GMs: Learn to Master The Metagame With These Tips

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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, we talked about character death from a GM’s perspective, and this week we dive into psychology at the table.

Character death, player boundaries, and alleyway vampiric feeding scenes mean different things to different players. Where one group of players would be fine playing inhuman vampire or necromancers that murder peasants for skeletons, it might make another group uncomfortable to the extreme. Understanding a bit of Psychology as a GM (even if it’s just a tiny bit) can go a long way.

This week on GM Tips with Satine Phoenix, George Rockwell wears the best t-shirt on the series so far, and brings his advice on implementing psychology at the table.

Good communication is key and setting those expectations like George suggests upfront can set the tone. Expectations like losing a hand off a min-maxed character focus everyone’s attention. Rather than rehash what they discuss in the video though, let’s talk about some practical applications of psychology at the table.

Curating Your Group

Disclaimer: I know that not everyone has a local game store or a wealth of players to draw from. Many of us have to scrape by with the friends we have or whatever local gaming group we can wedge ourselves into—and that’s okay. If the stars align and you have found yourself with six to eight willing players or more, you can actually invest the time to curate your player group.

What I mean by this is sit back and think about the players themselves and their personalities. It’s pretty damn easy to know which friends won’t play together, but it gets a little trickier to organize them based off what type of story is truly fulfilling for them. Do three of your players prefer heavy political games? Or do you have two players that want something light and casual with snacks involved? You’ll have to do some mix and matching, but if you take the reins as a GM and split your group—you’ll find a very subtle but noticeable temperament improvement for everyone involved.

Making Your Player Happy

Tabletop gamers on a whole enjoy classifications, everything from wizard houses to Briggs Myers personality tests, so like cats we will find our way into boxes. Which means as a storyteller, you have a leg up when planning your encounters for maximum enjoyment. If your players are chomping at the bit to try out their new character build in the field, dual wielding weapons with DPS output calculations; your encounter writes itself.

Naturally, we do this to some degree without even putting thought into it as a storyteller. It comes with the job description. Yet if you wanted to take it a step further and meta-game a little—try planning one encounter around a specific player as a test. Not their character mind you, but the player themselves. Engineer and write in an encounter specifically for something that they would like. You might have to study their favorite movies or really listen to the topics they are excited about getting an idea; but doing this for each player at least once in a campaign can really help player retention.

Splice Tragedy With Comedy

Happy Dance

This last tip is a general writing tip beyond running tabletop or LARP games that you can use in any creative medium. If you have a serious epic moment, or even a very dark and tragic moment, let those moments run their course and when appropriate—add in a laugh or comedic event like a goblin falling off a ladder. Not directly in the scene, that would minimize it and detract from the feelings of sadness, but leading up to it, or even after the full resolution.

Comedy has a place in all games and at all tables, and sometimes we storytellers get so caught up in writing the epic villains or planning dreadful encounters we forget general storyline pacing. Write a post-it note and stick it to your GM screen that reminds you to add in a bit of levity. While your players may laugh at everything you do anyway, or the highs and lows of dice gods, intentionally writing some in yourself will add sweet moments to the game that also heighten your tension and your tragedy.

Have you ever taken special notes on your players’ personality types and then implemented them? Let us know in the comments below!

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Featured Image by: Unbound by Charles Urbach

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.

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