Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Best Practices

I've spent enough of my life working at a desk to lean away from the phrase "best practices." But this challenge from the Hill Cantons blog sounds interesting:

  1. Name three “best practices” you possess as a GM. What techniques do you think you excel at?
  2. What makes those techniques work? Why do they “pop”?
  3. How do you do it? What are the tricks you use? What replicable, nuts-and-bolts tips can you share?
I'm late to the party. The project got off the ground last August, and even put out a PDF. I'm looking forward to reading it -- after I answer these questions myself. Don't want to taint the sample.

SUMMARY: I do the voices. I make NPCs I don't need. I treat PC mechanics as if they were goat entrails. And as a fourth bonus point, I keep it busy.

DO THE VOICES: I like adventures about people. So there are gonna be NPCs. Some constant, some recurring, some one-offs. And because my players like adventures about people, I'll have to improvise any number of innkeepers and fixers and intrepid reporters and muleskinners and droid repairmen and lackwit potboys, perhaps all trapped in the same elevator. So I do voices for as many as I can. Not always literal voices -- I'm fair-to-middlin' at accents, no better -- but I try to give every NPC some trait that's more than a sentence of descriptive prose. Accent, hand gesture, speech pattern, eye contact, body posture, nervous twitch. They don't all come out immediately, lest the players realize how few tricks I have in that particular bag, but any sustained interaction will produce it. That gets the players away from Playing The Game and into Being Their Character, which is what I enjoy the most.

MAKE NPCS YOU DON'T NEED: I just enjoy making characters. Give me a game with robust PC-creation mechanics, or with an evocative theme, and I'll spend a couple hours just creating dudes. Doesn't matter if it's a game I'm running or playing; character generation is its own reward for me. And when someone says "We should play Cyberpunk again!" or "I have this superhero I'd like to play for a while...", I've got a bunch of material ready to launch. Because when I make characters, I also make connections between characters. I brainstorm and write down encounters or stories or odd, spiky fragments connected to these characters. With a decent character generation system you can churn out 12 NPCs in a hurry, plot out some connections, and you've got as much campaign as you'll need for a long time.

GOAT ENTRAILS: Everybody made the character they did for a reason. They made the character they want to play. So look at that PC -- see what it can do, what it carries around, what it lacks -- and run an adventure that showcases these strengths and pounces on these weaknesses. Offer up situations that play to each PC's main stuff. Have a couple encounters in your back pocket for their lesser stuff. Occasionally highlight this lesser stuff -- my recent Cyberpunk story came about because my wife's character had invested a few points in the "fly an AV-4" skill and we thought it would be fun to do just that.

KEEP THEM BUSY: Boredom is the enemy of fun. Duh. So make sure something is happening. If any player -- ANY player individually -- has gone 10-15 minutes without engaging in activity, it's time for Something To Happen. Goons with guns kick in the door. The walls start closing in. Eerie piping music that only they can hear. Slime bubbles up from everywhere. A cryptic 3-word phone call. I don't care what it is, just give them something to do/solve/escape.


  1. Doesn't matter if it's a game I'm running or playing; character generation is its own reward for me.

    When I was first getting into RPGs I used to do this a lot. Then I sort of fell out of the habit. I should get back into it. Aside from the many benefits you point out, it's also a great way to get and remain familiar with a system.

  2. That's always been my excuse for doing it. But the truth is that I just love making characters. Every couple of years I throw out a folder's worth of unused, unneeded, unknown people who just showed up in my life one dull Saturday afternoon.