Saturday, January 08, 2005

Recollections from Rifts

My recent Rifts campaign has caused me to ponder on some elements of good GMing. (Note to those who play in my campaign: May wish to not read all of this. ;)

1. Never underestimate the difficulties caused by a simple situation. When my players started the game, they were driving in a APC to a fork in the road. A signpost had been vandalized sometime recently, with two arrows pointing to the northeast and one arrow posting north, but the players couldn't tell which was which. They spent maybe an hour trying to figure out which arrows went northeast and which went north, finding tracks and using psychic abilities to try to track the vampires they were following, even going so far as to object read pebbles. This all came from me thinking of a scene in my mind for about 10 seconds. Give your players as much information as they need to act in the setting, but not much more: you'll be surprised at how you can make difficulties crop up where you didn't expect them.

2. If a player doesn't have enough money to purchase something, let the player offer services in exchange. You'd be surprised at how logically this can fit what you're doing. One player wanted cybernetics but couldn't afford them, so he offered to help the cyber-doc. Turns out that these cyber-snatchers were stealing cybernetics and thus undercutting the doctor's market. It was then an easy thing to link the snatchers to the vampires the group was chasing, and voila! I was able to link a player back into the storyline and keep the group together, as well as let a player earn what he wanted. Too often, GMs are heavyhanded and don't let their players explore. There are subtle ways of getting players back onto the right track by giving them a little nudge.

3. Take advantage of uncertainty and your player's natural, understandable paranoia. No matter what, a player is expecting a GM to at some point get them, so they'll read into everything they can see. In my first session, I had one or two players reading suspiciously into what the cybernetics-desiring player was doing, and they went so far as to subtly monitor their friend! The players spent a lot of time splitting up to get items, eat, gather clues, and so on, making a relatively simple situation take some time and thought. One player was desperately seeking information another player had happened upon. And so on. Let your players do whatever feels natural to them, even if that means mistrusting other players. You don't want this to bleed over into out-of-game friendships or interaction, but in game it can make the game a bit more realistic. And don't appoint a leader: Let the group make that decision for themselves.
4. Possibly the most important lesson: Everything in the game is secondary to fun. Let me reiterate that: Everything in the game is secondary to fun. It seems trivial, and yet GMs too often forget this. Too much realism is making the characters die so often that they spend way too much time writing up new characters? Think up a new campaign design. Too much dice rolling is slowing game time? Simplify the procedure or do it ahead of time. What gets GMs confused is that they think they need to kill a PC or that the challenge level is too low or that the game isn't realistic. Yet you're doing this to have a good time. If the players are coming back game after game and really like it, who cares if the guns do too little damage?


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