Sunday, February 8, 2015

Honest Gaming (The Death of the GM Screen)

So I've been experimenting as a GM with something I believe can, and should, change the way that many table-top RPGs are played. Maybe you will benefit from such experimentation.

Here's what I've been doing.

1. Prep for success:
I prep one page of content. We've been playing Monster of the Week and the prep sheet for this game is fantastic! I have one monster, two minions (or secondary monsters), two bystanders, and two locations. Each has a name, and an "instinct" which provides mood and flavor. The monster and minions have harm levels or HP as well as armor ratings but i honestly never use these in fullness. They end up just being guidelines or a general idea of how much these things can take.
The important part of prep is the understanding of minimal effort for maximum outcome. I generally prep one hour for a four hour time slot.

2. Pre-game warm-up:
This is the "Honest" part. I put my one page of prep in front of everyone. They are aloud to read the entire sheet and I talk about what I'll be bringing to this game. I might say something like:

"So I was thinking we'd have a good old fashion dragon hunt, with the catch being the guy who is hiring you is under the dragons control and is sending you into a deathtrap. I thought it'd be cool to have some kobolds swarm you guys at some point, cause lets be honest, who doesn't love smashing kobolds. The dragon cave and the wilderness beforehand are the major locations I've listed, all manner of psychedelic weirdness might confront you there. Lastly, I thought a stowaway from the town could cause some complications and maybe test your mettle as you endanger yourselves but protect the little girl. Also just for fun-zies I thought one of you should have a loved relative in town, someone who can act as a safe harbor, but also a reason to risk your necks for the town. What do you guys think?"

3. Play to find out.
Pretty self explanatory. But it's worth mentioning. I bring the game before the players and they are allowed, if not encouraged to interact with what I bring. They might suggest that the guy hiring the heroes IS the relative from within the town, or that the stowaway is actually the cheeky theif's lover stollen from an oppressive father. Whatever the case, I roll with it. I express concerns and hesitations, say "that is f***ing awesome" when it is, and add ideas as I have them.

4. Ask for feedback.
Finally, I ask questions like "What did we do that was awesome tonight?" or "What part felt the most dragged out?" then I take the feedback and allow it to make me better for future games.

Here's what I have found to be so amazing about this approach: I use 90% and up of my prep every time, my players never mention any indication of feeling "railroaded", we have some of the most epic collaborative moments that would never have come together if I were trying to "pull the strings", and I have a lot of fun!

This method of GMing runs off a few basic principles that I have found to be true.

1. Players hate to be duped.
As much as a good mystery novel hints at the real problem and then gives you that "oh my gawd, that is awesome" moment after the big reveal, it doesn't translate into the gaming format. However, when all the players are working towards a big reveal or dramatic moment I've found that they come together in a bigger and better way than anyone could have hoped. Players will often come up with circumstances in which their own character is "duped", just to preserve and work toward the big reveal.

2. Players love to participate.
You ever get caught up in a moment with one player where they are doing "all the right things" and then come out of it and realize you've spent the past 1/2 an hour or so without acknowledging the other players, one of them is reading the rules book, two have started a side conversation, and another has gotten up from the table and no-one knows where he went? As intense as that might have been for that one player, was it worth the cost of everyone else losing interest/being distracted? Probably not. What if everyone was participating in the scene at hand, even if their character was hundreds of miles away? I've found that when I place my prep on the table everyone gets to pick up parts of it and use them. It's like spreading crayons out in front of children and having a large piece of paper on the table. You won't come up with what you expected, but everybody is going to have a lot of fun. (Please note: I do not have kids so that last comment was based off of an imaginary situation and has not been play tested.)

3. Players have great ideas.
Get over yourself, you are not a genius that holds all the keys to a great story. Even if you are some phenomenal story teller wouldn't your players become better story tellers by you sharing your methods and ideas with them instead of holding them up behind a gm screen?

I'm going to play test Honest gaming at a con I'll be going to this weekend. Maybe it'll have different results. In the meantime, I hope it gives you some ideas and increases your love for the games that you play!


Friday, September 26, 2014

Quick Trust for Awesome Gaming

I think its fair to say that trust is one of the most essential elements to a good RPG. You need to trust that the other players won't make fun of you, trust that the GM won't force feed you his story, and trust that you can let your imagination run wild. When trust is there the game levels up in quality and fun. I've been playing for some time and building trust at the table is something for which I have developed a bit of a knack. +Stephanie Bryant even mentioned my ease in this area in a similar post, not too long ago.
I want to help others enjoy gaming as much as possible so I'll share three simple steps to build trust at the table, even if this is your first time meeting the other players! (Like at a Con.)

Step 1: Get rid of secrets.
Secrets are things that you and maybe one other player (usually the GM) knows about, while the rest of the group is in the dark.
Examples include:

  • Your character is actually a woman not a man
  • Your character is actually a wizard not a warrior or
  • Your character killed someone loved by another character 
You might say "But Matt, secrets create epic story twists." But you'd be wrong. Secrets create exclusion and suspicion. It does create an epic story when one CHARACTER knows something while the other characters do not. But not when one PLAYER knows something that the others do not. You have to offer trust before you can take it.  
Action step: The next time you play invent some detail that could potentially be offensive to another players character, but immediately tell the other player about it and get their corroboration.  They may want to change the details a bit, and thats great! You just offered trust, and got some back. Good Job! Be sure to share what you guys created with the rest of the table so the other players will now know to incorporate hints and foreshadowing about  your characters dirty little secret. 

Step 2: Play "Yes, and..."
"Yes, and..." is an improv tool/game that actors use to hone their creativity and response time. It is a very simple concept and you can "play" or practice it within any RPG or situation you are in. Here's how it works: Anytime someone offers a bit of new information and look to you to respond, you say "Yes, and..." and then add your own spin on the information. Really it's just a way to avoid shutting down other peoples ideas.
Here are some examples:
  • P1:"Maybe Maxar is the leader of the Night Cult, and you knew about it!". P2: "Yes, and I kept it from all of you because I secretly wanted to join."
  • GM: The Dark Forrest conceals you and your companions from being spotted but Gragon, are you still wearing your shiny plate mail?" P1: "Yeah, and I just waxed it this morning..."
  • P1: Gragon (P1's character) would definitely kill a member of the Night Cult on sight. P2: That makes sense, and since Shenar (P2's character) is a member of the Night Cult but also working with Gragon maybe she's been able to hide that fact from Gragon...or she could be playing the "double agent" and has convinced him that she can help him against the cult.
Its a fun little game, just try to say yes to everything that is thrown your way, and then make sure you add you own spin to the information.
Action step: Play "Yes and..." the next time you play and watch how often the other players (GM included) share the spotlight with you. 

Step 3: Value the other players above all else.
This one is simple. Don't put the story, your character, or your wants above the other players. If the story gets a little silly because one player wants to throw rocket punches in the middle of a Game of Thrones Campaign and everyone is having a great time, roll with it! The other players are the reason you get to enjoy a conversation around a table about some of your favorite things. If you value the other players more than the integrity of the story, the "coolness" of your character, and the fact that you just want to smash something, I think you'll come to find that more things will get smashed, your character will become even cooler somehow, and the story will even thrive. Not to mention, you might get to enjoy yourself.
Action step: The next time you want to say something like "My character would never do that!" Or "That doesn't make sense for my character." Can it (for my "Not from the States" readers that means: shut your mouth). Then try and figure out what you really want and express it. Something like "Hey guys, I'm totally down for saying that there is some reason that my character is associated dark elves, but it just seems kinda weak to me seeing how he's a high elf and they have a sworn hatred for each other...can we discuss a way to make sense of this real quick, cause it feels less fun to just glaze over it."
Boom. Next thing you know someone mentions that maybe you are a diplomat on navigating extremely tense situations for the hope of restoring the two groups of elves. Then you can say "Yes and!"

Okay, thats how you gain trust at the gaming table. If you want to learn to play a game that actually helps everyone at the table get better in this area, check out my Intro to *World RPG Gaming course!

Good luck and happy hunting!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dogs in the Vineyard

I'm reading through Vincent Baker's "Dogs in the Vineyard" and so far I am super impressed. It's not surprising since this is the same guy who gave us the Apocalypse Engine, but still it's pretty darn amazing. I have not gotten a chance to play the game yet but that should be happening in the next week or so.

As I write this post I am in a coffee shop and I lift my goblet of caffeine to the game designers who have added so much to my gaming experience.

By name I hail +Vincent Baker +Adam Koebel +Sage LaTorra . Thank you so much for your work and creativity.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Playing a wild creature.

Lately I've been playing/GMing games in which my character, or one of the characters in the group is some type of wild beast. Some could even say "monster".

Here are some of the beasties that I've played or I've seen played in my games recently:
A Minotaur
A swarm of ants
A spider woman
A pixie
And an ogre.

While this line up could be game breaking in most traditional RPGs ("how are they supposed to meet in a tavern if the guards would kill them on sight?") it works really well in Dungeon World so long as you and the GM follow a few key steps:
1.  Focus on what drives your monster. This is true for any character and sure you're a big (or very little) monster, but you have needs and wants. Focusing on what your character wants more than what your character is, or what your character can do gives you that extra spice that makes for a fun story. Trust me, it is so much more interesting for a minotaur to try and rescue someone because he needs information on how to track down his sworn enemy than it is for everyone to just pretend that minotaurs normally just step in and save the day.
2. Turn the norm on its head. Stop me if you heard this one before, a group of monsters walk into a tavern... It can be a heck of a lot of fun to see how "normal" situations play out when using characters that are anything but normal. Maybe one of the characters used to live in this particular dungeon. Maybe the pixie knows the chief of the centaurs in the dark forest. Maybe the mayor of the the town is hiring adventurers to get rid of the characters!
3. Get weird. You are playing with a monster here, let's get a little crazy. Make sure your descriptions include all the fun details of your new anatomy. As a GM, avoid the standard dungeon crawl as much as possible. Instead, let's see how the monsters do with a collection of floating islands, or an underwater maze, or in the center of a volcano. Actually this is something you should be doing anyway, but hey, your players are running around like a pack of animals. Let's get weird.

Have fun y'all!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Co-creation in games and drawing!

My wife and I were sitting in a coffee shop (as we often do) when we realized that we did not bring a game to play. Usually we'll play something quick and fun like Zombie Dice or Munchkin but this time we had to get creative.

We started with traditional childhood suggestions like tic-tac-toe and hangman, but found them lacking. Then I made a suggestion, "let's co-draw something."  For the next 20 minutes we took turns adding to a little doodle. I'd add something, she'd add something. Back and forth we went. Until we came up with this little number:
While I doubt we'll be winning any awards for our work of art, we did have a heck of a lot of fun.

In fact, the exercise felt very much like role playing. In a RPG everybody comes to the table with a little something they would like to see happen. We all add to, work on, and play with each others ideas until we come up with an "original" work, that none of us could have produced on our own.

Also, just like a RPG this "game" took some trust. We had to trust that the others ideas were valid and valuable.

What really stuck out to me was the fact that co-drawing had no winner. We both benefited from the experience and while my wife cleary has a more steady hand then I, she did not walk away with more points or the title of "winner." I appreciate this type of high value, low competition environment and I wonder if it is what draws me to create stories with fellow adventurers...

Thanks for reading.

Friday, July 18, 2014

What about Dungeon Crawl Classics?

This week I started deciding what podcasts to download with my new RSSRadio app. One of the firsts shows to make the cut was Gamerstable RPG podcast, episode 163. The episode revolved around the O.S.R. And while I just loved all the cool bits of information and got excited every time they mentioned Dungeon World, what really caught my ear was how high of a recommendation they gave Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC).

I've considered giving DCC a shot ever since I started playing Dungeon World and saw the cool (somewhat similar) art on the cover.

The guys over at Gamerstable mentioned that DCC is it's own rule set and that it is by no means "lite." So for me that pretty much disqualifies it as a playable game. However, they also said that there is just a great amount of adventure hooks within the book. These hooks tend to fit remarkably well into a game set up with the "old school" mindset, like Dungeon World, and are exactly the type of things I like to get my hands on.

So now I've got to get a few questions answered, if you have any questions about DCC, share them here and I'll try to get them answered. I'll be doing my own research and if enough people (lets say 20) show interest, then I'll post my findings here. In the mean time here's the link for those interested in buying a hard copy of DCC:

Happy hunting!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Have you seen this book?

Howdy yall,
I was just doing some browsing through the interwebs and saw this little beauty:

and became very curious.

Have any of you read this?

Does it offer any unique perspectives?

Will it help me as a GM/player?

Would you recommend buying it?

Thanks for your input!