Getting Ready to Run a Game?

Hey, you, GM. GAMEXPO 2017 is around the corner (less than two weeks!). Are your sessions ready to run? I figured as much. That’s why this post is here.

Nick’s got some great points in his post The Noobs Guide to Planning Your RPG Session. He’s talking specifically about a Star Wars game, but I think his concepts apply regardless of what you’re running. I’ll summarize then extemporize. His high level outline is:

  1. Know Your Party, Know Yourself
  2. Make The Hook
  3. Decide Your Mechanics
  4. Make Your Setting
  5. Commit To Your Setting
  6. Free Up Some Workspace

Suggested Re-Ordering

Seems pretty straight forward. Although I might argue that “Make Your Setting” and  “Commit To Your Setting” should be #2 in the order of operations. . .since they sort of dictate what hooks you have available to you and how your players will expect you to implement them.

I like to think of the game and the setting as characters. In Fate Core games, the game is a first order concept with attributes and mechanics of its own, and its a logical extension of the Bronze Rule of Fate: You can treat anything like a character. Hence, I think of the setting as a character:

  • What does it want and why?
  • What does it [look/feel/taste/smell/sound] like and why?
  • What things about it aren’t obvious that the heroes are going to learn (the hard way)?

I’m sure there are lots of other great questions about a setting-character that I should ask, but those are where I start. Oh, and by setting, I mean the overall universe and each location where scenes/encounters will take place. And each one of those is like a genius loci in my mind.

The Real Hook

With regards to hooks, Nick says:

The hook should have three main things. Why they are there, what the problem is, and the cookie.

I think of “hook” differently. These three items of “hook” all boil down to context for the adventure. In regular groups and playtests, I do what Nick suggests and ask the players to figure out why they’re there. (We’re typically using Fate Core, so it’s not an unusual question for the players.) However, in other game systems, the expectations are different, which is compounded by convention play and the possibility of having five or six random strangers at the table.

What I think of as “hook” that’s important for anything, RPG session or otherwise, is what makes it interesting and different from all the other similar things in the list. I’m running two different, all-new adventures this year:

  • Modern Gods (hook: you get to be a street god defending your peepz!)
  • Forcing Function (hook: you’re smuggling are cargo that’s far more valuable than you first thought)

Modern Gods [Modernity/Fate]
Nietzsche was wrong. New gods are born all the time. You know, because you’re one of them! As a modern god, you have power coming out of your nether regions, but. . .You’ve also got responsibilities. The day to day nonsense? No, you’ve got people for that. But, once in a while, something big shows up that your devoted worshipers can’t handle on their own. When that day comes, it’s up to you and your pantheon to get off your thrones, rise up, and smite the usurpers. Today is that day.

Forcing Function [Starcrossed/Fate]
You’re an opportunistic capitalist! Hurtful Translation: Smuggler. After a couple easy years in the biz, thing were going so well! But now, the “job” that was supposed to be a milk run has turned into a looming disaster. Everything that could possibly go wrong already has. Except you’re not dead. Yet. I won’t tell you the odds, but you and your crew have never been caught behind enemy lines in a three-way shooting war with all three sides hunting you for the cargo. What do we do now, Captain?

Deus Ex Mechanics

Nick didn’t spend much time on this, but the fact that he touched on it at all is huge. Too many GMs (myself included sometimes) don’t think about each encounter and the likely game mechanics that may be necessary. Little things like changing the encounter balance to intentionally easy once in a while can add a lot of flavor to the game–not every fight needs to be a fighting-for-their-lives encounter for the heroes. Let them show off sometimes.

In the mechanics department, especially for convention play, I also highly recommend figuring out where you can fast forward if you’re burning through your time budget too fast. There are ways to turn long encounters into more manageable contests or challenges without making the players feel cheated.

Last Laughs

All up, Nick’s article’s a good reminder of the fundamentals and a helpful outline. If you didn’t wander off and read it already, go do so now.