GM Pitfalls: Master of Puppets

As a Gamemaster, sometimes it’s more important to just pull the strings.

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In the right hands, an NPC can be a brilliant addition to a campaign’s narrative. Interactive, fully fleshed out and generally dynamic – NPCs represent the world the PCs are murdering their way through adventuring in and are their best method of interacting with this world in ways not provided by the set pieces and enemies they commonly experience. A good NPC can give the party a trusted ally, a daunting nemesis or even just an adorable Goblin they can claim as a mascot. Whatever the purpose or goal of the NPC, it’s important to remember that important NPCs need to feel alive. The GM needs to play the role of the NPC, not just control it. Good NPCs have no strings and are as alive and organic as the players themselves. It should feel as though a new player dropped their way into the campaign, complete with their own unique goals, talents and flaws.

However, it’s also important to remember that some NPCs are allowed to be fairly inconsequential.

Too often a GM will try to fully flesh out every. single. NPC. This is incredibly dangerous, especially in Urban campaigns where PCs may encounter a LOT of NPCs. I find this especially taxing when the party needs to interact with merchants. One member of the party needs weapons, so here comes a blacksmith. Another member needs potions, so I better come up with a potion seller. Oh hey, this guy needs some provisions, better whip up a different general merchant. Oh look, the Paladin is off to the temple…. time to slap together some monks. Oh hey, the person at the blacksmith is now asking about anyone who might know the value of stolen jewelry, better concoct myself a fence. And so on.

And so on.

AnD sO oN.
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Roll Call: Connection to Characters

Whether you’re playing Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons or Shadowrun or Mutants and Masterminds or any other system, it all begins with making a character. Before setting out on any adventure, you’ll define the specific set of abilities, personality traits, historical prejudices and various other traits that will guide you through the world created for your arena of play. While it’s important at this point to make sure you build a character you’ll be happy with as the game proceeds, the main thing is focus on building a character you’ll be able to have fun playing.

As the game progresses, it’s normal for players to build attachments to their characters. Just as people build attachments to their favorite characters in a movie or TV show, it’s understandable to become invested in the actions and safety of these characters. On the extreme, this can result in players getting VERY emotionally involved in their characters, letting the connection bleed into the real world.

And that’s okay.
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Roll Call: So, you lost…

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One of the hardest things for both Players and GMs in any campaign is loss. Not just the actual loss or death of a character, but the players actively failing a scenario. This could manifest as something as massive as a total party kill or as simple as failing to save an NPC or solve a mystery. However big or small, failure can do massive damage to the motivation of the Players, both in regards to their movement in the game and even actually wanting to play again in real life.
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Roll Call: Injecting Horror

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Horror in roleplaying games can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it’s sometimes tough for people to fully deliver on. It’s shockingly simple for a session that was intended to deliver plenty of spooks to become incredibly dull. However, with careful planning and a few simple tricks, the terror can be real and can shake your players’ nerves in incredibly ways.

Here are some tips that have worked for me.


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Roll Call: Table Rules

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When playing tabletop games, it’s understandable that people might not get along. Different people have different ideas of what a game night means. To some people it might be “hey, let’s get some brews and pay half attention to a game.” Others might see it as a focused and quiet experience, while others still might see the game as a background activity to something else, like conversation or watching a movie. It’s reasonable that a group of friends might not agree on exactly what sort of reverence should be put toward a game. As such, when they come into a session or an RPG or board game, they may be more or less focused than others at the table, more or less sober than others or generally doing something that is a pet peeve of someone else without them knowing.

The way around this is to establish some house/table rules when playing tabletop games. Now, your first reaction might be that this sounds too strict. Afterall, they’re just games. That’s definitely fair, and if your group is the type that meets to game once in a blue moon, then by all means, let people run rampant. However, if you are regularly meeting with your gaming group for more adventures in tabletopping, then you’ve gone beyond just games: this is now a hobby and your group is a club of individuals taking part in that hobby. You are a crew. A squad. A gang of nerdy droogs. As such, everyone at the table has some level of passion for the hobby, so it’s reasonable to have a discussion of what sort of parameters the group may need to put in place to ensure nobody’s experience is stifled. It might not be easy, getting people to agree, and then one of two things may need to happen.
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