I am currently at a major crossroads when it comes to the way I approach running a game. Anyone who has listened to the early episodes of the podcast knows that I spent an abhorrently long time in the pre-planning stage of my campaign. Finally, after years (literally) of juggling ideas around in my head, I was given a hard deadline by the rest of the group to start the game, and that’s when it all went sideways…
After a couple more weeks of writing, we finally got down to brass tacks and after only about three sessions, I shut down the game in order to head back to the drawing board. The problem? I felt I was being far more efficient in the segments of the game when I was shooting from the hip than when I was following my meticulously plotted and planned adventure. To complicate matters more, I realized that this was completely counter-intuitive to the way I’ve approached GMing since I began playing! This epiphany was the push that got me thinking about how to be better Player and GM, and to be honest, I’m glad it happened.
Over the course of the week, I’ve had numerous conversations about GMing and I’ve formulated a game plan that I hope will put me on the right track to writing and running a better game.
Empty Your Cup – This rule is perhaps the hardest to follow, but it is also the most important. The phrase comes from a the principles of Zen and can be applied to all manner of tasks in which an individual wishes to learn something. As a practitioner of martial arts, I have heard the phrase used many times in the Kung Fu studio, particularly when individuals cross over from other arts and begin as white belts. Essentially, the statement means that if you are to learn something anew, you must first forget everything you already know (about it). In terms of being a GM, I need to wipe the slate clean, forget all of my old techniques and tricks, and start from square one. While this may seem as a rather drastic approach, I feel that I need to start this way to achieve my own gaming goals.
Fill Your Cup – This second point is truly a matter of quality rather than quantity. In an effort to have the proper tool-set necessary to orchestrate a campaign at the level I strive for, it is really important for me to gather in as much useful information as possible, process it, and discard that which isn’t absolutely necessary. The best approach, I’ve realized, is exposure. I need to spend more time learning the craft, be it through discussion with other GMs and players (most importantly everyone here at the podcast), playing more often on both sides of the screen, and investing more time to gaming podcasts like Gamerstable and Happy Jacks RPG Podcast. All of these will help to provide me with different perspectives and experiences that I can sort through and catalog to ensure I am using what suits me best.
One of my biggest hindrances has been my lack of experience with systems aside from d20. In the past, I’ve touted that I’m a sort of d20 snob, but I’ve realized that it has been foolish hubris on my part. Given the new inclination to go “rules light,” the d20 system may not provide me OR the players the necessary tools to be successful. With everyone else looking to try out new games and systems, and my plans to try to make it out to some local gaming conventions, I’m hoping to really see what else is out there to enjoy.
Less is More – All of this leads me to the absolute biggest revelation I have had, and that is I need plan small and railroad less. In my campaign, the PCs start in Victorian London, operating at a street level, where they will stay for at least the first few sessions. If this is the case, why do I feel inclined to understand every little detail of the free port of San Francisco? Are the Players there? No. Will they be there soon? Not likely. Will they be there EVER? I can only hope, but it isn’t necessary in the here and now! I blame my training as a historian. I can’t help but want to know the cause and effect of every little event, but the truth is I don’t need to know.
At the same time, while I love to know every little nuance of a character’s equipment and stats, I want encounters (both combat and otherwise) to play out more cinematically and less tactically. I want to provide the Players with endless options but at the same time keep myself from giving them an “easy button.” It will be challenging to strike this balance, but I have faith I will be able to pull it off, just as long as I don’t bog everyone down with unnecessary details!