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“You’re in front of a door. It leads to a 10’ room. What do you do?”
This is a typical beginning. And what is it? B-O-R-I-N-G! It does not inspire your listeners. You have to grab their attention . . . now. The teaser is a two to ﬁve minute informational explanation to grab your player’s attention. It should be like the opening few minutes of a television show. It entices you to continue watching, or listening in the case of roleplaying. Techniques must be applied to help create a coherent story as well as grab your player’s attention. Roleplaying should be a game of storytelling. If you spend more time rolling dice and looking at ﬁgures than telling a story, you are wargaming. Plot . . . theme . . . all the elements for good storytelling are necessary. You are creating a story of your characters — one adventure or conﬂict at a time. Conﬂict, not necessarily battles, makes the story happen. It also makes the story interesting. How many times do you worry about the little things like going to the bathroom? Before beginning a game, the Game Master must decide on the scale / length of the story to be told. You have to take into account how long you plan on playing this game as well as how well your group will interact. A major adventure is like a television mini-series. A minor adventure is like a made for television movie. Whatever you do . . . don’t pad your game by adding battles, going shopping for basic supplies, or random encounters that do not improve or add to the impact of your characters and their story. Don’t set things up just so your gamers can roll some dice.
Listening to your players is also important. There is nothing so ﬁendish that you can come up with as what your players can. The best Game Master tool is listening to your players / characters. The occasional question helps to lead them on. Let them sweat. As the Game Master, it is your job to create terror! Should a Game Master be ethical? No. Should a Game Master be entertaining? Yes! Sometimes you’ll cheat for them. Sometimes you’ll cheat against them. But you must make it interesting.
Settings are where the conﬂicts happen. All games and encounters must have conﬂict. This conﬂict does not need to be battles. Battles are only one type of conﬂict. Stock settings are created for each campaign. These are places the characters will visit frequently and may even be known as “home-base.” Some places may include bars, inns, house, stable, castle, rivers, and lakes. It will usually include a base of operations. These stock settings need to be created with as much description as possible. You will have adventures here. You should have more description than you are likely to use in one adventure. Location settings should be used for speciﬁc locations during an adventure. Description must be lush, but it doesn’t need to be as detailed as your stock settings. You don’t need to build an extensive history with extensive detail like a stock setting.
Game Master Workshop Series
Props are yet another part of the scenario. They help to create drama for your players. Drama Rule 1. If you show a gun in Act 1, use it by Act 3. If you have an item for your characters, make it apparent so they can refer to it later. 2. If you have a gun in Act 3, it should appear / be planned earlier so it has a reason for being there. If you mention very little about a room and then do a detailed description on another, the players will search the one with all the description. You should be consistent or you could use this to your beneﬁt. If you put the item they need in a room where you don’t describe the props as thoroughly, they’ll pass it right up. They need the props. The description of your settings and props will work for you.
External conﬂicts usually involve two or more characters. Sometimes they are player characters. Sometimes they are a player character and a non-player character. What if both of them want the same thing? What if they want diﬀerent things? What if their goals are diﬀerent? With external conﬂict, you must ﬁnd a situation where one person wins or a balance between them all results. And above all . . . make players happy when their player character loses. For example, if the character dies, it should not be because of a single die roll. If he is ﬁghting against tremendous odds and knows he will die, make his death glorious. Let him take many of them with him. Make him the hero of many songs . . . the one who gave his life to save others. The character will be remembered well and the player will be satisﬁed. If he dies just because he is in the wrong place at the wrong time, a dark alley for example, a well-placed dagger that kills for no reason will leave a bad taste in the players’ mouths. It may happen in real life, but this is fantasy. The player characters are trying to become more than the average person of their game. Let them! If you make a mistake, admit it. (After you try to ﬁx it, if it isn’t too bad, though.) Fix it the best you can within the game setting. If you must, you can “rewind” to the point where the mistake was made. It is better than having your players angry at you. They will understand that you make mistakes too. What types of conﬂict are there? Deadly conﬂict should involve taking a player character’s blood or possibly his life. You can have a battle of arms or a conﬂict of goals. The setting, props, and conﬂict are all necessary to being. It makes it easier if you have the characters ready before you start.
A McGuﬃn is an object that an adventure hinges on. A gun is a prop. A dueling pistol that backﬁres to kill the wielder is a McGuﬃn. It can be an object, person, idea, secret, etc. If your player happens to be the McGuﬃn, make sure he goes along. Bribing him with extra experience normally works well. Make the McGuﬃn important by adding a mystique to it. For example, a dying man whispers a secret to one player. The secret is the McGuﬃn. What do the other players do?
You have to know the basic conﬂict of the adventure before you can detail it. A conﬂict can be subtle. Who does the conﬂict involve? There are two types of conﬂicts: internal and external. Internal conﬂicts are within one character. They are usually psychological. A conﬂict of conscious. Can he live with the decision he / they made? If you are putting your characters into a diﬃcult decision, make sure it isn’t easy. Make sure they will question themselves.
So what should be the ﬁrst thing you, as the Game Master, should do? Get them hooked! If they are bored, the game is in trouble! You can do anything from that point on and they won’t care. It should be action oriented.
Physical props helps grab them. Normally, any physical props should be non-lethal to the players. Don’t hand the player a loaded gun with the safety oﬀ as a prop. A squirt gun will do as well. The teaser should be very personal. If you can get your players to respond emotionally (emotionally involved), this is what you want. Don’t hinder them (injury, etc.) when you are beginning. This is something that will happen at the climax. The conﬂict cannot be the “mundane.” Accusations work. Accuse the party with something they may / may not have done.
The bulk of your adventure is a series of scenes. It works like television. There is a very deﬁnite beginning and end. Try to aim for one scene for every 30 minutes of game time. 1. Action a. Combat Combat should be scaled. It should be easy at the beginning and hard towards the end. Each action scene should build the tension. Each will work toward the ultimate conﬂict. b. Chases Drag your characters everywhere. Sometimes, you can turn these around on your characters. Prepare in advance where things are going to go. Prepare obstacles in the chase. c. Searches Searches can be done for player characters, non-player characters, or items. Some searches may also be treated as a “cause.” Don’t let them “search” and roll dice. Make them play a search, not roll a search. If they play out the scene, it becomes more dramatic . . . and more interesting. d. Minor Climax All action scenes should end with a minor climax. It should point toward the next climax.
2. Development / Intellectual a. Research b. Investigate To have eﬀective scenes, you must alternate between 1 and 2. It also helps in development. Unless all your players want to do is hack and slash, they will ﬁnd constant action tiring. It also won’t build up any fear in your players. They’ll also appreciate what is happening if they occasionally do intellectual pursuits in achieving their goals. The teaser is separated from the action scenes. c. Present the characters with something they need. Let the players do the thinking for you. Development builds on action scenes and leads to the next one. A cliffhanger is a special scene. Any cliffhanger should be immediately followed by a development scene. Characters are on the verge of “what will happen next.” Don’t end a game session after a development scene. NEVER! It would be ended on an emotional down. 3. Main Climax a. Sense of accomplishment. b. Major event — everything should be settled. c. Nothing will point to the next action . . . this is it! d Everything ties together — a uniting force. e. Final combat “to the death.” 4. Tag a. Provides a resolution. b. Development scene. c. Answer all players questions unless you are leaving things open for the next adventure. d. Players need a sort of ending to feel this adventure is complete.
ADVENTURE OUTLINE SHEET
Adventure outline for (name of game / campaign world) ______________________________________ Adventure title _________________________________________________________________________ Genre ___________________________ Goal ________________________________________________
Locations: McGuffin: Conﬂict:
BEAT CHART Teaser: Development: Action: Development: Action: Development: Action: Development: Climax: Tag:
Copyright 1993 Greg K. Poehlein
This paper is a written record of the “Game Master Workshop Series” presented by Guy McLimore and Greg K. Poehlein, creators of Star Trek: The Roleplaying Game. This workshop was held at GenCon in 1993. There are eight pieces to this series. This account was made by Laura Rajsic-Lanier (email@example.com). She makes no claims to the material presented herein.
Game Master Workshop Series
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