QUICK TIPS TO KEEPING A GAME FRESH

ONE OF THE HARDEST THINGS about the hobby isn’t prep, or out-maneuvering fire-breathing dragons but keeping a group of players engaged in what you are doing on a long term basis. A story can be cool as hell, characters can be fun to play, and items can be exciting to use, however a group can still get tired of what you are doing, especially with today’s adult players who can’t spend hours and hours playing because of responsibilities.

AND THE GAME BEGINS

Like I said, few people can play as regularly as teenagers, my group is on every third Monday, things are forgotten and it always take a little bit to get back into the game.


THE FEAST BEFORE THE FAMINE

If your group is anything like mine, it can be a bit of a chore to recapture them after a month of not seeing each other. We usually eat dinner together and catch up on what we have been up too. Many of us never get to see each other but on game night, so this is actually a necessity to get it out of the way. Eating dinner gives us all an hour to just talk about mundane things that aren’t related to the game.

OKAY, LETS DO THIS THING

This is the time where everybody gets their characters together. Usually when the DM starts getting ready the rest of the party will get to work too. Spellcasters need to give you a list of the spells that they want to use during the game, if the marching order needs to be changed, then this is the time to do it. Give everybody a bit of time to study their maps and find their dice and begin their decent into the dungeon.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH

Once everybody is ready and you are ready, give a short synopsis of what led up to this point. Notes are important, and should be a part of your game wrap up. This is YOUR story, it is up to you to remember it. Let everybody know what is going on. I usually give the full date and a quick replay of great feats, important events, and what happened in the last minutes of your last session.


I’M SURE THAT THAT WAS JUST THE WIND

It can be very hard to get back into the right state of mind to lose yourself into the character again. We can aid the PCs in this by throwing them immediately into a dangerous situation. This can be a monster encounter, a dangerous challenge, or a simple trap. This first encounter should be designed to bring the PC’s together as fast as possible. It needn’t be as dangerous as it seems, just something to get the players blood pumping and their brains thinking in game terms again. This curtain opener should be right there in your prep, even if you are all still inside of a dungeon, you should still start the game on a high note, a failed Encounter Check, maybe move them a few feet to the bottom of a pit trap, just have it ready and tailor it specifically for each player.

PAPERWORK, PAPERWORK, PAPERWORK

Another important part of beginning a new game actually takes place at the end of the last one. If a character levels up, he should update his character at the end of the session, this can take time away from everybody else if they try and do it at the beginning. I’ve actually asked my players what they prefer, and they all said that they like doing it at the end of the session so that they can think about the game in its current terms and it gives them something new and fun to do when they get to enjoy the new abilities.


SERIOUS PLAY

The game itself is a factor on getting the players to come back each session. Once everybody is in the right frame of mind, it is go time.

MIX IT UP

People like doing different things, thankfully there is many ways to play the game and we should work hard to vary each session, making it unique and memorable all on its own. We do this by changing the style of how we ourselves play the game. If we played standard Hack & Slash last time, why not delve deep into the characters themselves and make Role-Playing the game of the day? Done that already, then maybe break out the kitchen timer and tell them that they have X amount of time to find the item/save the person/leave the dungeon before something bad happens. Some folks love battle, others enjoy puzzles or roleplaying, but even though a player loves doing these things, he doesn’t want to do them exclusively every time. A wide variety of challenges keeps the players guessing on what you’ll do next, and stop them from getting bored of the same old thing well before they can get bored.

KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE DOING

When playing chess, if we do nothing but react to the other player, then we are going to lose. We have to always be several moves ahead of the players at all times. Naturally, we can’t always meet this demand, especially in a labyrinth scenario where we have no idea of where the party will go next, but thankfully we can still prepare for this kind of thing by knowing everything that is going on around them, and having enough information about the entire labyrinth to handle everything as smoothly as possible.

REAL SCENARIOS VS. RAILROADING

Naturally, there will always be some degree of railroading. We don’t want to leave the party with nothing to do for any extended period of time. We should lay out their goals in a way that everybody knows what they are, and give them an idea of where to go to meet them, however on the same token, these goals should be their own! We can give them hints about what they should be, but only telling them out right when they get that blank glassy look in their eyes telling you that they aren’t getting it. Each game should have X amount of scenarios. Scenarios are decisions made by the party which change the course of events of the game. We should always try to create real scenarios instead of just railroading the party around the map.

A NUMBERS FREE GAME

Well, that is just impossible, but it should be something that we strive for. It is up to you to keep a brief tally of monsters defeated and other activities that will grant XP to the party. Try to get the party to describe what they are doing, vs. just calling out numbers. This can be difficult so don’t sweat it if you can’t do it all the time. When fighting a new monster that they haven’t encountered, just describe what it looks/sounds/smells/feels like and never answer any questions about AC. Magic spells and potions are the same way, describe the spells effects, quietly giving the numbers at the end. This may sound like a pain in the butt, but it does keep the mystery in the game, which in turn, keeps the players guessing about the world that they are in.

PAY ATTENTION

Watch your players, if someone is spacing off, then they need to be called on it. Suffer them! If they aren’t paying attention when the others are solving a puzzle, then let them move on and make him solve the puzzle by himself. Try not to separate the party too much, but don’t let just one or two people play the game, it should be a group project.

ENDGAME

Once the game is over, it’s time to think about the next one!


ABSOLUTE ENDING

This is not always possible, especially when you have to deal with a hard-quit time, but the party should finish the dungeon else, and I’ve ran into this, you as the DM have no idea of where they are going to go, thus you can’t prep. Chances are, when this happens, you’re going to have a short game session next time, or you can just railroad the party so that you know exactly what you’ll need next time.

JOIN US NEXT WEEK WHEN. . .

The party should have some idea of what they are going to do next. Sometimes you can end in a cliffhanger, but this tends to take away from that sessions finale. It is important to have a big bang and a sense of accomplishment at the end, but for unfinished dungeons, it is preferred to end it with a cliffhanger. Something that promises more thrills to come!

KNOWING WHEN TO SAY WHEN

A DM should always be looking forward. Part of Variety is ending campaigns before they become worn out. Put a deadline on all games. How many sessions will it take to finish this story, and stick to it! Once we get to the end, then it is time to create new characters and start something else, we can always go back to these old characters, but we should have a new story that is a real whopper for them to come back.

I SWEAR THOSE GUYS SAID UNIQUE

Each session should have its own feel. Pay attention to what works, and what doesn’t work, and try to get what doesn’t work to work. This is a game for you as well, and if we aren’t having fun then there isn’t any sense in playing. We are constantly trying to become BETTER dungeon masters. Try new things, if an outlandish idea hits you, see if you can’t make it work.

I’M A THIEF TRAPPED IN A WARRIORS BODY

Sometimes the answer to nipping boredom in the bud before it can attack is Temporary characters. Say that the party wants to hire a spy, or an assassin. We can either have them role up temp characters, or just give them Pre-Generated characters and they can attempt to get the objective done with them. Be inventive! Variety is the spice of life, and we all know that the best epic storylines can turn into a dead horse simply because they are just do damned epic.

6 comments:

Amatriain said...

I have to say, this is one of the finest pieces of GMing advice I've read in a long time. Kudos!

One of the things I struggled for a long time is how to get the players' heads quickly into the game. I long subscribed to the theory that sessions should be a crescendo, starting slow and getting more intense with a big climax fight at the end, but then I tried putting an (easy) combat encounter at the beginning of the session, and it really makes the session kick off with energy.

I also totally recite the current game-world date and current events at the start of the session, it lets people know that the game is beginning and they should stop talking OOC. I got the idea from TV series which give you a summary of recent episodes at the beginning (Lost for instance). Most GMs in my group do not do this, they assume it is your work as a player to remember recent campaign events, but when you have a game every 3-4 weeks I don't think that's reasonable.

Ripper X said...

Glad that you liked it. I find Adult Gaming to be a completely new animal. We just can't play the epic monsters that most of us played in our first years in the hobby. It took a while to gain this experience and find what works and what doesn't. I am sure that there are more tricks to managing adult games out there, hopefully somebody will share their own.

Brunomac said...

Each session should have it's own feel - I agree!

In the 90's, most of my players were also friends, and there would always have to be that pre-game kick back and catch up session. But I never let us all be together for more than a half hour before getting into it. Gametime is precious! Especially if you only got to game once a month or so like I did. Those were 6-8 hour games, and I still wanted to get in as fast as possible. A little munching is ok, but I would avoid a dinner or anything major until after a game. Post game is a great time to talk about things inside and outside the game.

Cramming tons of stuff into a long session, then not playing for a few weeks, was always a recipe for player mindfarts about the details of the previous game. There would always be at least a half hour of catch-up.

I almost always reward players who can chime in with great notes about what happened. Let the player's know that they could get upwards of a 10% XP bonus if they are really really helpful (and the other players aren't).

My current group consists of people I just met in the last few months (except for one of my old schoolers), and most of us don't all hang out outside of games. So we usually get into things pretty fast. We are only getting about three or four hours in on a weeknight, but at least we play a couple of times a month. Even so, at the last session the players were having a hard time remembering shit, and the previous game had been a blast.

Just like the player said, I like to move slow and end big in a game session - but having a combat or other stimulating task resolution early on is helpful to get the energy up, especially if the next hour or two is all role play.

viricordova said...

Tried trackbacking to you but it didn't work so here's my take on the subject:

http://bardofvaliant.wordpress.com/2009/01/20/character-death-failure/

Brunomac said...

I for sure think that the notion of not letting smartly played characters die outright is only something that could come from a player-friendly DM. I count myself as that type of DM, for sure not the old stereotypical old school nasty DM who wants to trap and maim and kill players as his main enjoyment. Most of my enjoyment comes from character creation, and watching these characters interact as they explore my world.

However, I do think that most players want their characters to exist in a world were death is a very real possibility. I think it is important to have that tension in an RPG. Another thing that set's pen and paper apart from various video game clones.

Still, I do little things, like not generally letting a character die in their first game, that helps them along a bit. I think to this day, more characters die from the actions of other characters than from my challenges. But death is out there, around every corner...waiting...

bardofvaliant said...

Oh, I'm definitely a player-friendly DM, after all - These ARE my friends I'm playing the game with :P

If a player complained about it, I might consider doing it differently but I've had some truly positive results by fudging dice.

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