GM Tips #1


“Know your setting, system and scenario in advance. Write yourself cheat sheet or post-its, whatever you like.”

I’ve been asked to expand on the many intro points I’ve brushed upon, so here goes with the first one…

The first half of the statement should be fairly self explanatory. Don’t be one of those GMs that turn up at the con and say to a bunch of players “I read this on the train on the way up”. Or similarly have an opening gambit along the lines of “I don’t know the setting or system, but we’ll have a laugh anyway”. If someone’s come along to find out what the game’s like or the setting, or is an old hand and chosen the game as a banker, they’re not going to love you for it.

Trust me on the scenario bit too. I’m pretty good at ad-lib and rolling with the punches, it comes from years of practice. But I ran a game at Conception and I’d not plotted it out properly. It showed. I was really annoyed with myself and the players had fun along the way, but didn’t get the killer blow at the end they deserved. It was an okay game, but could have been great if I’d plotted and thought about the scenario that bit more. Even if your game is a bit more hippy and freeform, think about different characters or mannerisms or whatever. You can never have too much prep, but too little really shows.

So, tactics to add to a game? Every man and his dog will tell you how they can rock up to a game and run a blinder on no prep, without a rule book and making it all up. Well, I can do that too on my day. But every bit of extra prep you can do in advance is another extra increment your game will be better than the man who’s done nothing. If you want it to be good, but some more in before hand – here’s some ideas.

Got an investigation game? Or one with lots of NPCs. Or one with foreign or archaic language? Mug-shots. I’m using this more and more. To stop your players saying “Who was that bloke” or “Him with the beard, you know”, if you can actually play some mug shots down on the table (with names on obviously) then the players are much more likely to remember who they are, use their names, and even shuffle photo’s around and have a living relationship map to fondle and discuss. In Pendragon I’ve used coats of arms, in SLA I’ve had ID Badges, in Delta Green Polaroids. Whichever way you want to do it, by and large most players won’t take proper notes and something tactile and simple is going to draw people in easily and effectively.

If you’re running a game with a chase in, know the chase rules. If there are options, put them on a card to give to the player with Drive skill. Keep it simple and punchy. You don’t need to have every last detail on there (as long as you’ve got a good idea), just put punchy, relevant notes to help a player out.

Get your story straight. Read it after some time away, get a friend to look at it, ask the wife, whatever. Once you’ve got a plot or storyline that you think is spot on, have someone else look at it and break it. Because that’s what the players are going to do. Playtest a scenario before you run it at a con. It’ll run differently both times, but the dry run might throw up some obvious things that you’ve missed.

For Savage I often have an A5 cheat sheet with options on for players. You can tell people about them in the first 5 minutes, but after the first 10 they’ve forgotten. Don’t be frightened of having some brief rules out on a flyer – if people don’t use them, no loss. Chances are though that someone will have a look at some point and try something new, just to see what happens.

Have some character stand bys if you need them. A name and three distinctive features. Don’t need them much these days, but when I started they were very useful.
Jake, one eye, grumpy, suspicious
Elan, happy-go-lucky, pretty, clueless
Belkar, mean, devious, forthright
Your players are going to want to speak to a variety of no-marks, so get your cast of 1000s ready in advance.

Essentially, anything you can think of in advance, or anything that you think you might be a bit weak on, then prepare something before you start to help yourself out. A cheat sheet of rules, names of important characters, a timeline of events, a list of names to use at random, whatever you need. The more you can put in up front (even if it’s just sitting down and thinking about it), then the better your game is likely to go.

I think that’s a good start. Any questions?

2 thoughts on “GM Tips #1

  1. When running Savage Worlds, I type out the edges and hindrances for each character so that the player has the details immediately to hand without having to refer to the rulebook. It might only save a couple of minutes here and there but every little helps. Likewise, I’ve created my own player mat (based on the one available on the Pinnacle website – I’ll be uploading it to UK Role Players next week) which has details about attack options, tricks, and how Bennies work. Again, it’s nothing special, but as you say, having these options in front the player on a “cheat sheet” means they are more likely to try something.

  2. evilgaz

    Yeah, good stuff. I usually do my own character sheets and include snippets on there about Edges or whatever, even if its not the whole rule, some guidance is great.

    I played a game of Dogs which had all the rules summarised on the character sheet. While that’s not practical for every game, any rules or hints specific to the character (not necessarily rules either, maybe roleplaying ideas of whatever) are all good.

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