One of the hardest parts of running a table-top roleplaying game, whether you are a Dungeon Master (DM), a Gamemaster (GM) or a Storyteller(ST), is juggling all of the hats that you have to wear during a session. You have to be a Storyteller, a Referee, a Judge, a Mediator, a Talented Note-Taker, an Expert on the Rules, and most importantly – a Multi-Tasker.
Here you are, sitting down to play a fun-filled game with your friends, gathered around a table and out of everyone involved – you’re not having fun. That is one of the surest ways to reach GM-Burnout – fast. Session after session you are running games, adjudicating rules, mediating between players, and you just can’t see why you keep doing it. Well, have a read. Here are a few tools to help you have fun during your next #RPG game!
1. Why are you doing everything? Have you asked yourself this question? I am betting you haven’t. You sit down at the table, you shuffle through your notes, you draw out your maps, you make notes about where the party left off and where they are going. You set up your screen, your dice and get something to drink. During the game, you make notes on initiative, who get’s what treasure, how much damage the NPCs have taken, and who lives & who dies. Back to the question at hand, why are you doing everything? Step one – Write down all of the things that you do during the course of a game. Step two – read through them and mark which ones must absolutely be done by the GM. Step three – parcel those tasks out. Have a player who sits around on his iPad most of the game? Make him keep track of initiative. Have a player who is nit-picky over who gets what treasurer? Put him in charge of keep track of everything and then doling it out in the end. Have a writer in the group? Have him take notes and keep track of what has happened. The point is as we say in the military – DELEGATE.
2. It’s called ROLE-PLAYING for a reason. That’s right, it’s role-playing, not roll-playing. You’re telling a shared, collective story between you and the players, not standing around the Craps table shooting bones for cash: Act like it. Give your players the opportunity to act like their characters. One of the ways I do this during my games normally coincides when I need a break or to research something. I explain where they are, what is happening, who is around and then (much like a conductor at a symphony) I state – “role-play!” And they do. I’ve looked up from books because my players have gotten so into their roles that the conversation soon becomes entertainment. Let your players play, and enjoy what they come up with. You never know, their acting might lead the game in a direction you hadn’t thought of.
3. Master the art of “Yes! and…” Something that is used in business is called “Yes, and…”. To put simply, when someone offers an idea, instead of considering why it can’t be done, say yes to it, but build. You have a player who wants to play an assassin, but you’re not sure how it will work in your current setting. Don’t immediately say no. Say yes, and… it just so happens that this tiny network of assassins, while well known, and highly prized, is wanted by the King’s Royal Guard. Now you’ve allowed your player to have some fun (playing the class he wants), you’ve easily developed a story arc in your game and you’ve given constraints that will make the player work harder to have the character.
4. Go Digital. Just so you know, it’s 2015, it’s not like 1985 or anything. We’ve hit the twenty-first century, you know the so called “Digital Age”. There are a myriad number of tools out there to help you keep track of every little bit of your game that you need. Here is just a smattering of those tools you could consider using:
Roll20 – A website that allows you not only play your game across the interwebs but keeps track of player character sheets, notes, handouts and more!
Evernote – This handy little program/app, which can be used cross platforms, allows you to manage all of your notes and lists. The newest features allow you to share projects and chat. Imagine!
Scrivner – It’s not just for writers anymore! This handy tool allows you to plot, flesh out and track an entire story, with images! Want 50% off? Complete the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and you’ll get just that.
Google Drive – A great file-sharing service through Google. All you need is an account and who doesn’t have one of those…?
Dropbox – The premiere file-sharing program. My groups use this for everything from characters sheets to notes, to experience trackers.
Obsidian Portal – Here you can plan, write up and manage an entire game. Everything from notes, maps, character sheets, journal and more.
5. Lists, Lists, Lists and… oh, more LISTS! Get a notebook. Make a new one in Evernote. Use a three-ring binder. I don’t care what it is, but have something you can keep multiple lists in. Every time you see a name that piques your interests, write it down. People’s names, Town & Village names, Country names, Monster names, anything and everything, write them down and when you need one, check the list. It can slow down play when you are hunting through the interwebs for names.
6. Last, but not least – Stop Batch Processing. This is a no-no in the industrial world and it should be in your games. Most games go something like this. Everyone rolls initiative. The order is Bob, Steve, David, Carol and Jan. Bob goes first. Chooses his target, rolls his attack, rolls his damage and describes what he does. Then it is Steve’s turn. Steve chooses his target, rolls his attack, rolls…. ARGH! Stop it! Stop it now, kill it with a fork! IT’S DONE! This was started back before Gary Gygax added it to D&D. It creates a slinky effect, where there is action, a pause and then more action. You can break the cycle. Here’s how –
a. On Deck – That’s right, much like a major-league baseball game, have the player who is on deck already to go. In fact, have him roll his attack roll while he is waiting for his turn. When it comes, he simply has to make a damage roll and describe his actions.
b. Rolls then Descriptions – I’ve used this in some games. Everyone makes their attack rolls, including you, the GM, their damage rolls. Once the math is out of the way it is a more streamlined, fluid walk-through of the fight from a descriptive standpoint.
I hope that these tips help. That they give you some food for thought and that you even consider putting them into action at your next game. If you do, send me a message, leave a comment and tell me how they worked out for you. Cheers!