006, 03:58:19 PM »
Yes playing to get experience in the game is very much required to be a good Game Master.  And this also depends on where you plan on DMing...I'll tell you from first hand experience GM/DMing online is vastly different from GM/DMing Table Top. 

In Table top you have a group of people you know, and a set of characters you quickly become familiar with.

Online (via chat sites) you have a much larger player base (than TT this is) and each player has an account with 5+ characters that are all different.  Every time you run it's generally for a different group of characters (though it might be the same players).  In one session i had all Fighters, Barbarians and Rangers, in another i had all wizards/sorcerors, druids and clerics.  I would dare say that GM/DMing online requires you to be much more flexible than for TT.  You also have to be better with people, friends forgive easily, complete strangers will not...and they'll make sure their friends dont play there as well either.

With problem players online you have a couple options, if the players themselves are decent folks (some people just like to play bad characters) then dont take issue with the player, but the character itself.  IC actions have IC consequences.  For example...

We have a player on Dathkandra, he's 14 or 15..i cant remember which, and from Australia.  His favorite character is also one of the chats highest level characters, he's a Fighter/Barbarian multiclass.  The player is fairly decent most of the time (just a kid) but the character is moody and stand offish.  This character is about 2 years old from creation date to now...and has spent about 18 months in jail...

Now you're probably going to ask why he's so high level but spent so much time in jail...Online DM/GM's cant be there all the time to run adventures and reward good roleplay, so we give log in experience, 25xp a day for first levels, 50 a day for 2nd level, 75 a day for 3rd, 100 a day for 4th and up.  We hand out exp on addies, for good RP and that's about the norm.

Then there's the actual problem player...the player who's there soley to cause trouble by argueing OOCly and ICly doing things to spite everybody else.  These people are generally the type that get dealt with in a final manner, they get asked to leave, which they generally dont, then they get IP banned for a time or permanent depending on how bad they get.

On a side note:  Online DMing is different in how handing out experience works as well.  We cant give out xp as normal per encounter as it'll always imbalance things on the chat (we have to keep a decent balance or it gets chaotic as past chats have proven).  So we have a whole seperate system of reward, though every chat has it's own system, most are very similar.

With that in mind, you also have an entire gammot of level ranges, 1-XX.  Of course addies are designed for certain levels, which leaves some characters out.  It's also an environment that can turn hostile In Character if a high level Barbarian decides he/she wants to muscle around a brand new character.

So an online, ever-running campaign cant be handled by one GM/DM alone, that's why there's a team.  With a team comes more issues as not everybody see's a particular way of ruling the same way.  Which means there's alot of behind the scenes debating on things so every DM will have the same ruling on any given issue.  (David will attest to this as he's been privvy to lots of argueing on the Dathkandra DM egroup ;-) )

All in all, it's simpler to run a TT group than an online group, but Online is just as rewarding and fullfilling.  Especially since it allows you to take a break and go on an adventure ran by a fellow DM so your own PC's can experience things as well.

I cant think of any other tips on being an online GM, that doesnt mean there arent any more, i've just been doing it for about 5 years online for two seperate gaming systems across 3 seperate chats and i probably take quite abit for granted.
« Last Edit: May 02, 2006, 04:00:51 PM by Spence »

Offline tanis

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Re: Some Advice on being a Game Master
« Reply #3 on: May 02, 2006, 06:16:26 PM »
     I haven't played a lot of rpgs, but I have to say, from what I read it sounds like it would be much more fun to be a DM... But then I'm a very vicarious person.
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline Spence

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Re: Some Advice on being a Game Master
« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2006, 12:10:49 PM »
BE DESCRIPTIVE AT ALL TIMES!!!!

As i've stated before, i've been GMing for several years, mostly online, but for Table Top as well.  I've been privvy to watching many Game Masters come and go, some good, some great, some not so good.  There is one thing that seperates a Great Game Master from a good or mediocre one.  Description.  You dont have to describe every little detail of a ten mile long wall, that would take forever.  But being descriptive when you set up a scene is an absolute must.

Example 1:

You're in a seedy tavern with old chairs and tables.  There's alot of shady looking individuals in the tavern, the bartender seems to be quite busy serving up many drinks.

Example 2: 

You've just walked into the Black Myrtak.  From the outside you could tell this was a run down, low-life attraction.  Inside the building is crowded and loud.  Sailors, possibley pirates drink and laugh, telling lewd jokes and stories.  A few steps further in and you're pushing past the staff of the Myrtak, they're running busily trying to keep up with the demands, all wear nervous smiles in this crowd of seedy individuals.  They try to please so as not to suffer the consequences.  A single table in the center of the Tavern is empty and seemingly waiting for you.  As you approach it you notice it's cheaply made and has been hastily repaired several times.

Now, which example describes the seedy tavern better?  Keep in mind you dont need to lord over every single detail, but when it's appropriate, putting an effort into a good description will greatly enhance yours and your players gaming experience.

Now, with the above example, the 2nd description would be one from a good GM.  But what seperates a good GM from a great GM?  Description in the face of adversity.  Also known as combat description.

Example 1:

Tordek, the orc attacks you and hits you for 10 points of damage.

Example 2:

A large orc squares off against Tordek, his muscles ripple with each movement.  With a surprising burst of speed the orc slams his axe into Tordek's shoulder producing a sickening crunch and slight spray of blood.  The pain is bearable, but you know you've been hit (Tordek you've taken 10 points of damage).

All too often i've seen GM's running by the first example.  They dont put any effort into making the combat descriptive.  It doesnt need to be glorious, nor does it need to be long winded.  But a good, short description of each event as it happens goes a very long way to making gaming sessions fun and memorable.  It also serves to make combat less boring, if your players are bored then you're not doing your job correctly.   ;)

Having props is a good way to show your players what you're describing, but the key is in describing it.  You can have a poor storyline and poor planning, but if you can describe things well enough your players will still remember.  Now..obviously you're going to want to have a good storyline and good planning, then it's fun all around.  But when you start planning, you might want to think about some descriptives on cue cards to aid you in your GMing as well.
« Last Edit: May 03, 2006, 12:13:27 PM by Spence »

avisarr

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Re: Some Advice on being a Game Master
« Reply #5 on: May 03, 2006, 03:09:07 PM »
Yes, that's good advice. Description is a very important element in role playing - regardless of whether its online or table top. Everything is better with good detailed and creative descriptions.

Offline tanis

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Re: Some Advice on being a Game Master
« Reply #6 on: May 03, 2006, 03:18:06 PM »
     Especially if you've got David.
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline Spence

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Re: Some Advice on being a Game Master
« Reply #7 on: May 03, 2006, 05:28:13 PM »
Roleplay versus Rollplay

The whole basis of playing an RPG is to roleplay a character in a fantasy world...but then there's times when it's very hard for people to concentrate on staying in character, but they still want to get into the hack and slash.  In my opinion it's perfectly fine for one or two sessions to be pure hack and slash, it helps you by giving you a break from concentrating on the main storyline and it helps your players by giving them a break from serious roleplay.

That being said, you're still playing an Rpg correct?  It's important that the hack and slash be balanced out by good roleplay.  When you give your players a combat situation, try to balance it out later by giving them a situation they can solve via good roleplay (This is why i dont like certain skill sets, Bluff, Diplomacy and Intimidation are roleplay skills not something that can always be determined by the roll of dice).  Most situations should be able to be solved via good roleplay to be honest...but the few that cant, combat is always an option.

More random thoughts from your friendly, neighborhood online DM :-)

Offline tanis

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Re: Some Advice on being a Game Master
« Reply #8 on: May 03, 2006, 05:40:29 PM »
    I have no DM experience, but it occurs to me that it would be best if there was almost no number crunching. Only problem is if you do that, how do you keep it true to itself? Hmm, too bad.
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline Spence

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Re: Some Advice on being a Game Master
« Reply #9 on: May 04, 2006, 09:50:18 AM »
The only way to minimalize number crunching is to roll for your abilities.  It's completely random so people dont know what they'll get.  This works fine for Table Top. 

Online in chats is a whole other story.  In order to preserve some semblance of balance, you have to use the point buy system.  This means you have anywhere from 25 points to 32 points to spend on your starting abilities.  Now, having this kind of customization over your own character can be great, you can set your PC up how you want to, but it promotes number crunching...and i admit i sometimes do it myself without realizing it. 

All that being said...this is again an RPG and more often than not, all those crunched numbers are going to come in handy less than half the time.

Offline tanis

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Re: Some Advice on being a Game Master
« Reply #10 on: May 04, 2006, 03:03:03 PM »
     Heh.
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline tanis

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Re: Some Advice on being a Game Master
« Reply #11 on: May 04, 2006, 06:53:14 PM »
     That's the only thing video games have over TT, they have it set up so that it all follows logic that is consistent and keeps it in line. You just have to sacrifice interactiveness and room for evolution.
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Offline Spence

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Re: Some Advice on being a Game Master
« Reply #12 on: May 09, 2006, 10:25:08 AM »
Dungeons and Dragons: Issues with the Polymorphing Spells

In the latest incarnations of the Polymorphing line of spells and abilities (Alter Self, Polymorph, Shapechange, Wild Shape, Animal Form, etc) an issue arises where players all of a sudden need more than what's in the Players Handbook.  With all other spells, you know what the spell does just by it's description and dont need another book to use it.  Polymorph and it's associate spells throw that idea out the window.  Now the player needs every book that the Dungeon Master has just to find a suitable creatue who's form to assume.  The purpose of this post is to reduce this issue. 

Firstly, look at the spell.  The caster is firstly limited by Hit Dice.  Since you are the DM (though players can bring this idea to the table as well) you need to be prepared for this.  You can print off copies of monsters matching the casters HD or lower so they have pages to reference.  At lower levels this is the easiest option and probably the fastest.  At later levels the player will have a truely massive stack of papers to go through however.

How can you make this spell less messy to use?  You can also limit it.  The easiest way to limit this spell is to require either Knowledge Checks at a DC equal to 10 + the HD of the creature, or you can limit it so that the spellcaster can only polymorph into creatures he/she has encountered before.  A combination of both of these options provides for abit more realism and makes it alot less messy.  Now all you have to do is print off or make copies of monsters that the spellcaster has knowledge of.

What about Druids and wild shape?  Generally this is a non-issue with Druids.  They are even further limited in what they can turn in to.  Animals (and later Elementals) are the only things they can wild shape in to, then add in the Hit Dice limit and finally the size limits, and Druids are rather easy as compared to Sorcerors or Wizards.

I post this here because i also keep my eye on the WotC site and i've seen eratta's, guides, FAQ's and all manner of things come up on this one line of spells.  It's a world wide epidemic apparently...and unfortunately it can be solved with abit of common sense and a house rule, rather than flocking to Wizards and asking them a question they've already had to answer several times that day.

As a DM you need to be prepared.  You can either ban this list of spells (as WotC has done with their RPGA society) or prepare for them and make it easier on yourself and the group to incorporate into your game.


Offline tanis

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Re: Some Advice on being a Game Master
« Reply #13 on: May 09, 2006, 01:47:25 PM »
     Some people just need brains.
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

avisarr

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Re: Some Advice on being a Game Master
« Reply #14 on: May 09, 2006, 07:52:06 PM »
I rather like the idea of limiting it to creatures that the shapeshifter (whether it's a wizard, druid or something else) knows. I tend to create those kind of house rules. For instance, if I was running a campaign and I had a player who was able to shapeshift, I might limit his ability to only creatures that he is VERY familiar with. I can see this being a good source of role playing. The player could assume common animals easily (horse, dog, etc) but he would need to go out of his way to study more exotic creatures. I could see him prowling the hills and lurking about the nest of some creature, studying it for hours on end, before he would be able to successfully shapechange into it. Also, he would relish any opportunity to study a new creature. If his group travels to a new region, he might try to persuade them to let him venture up into the mountains and delay them for a day or two while he studies some rare vulture or rock hound or something. Not only does he delay the party, but he could be putting himself into a dangerous situation. He might even be attacked by the animals he's studying or need to be rescued. Lots of role playing fun there.

And he would jealously guard the precious list of creatures that he knows and would always be looking for new creatures to mimic. I could see that being a great character.

Anyway, that's just me... I'm always looking for ways to creatively limit the powers of players, but do it in a way which is interesting and gives them an opportunity to role play. A good player will usually run with the idea and make the most of it.