Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

23 Answers on Game Mastering

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?

A puzzle in my Origins 2011 scenario that gave a satisfying happy ending for most groups that played the game… but that if played with a less obvious/dramatic solution, opens the way to solving a problem that was introduced in the beginning that most groups take to be window dressing. The idea for this would not have developed had I not run the adventure five times and listened to players discuss it and criticize it.

2. When was the last time you GMed?

A couple of weeks ago. I took my six-year-old daughter to the game store and we had a quick pick-up game with some dude that was waiting on his Collectible Card Game buds to show up. The two best fighters in the group fell into the kobald pit trap and the rest of the party went to check out the rat noises. A sleep spell took down some rats while the kobalds prepared multiple waves of attackers and closed off the exit. It would have been a total party kill, but the Card Dudes showed up for their Yu-Gi-Oh contest and we broke it off..

3. When was the last time you played?

A couple of years ago playing my CAR WARS characters in a session run by Earlburt.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven’t run but would like to.

The Gamma World Third Edition Sessions: play the macro-wilderness campaign implied by the core rulebook but that does not appear to be consistent with or developed in the supporting modules.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?

Pay attention to them to assess engagement and frustration levels.

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?

Cokes, bananas, and granola bars.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?

Yes. Running two four-hour sessions back to back at Origins wiped me out. It was grueling and demanding. (Prep for a weekly session is also a big deal due to my insane desire to do bookkeeping and session reports.) I see that other people answering these often scoff at the very idea that this might be the case. Well, maybe I’m introverted so it takes more out of me, but eight hours of game mastering is for me to be in constant host/entertainer mode. It’s exhausting.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?

Attacking an armed vehicle on foot after your own vehicle is destroyed is always interesting.

9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?

At Origins, I believe that the 20+ players I encountered immediately accepted the premise of my game universe. If they were over the top having fun and goofing around, it was always directed at the other players and not at the expense of the integrity or tone of my setting. I think following an Infocom format for adventure design makes the scenario slightly more impervious to player sabotage.

10. What do you do with goblins?

Kill them and take their stuff.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?

The Ewok net-trap in Return of the Jedi was implemented by the dudes at the Lizard Man Mound in module B2 Keep on the Borderlands. The kids loved it.

12. What’s the funniest table moment you can remember right now?

Session 2 of my Prime Directive game at Origins 2011. The doctor player attempted surgery on himself to remove an Alien-like parasite. The other players razzed him at length about it… and then he failed critically. The situation was funny in and of itself, but the way the players went off on it with each other left me gasping for air.

13. What was the last game book you looked at–aside from things you referenced in a game–why were you looking at it?

I was looking at GURPS Reign of Steel to determine if it would be a good candidate for a weekly readalong project where I compare and contrast it to every other role-playing game setting I know of.

14. Who’s your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?

Denis Loubet

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?

It has, but it wasn’t something I was trying to do. I was surprised when the players got frightened and it was just a silly adventure seed type thing I had expanded out with a quick pencil sketch. (Looking at other people’s responses, it seems like most OSR people find this totally laughable. Well, no… the players weren’t scared themselves… but they were scared for their characters, more-or-less emotionally invested in the scenario, and acting scared as far as the game was concerned.)

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn’t write? (If ever)

Well… I guess I developed an adventure seed into a full-blown adventure for Origins 2011, so that doesn’t count. My recent B2 Keep on the Borderlands games with Moldvay basic have been surprisingly fun. It is almost zero work from a prep standpoint and the rules are so simple the game practically runs itself.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?

My ideal would be a public, neutral location like a game store… but game store hours and card-game tournaments and crying children and comic-book-guy type clerks destroy this option. That leaves me having to hide in my basement or else driving to a large convention far from my home.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?

Steve Jackson’s GURPS and Old School Revival products are pretty disparate… but micro-game design constraints for pocket quasi-rpg/wargame hybrids are even further afield of both of those.

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?

Infocom for overall plot structure. Movies and television for a vast reservoir of clichés that players can immediately grasp and relate to. Tolkien for the basic principles of setting design.

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?

I just want people that can show up at all, really, but if I had my druthers, I’d take people that are enthusiastic and ready to game. I can hold the rules and the universe together, but it is much more fun for me if all I have to do is turn the players loose in my setting.

21. What’s a real life experience you’ve translated into game terms?

I actually can’t think of anything here. I form my games primarily out of the collective unconsciousness that is derived from a stew of dramatic clichés. It’s all escapist fantasy as I (like Tolkien) am not particularly enamored with Real Life™. CAR WARS should simulate TV action vehicle violence, if anything. Physics is far less important than dramatic flourish or even meaningful gaming choices.

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn’t?

A space role-playing game with tested, well-developed micro-game subsystems that both work well and are fun to play.

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn’t play? How do those conversations go?

Yes… they just don’t have time to play board games and role-playing games anymore, so all they do is video games now. We hash out little nuances of awesomeness from comics, movies, and games of the eighties whenever we drive or go out to eat.

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5 responses to “23 Answers on Game Mastering

  1. Brendan January 21, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    You don’t consider Traveller’s micro-game subsystems to work well? Based on what I have read so far, they seem pretty tight, though I’m still in Book 1. Of course, I haven’t used them in actual play.

    • jeffro January 21, 2012 at 2:45 pm

      With the exception of High Guard, none of them were revised, developed, or supported. None of them could seriously contend with Ogre, G.E.V., Star Fleet Battles, and Starfire… though I guess Mayday did win a Charles Roberts award. The problem with the Traveler subsystems is that they are often unclear, often contain numerous flame-war worthy conundrums, and often produce an implied setting that is at variance with the official setting.

  2. RogerBW January 21, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Didn’t Book 6 expand on the system generation subgame, and book 7 on the trading subgame?

    These days I’m GMing about four sessions in a month (two of them in the same game) and playing two (same game). A “session” tends to be somewhere in the 3-5 hour mark – plus prep time, which usually eats up a day of spare time beforehand, and writeup afterwards (I write summaries of every game I run for the players to refer to later).

    Fun moment in a recent game (psionice in 1967). Our heroes (young psis) and their MI5 minder are arresting a mind-controller on a train; it’s pulling out of the station where they caught up with it. Minder puts a handcuff on his left wrist, steps up and slips the other one onto the bad guy. “You really want to take that cuff off me.” (Players start to worry about how they can deal with the situation.) “Yes, I do. But I left the key back in the car.”

    • jeffro January 22, 2012 at 3:02 pm

      Dude, that is a lot of game mastering. A few people are talking about how it is stupid for GM’s to charge money for running a game, but seriously… it’s a lot of work. Yeah, it’s work I’m going to do anyway… but if you’re a complete stranger, and if I have to travel a good ways and if I’m missing out on so much other stuff that’s happening at a con because I’m running a table, you can pay to play, buddy. (The vendor credits I got at Origins wouldn’t even pay for gas– and I of course spent it on stuff so I can run a better game the next time….)

      • RogerBW January 22, 2012 at 4:37 pm

        Those three games I’m running are all for groups of friends, not game store demos or conventions. (My ideal place to run a game is my home, though I only get to do that for one of the groups; the others are in other people’s homes.) At conventions I’m usually running games as a MIB – so I get compensation from SJGames, and often free entry. I usually break even on a day or come out very slightly ahead… for doing something I love doing.

        The usual approach at UK conventions is that once you’ve paid to get in you don’t need to pay for games as well (and there are enough people willing to run games that they don’t need to be offered money/freebies). When we had GenCons over here there was the whole ticket thing, and I think there are some cons that still do that, but nowhere I’ve been recently.

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