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!