GM Tips is our series to help Storytellers and Game Masters improve their craft and create memorable roleplaying experiences. The GM Quick Tips are single hacks discovered in the minds of storytellers everywhere.
Organized play for tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and White-Wolf are a common sight at conventions everywhere. At larger cons like Origins and GenCon, entire rooms of tables are overfilled with 6-8 players all clamoring for their in-character certificates to level up their characters. Even the storytellers are often incentivized to run for extra perks on top of the ones they get for playing. The goal of organized play at conventions is rarely storyline based, and more-often-than-not about fulfilling the power fantasy of leveling up your characters or getting event-exclusive in-game items.
This trend of chucking mechanical benefits to characters often has the unfortunate side effect of turning your beloved PC into nothing more than a build with points. This isn’t always the case, and there are indeed amazing tables where the storyline is placed front and center. In some cases, companies will sponsor epic storylines that have a direct impact on the written lore in the game—like AEG and Legend of The Five Rings. Even though players still ground through events to earn points, there was a direct storyline effect that would ripple throughout the entire game line.
What can you as a single storyteller do in any system to stand out from the crowd and make an impact at your table regardless of event framework?
Organized play is often ruthless about the leeway storytellers have with their players. If it is not dedicated module rewards, players have little room to earn their freedom. Diablarizing a Justicar in a Vampire Convention would require a meeting of minds from the entire event staff, and if in Adventurers’ League loot and rewards are predetermined. If the modules are being run through a Grindhouse fashion, there is little time for PC development. With all the ambient convention (or local game store) noise in the background, immersion is often a very difficult task.
Use pre-made thank-you notes.
When you sign on to storyteller, you often know your module ahead of time and have the ability to read the story. Take some time and look at the various characters and NPC’s in the world the characters will save or be related too, and if the players are particularly crafty in the event. Reward them! Write up some in character letters from the perspective of NPC’s thanking them for their service. Print them off, dip them in tea and then let them dry. You’ll be left with a parchment that you can roll up and seal, or tie off with string. It’s a quick, easy, arts and crafts project you can do before the game to help your two (or four) hour story stand out. A physical memento that they can take home. It won’t seem like much, but six months later when the memory has faded—an intangible reward like this can spark memories of your small one-shot.
Do you have a quick GM Tip for organized play? Let us know in the comments below!
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Featured Image by: Dogmight Games
Image Credits: Gencon 2015
Rick Heinz is the author of The Seventh Age: Dawn, and a storyteller with a focus on LARPs, Wraith: The Oblivion, Eclipse Phase, and many more. You can follow game or urban fantasy related thingies on Twitter or Facebook.