Friday, August 19, 2011

Jumping on the Better GM Bandwagon

Okay, I'll hop on the bandwagon. A gauntlet has been thrown down over at Hill Cantons and, like several others in the blogosphere, I'll pick it up. I must begin, however, with a quibble about the questions:
  1. Name three “best practices” you possess as a GM. What techniques do you think you excel at?
  2. What makes those techniques work? Why do they “pop”?
  3. How do you do it? What are the tricks you use? What replicable, nuts-and-bolts tips can you share?
Note that he says GM, which implies a much more universal framework than I'm willing to concede, at least in context of my answer. I primarily play various flavors of D&D, and only run games using older editions or the retro-clones that emulate them. Therefore, my answers are going to be very specific to a style of play influenced by the rules and "genre" of earlier editions of D&D. Whether or not they can be applied to any other rule set or genre is up to you.

Premise: D&D is at its best when it is a pastiche, because that is where it originated.

Therefore: My best campaigns and the best sessions I have within those campaigns are those that embrace, encourage and enable that pastiche.

Why: James over a Grognardia made two interesting observations about his experience at the OSRCon in Toronto. Firstly, how comfortable it was for him to run a pair of Dwimmermount sessions. Secondly, how comfortable Ed Greenwood seemed running his session in Forgotten Realms. This comfort in both cases comes from familiarity — Greenwood from spending decades steeped in his creation and James from running a continuous campaign for a couple of years.

For those of us who don't have the luxury of that kind of time or suffer from bouts of Gamer ADD, the best way to simulate this familiarity is by filling our game worlds with the familiar — pastiche from all kinds of stories, movies and genres. This familiarity breeds comfort, which breeds confidence, which is essential for creativity.

Given this premise, here are three ways in which I embrace, encourage and enable pastiche in my games:

  1. Unapologetically steal ideas from everywhere. If an idea, story, image, movie, adventure module, trap, monster, whatever inspires you USE IT. You will naturally put your own spin on it and by the time it emerges from gameplay it will have transformed into something entirely new — but it will come from a familiar place that allows you the confidence to own the idea. The fact that you liked it in the first place will just fuel the creative fire.
  2. Allow your players to bring their creativity to the table. This is, in part, an extension of my first point — don't be shy from using ideas that come from your players. If they come up with a theory for why something exists, happened, etc. don't be shy about incorporating it in part or in whole. This allows players to participate in your world and allows them to own it as much as you do. This, however, is only part of how to make players comfortable and familiar with your world. If they expect gravity to work, allow gravity to work. If it doesn't, give them a viable explanation as to why. What I mean by this is that if you have a giant system of gears that the players want to sabotage by literally throwing a wrench into the works, allow the wrench to muck things up. If it can't, give them viable cues as to why (there is a force field; the gears are made of stronger material than the wrench, etc.). Don't be afraid to decide these things via caveat rather than a die roll.
  3. Finally, don't be afraid of genre-bending. One of the primary themes of the game is exploration. One of the best ways to simulate this is by breaking genre. It helps bring about a sense of wonder. One of the most memorable sessions I've ever played was on board a derelict space ship…in space. It also forces you to be creative in order to justify how such a break in genre is possible.

1 comment:

ERIC! said...

Could not agree with you more here, I have done the same with Ganth.