GM Tips, hosted by the talented veteran Game Master Satine Phoenix, is our show to help Dungeon Masters and Game Masters improve their craft and create memorable roleplaying experiences. Last week, epic homebrew was the theme, and to flip the table, here is how you play dirty as a GM.
So far this series of articles has been about playing nice with our tender players. Catering them, giving tips on how to foster a safe character environment to grow into epic bad asses. No longer. Today is about a different set of GM Tips – playing dirty. How to pull the rug under those players feats, regardless of min-maxed immortal kobolds. The best part of these tips (besides being downright evil) is the system agnostic nature of them. So for you non-D&D GM’s, don’t hesitate to dive in.
On GM Tips with Satine Phoenix, her and guest John Wick come together to discuss ways to manipulate and customize your game for a more personalized experience. Get caught up below!
It’s important to understand that the players who sit down at John’s table know what they are getting into ahead of time. If you’ve got a group of players that would enjoy that style, go ahead and pay off the delivery person to be an NPC. Don’t even be shy about asking them to help, chances are they play too! But, here are three more tips for playing dirty that require a little fewer theatrics.
Your Players Build Better Characters
No matter how much we upsell our talents as GM’s in worldbuilding, story crafting, epic monster fights one small thing will always be inevitable—your players will build better characters. Before you scoff at this idea, think about it for a minute. Sure, we storytellers can toss down a mean hombre at any point in time, but your players have spent hours pouring over the books. They know every spell their PC has, and have probably gotten more trinkets, awards, reputation or other benefits along the way as well. So what does this mean when you are finally victorious in sending one into the afterlife? Or if that player decides to have a case of character-itis and swaps to a new PC?
Steal the old one. Just slide that sheet right into your folder. Erase the name, change a few details, and re-purpose it to something else. Over the years I’ve found old player characters (even from other games with other groups) to be the most challenging antagonists than anything else. Is it a cheap trick? Yeah, it is. But dropping in one or two of these fully fleshed PC sheets into your world just adds a spice of creativity that can enhance your world setting. I’ve even used characters and character backstory across game systems. Once, I took an awesome orc from one D&D group and ported it into Shadowrun for a completely different table. The best part was that both groups absolutely loved the idea when it happened, then hated me when that orc filled their rigger with lead.
Tapping my evil friend network is my go-to dirty trick these days. Due to circumstances that always happen in life, one of our friends (or more) get stuck moving away to some other part of the world (which may as well be Narnia). For better or worse. But they still want to play. While Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds are all the rage for linking people up, I’ve gotta be honest and say that it’s just not my style. I don’t like having a group of physical players, and then someone there on Skype. So I’ve shifted the tactic entirely: I make this friend the arch-villain.
Every month or in between game systems, I have a quick email or Skype session with that player one-on-one and drop their character in the world. From vampire hunters to CEO’s of Mega Corporations to Red Wizards, my friends have played it all. Inviting outside parties to the table and letting those players cut loose creates interesting scenarios that are outside of your usual wheelhouse. There is a particularly great thrill when the villain player crafts a henchman and sets them into play, waiting to see if the players can take it out or if the henchmen will succeed. For a final bit of fun, when that player is in town for the holidays (or to raid your fridge), they can finally sit down for the great reveal and have a magnificent reveal at the table.
Loot Your PC’s
This is more of an endgame tip than it is an early game tip. Wait until your players are curving just past the midpoint around level range 12+ or have earned enough status to hold a position in other settings. Once they’ve hit that mid-range mark go ahead and turn your PC’s into the adventure for other entities in the world. After all, they are walking around with millions of gold pieces, or magical equipment, and have clearly done great deeds by then. Don’t be afraid to throw a rogue guild their way with the sole intention of just pulling a con-game or ripping them off.
If you wanted to take this full circle, you could have a series of remote Machiavellian friends, using their old characters, run a post-by-post play via email on how they would heist the table player characters. Now this may seem like its being pointless, and undoing all the players’ hard work: after all, they earned that loot fair and square. Yes, there is a case for hamstringing your players this way, but we aren’t talking about doing some storyteller fiat and just saying they lost the loot or reputation. The tip is to make the act of getting robbed or conned a story in-and-of-itself. Imagine a blackmail or frame job event if they are that possessive of items. If you really wanted to take it a step further (and I highly recommend it) let your remote band of robber friends pull off this during another campaign to add fuel to the fire. Just be ready for a lot of dead thieves in the street later.
Nothing makes player’s murder NPC’s more than when their own loot gets stolen.
So what tricks do you guys have up your sleeve? Let us know in the comments below!
Looking for More Useful GM Tips?
- Dive further into the realm of Morality with tips on playing evil.
- Get started with basics by identifying your storytelling style.
- Shop the Geek & Sundry store for DM gear, like a “Strongjaw Ale Coaster”
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.