I get by with a little help from my friends – Part 1/3

April 1, 2011 § Leave a comment


As regular listeners know, I recently attended the Endgame GM (Game Master) seminar. As someone who has been the de facto GM in my group of players for the past sixteen years you might think, what more could he possibly learn about gaming? The answer is a lot. In the last five years since becoming a “professional” storyteller, I have had to forget, re-learn and pick up a host of new skills when it comes to running games. The age old adage that the unexamined life is not worth living is even true when it comes to running games.

No matter how long you have been doing this, it is good to go out and dust off your old techniques and see what else is new out there. This is especially true if you are finding yourself running into problems like; being in a rut, suffering writers block or dealing with players. However, much like a goalie in futbol or hockey, GMing can be a lonely position. Many of us are separate from the camaraderie of the players we work so hard to entertain by benefit of the adversarial role inherent in most of the games we play. We don’t have many people to which we can turn and discuss these issues with more than a sympathetic ear. That is what this event was intended to address.

Thanks to the efforts of Mike Montesa, Chris Hannerhan, Brian Isikoff, Sean Nittner and Ryan Macklin we were given the opportunity to engage with our peers and work out some of these issues with people who have had similar experiences. This was the first of what will hopefully be many more events to come in the future. While not everyone could make it to Endgame (Trust me, if you ever get down to Oakland and the Bay Area check out the store.) we had a great turn out and I hope to bring you some of the choicest tidbits I was able to glean from theses talks.

Spin Up the Jump Drive: Gaining Player Buy-in and Team Building at the Table
by Brian Isikoff

One of the best GMs I have ever had the privilege to meet, let alone call my friend, Brian started things off right with his talk on player buy-in. This idea is all about pulling your players into the game; having them put down the rule books, setting aside their DS and ignoring their iPhones. Instead they begin telling a story that is bigger than their character alone. Brian is famous for his Storyboarding techniques where he will interview the players around the table about the other characters. This is an insanely simple yet affective trick to get the players to buy into not only their own characters, but those around them. Players spend so much of their time inside their own characters heads when they build them that they oft become self contained with little thought given to the others at the table. I have seen people go from intense introspection about their characters to lamenting the fact that game has to begin now they are soo into the process.

Brian also uses the same Storyboarding idea when he is setting up a game as well. This can be used to filter his own ideas with those of the players he has. By asking questions of the players about the world, setting or game he gets to see what they are interested in and then tailor the story he wants to tell to that of the players. A key to using this tool is to know what to ask as questions and what to give as statements. If there is something sacred about your world or setting, don’t ask the players any questions about it or how it works. Statements have %50 less pushback and arguments from players than if you asked it as a question. Next gauge interest in certain subjects with a series of hot and cold questions to the players. To players there is a lot more buy in when you give them questions they can give answers and feedback to and even if it is constrained, they will have a sense of buy-in.

The last thing I want to go over from Brian’s talk is the idea of Audience in roleplaying. This is the idea that at the table you are all the Audience for the game and that there is a meta game going on no matter what. While you don’t want player knowledge to interfere with the narrative of the story, you do want everyone to enjoy the tension you get from knowing the Duke is an evil betrayer or that one of the players in on the take. It may never come up in play or it may be central to the story, but it is much more enjoyable when everyone is in the know. To play with these ideas in the open is better than having to keep everyone in the dark and having a good idea spoiled because not everyone was on the same page.

The take away message that I got from Brian’s talk was not to fear the meta game. Keep your players interested and invested not only in their own characters, but those around them by having them assign characteristics and story to others. Bring in your players to help contribute to the world building along with you to give their characters a sense of place and belonging. Remember that you and your players are all telling a story together, which means that you are also all a part of the audience as well. So don’t hide your ideas away, share them so that everyone knows it is important to you and let them help you to carry your story to its climactic end.

In an effort to spare you, I am going to stop here and pick it up again and again over the course of the week. So stay tuned for Part 2 – Sean Nittner on “Practical Props” and Ryan Macklin’s “Bringing Your A Game,” coming on Monday and ending with Part 3 on Mike Montesa’s “Fall In!” about military themed games and my final thoughts on Wednesday.

-Robert

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