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 Post subject: What's a fledgling GM to do?
PostPosted: Sun Jun 24, 2007 2:38 pm 
Shelled Plebeian

Joined: Mon Jun 18, 2007 9:18 pm
Posts: 3
Dear Wise Turtle,

Hi! This is my first post on these forums (after lurking for a week or so).

After years of being interested in RPGs as reading material, I've finally decided to run a game for my teenaged kids. None of us have ever played an RPG before, much less GM'ed one.

I've decided to go with OVA, which I recently purchased, because of its relative simplicity and its anime theme.

But, now I'd like to ask something I've never understood, regarding OVA and every other RPG system.

It seems that there are plenty of systems and settings out there, but (outside of D&D) very few published adventure modules.

(I'm aware that OVA has the Starstone Treasure adventure, and in fact I'll use that for our first game, only because there are no other choices.)

But, in general, how do GMs run these things without published adventures? Is it presumed that every GM is a talented creative writer and a fast-on-his-feet storyteller? (If that's the case, I'm screwed.)

I feel I'm missing something that everyone else takes for granted.

Thanks for any insight.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2007 12:14 pm 
Worthy Tortoise

Joined: Wed Apr 04, 2007 8:21 am
Posts: 75
Location: Atlanta, GA
The question of how to start as a GM with a new game and no prior experience is daunting, but the good news is – you have no bad habits to unlearn as of yet. There are several ways to prepare an adventure, depending on your goals. I will discuss a few, with the Wise Turtle’s kind permission, and hope that they help.

The first point is that the GM of any game must have some idea what the goal for the game is. Do you want to just have fun playing some anime characters odd situations (like going to school in a high school filled with anime powered people), do you want to play a task oriented game (the heroes are on a quest or are exploring a ruin or have some other task they need to complete), or do you want to play a game with a great deal of emotional or thematic impact (do you want your group of Mecha pilots to deal with issues regarding the very grim battle they are fighting and the friends they are losing to a cause that they may not understand or support)? The good news is that you can have several goals to your game – and there is no wrong answer as long as the people playing (including you, the GM) will have fun.

Once you know what your goal is in the game, you need to do two things:

1) Get the other player’s to create characters with the theme of the game in mind. Once you have these, planning the game will become much easier. The game should center around the PCs. They may not be the heroes of the story (they might be the villains or just the people trying to survive, if it is a horror or disaster game, for example), but they are the focus. What they do makes the adventure occur. Make sure as you plan that the PCs are tied into what is happening.

2) Create some NPCs that will be involved in this story as well. Their purpose right now is not to be doing anything active, but to have some relationship to the PCs. These are your supporting cast NPCs (in OVA terms). The remaining NPCs will be Extras, and you should stat up one example of each type you will want (each Guard is a carbon copy of the other guards, for example).

After getting these supplies together, now you can get down to figuring out what will be going on in the adventure. Sometimes, it will be simple, sometimes you may want to have a complex blend of intrigue and such, but the best idea is to start simple. Most players need some light adventures to get prepped for more complex play, so they will like this simple start too.

There are several schools of thought on how to plan a game. The best advice in figuring out how to do this is to remember a simple rule – give the player’s real choices. If you have done nothing more than invent a roller coaster where there is one way to do everything and there are “right” answers and “wrong” answers, player will eventually rebel against this by making wrong choices to spite this lack of choice. There are two good ways to prepare an adventure where choices are open and real and where the player’s make a difference.

The first of these is called a “Relationship Map”. This map explains how everyone in the game scenario relates to each other. It tells you who hates who, who wants who to do what, etc. Using this as a planning tool for your game means you need to put the players prominently in the middle of the mix. People should have plans that require the PCs or that must be guarded from the PCs. These conflicts become the adventure as the PCs do things for those they trust and like and work against those that they don’t. Keep in mind that the player’s will not know everyone of the map or how the people truly feel about each other. The map is for you to use to figure out what your NPCs are doing now and what they will likely do when PC-driven events force them to make new plans.

The second big method is the “event map”. This is flowchart of events as they would progress without the PCs stopping or derailing the plans of the opposition. This flowchart should also have what happens if the players derail that part of the plan. This technique is somewhat hard if the players typically choose some path that can take you off of the planned flowchart. The solution to this is to replace the events with what are called “Bangs”.

A Bang is a situation that the PC has to respond to – and now. Not acting is the only wrong answer in a Bang. For example, a player might find out that their sister is in love with The Big Bad and is going to run away with him tonight. The player had to decide, does he wish her luck and hope it all works out, does he rush to stop his sister from getting away, does he simply tell his parents and seek advise, does he kill the sister or the Big Bad to prevent this dishonorable love from staining the family pride? As you can see, all options are on the table in a Bang and the most important part of one is to see what the player does with the situation, because that define what kind of person the character is.

If you use Bangs instead of events, you will create story from where one bang leads to another. Each Bang should be prepared with the starting point and the stats of the people who will become involved in the conflict (which you should have from your prep above). As bangs get death with, your job is to think of the next bang in the situation. While you are playing through the current Bang, another choice will be looming for the player based on what they did already.

:!: Ex. Joe chooses to follow the sister to find the Big Bad’s hiding place. He follows her to the Big Bad’s hideout and sees the two of them together. Looks like it is true love on each side! BANG! Does he still go ahead and jump Big Bad? Player Answer: No, Joe decides that a man who loves and is loved by his sister must be misunderstood. He goes out to explain his choice to the Big Bad. BANG! The Big Bad tells him that his “evil” deeds were done to stop a plot in the Kingdom Joe serves. Does Joe change his allegiances? Joe, can’t bring himself to fight against the King yet, so he promises not to betray Big Bad and look into the accusation in the King’s Court….etc.

All of these Bangs get informed by the Relationship Map you made and the NPCs you created to match the ones your player’s made for your game. Ron Edwards, of the Forge (www.indie-rpgs.com), suggests using a special kind of player created Bang called a “Kicker”. Kickers are a Bang that the player writes for himself or herself as the first thing that happens to their character in the game. They will give it to you when they give you a copy of their character. It serves two purposes – it starts the game off underway and with a purpose and it lets you as the GM know what direction the player wants the game to move in.

Last but not least is the idea of checking with your players and getting feedback. Keep an open door policy on player input. If a player feels that want to move in a different direction, allow them to do so as much as possible. Share ideas freely at the table and allow additions from any player that makes for a better game. Stuck for a description of something or for what would likely happen in response to something? Ask the player how they see it coming down. Do not give in to the temptation to hide behind your screen and hog all the creative limelight.

I have a happy story on that end to share. I have had the pleasure of gaming with several creative people in my years in the hobby, but one of my fellow players, Tony, is a very talented artist and he will create all sorts of very cool images that match the visual theme of my games and hand them into me as a contribution to the game. All I needed to do was place a name and some stats with them and I had a rogue’s gallery of characters of all stripes to pull from. I could also make requests. Tony would happily make these most cool looking character designs and the most awesomely scary beasts and monsters knowing that the game would be better.

When you find people like that, you feed them well with adventure and contribution XPs. And, most importantly, you listen very carefully to their feedback, because it is as much their game as yours and they are your Golden Geese.

The last, best advise I can give is –

:!: Make it fun! :!:

If it isn’t fun, you are not doing it right.

_________________
Judd M. Goswick
Gamemaster
Legion Anime/Gaming Society


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2007 3:46 pm 
Shelled Plebeian

Joined: Mon Jun 18, 2007 9:18 pm
Posts: 3
Wow!!! Thanks JuddG for all of the great advice!!! :D

It will take me some time and experience to fully appreciate all you've said. But here are some initial impressions/questions:

JuddG wrote:
Get the other player’s to create characters with the theme of the game in mind. Once you have these, planning the game will become much easier.

It never occurred to me that planning the game should happen after the characters have been created!

This indicates that the first session might be spent doing nothing but creating characters. Is that common?

JuddG wrote:
After getting these supplies together, now you can get down to figuring out what will be going on in the adventure.

This is where I get nervous. This is the part where it's my job to invent a compelling story with an exciting climax.

It seems to me that, regardless of whether I use a relationship map or event map to plot my story in game terms, I still need the story to begin with.

JuddG wrote:
If you use Bangs instead of events, you will create story from where one bang leads to another. ... Kickers are a Bang that the player writes for himself or herself as the first thing that happens to their character in the game.

This is very intriguing! It suggests that the story might more-or-less write itself as it goes along. Is that a correct interpretation?


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2007 8:54 am 
Worthy Tortoise

Joined: Wed Apr 04, 2007 8:21 am
Posts: 75
Location: Atlanta, GA
CrazyBlend wrote:
This indicates that the first session might be spent doing nothing but creating characters. Is that common?


Very common. Usually, the GM will "pitch" a game informally to the grouop when he or she invites them to play. "I am runnign OVA this Wednesday night. I am putting together a sci-fi western set in the Solar System using these warp-gate highways. PCs are bounty hunters down on there luck. I will send you the PC guidelines via email." Then you send them some sort of rule of thumb (what creaqtion method, any caps for abilities, no magic, etc).

Be prepared for them to have questions and give them feedback. The first session they make characters with each other to bounce ideas off. This is key to a fun game. This way, they can tie things together pretty well. You as GM will answer questions, but also make notes and start planning some NPCs (if you don't already have some from your initial concept).

While they make characters, get a feel for the way they relate. Also, look for any flaws or abilities that might tie them to an NPC you can fit them into R-Map with. Do they have "Vehicle"? Maybe an NPC is the Mechanic that helps them maintain it who was there best freind in school and who hides a secret love for another PC.

Look for ways to make the characters have a stake in the main thrust of what your story is about. This doesn't mean that they have to know the people on the R-Map, but if you are doing a "new guys in town" type scenerio, the people with the agendas in the R-Map should see the player's as a new resource to try and get on their side. Some R-Maps just have a note to a question mark that says something like "Wants to hire a lone gunman to kill X before the election". When a PC wanders into town who may fit the bill, you have a Bang for him - the guy, or an agent of his, approaches the PC with the job. If the PC says no, the guy has to arrange that the PC doesn't give him away. The PC may go to the target and offer his assistance in aiding him.

(BTW, If you like this kind of thing, find a Akira Kurasawa movie called "Yojimbo" or the Hollywood Film Noir remake "Last Man Standing". They are the perfect examples of a lone PC coming to town and all sides trying to grab him for the gun he weilds.)

CrazyBlend wrote:
It seems to me that, regardless of whether I use a relationship map or event map to plot my story in game terms, I still need the story to begin with.


Not a story, per se, but a stack of dominoes waiting for the PCs to come in a start making choices in (those choices make the story...more on that later.)

Simplest R-Map is this:

Bad Guy <---(Hatred)----> Good King

Two guys who hate each other and the PCs get in the mix. Maybe you thrown in a curve ball and have it be the Bad Guy who hires them first and they find out they are on the wrong side (but don't feel compelled to throw too many curves, exspecially at the start). Give each of the PCs some tie to what is going on (this usually bulks up the R-Map).

ex PC1 ---Loves--> Princess---Daughter-->Good King

Tack that on and you have the makings of a story... PC1 hears tell that the King offers his daughter's hand to any who would capture Bad Guy. He enlists in the effort. PC1 gets his first Bang (a situation he must react to and where he has several choices) - He hears of a another hunter who seeks the Bad Guy who knows something no one else does. Does he follow him, appeal to him to aid in True Love's path, waylay him, join him? His choice sets up what happens next.

CrazyBlend wrote:
It suggests that the story might more-or-less write itself as it goes along. Is that a correct interpretation?


Spot on! If you do use this technique and encourage player discussion and such, the story does in effect write itself. Every once in a while, you will have a bang that really hits home - and THAT becomes your exciting climax. Good Bangs with great follow-ups by the responding players become the stories you will tell of your gaming.

"Remember that time that Big Bad tried to bribe you with a love potion to use on Princess to let him escape - only you pretended to take the 'bribe' and used it on his soup so he fell for Good King? That was classic!"

Hope this is helping... Also, try The Forge for more good advice on this type of game planning. They get a bit academic for some tastes, but the solid story-telling ideas abound there.

_________________
Judd M. Goswick
Gamemaster
Legion Anime/Gaming Society


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2007 1:17 pm 
Shelled Plebeian

Joined: Mon Jun 18, 2007 9:18 pm
Posts: 3
Sweet! Thanks very much again, JuddG!

Your two posts contain more practical information about designing a game than all of the "how to be a GM" texts I've ever read.

And I'll definitely start visiting The Forge!

I still have a zillion questions, but I think they can wait until after I've actually run my first game.

As you said, "If it isn't fun, you are not doing it right". :D


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PostPosted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 10:32 pm 
Wise Sage
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Thank you for your (utterly uncalled-for and unnecessary) assistance JuddG. I suppose it does address some of the finer points.

Humans these days. You take some much needed time away and the base plebeians think they run the place. Hmmph.


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 03, 2007 8:31 am 
Worthy Tortoise

Joined: Wed Apr 04, 2007 8:21 am
Posts: 75
Location: Atlanta, GA
Wise Turtle wrote:
Thank you for your (utterly uncalled-for and unnecessary) assistance JuddG.


<bows>

I did not want to trouble you with this, sensei. You looked so cute meditating that I was lothe to wake you...er... I mean "stir you from your meditations".

Forgive my insolence, sensei.

_________________
Judd M. Goswick
Gamemaster
Legion Anime/Gaming Society


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