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New DM, tips needed

   
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Originally Posted by The Beefmaster View Post
One thing that I found to be a very useful tool on my DM belt was this: you're the DM, you're totally allowed to cheat.
I call this the 'Rule of Cool,' and I follow it wholeheartedly. The point of a game is to have fun, all around, and sometimes it means that a few rules will be bent.

Sometimes I'll roll a d6 for it. Odds I fudge, evens it stands.

A big rule of mine is, if a character wants to do something and it is really cool and would futher the plot or make the game more exciting, do it any way you possibly can.

I am also a big proponent of "Yes, and " and "Yes, but"

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Beefmaster View Post
One thing that I found to be a very useful tool on my DM belt was this: you're the DM, you're totally allowed to cheat.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Call me Fate View Post
I call this the 'Rule of Cool,' and I follow it wholeheartedly. The point of a game is to have fun, all around, and sometimes it means that a few rules will be bent.
While I call it "illusionism", and I have a practice of leaving games if I suspect that's what the GM was doing. Because I can have much more fun with the wall of no-punch magic, cakewalk fights, and improvised locations, therefore, illusionism can only minimize my fun.

Here's a handful of thoughts I've had regarding GM'ing:

- Don't be afraid to fudge your way around the rules when you don't know them. It's better to make an on-the-spot ruling and check the books later than it is to hold everything up while you look it over. That said, make sure that you are transparent about this and then let everyone know what the proper rule is (or whatever you finalize) later.

- No plot or plan survives contact with the players. Keep your plans loose and be ready to improv when they don't go along. Because they never do. Even the most combat-focused group of players may surprise you with a well timed use of diplomacy.

- Treat your players like they're adults and talk to them when there's a problem. No group is perfect, so things may come up that'll upset someone. Some people are uncomfortable about certain topics, others may have issues with how things are ruled, and sometimes there might be problems between players. Having mature conversations has the best chance to resolve these problems.

- Avoid PvP scenarios like the plague. It may sound like a fun idea to pit the PCs against each other, but this only works with a group that either doesn't care or trusts each other to not take it personally. This is also related to why Evil Campaigns are generally a bad idea (but not always).

- Be ready for your players to never realize how much time and effort you'll put into the craft of GMing. This is often a labor of love and they may never notice it. Don't be offended by this, especially if they're still having fun.

- Likewise, you should be enjoying the game as much as your players. If you're not having fun, there's no point in running the game. No D&D is better than bad D&D.

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Originally Posted by AsenRG View Post
While I call it "illusionism", and I have a practice of leaving games if I suspect that's what the GM was doing. Because I can have much more fun with the wall of no-punch magic, cakewalk fights, and improvised locations, therefore, illusionism can only minimize my fun.
I think this is very much a YMMV situation. There’s an element of “illusionism” to all GMing: even if you improvise a location, you’re likely to do so from bits and pieces of ideas that you already had in your head, and chances are some of that will be stuff that you would have ended up using somewhere else at some point.

Where I personally fall on the spectrum is that I do feel that, if I offer players a choice, it should affect things. No two paths with exactly the same encounter on both. This is what makes it an exercise in collaborative storytelling for me: the player’s decisions affect my decisions which affect their decisions in a nice and hopefully enjoyable feedback loop.

On the other hand, if I come up with a good idea for something that they end up not encountering because they took the other path, it’s fine to adapt that idea later on for further use in a different situation.

Adapt, though: the problem with moving the whole dungeon is that if a big complex entity that exists in a particular context can be moved easily without needing a fair amount of revision, then there’s cause to worry that it may (may!) not have been a convincing part of a coherent world.

But running into a travelling merchant NPC with plot-critical information in a different town on a different day? Doesn’t bother me.

Railroading is bad, but it exists because we want to tell stories, and stories have structure to them. The goal is to have flexibility in the structure of the story and remember that the GM is not the only person telling it, but that doesn’t mean that there should be no structure at all.

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Originally Posted by Voord 99 View Post
Railroading is bad, but it exists because we want to tell stories, and stories have structure to them. The goal is to have flexibility in the structure of the story and remember that the GM is not the only person telling it, but that doesn’t mean that there should be no structure at all.
This is a great point, and I think the difference between "railroading" and "flexible structure" comes down to how you prepare your narrative as a DM.

Coming up with an awesome story that you want your PC's to experience often leads to the railroading you're talking about. The players lose their agency as a sacrifice to your story because the campaign ends up playing like a book.

In contrast, a DM that wants to have a narrative structure while keeping it open for the players should prepare by fleshing out the major actors in the story as much as possible. What is the main bad guy's motivation/ambitions/fears/backup plans/ace in the hole, etc.? What does the local guard think of the bad guy? Will they try to arrest the players for interfering in his plans because they've been paid off, or will they join the players in their struggle? What do neighboring towns/cities/countries think of the conflict going on where your players are messing around?

If you flesh out your major NPCs enough, then you can deal with (pretty much) anything the players do because you can always ask, "how would X react to what they just did?" That way, even if the players waiver from the general narrative path you have planned, the NPC's will naturally "force" them back on track for reasons that make sense in context.

AND those moments give your players a feeling of exhilaration (and possibly dread) when they realize that their actions have meaningful consequences in the world, which in turn will usually get them to participate in the world more and more, enriching the game.

At the end of the day, you can B.S. and improv your way out of anything if you have your characters fleshed out. It makes things a lot smoother, more fun, and more immersive.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Voord 99 View Post
I think this is very much a YMMV situation.
Of course! That's why I'm trying to make it clear that my opinion is my opinion, not The Absolute Truth About The Universe And Everything Else.
(I also presume everybody on MW is intelligent enough to know that).

Quote:
There’s an element of “illusionism” to all GMing: even if you improvise a location, you’re likely to do so from bits and pieces of ideas that you already had in your head, and chances are some of that will be stuff that you would have ended up using somewhere else at some point.
I'd disagree here. If you write down a location, you'll still do that from bits and pieces of things that were in your head already. The only difference is when you accessed those bits and pieces.
And frankly, if everything that's not using material prepared by someone else is illusionism, that makes the term basically meaningless.

Quote:
Where I personally fall on the spectrum is that I do feel that, if I offer players a choice, it should affect things. No two paths with exactly the same encounter on both. This is what makes it an exercise in collaborative storytelling for me: the player’s decisions affect my decisions which affect their decisions in a nice and hopefully enjoyable feedback loop.

On the other hand, if I come up with a good idea for something that they end up not encountering because they took the other path, it’s fine to adapt that idea later on for further use in a different situation.

Adapt, though: the problem with moving the whole dungeon is that if a big complex entity that exists in a particular context can be moved easily without needing a fair amount of revision, then there’s cause to worry that it may (may!) not have been a convincing part of a coherent world.
Agreed.

Quote:
Railroading is bad, but it exists because we want to tell stories, and stories have structure to them. The goal is to have flexibility in the structure of the story and remember that the GM is not the only person telling it, but that doesn’t mean that there should be no structure at all.
Yes, but here's the thing:
I'm not here to tell stories. I'm here to play RPGs, thank you very much!
That means I'm here to roleplay a character. Or, more rarely, I'm here to present the players a world that they can interact with via their characters.
That's it! Either way, I'm here to play and find out what happens when PCs mix with NPCs and setting.

Also, please don't tell me that a story requires a given structure. That's like saying that when we have the components of a trope, we have to follow the trope.
No, we don't have to, because tropes can be played straight, or subverted, or averted outright.
Same thing with story structures. There's more than one to any story. (For a simple example, consider A Song of Ice and Fire-Martin has subverted so many traditional narratives already, I frankly lost count).
When railroading happens, it's not because the Story requires it. It's because the GM has decided so. That's not wrong, as long as the players are on board - but please, if you intend to do that, just let us know in advance (preferably during recruitment, but I can understand)...and own up to it!

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Beefmaster View Post
This is a great point, and I think the difference between "railroading" and "flexible structure" comes down to how you prepare your narrative as a DM.

Coming up with an awesome story that you want your PC's to experience often leads to the railroading you're talking about. The players lose their agency as a sacrifice to your story because the campaign ends up playing like a book.
Here's the thing:
If I want to read a book, I'm going to read a book, not open MW (in fact, a book is waiting for me, and I should pay it due attention ASAP after I finish this post). Why?
A) I don't need to wait for days to turn the next page!
B) I don't need to type out roughly 10% to 20% of it.
C) If I type 10 to 20% of it (as fan fiction), I can actually change things that matter.
And if the above isn't enough, then:
D) Most GMs that pull out this argument overestimate their writing abilities.
As an addendum to that...
E) I've played with published writers doing this...and it still didn't work for them. (I've also played with a different published author that wasn't doing that, and his games were very successful. My Refereeing style also owns him a lot).

Quote:
In contrast, a DM that wants to have a narrative structure while keeping it open for the players should prepare by fleshing out the major actors in the story as much as possible. What is the main bad guy's motivation/ambitions/fears/backup plans/ace in the hole, etc.? What does the local guard think of the bad guy? Will they try to arrest the players for interfering in his plans because they've been paid off, or will they join the players in their struggle? What do neighboring towns/cities/countries think of the conflict going on where your players are messing around?

If you flesh out your major NPCs enough, then you can deal with (pretty much) anything the players do because you can always ask, "how would X react to what they just did?" That way, even if the players waiver from the general narrative path you have planned, the NPC's will naturally "force" them back on track for reasons that make sense in context.

AND those moments give your players a feeling of exhilaration (and possibly dread) when they realize that their actions have meaningful consequences in the world, which in turn will usually get them to participate in the world more and more, enriching the game.

At the end of the day, you can B.S. and improv your way out of anything if you have your characters fleshed out. It makes things a lot smoother, more fun, and more immersive.
That, however, is (almost) true!
And it also means you don't need to have "a planned narrative path", so there's nothing to force them "back" to.

AsenRG, I'm not going to quote all of that so to save space but I do want to comment on a couple of things and also to attempt to assist Karrots.

I think a few comments that have been made hint heavily toward differences in play style, GM style and why it is that each of us have come to MW. There are many folks that play here because we (I include myself here) do want to write a story as if we are reading a book. There are others that just want to roll dice and kill monsters. Others want to play in a game that has open options to do whatever they want to do with no structure whatsoever. I am sure I am missing a couple of other types here but you get my drift, we all have different expectations and definitions of what we find fun. Karrots, you did not specify what you are attempting to DM, whether it was Table Top or on the Weave, but my advice is to understand your players and what they are looking for, understand their expectations and try to tailor your style to the group you have. PbP can take a lot more time to do this, and there is a learning curve. Communicate, communicate, communicate. It will take a while to find some like minded people and it may mean a few games you play in or GM die before you get the right group/style figured out.

GM Style Many GM's are extremely detail oriented and want every encounter, map, city, npc, etc perfectly in it's place and everything ready and complete for the adventurers. Others are seat of the pants, get a rough idea and let the characters forge forward and he/she will adjust the world around the party as it forges forward into the story. Then you have the GM in the middle, that loves to plan and be prepared but does not overkill the planning and leaves room for the story to be formed around the initial plot and how the PC's interact with it. Once again, each GM style has a corresponding player group that either does well with these styles or does not do well. Figuring out a style match is key, key, key.

I fall in the middle category as a GM. Twenty years ago I was the ultra planner and it caused me to railroad more often because I had this awesome adventure planned, but my players felt too constrained. Over the years I have learned to be much more flexible and it has resulted in my players having a lot more fun and my stress level to go down.

Sorry, I forgot to answer a comment that was directed at me.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TheRoot View Post
AsenRG, I'm not going to quote all of that so to save space but I do want to comment on a couple of things and also to attempt to assist Karrots.

I think a few comments that have been made hint heavily toward differences in play style, GM style and why it is that each of us have come to MW. There are many folks that play here because we (I include myself here) do want to write a story as if we are reading a book.
Well, feel free to!
But which book? A Song of Ice and Fire/ancient saga style, where people are dying left and right, often soon after being introduced? Or a LotR style, where PCs only die due to their own failings? Because all of those are books.

If the former, sign me in. If the latter, warn me so I wouldn't join, unless I'm in the mood for that. (Which would mean that yes, I'd cooperate with that style...or, as is more likely lately, I'd skip.)
Either way, you'd avoid having a player that's potentially disruptive to your style, so it's a net benefit for the game!

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There are others that just want to roll dice and kill monsters. Others want to play in a game that has open options to do whatever they want to do with no structure whatsoever. I am sure I am missing a couple of other types here but you get my drift, we all have different expectations and definitions of what we find fun.
You're missing the "want to explore what it's like to be in the setting" types, like me.
And yes, I agree 100% that matching the styles of player and GM is key. Which is why I tend to ask GMs about their playstyles. I don't want to be That Player, and I want even less to spend time on something that's not going to be fun for me.

Quote:
Karrots, you did not specify what you are attempting to DM, whether it was Table Top or on the Weave, but my advice is to understand your players and what they are looking for, understand their expectations and try to tailor your style to the group you have. PbP can take a lot more time to do this, and there is a learning curve. Communicate, communicate, communicate. It will take a while to find some like minded people and it may mean a few games you play in or GM die before you get the right group/style figured out.
There's a difference in PbP (though I act the same way in tabletop, too).
It's much easier to tell people "that's how I plan to run it, and if you want to join, welcome on board". Then describe your GMing style.

Quote:
GM Style Many GM's are extremely detail oriented and want every encounter, map, city, npc, etc perfectly in it's place and everything ready and complete for the adventurers. Others are seat of the pants, get a rough idea and let the characters forge forward and he/she will adjust the world around the party as it forges forward into the story. Then you have the GM in the middle, that loves to plan and be prepared but does not overkill the planning and leaves room for the story to be formed around the initial plot and how the PC's interact with it. Once again, each GM style has a corresponding player group that either does well with these styles or does not do well. Figuring out a style match is key, key, key.
And then there are the GMs like me, who improvise pretty much everything from a broad outlook of the setting...but don't change their ideas to fit with the players. (I think of all the relevant details before a scene starts. You come with something to surprise me, you have an easy time with a hard task. Otherwise, it's a hard task, as expected).

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I fall in the middle category as a GM. Twenty years ago I was the ultra planner and it caused me to railroad more often because I had this awesome adventure planned, but my players felt too constrained. Over the years I have learned to be much more flexible and it has resulted in my players having a lot more fun and my stress level to go down.
Same story here, though I never was the ultra planner. I just thought that the players wanted pre-planned story.
My stress levels are also much lower today, after realizing my mistake, though!

Recognize there are different DM styles and different player styles. It's making things work with different syles that makes DMing an art.

As to railroading... the way I tend to run is, I have 4 or 5 plot points I want covered. How the players navigate between those points I leave to the decisions characters make. Sometimes you have to be flexible enough to drop some of those points. Some of the most fun games I've run went in a way different direction.

I also agree with character actions having wirld consequences. Not every action, but bigger ones. Many of the NPCs in my world are former player characters that became part of the lore of my world.

Then there is fudging. I do this a lot. Players have a lot invested in their characters. Not that an occasional death can't create great dramatic narrative. The one pitfall here is players using their percieved charmed life to attempt things they have no business doing. So use common sense.




 

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