Two quick stories:
- My wife watches a fair amount of "redecorating television," and I’ll admit to being sucked into a show or two. One of the recurring plots of this type of show involves designers who do not listen to the clients. Instead, they often decorate to impress other designers, or build the living space that they would prefer, instead of what the clients asked for in the first place.
- For a year, my college roommate was a drama jock. He would go on for hours about how innovative and revolutionary certain directors or set designers were, but when I would attend the performances, it was all lost on me. Hell, just finding the basic plot amidst the revolutionary innovation was often difficult enough. The directors and designers were trying to impress each other, not necessarily their audience.
See where I’m going here? Listen to your players, yourself included. Don’t impose the latest indie game craze on them, if they’re not interested. (Although feel free to ask if they are interested. C’mon, the first one’s free…)
Avoid controversial social or political commentary, if you have mixed opinions in your group. Or even if you don’t think you have a mixed group; many of us gamers have learned to be pretty good at social camouflage.
Don’t try to impress anyone but your group. Your gaming heroes may love your choice of system, genre, setting, or storyline. But they are not at your table; your group is. Remember who your audience is.
My confession: I’ve done this more often than I’m proud of. Not intentionally, but I’ve fallen in
love lust with a system or campaign setting or story idea, and dragged my players along. Sometimes it’s worked out better than it should have. Other times… well, let’s not go there.
Okay, there was True20, but that really should have been a good system. (Actually, it’s more than adequate as a system; my executive decision to run with it was the problem.) I’ve repeatedly apologized for my four-page House Rules document; my bad. And there was the Easter game, where the group had to save the dragon’s egg from the evil princess. Um, yeah…
Ahem. Have you learned this lesson the hard way, too? Got any stories to share? Have a different opinion? Sound off in the comments and let us know!
“Listen to your players, yourself included.”
I really like that. All too often I have consistently succeeded at the first part, but failed to uphold the later.
It is important for a GM to know what he wants from a game/system/setting whatever just as much as he should be listening to what his players want.
It seems so obvious, but I will often neglect my own gaming wants in a desire to fulfill the gaming wishes of others. There has to be a happy medium to be found. I just wish it were a bit easier to find it.
Bryan, you are so right.
I had a very popular Pathfinder game going, but it was dragging me down. I’m just not into high crunch games anymore, and as the GM, I still have the old school idea that I should understand the rules better than anyone. My players were eating up both my stories, my setting (Freeport), and the crunchy rules system. I wanted to go read a book every time combat broke out. I rushed the ending of the campaign, and there were many complaints.
But I was just so done with it.
Then I flipped, and listened only to me. My players enjoyed my Pathfinder game, surely they would follow me into a new one! Right? I was very excited by Ashen Stars. I still am, but have no one left over from my old campaign. I’ve found a few new players, but it’s been a struggle.
Pathfinder is dragging me down too. I am also growing weary of high crunch games that suck the life out of the GM. My players are great. The first installment of the adventure path was great. The 2nd installment requires more prep on my part. I’ve spent the last week trying to prep a game. I couldn’t get Hero Lab to do what I wanted it to and it was frustrating. I tried to read the section on manually adjusting monsters for other CRs and my brain just melted.
Then an epiphany struck me: Why the hell am I running a system that requires so much effort, especially one that pretty much needs a computer program to try and keep track of everything? I’m 43 years old and have run every edition of D&D since 1981 Red Box. Why have things gotten so complex? I used to do the same general thing without a PC and without bashing my head into a wall over it.
I love playing Pathfinder. Even making a character for it (using Hero Lab) can be fun. But prepping it and running it is just hell without an adventure path or module and is still kind of a pain with one of those.
I haven’t come up with a solution yet that will keep the campaign intact but for now it has been postponed. I’ve had a rough week in real life and that may have brought my frustration with the system to a boiling point. But it is something that has been simmering on the burner for a while now. Maybe it will be good to reflect on all this during the break.
I really want to find a solution that will work for everyone. But that might be tricky.
I too have had a wain in my love of pathfinder, so I chose Dungeon World. My players are engaged and happy, and I have to be creative.
I disagree with leaving social commentary out of the game. I think that roleplaying games are an excellent place to explore challenges we all face or see in real life. I’ve peppered my game world with plenty of moral quandaries that parallel real life, both current events and historical. You do have to be careful with it, though. Don’t clobber the group with your own viewpoint. Set up situations in which the players, through their characters, choose how to respond. If the issue is especially sensitive, try addressing it through allegory. Change names and symbols so that players don’t need to get caught up in what “actually” happened.
To clarify, introducing social issues is okay, if a possible minefield. But explicit social commentary, or using your game to pass judgment on the real world, can go pear shaped pretty quickly.
Guilty as charged. Sometimes you fall in love with an idea, and you just know it’ll be great… so you forget to get buy-in. Or you find yourself taking more and more shortcuts to avoid the tedium…
Listening to your players is key. Listening to the voice that tells you that it’s not something you can sustain will help keep you from Phil or Walt’s mentioned cycle of ending before a game gets started (in Odyssey).
I like the idea of trying to rescue the Dragon’s egg from the evil princess. I hope you don’t mind if I try that one next Easter.
It was really simple, but over-the-top. I tried to combine the themes of sacrifice, rebirth, new birth, and eggs into a semi-coherent whole.
Magically summoned to an incompetent but wealthy kingdom (East Hur; I punned mercilessly), the party is to fight a dragon. Once they kill it, they will be instantly returned to their homes. Leaving the palace, they find that the peasants are little more than slaves, but there is no military or police presence.
The dragon (at the limit of the party’s abilities, especially outdoors) confronts them, asking about her egg, which has been stolen by one of the king’s many daughters, who has since disappeared. Dialogue reveals that a king long ago ‘imprinted’ a dragon hatchling, and put it under a curse/geas to protect and enforce peace on the kingdom ever since. The military and police have atrophied, and the current king uses the threat of the dragon to enforce his will on the populace. The princess wants her own dragon, to challenge for the throne.
To the dragon, her egg is more important than her imprinting/geas, so she’s willing to violate her geas by looking for it. The closer it gets to hatching, the more she’s willing to risk death by violating her geas, so that her child is not cursed as she is.
The princess is hidden in an abandoned fort, and the egg is with her, and ready to hatch. The dragon will gladly take the egg and hide it far away, and return once it has hatched, so that the party may slay her, thus freeing them and allowing her hatchling to grow free, and forcing the kingdom to return to some semblance of socio-economic balance.
The themes got hopelessly muddled in the puns and light-heartedness of the game, and it didn’t go over very well. Were I to run it again, I’d use a phoenix; the dragon’s sacrifice was an downer that I couldn’t inflict on what had turned into a light-hearted game. I’d also use less descriptive text and more interaction to show the players how corrupt and decadent the kingdom had become.
I second dungeon world for a fantasy replacement to Pathfinder. It was a joy to play, and its mechanics work well to get the players creating the story as much as the GM. It is low to know prep and is fast paced (it won’t bog down in combat).
Of course, as noted, make sure to get buy in from the players.
Another alternative that I believe Kurt is a big fan of is Savage Worlds. It simplifies the crunch and is a good toolkit system. It’s slogan is “Fast,Furious, Fun!” I would put savage worlds between Pathfinder and Dungeon World in regards to complexity for the GM.
That is correct. I am a confirmed Savage, having run it in the fantasy, sci-fi, and modern horror genres.