Your gaming group is a relationship. You’ll get excited to play, get super excited early on, and maybe that magic fades with time. Or you’ll sit down at the table and know right away—nope! As the storyteller, knowing your audience is vital, and you should always want to put your best foot forward.
On GM Tips with Satine Phoenix, she has Liam O’Brien on to share their tips for reading your audience. Satine opens with some great life advice about communication and Liam details his experiences with three different groups of various age ranges.
Reading your players and adjusting the game on the fly is a vital skill. Hell, in my current two groups—one group is fine with epic hard mode, the other… not at all. It’s a challenge to keep both groups happy and excited, but here are things you can do at least stoke the fires ahead of time:
System Shop Before You Play!
Not everyone likes dungeon crawling or Gygaxian death traps. I know entire groups of players hate miniatures and maps and would rather drill their eyes out before counting space on a movement grid. Another game master I know, has a strong desire to run a happy, non-epic adventure as a one-shot for fun. There are fans of space adventures, cyberpunk, vampires, and hell… even a game about homeless wizards called Hobomancer.
I can’t stress this enough, but if you are a storyteller starting up a game, come up with a few loose campaign ideas and get your players together first. Ask them outright, “I’ve got a few separate campaign ideas, these are the systems I’m looking at using. What sounds fun to you guys?”
Once you have a choice, then go buy all the books or start writing if you’ve already got them. You need not dive into a game right away—get a good foundation first.
Satine, here is a chicken and egg question for you. Do you prefer to ask the players what kind of campaign they want to play before you write? Or do you like to write a campaign and then ask all your friends to find the perfect players? What’s your style and why?
“Normally I throw together games last minute and invite people who’ve wanted to play without asking them their preference of style, but lately I’ve become more sensitive to what the players want. I love a good mystery, puzzles and mind-bending reality breaking games. Sometimes people want to just kill things. When I design a combat encounter, it’s always more than just killing things, it’s usually a deadly combat puzzle. That’s just how my brain works.”
Taste Test With A One-Shot
Before starting any campaign, I think you should run a one-shot for your players. I’ll admit, I didn’t do this for my most recent campaign I started, but I’ve already run for most of my group—and it already cost me. The campaign world was too complex for some of them with a lot of information. It was a hard world for them to sink their teeth into. So I dialed it back on the fly and just focused on adventuring for now. In most cases though, I open with a one-shot game so we can all get a feel for the system and everyone’s roleplaying (or game mastering style).
So Satine, I’d like to place a bet and say running one-shots is how you found your core gaming group and your own storytelling style. Am I right? Besides the obvious of “getting to know each other” what other benefit do you see to running a one-shot game?
“I had to run one-shot games at the comic store. We had too many beginner players, and I was the one who would teach them. I love one-shot games because I get to really push the players and play with story rather than letting them over consider long story arcs. Everyone knows they have a few hours to play and they buy in faster.”
Let It Go
Channel your inner Disney Princess for this one. Don’t take things too personally. The story you tell may not be the one your players want to play. Get over it. If your gaming group revolts against you, then you aren’t the GM for that group—and that’s okay. Maybe the system was poorly designed (let’s be real, how many of us had to pull out calculators for older systems). Maybe horror just wasn’t what the group wanted, or you devolved too far down into NPC Theatre.
Wrap it up and try it again. The same thing goes for players. If you are the ONLY person who isn’t having a good time, and it’s something you’ve talked through time, and time, and time again. Walk away. I see this a lot in Live Action Role Playing games where players cling to a game that’s… just not for them. Gaming should not be causing you stress, and due to its recent all-time popularity—you’ll find a gaming home. Storytelling is an art-form, and art is highly subjective. You can leave a game and still be friends. They aren’t exclusive!
Have you ever had to walk away from a game (either as GM or Player) Satine? What’s your experience with this?
“I’ve never walked away from a game but I’ve wanted to once. I won’t go into details, but I think I did the group a disservice by staying when I should have left. It’s a group game. If not everyone is present, then it’s not as fun.”
Looking for More Useful GM Tips?
- Learn ways for GMs to improve player buy-in!
- Help keep your games moving and avoid story derailment.
- Shop the Geek & Sundry store for DM gear, like a “How Do You Want to Do This” hoodie!
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.