Roleplaying Tips had a nifty article way back in issue #139 that I hadn’t seen before: The Art Of The Poker Face.
Not tipping your hand (to continue the theme) to your players is always an important consideration, and being able to maintain a neutral expression is very handy. My poker face is pretty awful, although I sometimes thing it’s working well. I’m sure that over the years my players have been able to read my expression just fine even when I thought I was being sneaky.
I’ve never considered practicing my poker face, though, and that’s what this article advocates. My favorite tip is this one: don’t show your teeth.
Keep your lips together, but not tightly, when showing your poker face. The mouth supports your whole facial expression, and, if you can control your mouth, adopting a good poker face is much easier.
That sounds like a pretty easy thing to remember during games, and a good start towards perfecting your poker face.
If you don’t have a poker face, appear to get distracted by something… looking up a rule, checking your notes, text messaging someone, getting a drink, anything…
Many a look of sheer joy at the players’ confusion/decision has been buried in the ‘fridge.
Sometimes I like to act like I can’t manage a poker face and that the players “caught me”. A few of these false positive checks on the players part makes them reluctant to trust any expression that I make.
Yep, sometimes I hide behind the screen using my hand to hide my mouth. I appear to be deep in concentration over my notes when I’m really just hiding the evil GM giggles.
I’m a fan of the ol’ tried and true method of unnecessary dice rolls behind the screen while looking intently at my notes – throws the players off when they start getting too cocky. 🙂
I find that it’s easiest for me to keep a poker face when I focus on what I want the players to believe I’m thinking, instead of just keeping a neutral face. For one thing, that perfectly neutral “No expression! You see nothing!” look can be a dead give-away that you’re trying to hide something. For another, focusing on something other than the mess the players are about to get themselves in to can sometimes distract me enough to keep from grinning.
Oh boy. What an foul snippet hides behind the link.
For example, a smug look on your face could tip the players off that they’re forgetting something, like doing a search. A smile you couldn’t mask lets the players know they’re headed in the wrong direction towards the special surprise you had prepared.
Beg your pardon! Since when did games become more fun by pixelbitching?
“GM: There is a large room in front of you..
Players: We search the room!
GM: You find nothing, there are corridors to left..
Players: We search the corridor!
GM: Nothing, and right..
Players: (panicky) We search IT!”
Even something like noticing players forget a rope when going mountaineering and then trying to hide your giggles is childish. Players forgot. The characters spend days planning. Do you really think they will? And more importantly: Do you see any possibility of this making the game more fun on constant basis? I think the word your looking for is Tedious.
And more over, what is the worst that happens when players know that you’re planning something? “GM is planning something? That means fun, right?”
I could write a full page on how to avoid most problems with metagaming and trust me: poker face is not one of them.
— You in this post is not You the Reader but You the dude who wrote the original. Or even some You of Your choice.
I’ve got a horrible poker face. My one player used to invite me out to lunch before our games, and start asking me questions about what was going on. I had to hide my face behind menus so he didn’t get all the information he was going after.
Usually it just resulted in me changing my plans for the session, and then making them worse for his character. He picked up on it and eventually eased back, but I will never ever ever gamble because it is too easy to read me when I’m trying to keep something concealed.
(Discordian) And more over, what is the worst that happens when players know that youâ€™re planning something? â€œGM is planning something? That means fun, right?â€
On the flipside, what if they mention a specific plan that just happens to be the exact thing you were planning? For a lot of players, seeing the look of shock on your face — the look that reveals they’ve nailed it — might be a good thing, but for some, especially in mystery-oriented games where a lucky guess could bypass huge amounts of material, it wouldn’t be as enjoyable.
That’s where I see your poker face having the greatest utility: when using it keeps your players from finding out something that would make the game less fun for them.
When it descends to the level of pixelbitching, that’s an entirely different problem — bad GMing, in the example you gave. I wouldn’t connect that with the notion of using your poker face as a GMing tool, though.
Here I have to confess. I’ve never seen a successful mystery-game where the beef is finding out what the GM had planned. I would categorize these as “way too hard to pull off”.
So, can you describe a good mystery-game for me, where finding out the GM:s plot is the source of fun? I’d like to disagree about this it further 🙂
My stance being, that pacing the game by refusing information is not the bestest idea. It can stall the game when players don’t get it (It is oh so hard to gauge when you’ve given enough clues) or do like you said – someone has a bright idea and..
The only thing I can do to make mysteries interesting is making choice of investigation the important thing: “Do we really want to pose the hard guestions for Nanny Gray since she has a weak heart..” or “Shall we risk it and chase the suspect while it is possible that real killer is ready to strike”.
(Discordian) So, can you describe a good mystery-game for me, where finding out the GM:s plot is the source of fun? Iâ€™d like to disagree about this it further
I don’t want to try and lay out an entire sample mystery plot, but what I had in mind was a chance discovery very early on — something that it would have been more fun to find out over the course of the entire session — that gave your players a shortcut to the end of the scenario.
That situation might not bother everyone, but it would kind of bother me (both as a player and a GM), and I suspect most groups would find missing out on the evening’s entertainment at least a little bit annoying.