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Author Topic: Advanced RPG wisdom for Game Masters  (Read 1337 times)

VengerSatanis

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Advanced RPG wisdom for Game Masters
« on: January 25, 2023, 11:23:34 AM »

As many of you know, I've got a new Kickstarter to fund this book on GMing.  While I have a lot of loyal KS backers (this is my 24th project, I think), my stuff doesn't get a lot of reach (if it wasn't for the steady stream of money from loyal but eerily silent KS backers, I'd think most of them were bots).  But I can also understand not wanting to jump into something blind.  That's why I have a couple preview essays you can read now, to see if this is up your alley or not...

This is the first: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/vengersatanis/advanced-game-mastering-like-a-fucking-boss/posts/3708592

This is the second: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/vengersatanis/advanced-game-mastering-like-a-fucking-boss/posts/3714226

If you'd like to discuss anything about GMing, I'd love to hear it.  Ask me questions, make outrageous statements, theories until the tentacled cows come home!  I want to include as much material as I can because this is most likely the last time I write a book on Game Mastering (for those unfamiliar, about 9 years ago I wrote a platinum best-seller called How To Game Master Like A Fucking Boss).

Thanks,

VS

Pen

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Re: Advanced RPG wisdom for Game Masters
« Reply #1 on: January 25, 2023, 12:21:48 PM »
Hello-

Here's a GM question for you. I view the journey as the heart of an adventure. Sure, there can be a dungeon but getting there should be a major part. How do you make the journey feel like a journey (more than just rolling a few dice for an encounter)?  The One Ring and some other systems have rules that seem cool, but they can end up feeling more like bookkeeping.

How do you combat this issue?

Thanks in advance!

rytrasmi

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Re: Advanced RPG wisdom for Game Masters
« Reply #2 on: January 25, 2023, 12:52:45 PM »
Interesting posts! I too have been at odds with player memory. As GM, deferring the majority can be difficult, but it's necessary to maintain flow/vibe as you said. The GM has total power to re-jig things, the players do not. When it happens to me, I consider it a lesson is how to explain things better.
Hit me up if you're in the Toronto area and you wanna play Hyperborea 3E!

VengerSatanis

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Re: Advanced RPG wisdom for Game Masters
« Reply #3 on: January 26, 2023, 11:32:36 AM »
Hello-

Here's a GM question for you. I view the journey as the heart of an adventure. Sure, there can be a dungeon but getting there should be a major part. How do you make the journey feel like a journey (more than just rolling a few dice for an encounter)?  The One Ring and some other systems have rules that seem cool, but they can end up feeling more like bookkeeping.

How do you combat this issue?

Thanks in advance!

That's a good question, and something I've thought about and struggled with for years. 

First, I'd start by asking myself what I want to get out of the journey part of the adventure.  Do you want the journey to feel like equal parts nuisance and epic adventure?  Would you rather communicate aspects of the world and campaign setting that the PCs just won't get raiding dungeons? 

If I want the journey to far outweigh the destination (and what lies therein), I'd form the adventuring around the actual journey.  I'd create points of interest, rumors, set encounters and also wandering monsters, meeting people such as interesting NPCs that could use a hand or robbers looking for a quick score, as well as, events like the party's sand-speeder breaking down or tropical storm.

If you don't want to go that far, do the above but on a smaller scale.  Not every inch of the journey has to be cumbersome or difficult or involved with lore and worldbuilding and whatnot.  Sometimes, I'll have one interesting thing happen on the way to a place and then gloss over the rest... "After investigating that body in the road, you get back on your riding lizard.  Screen-wipe, you reach the cave entrance as the suns are setting."

If I missed anything or didn't answer your question fully, or if I created new questions, definitely let me know.  I'd be happy to keep working on this, going into further detail.
« Last Edit: January 26, 2023, 11:34:44 AM by VengerSatanis »

VengerSatanis

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Re: Advanced RPG wisdom for Game Masters
« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2023, 11:39:22 AM »
Interesting posts! I too have been at odds with player memory. As GM, deferring the majority can be difficult, but it's necessary to maintain flow/vibe as you said. The GM has total power to re-jig things, the players do not. When it happens to me, I consider it a lesson is how to explain things better.

Yes, individual GM judgement will decide when to maintain a position and keep arguing a point versus letting the players determine some aspect of in-game reality that they feel certain should be just so.  If you're not sure which to go with, ask yourself how important "x" is to the campaign setting.  If the in-game world would be diminished by letting the players steer the ship, then stand your ground.  If the world would either be improved or there'd be virtually no change, let it go.
« Last Edit: January 26, 2023, 11:41:39 AM by VengerSatanis »

Chris24601

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Re: Advanced RPG wisdom for Game Masters
« Reply #5 on: January 26, 2023, 12:39:33 PM »
Hello-

Here's a GM question for you. I view the journey as the heart of an adventure. Sure, there can be a dungeon but getting there should be a major part. How do you make the journey feel like a journey (more than just rolling a few dice for an encounter)?  The One Ring and some other systems have rules that seem cool, but they can end up feeling more like bookkeeping.

How do you combat this issue?

Thanks in advance!

That's a good question, and something I've thought about and struggled with for years. 

First, I'd start by asking myself what I want to get out of the journey part of the adventure.  Do you want the journey to feel like equal parts nuisance and epic adventure?  Would you rather communicate aspects of the world and campaign setting that the PCs just won't get raiding dungeons? 

If I want the journey to far outweigh the destination (and what lies therein), I'd form the adventuring around the actual journey.  I'd create points of interest, rumors, set encounters and also wandering monsters, meeting people such as interesting NPCs that could use a hand or robbers looking for a quick score, as well as, events like the party's sand-speeder breaking down or tropical storm.

If you don't want to go that far, do the above but on a smaller scale.  Not every inch of the journey has to be cumbersome or difficult or involved with lore and worldbuilding and whatnot.  Sometimes, I'll have one interesting thing happen on the way to a place and then gloss over the rest... "After investigating that body in the road, you get back on your riding lizard.  Screen-wipe, you reach the cave entrance as the suns are setting."

If I missed anything or didn't answer your question fully, or if I created new questions, definitely let me know.  I'd be happy to keep working on this, going into further detail.
My personal answer to the above is that to make the journey into the heart of the adventure you first need to make sure the journey portion can’t just be sidestepped.

This is less about setting as it is about structure. The modern world has cars and aircraft that can get you just about anywhere on Earth in days at most and yet stories involving a journey are still told every day.

The important part is often that the people on the journey aren’t absolutely certain of their destination. They are seeking something (physical or ephemeral) and the search requires them to not skip the journey lest they miss a clue or signpost critical to finding what they seek.

A prime example of this would be if not just the item the party seeks, but the location of the dungeon it is said to be found in is lost. Thus, the journey becomes seeking out the clues to find the dungeon.

From a DMing structure standpoint, one thing that really helps for this is to expand the concept of the dungeon to the broader world. A dungeon is just a series of encounter areas with pre-set paths between them (you can go left or right but not straight). The location of the encounters needed to find the lost dungeon can be thought of the same way.

You start at the entrance to the journey with a single direction you can go (into the dungeon/journey). With each encounter resolution it opens up one or more paths you can take (the hallway to the left or right/a clue leading to location A or B). Some rooms/locations are red herrings or unconnected from the main dungeon (that forgotten crypt of the old king in the ruin now used as a goblin stronghold), but help the characters to grow or advance in some other way (gain a magic sword or allies that might come in handy later). Secret doors/well hidden clues might offer shortcuts to reach the destination (but should usually have complications of their own).

Just arrange your map of clues and what they lead to so that all paths eventually converge on your destination and you’re good.

Throw in some wandering monster encounters (perhaps someone seeking the same thing you are or guardians seeking to keep the lost dungeon lost… plus completely random ones like hungry monsters or greedy bandits) and you’ve now got a fully functional dungeon adventure in the guise of a journey.

jhkim

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Re: Advanced RPG wisdom for Game Masters
« Reply #6 on: January 26, 2023, 02:09:39 PM »
Here's a GM question for you. I view the journey as the heart of an adventure. Sure, there can be a dungeon but getting there should be a major part. How do you make the journey feel like a journey (more than just rolling a few dice for an encounter)?  The One Ring and some other systems have rules that seem cool, but they can end up feeling more like bookkeeping.

If I want the journey to far outweigh the destination (and what lies therein), I'd form the adventuring around the actual journey.  I'd create points of interest, rumors, set encounters and also wandering monsters, meeting people such as interesting NPCs that could use a hand or robbers looking for a quick score, as well as, events like the party's sand-speeder breaking down or tropical storm.

My personal answer to the above is that to make the journey into the heart of the adventure you first need to make sure the journey portion can’t just be sidestepped.

This is less about setting as it is about structure. The modern world has cars and aircraft that can get you just about anywhere on Earth in days at most and yet stories involving a journey are still told every day.

The important part is often that the people on the journey aren’t absolutely certain of their destination. They are seeking something (physical or ephemeral) and the search requires them to not skip the journey lest they miss a clue or signpost critical to finding what they seek.

I partly agree with both of those, but I'd add a slightly different take. The important thing to make the journey interesting is choice. This is consistent with what Venger and Chris24601 said, but it's a different emphasis.

A dungeon which consists of just a linear track of one room after another is boring. Likewise, a journey which is only about encountering one obstacle after another is boring.

The players need to be able to learn new information, and make choices based on information, and those choices should have consequences and they learn things from that. For example, they might have to go through goblin territory, and they can choose different routes which have different risks - like the high route which is faster and they can see danger approaching, but makes them more visible. Or the low route where they have low visibility but also might get bogged down.

They can have encounters with NPCs along the way who have conflicting information about their destination, and about the route. Some of those might be rivals, or bandits.

Fixed obstacles or random encounter tables don't add choice, so they can add some interest but it's crucial to add choices as well.

VengerSatanis

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Re: Advanced RPG wisdom for Game Masters
« Reply #7 on: January 27, 2023, 10:35:53 AM »
Hello-

Here's a GM question for you. I view the journey as the heart of an adventure. Sure, there can be a dungeon but getting there should be a major part. How do you make the journey feel like a journey (more than just rolling a few dice for an encounter)?  The One Ring and some other systems have rules that seem cool, but they can end up feeling more like bookkeeping.

How do you combat this issue?

Thanks in advance!

That's a good question, and something I've thought about and struggled with for years. 

First, I'd start by asking myself what I want to get out of the journey part of the adventure.  Do you want the journey to feel like equal parts nuisance and epic adventure?  Would you rather communicate aspects of the world and campaign setting that the PCs just won't get raiding dungeons? 

If I want the journey to far outweigh the destination (and what lies therein), I'd form the adventuring around the actual journey.  I'd create points of interest, rumors, set encounters and also wandering monsters, meeting people such as interesting NPCs that could use a hand or robbers looking for a quick score, as well as, events like the party's sand-speeder breaking down or tropical storm.

If you don't want to go that far, do the above but on a smaller scale.  Not every inch of the journey has to be cumbersome or difficult or involved with lore and worldbuilding and whatnot.  Sometimes, I'll have one interesting thing happen on the way to a place and then gloss over the rest... "After investigating that body in the road, you get back on your riding lizard.  Screen-wipe, you reach the cave entrance as the suns are setting."

If I missed anything or didn't answer your question fully, or if I created new questions, definitely let me know.  I'd be happy to keep working on this, going into further detail.
My personal answer to the above is that to make the journey into the heart of the adventure you first need to make sure the journey portion can’t just be sidestepped.

This is less about setting as it is about structure. The modern world has cars and aircraft that can get you just about anywhere on Earth in days at most and yet stories involving a journey are still told every day.

The important part is often that the people on the journey aren’t absolutely certain of their destination. They are seeking something (physical or ephemeral) and the search requires them to not skip the journey lest they miss a clue or signpost critical to finding what they seek.

A prime example of this would be if not just the item the party seeks, but the location of the dungeon it is said to be found in is lost. Thus, the journey becomes seeking out the clues to find the dungeon.

From a DMing structure standpoint, one thing that really helps for this is to expand the concept of the dungeon to the broader world. A dungeon is just a series of encounter areas with pre-set paths between them (you can go left or right but not straight). The location of the encounters needed to find the lost dungeon can be thought of the same way.

You start at the entrance to the journey with a single direction you can go (into the dungeon/journey). With each encounter resolution it opens up one or more paths you can take (the hallway to the left or right/a clue leading to location A or B). Some rooms/locations are red herrings or unconnected from the main dungeon (that forgotten crypt of the old king in the ruin now used as a goblin stronghold), but help the characters to grow or advance in some other way (gain a magic sword or allies that might come in handy later). Secret doors/well hidden clues might offer shortcuts to reach the destination (but should usually have complications of their own).

Just arrange your map of clues and what they lead to so that all paths eventually converge on your destination and you’re good.

Throw in some wandering monster encounters (perhaps someone seeking the same thing you are or guardians seeking to keep the lost dungeon lost… plus completely random ones like hungry monsters or greedy bandits) and you’ve now got a fully functional dungeon adventure in the guise of a journey.

If you really want to get into the weeds of journey adventuring, you're basically talking about a hexcrawl.  A hexcrawl is, in my opinion, a different animal.  Instead of making the journey interesting and memorable on the way to the destination, the journey becomes the destination.  By that I mean the journey is the entire adventure.  So, if you're interested in that kind of emphasis, I recommend hexcrawl tutorials.  But those procedural methods have already been long established.  If, however, I come up with something new to say or a better procedure, I'll include it.  This book isn't about reinventing the wheel but showing GMs that where we're going, we don't need wheels... or roads.

VengerSatanis

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Re: Advanced RPG wisdom for Game Masters
« Reply #8 on: January 27, 2023, 10:37:23 AM »
Here's a GM question for you. I view the journey as the heart of an adventure. Sure, there can be a dungeon but getting there should be a major part. How do you make the journey feel like a journey (more than just rolling a few dice for an encounter)?  The One Ring and some other systems have rules that seem cool, but they can end up feeling more like bookkeeping.

If I want the journey to far outweigh the destination (and what lies therein), I'd form the adventuring around the actual journey.  I'd create points of interest, rumors, set encounters and also wandering monsters, meeting people such as interesting NPCs that could use a hand or robbers looking for a quick score, as well as, events like the party's sand-speeder breaking down or tropical storm.

My personal answer to the above is that to make the journey into the heart of the adventure you first need to make sure the journey portion can’t just be sidestepped.

This is less about setting as it is about structure. The modern world has cars and aircraft that can get you just about anywhere on Earth in days at most and yet stories involving a journey are still told every day.

The important part is often that the people on the journey aren’t absolutely certain of their destination. They are seeking something (physical or ephemeral) and the search requires them to not skip the journey lest they miss a clue or signpost critical to finding what they seek.

I partly agree with both of those, but I'd add a slightly different take. The important thing to make the journey interesting is choice. This is consistent with what Venger and Chris24601 said, but it's a different emphasis.

A dungeon which consists of just a linear track of one room after another is boring. Likewise, a journey which is only about encountering one obstacle after another is boring.

The players need to be able to learn new information, and make choices based on information, and those choices should have consequences and they learn things from that. For example, they might have to go through goblin territory, and they can choose different routes which have different risks - like the high route which is faster and they can see danger approaching, but makes them more visible. Or the low route where they have low visibility but also might get bogged down.

They can have encounters with NPCs along the way who have conflicting information about their destination, and about the route. Some of those might be rivals, or bandits.

Fixed obstacles or random encounter tables don't add choice, so they can add some interest but it's crucial to add choices as well.

Yes, choice, like player agency, are fundamental (no matter the context) and shall not be infringed!

Spinachcat

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Re: Advanced RPG wisdom for Game Masters
« Reply #9 on: January 27, 2023, 04:09:10 PM »
I view the journey as the heart of an adventure. Sure, there can be a dungeon but getting there should be a major part. How do you make the journey feel like a journey (more than just rolling a few dice for an encounter)? 

Do your players also share the journey as the heart of an adventure concept?
That's would be my major concern in regards to table expectations.

RPG sessions just a series of enounters / events / challenges (whatever you want to call them). If your GM style is attached to storytelling tradition, your adventures will have a three act structure of beginning / middle / end with escalating threats with revelations built upon earlier events.

Thus, it doesn't really matter WHERE these encounters happen. The rooms of a dungeon could easily be ruins along the King's Road.

Modern travel takes us swiftly and mostly directly from Point A to Point B. This was not true for lengthy travels in the ancient past. The further you went from civilization, the less likely roads exist and more likely the chaos of nature will be in control - aka, the journey could involve numerous twists and turns, hard choices of where to avoid vs. where might be safe to travel.

For players to make meaningful choices, the wilderness can't be a blank slate where they bumble from hex to hex. NPCs must have told tales, the lore of the region must be known so the PCs know the Hills of Galvanon are the home to giant beasts whereas the River Ba'allo is sacred to the undead.

This knowledge doesn't need to be pages of notes the players will never read. Instead, remember that people gather in taverns to CAROUSE - eat, drink, be merry and tell stories. They have no TV sets or internet to amuse them, instead they had storytellers, rumor mongers, lying poets and wanderers who survived when others died.


Mishihari

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Re: Advanced RPG wisdom for Game Masters
« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2023, 07:07:36 PM »
I also like the journey being an adventure itself, but I don’t think it’s well supported by any RPGs that I’ve seen.  The thing about journeys, especially in premodern times, is that they can be challenging, dangerous, and can kill you even without monsters.  Easy examples are the journey through Mirkwood, the Odyssey, and Oregon Trail.  Heat, cold, starvation, thirst, disease, exhaustion, bad weather, exposure, falls, getting lost, insects, and spoilage can all be lethal.  While I don’t think dying of dysentery 50% of the time a la Oregon Trail would be fun, I would at least like to see a nod in this direction.  I think that making this happen requires mechanics built around food and water supplies, money, foraging, weather, and fatigue, and adventures that have meaningful decisions based around these factors.  Add in the monster, traps, and meeting interesting and exotic people that are already found in most RPGs, and you can have a journey as an adventure.

Mishihari

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Re: Advanced RPG wisdom for Game Masters
« Reply #11 on: January 28, 2023, 03:13:02 PM »
I just read the samples and the both make good points and are entertaining to read.  It would help me if you put in a bit at the end where you summarized your point.  I got to the end and then had to go back up to the top for a scan to put all the pieces together and make sure that my initial impression was what you were actually saying.  That's a useful pedagogical paradigm too:  if someone's willing to make the effort, they can better absorb the info that way than with just a summary,  but I'm lazy and would rather you just told me at the end.

Spinachcat

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Re: Advanced RPG wisdom for Game Masters
« Reply #12 on: January 28, 2023, 08:50:59 PM »
I also like the journey being an adventure itself, but I don’t think it’s well supported by any RPGs that I’ve seen.

Mazes & Minotaurs does a good job with the concept of Island to Island quests, but the entirety of their support is easy island generators and the general concept of the Greco-Hollywood genre of seafaring & island & monster filled ruins.


VengerSatanis

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Re: Advanced RPG wisdom for Game Masters
« Reply #13 on: January 29, 2023, 11:13:35 AM »
I just read the samples and the both make good points and are entertaining to read.  It would help me if you put in a bit at the end where you summarized your point.  I got to the end and then had to go back up to the top for a scan to put all the pieces together and make sure that my initial impression was what you were actually saying.  That's a useful pedagogical paradigm too:  if someone's willing to make the effort, they can better absorb the info that way than with just a summary,  but I'm lazy and would rather you just told me at the end.

I appreciate the feedback, hoss!

Once you read the whole book, it'll become easier to absorb.  I estimate something like 30 essays that all revolve around the same 6 or 7 main points, from different angles and perspectives.  They're also meant to be read multiple times over the years... which can become tedious if each essay starts with a point, elaborates on that point, and then goes back to restating the point.  At least, that's my opinion.

VengerSatanis

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Re: Advanced RPG wisdom for Game Masters
« Reply #14 on: January 29, 2023, 11:17:05 AM »

This is the 3rd and final essay (until you read the actual book, obviously)...

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/vengersatanis/advanced-game-mastering-like-a-fucking-boss/posts/3718437