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My Personal Rules For Running Games... and the Stories Behind Them
MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 2:12:02 AM(UTC)

So, I've mentioned this a few times before, but I have a few rules for running my games. Eighteen of them, in fact, not including several addenda I've added for clarification.

However, I feel like, when I bring them up, I wind up sounding like I'm talking out of my ass, so I'm going to go ahead and state them here... and then explain myself with the stories that inspired me to make the rules in the first place.

My hope in doing this is that my own experiences (for good or for ill) will be helpful to you in your own games, and that you can head off problems before they get as bad as they often did for me.

So let's start from the beginning.



Rule #1 wrote:
If someone is unhappy, something has gone wrong.

This one is fairly self-explanatory, I think. I placed this as the first rule because accepting and identifying a problem is always the first step to fixing it, and as you'll soon see, a common theme to many of my nastier stories involves people being unable, or unwilling, to see that there is a problem in the first place.

At least, not until it was too late.

And the first sign is always, always, someone unhappy with how things are going. Sometimes the problem is that the person is unhappy for a stupid or asinine reasons, but then the problem is that the person is just being annoying. The key is to be able to differentiate between a legitimate grievance and plain old complaining.



Rule #2 wrote:
If something has gone wrong, the GM is most likely the one at fault.

Also:
Rule #2a wrote:
If the GM is not at fault, find the problem player(s) and deal with them accordingly.

The reason for this rule is fairly simple as well: in my experience, the person running the game has more opportunity to make the game unenjoyable than the players do, simply because of their authority as GMs/STs/DMs/whatever.

Once again, there's no real story to go along with this, more of a general observation. It should also be noted that there are problem players that can really wreck your game, and they're distressingly common, but you can get rid of them, at least; getting rid of a problem ST, on the other hand, is a far more difficult exercise.



Finally:
Rule #3 wrote:
Never be afraid to say “No,” and never be afraid to say “Yes.”

This is the first one with a particular story behind it. There is a guy, who we shall call Dom to protect his identity (but still give him a name that is fairly appropriate to his personality), who is integral to a number of these stories, and so he'll need a name for good reference.

The thing you need to know about Dom is that he is one of the worst munchkins I've ever seen. Beyond simple power gaming and min-maxing, he had a tendency to seek out the most abusive builds he could find, and he was manipulative enough to get his way nearly all the time, even when better judgment would have told us not to. He also figured out a way to cheat the dice rolls even while we were watching him, by controlling how he moved his hand just so to force the dice to come up the way he wanted them to.

He also had the creepiest motherfucking laugh I've ever heard, and was frequently sleep-deprived due to anxiety issues and allergies, which somehow made him even more unpleasant than he usually was.

Anyway, he created a character for the VtR LARP we were both playing in, a Gangrel member of the Circle of the Crone. He created the character as an exercise in creating a broken character (or so he said), although we didn't really take him seriously... until he decided to (seemingly randomly) kill another player in a game that traditionally banned PvP. He exploited a loophole in how Cruac (the unique magic of the Circle) functioned to deal several hundred dice of damage with a single casting of Touch of the Morrigan, and then threatened everyone else with Gangrel Claws if we tried to stop him.

This wound up being one of the more unpleasant games I was in, because the STs had to confer on how to deal with this for over an hour, while the players were in various levels of distress and Dom was constantly justifying why his sudden outburst of violence was perfectly acceptable.

The reason I instituted this rule was simple: to prevent these sorts of broken builds, to keep them from causing problems later on, even if they seem harmless right now. At the same time, people should be allowed to play what they want, so if it isn't problematic (see Rule #1), it should be fine to allow it.



So that's what you need to know before we get into the meat of this.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 2:38:33 AM(UTC)

This next one is tied directly into Exalted, as it was my first time ever playing the game... and it was, of course, being run by Dom.

Because he was the only one who would run it, of course, and because I fail badly at pattern recognition.

Rule #4 wrote:
Communication is the basis of any successful relationship. This is no less true for the relationship between a GM and his players.

Rule #4a wrote:
Make sure all of your players are on the same page, with you, from the beginning.

Rule #4b wrote:
Establish expectations and rules beforehand, then stick to them.

Rule #4c wrote:
Keep track of what your players want to do, and make sure they get to do those things at some point.




So I had recently watched some of a Chinese television adaptation of Journey to the West, and I was inspired to create a Twilight version of Sun Wu Kong. I got a couple of other friends together, and got Dom to run. I made him a martial artist (unaware of the problems with this at the time), and decided to be the party's main combatant. I gave him a background where he was raised by members of the Silver Pact, and gave him a Motivation of spreading the Silver Pact's ideology.

I probably should have not even bothered, though, because three things happened in the first session. First, Dom's pet Sidereal from an old game came back and showed my Solar martial artist up with his Sidereal Martial Arts. Second, a Deathlord suddenly came along with an entire army and coerced me into making a suicidal Eclipse Oath. Third, I was forced into a quest to help a recently Exalted Solar Exalt who was turning into an Abyssal, who would turn out to be far more important to the story than any of the PCs (ultimately, the entire game came down to a single die roll made by this character to determine whether she'd redeem or not and thereby eliminate the Deathlord for us).

The reason I made this rule was because this game taught me how frustrating and helpless it can feel to be railroaded in a game where you don't get a choice about what you do. I rarely got an opportunity to do what I made the character to do (most fights were usually resolved in single attacks by the Sidereal martial artist or the half-Solar), or to pursue my character's Motivation (we were too busy avoiding death from disobeying the Eclipse Oath), and any attempt to convince my ST to go off the rails was met with rules lawyering. He also enjoyed randomly dropping nastiness on us, because he wanted to do a "dark" game; he actually tended to do this a lot, and it caused quite a few problems.

If he had simply communicated his expectations beforehand, or if we had been better at communicating our frustrations, perhaps this could have all been avoided. But we just swallowed it as a part of the game, and as a result a totally unsatisfactory experience was had by all (no, not even he seemed happy with how it turned out).
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 3:10:14 AM(UTC)

So now we're about to get into some really unpleasant territory. More than any other single rule, this one results in rage-quits and wrecked games. It seems fairly simple and obvious to me, but I've found far too many people who think they know better.



Rule #5 wrote:
Always respect boundaries. If someone says something is Not Okay, for whatever reason, don’t do it.

Rule #5a wrote:
You do not know better than the player what they want out of a game.

Rule #5b wrote:
Keep your fetishes to yourself (unless you get the explicit consent of your players).




So let's get back to our favorite bad ST, Dom. He decided that, rather than continuing to run multiple games (since he wound up being one of the few people in my group of friends/acquaintances who was actually willing to run), he would just make one ongoing one that was a big collection of every nWoD type currently available, all stuck in the same city, in the same world, and all happening simultaneously. We shall simply refer to it as "The Big Game."

It was ambitious, and I would have had more respect for him if not for his particular style of running (that is, to say, steamrolling over whatever you wanted to do in favor of doing whatever he wanted to do). But we wanted to try it out anyway, so I made an Adamantine Arrow mage and my friend made a Winter Court changeling.

Within a month, my character was permanently tied to a high-powered spirit that could squash him like a bug (he was originally designed as an exorcist), and the changeling was out of commission due to the entire Winter Court being tortured to death by the mages (supposedly there was a reason for this, but it was kind of flimsy). Later on, all the mages would also be killed, but not in karmic retribution as would be expected; instead, a random bunch of outsiders with special weapons and armor that negated mage powers came along and destroyed them while my character was away.

Later on, we found out the reason the Winter Court changelings were all tortured to death because Dom thought the Winter Court were pussies and needed to be taught a lesson (an opinion that would have been nice to know before my friend rolled his changeling, as in Rule #4).

Additionally, he later had no problem doing the following things to my character and the characters of my friends: having them raped by NPCs (one of my characters, incidentally), having their memories totally wiped and their personality forcibly reconstructed (same character), having them blood bonded to a sadistic vampire (still me, different character), having their family randomly killed (different player), insta-gibbing them without a chance to fight back (another one of mine, but survived due to plot bullshit).

Yes, that was all in this one game.

Now, perhaps, you understand why I have this rule in place.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

Demetrius7997
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 3:14:14 AM(UTC)

Pardon the interjection, but holy shit... That's a horrible, horrible storyteller. That makes my worst past problem player seem mildly iffy.
JimB
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 3:19:11 AM(UTC)

MrInsecure wrote:
Later on, we found out the reason the Winter Court changelings were all tortured to death because Dom thought the Winter Court were pussies and needed to be taught a lesson

Of all the places to get hung up, this is where I'm stuck. He wanted to teach imaginary people a lesson? They can't learn anything! They're not real! They do not exist! Their capacity for learning is equal to zero! And even if they had been capable of learning a lesson, dead people are rather notoriously incapable of retention of information!

Sorry. Please continue.
Resident apostrophile. And a moogle. Yep, a happy, smiling, dancing, fluffy, innocent moogle; that's me.

New cuteness:

I wrote:
Remember Me wrote:
This Little Red Riding Hood has a basket full of kick-ass!

AH HA HA HA HA HA OH GOD HA HA HAAAAAA
Mizu005
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 3:19:44 AM(UTC)

Quote:
He also figured out a way to cheat the dice rolls even while we were watching him, by controlling how he moved his hand just so to force the dice to come up the way he wanted them to.


He could semi-reliably control dice rolls through skill and he spent his time fudging rolls in a RPG instead of hitting the local gambling places?
Behold the almighty chow chow!



Exalted Whose Name is Carved in Leaves of Jade
MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 3:45:35 AM(UTC)

Demetrius7997 wrote:
Pardon the interjection, but holy shit... That's a horrible, horrible storyteller. That makes my worst past problem player seem mildly iffy.

Would it shock you if I said it got worse? Or, at least, more broadly terrible.

Now, before someone asks, the reason we kept going back to him was because he was, as I said, one of the few people who would actually run. Also, he was really good at manipulating us into not realizing how much of a bastard he was.

But don't be afraid to interject; I consider these rules to be a work in progress, and would love commentary
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 3:47:13 AM(UTC)

JimB wrote:
MrInsecure wrote:
Later on, we found out the reason the Winter Court changelings were all tortured to death because Dom thought the Winter Court were pussies and needed to be taught a lesson

Of all the places to get hung up, this is where I'm stuck. He wanted to teach imaginary people a lesson? They can't learn anything! They're not real! They do not exist! Their capacity for learning is equal to zero! And even if they had been capable of learning a lesson, dead people are rather notoriously incapable of retention of information!

Well, it was more that he was teaching the player of the Winter Court character a lesson. You know, for not making a smart decision, like Summer or Autumn.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 3:48:29 AM(UTC)

Mizu005 wrote:
Quote:
He also figured out a way to cheat the dice rolls even while we were watching him, by controlling how he moved his hand just so to force the dice to come up the way he wanted them to.


He could semi-reliably control dice rolls through skill and he spent his time fudging rolls in a RPG instead of hitting the local gambling places?

This was in college in the middle of nowhere. There was no such place. However, I've heard stories that he did a lot of that back home, when he could get away with it.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

Demetrius7997
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 3:56:28 AM(UTC)

MrInsecure wrote:
Demetrius7997 wrote:
Pardon the interjection, but holy shit... That's a horrible, horrible storyteller. That makes my worst past problem player seem mildly iffy.

Would it shock you if I said it got worse? Or, at least, more broadly terrible.
Unfortunately, no. I've seen bad players descend into serious WTF territory. My worst one bottomed out at sexually assaulting another PC*. Not full on rape, just very inappropriate and unwanted touching, but still.

MrInsecure wrote:
But don't be afraid to interject; I consider these rules to be a work in progress, and would love commentary
So far I see nothing needing criticism. They're all good rules as far as I can tell.

*Only the character. If he'd done it to the player I wouldn't be typing this right now, I'd be in prison.
MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:02:33 AM(UTC)

This one gets back to that Exalted game earlier. Don't worry, it's a lot shorter and a lot less painful.

Rule #6 wrote:
Don’t mess with anything on a player’s character sheet. If they earned it with experience, it is sacred.

Rule #6a wrote:
Some in-game effects will alter a character sheet on a temporary or permanent basis. Use these sparingly.


On reflection, Dom treated other people in a way that could best be described as abusive. At least, his behavior had all the hallmarks of an abusive relationship: he would treat people poorly, and then use sweet words and gifts to get them back on his side before treating them poorly again. He came from money, so he could get away with the "gift" part a lot more than most other people.

This logic extended to his style of running games: he enjoyed tormenting people through their characters, by subjecting them to emotional and physical torments beyond their control, and when people got whiny enough he would hand them one of their character's motivations and/or something really shiny as a gift. However, the ST giveth and the ST taketh away, as he was just as likely to destroy something you loved and cared about as he was to give you something new and awesome.

In that Exalted game, my character lost his artifact wrackstaff after it was effortlessly broken by the Deathlord, but got a neat Cult (that I didn't want) in exchange. Later on, he killed my character's Lunar mate within five minutes of me meeting her (again, without me having a chance to defend her), but gave me the super-manse I had been hoping to build as a character goal when I started to bitch. He also randomly gave me a whole bunch of dots in a bunch of different Abilities because I wasn't advancing fast enough with a mere 8 XP per session, so he gave me the largest Training boost ever... only to get me bitched by the Deathlord later in the session.

While some people consider this merely a part of STing (not everyone values the importance of the stats on the character sheet as much as I do), I feel it's a good lesson to take about valuing your players' investments. So long as they're not clear munchkins, they probably have a good reason for them to be there, and removing those things should be the result of an epic sacrifice or loss, not the result of mere ST whimsy.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:04:08 AM(UTC)

Demetrius7997 wrote:
MrInsecure wrote:
Demetrius7997 wrote:
Pardon the interjection, but holy shit... That's a horrible, horrible storyteller. That makes my worst past problem player seem mildly iffy.

Would it shock you if I said it got worse? Or, at least, more broadly terrible.
Unfortunately, no. I've seen bad players descend into serious WTF territory. My worst one bottomed out at sexually assaulting another PC*. Not full on rape, just very inappropriate and unwanted touching, but still.

The thing is, this guy wasn't just a bad player. He was a bad ST, which is largely the reason I'm using him. Many of these examples came from games he ran, just in case you thought players were the only ones that could be problems.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

Demetrius7997
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:08:03 AM(UTC)

I find myself kinda hoping that Dom sought psychological help. He sounds kinda like he needed it.

Also, the jackass player is actually why I'm the storyteller with my group. He was originally. I showed an interest in trying it out and the other players were incredibly supportive and never wanted to let me stop because he was the only other person willing to run a game.
MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:19:07 AM(UTC)

Oh, here's where we come to one of my favorite ones. This is less terrible and more on the impressively narcissistic side, though I'm sure I'm going to hit a few nerves here. This is also where I start to make the rules more lengthy, as I couldn't figure out ways to shorten them down more.

Rule #7 wrote:
Avoid special snowflakes. That way lies the Mary Sue.

Rule #7a wrote:
Any NPC that can be accurately described as “like a PC but better in every way” is not cool or interesting, it’s infuriating.

Rule #7b wrote:
Restrictions on cool things based on mechanical aspects are fine. Restrictions on cool things based on favoritism are not.


So let's get back to the Big Game, which you have already likely been poisoned against. Dom had spent a lot of time creating the world in which it took place, which meant he created an enormous roster of characters. In his mind, the only way to manage them (and the PCs) was to have them all be lead by Power Stat 10 monsters with unique abilities and items that would put some of the higher-rated Exalted Artifacts to shame.

There was the Invictus Prince with BP 10 and bullshit-levels of Dominate; the Werewolf with Primal Urge 10 who could literally rip a tank in half; and of course, the Changeling with Wyrd 10, who had special contracts that let him be aware of everything that was happening automatically, let him teleport wherever he wanted in the city where the game was set, and who had a switchblade made from the jawbone of Father Wolf.

Yes, you read that correctly. And no, none of the players were allowed to have any of this cool stuff.

Now, most STs will put in lesser levels of bullshit. I've heard about one ST who decided to give their favorite Alchemical Solar Circle Sorcery and Void Circle Necromancy, without needing Voidtech or a specialized N/A artifact, just because the Alchemical was so pure and good. I've heard of STs who made enemies that could pierce perfect defenses automatically, UF vs IO be damned. I've heard of STs who gave their Dragon-Blooded the ability to use SMA, because they were super-enlightened or some shit.

The point is largely the same: encountering this kind of thing is bullshit, and no player is impressed by this sort of blatant personal wish-fulfillment. If your NPCs aren't following the same rules as everyone else, there had better be a damn good reason, or else you're just going to make your players mad at how much you need to show off your favorite Mary Sue.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

Mizu005
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:26:59 AM(UTC)

Quote:
There was the Invictus Prince with BP 10 and bullshit-levels of Dominate; the Werewolf with Primal Urge 10 who could literally rip a tank in half; and of course, the Changeling with Wyrd 10, who had special contracts that let him be aware of everything that was happening automatically, let him teleport wherever he wanted in the city where the game was set, and who had a switchblade made from the jawbone of Father Wolf.


I was under the impression that 'fuck you, you are inherently incapable of being as good as your elders' was a basic part of WoD?
Behold the almighty chow chow!



Exalted Whose Name is Carved in Leaves of Jade
MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:27:02 AM(UTC)

Demetrius7997 wrote:
I find myself kinda hoping that Dom sought psychological help. He sounds kinda like he needed it.

He saw a psychologist regularly, and was on more medications than I've ever seen. However, the problems that made him a bad ST are problems no psychologist can fix, because he didn't particularly want them fixed.

Demetrius7997 wrote:
Also, the jackass player is actually why I'm the storyteller with my group. He was originally. I showed an interest in trying it out and the other players were incredibly supportive and never wanted to let me stop because he was the only other person willing to run a game.

Sadly, I know how you feel.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:30:55 AM(UTC)

Mizu005 wrote:

I was under the impression that 'fuck you, you are inherently incapable of being as good as your elders' was a basic part of WoD?

This was on a slightly different level; even if you're not supposed to be able to take on your elders, a good sniper bullet from 100 yards was usually enough to at least give them trouble.

These guys would notice you (without rolling), catch the bullet (without rolling), and then appear by your side and mind-rape you into submission (this time rolling, but he fudged the rolls anyway, so it's not like it mattered).
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

Demetrius7997
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:33:08 AM(UTC)

MrInsecure wrote:
Demetrius7997 wrote:
I find myself kinda hoping that Dom sought psychological help. He sounds kinda like he needed it.

He saw a psychologist regularly, and was on more medications than I've ever seen. However, the problems that made him a bad ST are problems no psychologist can fix, because he didn't particularly want them fixed.
Yeah, that does tend to hinder progress.

MrInsecure wrote:
Demetrius7997 wrote:
Also, the jackass player is actually why I'm the storyteller with my group. He was originally. I showed an interest in trying it out and the other players were incredibly supportive and never wanted to let me stop because he was the only other person willing to run a game.

Sadly, I know how you feel.
Thankfully in more recent years I've had one player step up and run a short chronicle and since she and I play one on one online and have known each other for close to two decades now* our gaming style has become almost completely storyteller free. I do a lot of design work and I run combats and the like, but she shares a lot of the other work and runs a good amount of the supporting cast.

Another player has been working up a chronicle for a while now, but life keeps getting in the way.
MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:42:28 AM(UTC)

Alright, I'm going to admit: this one comes from my own failed attempt at running a game. I learned from the experience, but at the cost of my players' fun.

Rule #8 wrote:
Both railroading and sandboxing have their place. Know when to give your players freedom, and when to herd them back on track.


So the first time I ran Exalted, it went... alright. I had to worm my way around to prevent Dom from getting in, and things went okay, but my inexperience showed. And the easiest way to show this was how I handled my own players' Motivations, which is to say, poorly.

To sum up, I railroaded them pretty hard. Not because I didn't want them to go out and do stuff; but because I couldn't keep them together otherwise. It was just one of those incompatible groups, and only through judicious application of Sidereals was I able to keep them in the same general vicinity. On reflection, I should have let them get on their separate ways for a while, but I didn't have much time to run the game at that point (several of the players were graduating and moving away at the end of the semester), so I wound up forcing them onto a straight plot.

The next time I tried to run Exalted, I couldn't keep Dom out, and the three other players were either disinterested, unresponsive or both, so Dom wound up... well, dominating. I was overcompensating for the railroading I did in the last game, so I tried to create an open world for them to sandbox in, and instead it just wound up being Dom and his character leading everyone around and showing off how awesome he was. The game wound up disintegrating for a variety of reasons, and this was pretty much the last time me and Dom would ever speak on even a semblance of friendly terms, but I at least learned that sometimes, you really do have to lead your players around.

The key is to find what works best for your group. Some groups work best when the players are guided on a narrow path by the ST; some work best when they have a general goal laid out, but are free to pursue side goals; and some groups work best when the players are free to do as they wish, with the ST largely responding to their actions. This is just something you have to discover for yourselves, I'm afraid.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:55:53 AM(UTC)

This one should be fairly self-explanatory, and I'm sure you guys know what I'm talking about, but I'll admit I'm guilty of breaking this as well.

Rule #9 wrote:
Avoid deus ex machina at all costs.

Rule #9a wrote:
There will likely be characters who are far more powerful than your PCs in your game. Use them sparingly.

Rule #9b wrote:
Always remember that the NPCs are the actors in the PCs’ story, not the other way around.


These are the tools of the railroader: using NPCs and spontaneous events to guide the game in the direction you want it to go, when you want it to go, whether for the good of the players or to satisfy your own desire to have the game you want.

Those Power Stat 10 elders I mentioned earlier? Dom had a lovely (read: horrible) habit of bringing out his Elders, especially the teleporting changeling, whenever the PCs weren't doing what he wanted them to do. He also liked pitting us against enemies who similarly outpaced us in terms of stats, so that he could torment us or so his Mary Sue of the Day could come in and save us. In retrospect, it was all about wish fulfillment and self-aggrandizement; he had no interest or desire in allowing us a well-earned victory.

The reason this rule is here is because this is a distressingly common habit among GMs; rather than adjust and adapt when things go off the rails, they stage a divine intervention to ensure things go the way he wants them to. Sometimes, you just have to let things happen as they will, and work with whatever happens. Trust me, things will be a lot more interesting that way.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 5:04:34 AM(UTC)

This one is a lot more lighthearted, and ties a bit into the previous rule.

Rule #10 wrote:
Do not bother to plan extensively. Your players will do what you expect them to do less than 5% of the time.

Rule #10a wrote:
Always have contingencies.

Rule #10b wrote:
Always be ready to improvise.


I'd like to say I have a single story about this. I could tell you about the time a stressful session in the Vampire LARP I played in turned into a Crowning Moment of Awesome when a normally quiet character finally stood up for himself and his sire. I could tell you about the time my player managed to assassinate half of the Bull of the North's Circle without him knowing about it, and then escaped right through the Bull's knees, even though I expected her to get captured and ransomed. I could tell you about the time one of my players beat Mnemon in an all-out Gateway match.

But I don't have a single story, because it seems to happen so often that I've lost track. Instead, I'll just generally tell you this: unless you're a grand master railroader, you're not going to be able to predict what's going to happen next in your own games. You just won't; even if the players go along with you, the dice may not. It's why I usually don't plan beyond vague outlines, just in case one of my players surprises me... again.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

SachKreiosLucy4
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 5:13:45 AM(UTC)

MrInsecure wrote:
Alright, I'm going to admit: this one comes from my own failed attempt at running a game. I learned from the experience, but at the cost of my players' fun.

Rule #8 wrote:
Both railroading and sandboxing have their place. Know when to give your players freedom, and when to herd them back on track.


To sum up, I railroaded them pretty hard. Not because I didn't want them to go out and do stuff; but because I couldn't keep them together otherwise. It was just one of those incompatible groups, and only through judicious application of Sidereals was I able to keep them in the same general vicinity. On reflection, I should have let them get on their separate ways for a while
Commentary.

Despite my reputation for supposedly trolling or encouraging fights...



So - yeah. I wanted to suggest a possible 8b - gentle 'nudging' at character creation helps (a) spare everyone from the need to railroad and (b) helps you define your sandbox more consistently. It's no different than in MMOs, where friends will discuss what classes they want to play, agree to factions, and then balance themselves out in ways that compliment each other.


Actually, that's an idea in itself - breaking factions into distinct camps, so it encourages players to openly negotiate about what they want (and off that, you can adjust if necessary but still have a "guiding idea" so they work as a team instead of wandering off).


Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it.

Bragging about Ignoring someone is like a brat plugging their ears and going "haha I can't hear you". Adults do not do this.

My civility is a purely practical courtesy for participants who may be monitored at work. There is no such thing as a "universal unspoken code" of Decency. Keep your imaginary sense of ethics to yourself.
MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 5:21:37 AM(UTC)

SachKreiosLucy4 wrote:
So - yeah. I wanted to suggest a possible 8b - gentle 'nudging' at character creation helps (a) spare everyone from the need to railroad and (b) helps you define your sandbox more consistently. It's no different than in MMOs, where friends will discuss what classes they want to play, agree to factions, and then balance themselves out in ways that compliment each other.

I consider this a part of Rule #4. Communication from start to end is important, and coordinating your party is one of the first and biggest steps you can take to make sure the game will work out.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 5:35:20 AM(UTC)

Not sure how to introduce this, so I'll get right into it. Also, these are a lot longer than many of the other rules, even if they're not that complex.

Rule #11 wrote:
Don’t play favorites with your players. Make sure everyone gets time to shine, and always give your players a chance to use their abilities.

Rule #11a wrote:
If you do not intend to give players an opportunity to use certain abilities, make sure to inform them from the beginning so they do not waste resources developing those abilities.

Rule #11b wrote:
Keep in-game and out-of-game issues separate.


In case it wasn't clear, Dom and I didn't get along very well, especially towards the end of our relationship. Because we were both petty children (i.e. college students), we started striking out at each other through our games, attacking the characters because we couldn't punch each other in the face. This resulted in some of the most blatant favoritism (and anti-favoritism) in our games that I've ever seen, the result being that it generally ruined the game for everyone.

Be adults. Discuss your problems. Be fair to all of your players, because even the ones who aren't affected will be dismayed by shows of unfairness towards any character, be it beneficial or detrimental.



Now, for once, I get to show you a rule I got from a game being done right.

Rule #12 wrote:
Be willing to make adjustments to characters and plot points, especially early on, when you realize that something is just not working out. It's easier to fix now than it will be later.


This comes from a game I play in currently, where the ST regularly does "audits" of our sheets to see what we've used, what we haven't used, and reshuffle the experience accordingly so we don't "waste" any XP on things that are just sitting around on your sheet, doing nothing. It has worked out great for us, and it helps us avoid the common problem of XP sinks and XP discrepancies between different character builds.

Now, do I think every game should have that kind of system? Of course not. But you should at least have a grace period towards the beginning of the game, where you allow players to adjust things that just aren't working out.

In the old Vampire LARP (that I wound up running), we had a Five Game Rule: you get five games to settle into your character and change whatever didn't work. After that point, you were stuck with them. While I was there, two or three games was usually enough, but we always assumed a certain amount of leeway with people settling into the character.

It's just how things go, after all.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

Hecaton
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 5:55:17 AM(UTC)

I like this little spiel you have - I think there's quite a few gamers who've had to deal with similar issues before. Do you have a blog or anything?

As far as your rule #11 goes, I think that's a big one for me that I realized I had a problem with at one point as an ST. These days, I always make sure to have a conversation with the players in my games at some point about their character, and watch for the times when their eyes light up, they make hand gestures, get animated, etc, and then try to make that sort of enthusiasm happen at some point. As an example, I really dislike the aesthetic and thesis of Sidereals, to the point where I really wish they weren't in the setting, but if I'm running a game for one or more players with Sidereal PCs, I need to set that aside and spend some time finding the awesome in their character concepts.
MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 6:01:32 AM(UTC)

So here's an important one for people that like to keep their players' attention. It has to do with the important, but often forgotten, monster known as Pacing.

Rule #13 wrote:
Never spend more time describing your world than you need to. Set up the scene and move on.

Rule #13a wrote:
If your players start looking bored, it’s time for you to throw a new challenge at them.

Rule #13b wrote:
Avoid repetition. Break up combat with social scenes or intellectual challenges, and vice versa.

Otherwise known as the Get to the Fucking Monkey rule.

One of the problems with so much of fantasy and fantasy RPGs being based on Tolkien is that Tolkien is, well, bad at action. Go back and read the Lord of the Rings; most of the book is him describing what it's like to walk through Middle Earth. If you take the actual action scenes and smashed them all together, you might get enough for a decent novella, not nearly enough for a trilogy; the rest is just description.

And if you force your players to sit through something like that, they will be bored out of their minds.

You have to balance out fight scenes (that can get dull if they go on for too long or get too complicated) with lower-key "downtime" scenes and non-combat challenges (like social combat or investigations/puzzles). Go too far towards downtime, and you won't be able to keep people interested as they run out of stuff to talk about; go too far towards action, and you'll feel the pain of combat dragging on and on without end. Social scenes and intellectual puzzles can be considered action scenes, and can also drag on, but they also tend to be much lower in terms of stress than combat.

Watch your players carefully, and be mindful of Rule #4: make sure everyone's having fun, and if they're not, try to find out why so you can improve. If your players seem bored a lot, consider adding variation to switch things up a bit. You might be surprised at what you find.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 6:07:39 AM(UTC)

Hecaton wrote:
I like this little spiel you have - I think there's quite a few gamers who've had to deal with similar issues before. Do you have a blog or anything?

No, and I'd rather avoid it for a variety of reasons (not the least of which is that potential employers might be able to find it and toss me out for stuff I say on it). At least here, I'm (relatively) anonymous, which is handy in case the real Dom finds this and starts threatening to sue me or something (not that he could, since he would have to out himself first because I've made sure to try not to reveal his identity, but still).

Hecaton wrote:
As far as your rule #11 goes, I think that's a big one for me that I realized I had a problem with at one point as an ST. These days, I always make sure to have a conversation with the players in my games at some point about their character, and watch for the times when their eyes light up, they make hand gestures, get animated, etc, and then try to make that sort of enthusiasm happen at some point. As an example, I really dislike the aesthetic and thesis of Sidereals, to the point where I really wish they weren't in the setting, but if I'm running a game for one or more players with Sidereal PCs, I need to set that aside and spend some time finding the awesome in their character concepts.

Maybe you should have just not allowed your players to play Sidereals, if it's that problematic for you? I'm sure your players don't have fun when they see you're not having fun; so it would probably be better if you had told them "no Sidereals, I just don't like them," rather than have to run something that's so unpleasant for you.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

that guy
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 6:11:00 AM(UTC)
MrInsecure wrote:

Rule #4c wrote:
Keep track of what your players want to do, and make sure they get to do those things at some point.


So far this is the only rule i vaguely disagree with, as I think that that people should be given the opportunity to TRY to accomplish the things they want to, not be guaranteed to succeed. I consistently tell my players to make sure the fall out of failure to achieve something is at least as much fun from a play perspective as succeeding.
MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 6:24:24 AM(UTC)

I'm sure this one should have gone earlier, but I couldn't figure out where to put it, so...

Rule #14 wrote:
Some things just won’t work out, even if you do everything right. Don’t feel ashamed about this; just cut your losses and move on.


This was one of the hardest lessons I had to learn, first with my second Exalted group and then with a couple other groups, but it's fairly basic: some groups or games just won't work out, no matter how hard you work at making them succeed. Don't be discouraged or ashamed; certain games or group combinations won't work out, so cut your losses, accept your failure, try to learn from it and move on. Don't dwell on it, you'll just make yourself unhappy; instead, try again, maybe with a different system or setting, or a different group of players.

You'll find something that works, I'm sure.



This one seems fairly obvious, but as I recently found out from one of my own current STs, not everyone takes this into consideration. I'm not sure why.

Rule #15 wrote:
Be mindful of difficulty. Always make sure that the enemies you throw at your players are at a difficulty appropriate to their characters’ abilities.

Rule #15a wrote:
Make sure all of your combat-oriented characters are on roughly the same level, so that one player does not dominate over all others.

Rule #15b wrote:
Rules abuses can come intentionally or unintentionally; be wary of either.


The first part of this rule came from the Big Game, where Dom had a tendency to throw enemies at us that we had no way of defeating or defending against: hordes of elder vampires, dangerous traps we couldn't defuse, spirits that were so powerful they didn't technically have stats, and the like. This was because he had no interest in actually creating balanced fights, and was more interested in showing off how awesome his own characters were.

The second part of this rule comes from persistent problems in a Changeling game that ran for a short time, where it was clear that the firearms guy was just kicking ass beyond all the rest of us non-firearms guys. It made everyone else feel stupid for making their less optimized characters, because they were constantly outclassed and made to feel useless.

The third part of this rule came from that same Changeling game, where firearms guy (played by Dom) abused the weapon-creation rules in Armory:Reloaded to build a super gun that could take down almost any enemy in one hit. It was rules legal, but so broken that I cannot believe the ST allowed it. Maybe it was because she didn't know not to not allow it?

Perhaps I should have a rule about not allowing any custom powers or items you don't understand.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

Xelian
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 6:32:28 AM(UTC)

I've had my share of "Dom" in my games as well. He was never much for running a game but he was awful as a player. We played D&D 3.5 and basically there weren't a single session in which we haven't argued for something (and D&D 3.5 is much much closed to interpretation than Exalted is). We argued for things like - should a 1 feet tall grass counts as difficult terrain for the players and does not count for the 30 feet monster which attacked it, whether a GOD should be able to move a city (only for storytelling purposes to set up a plot and having no direct effect over the PC's), whether he knows every spell in existance just because he rolled 20 on the dice once etc. etc. etc. I stopped running games on him when he said to point him in the book where is the rule which says that "players must listen to his Dungenmaster (Storyteller)".

Anyway - your rules made me realize I railroad a bit too much. I'm not sure if it is obvious for my players (i'm trying to cover as the railroad is a result of their own actions though this is not always possible)
MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 6:44:26 AM(UTC)

that guy wrote:
MrInsecure wrote:

Rule #4c wrote:
Keep track of what your players want to do, and make sure they get to do those things at some point.


So far this is the only rule i vaguely disagree with, as I think that that people should be given the opportunity to TRY to accomplish the things they want to, not be guaranteed to succeed. I consistently tell my players to make sure the fall out of failure to achieve something is at least as much fun from a play perspective as succeeding.

This is pretty much what I meant; I just worded it poorly. Thank you for your input.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 2:06:35 PM(UTC)

Right, so moving on, here's one I've seen way too many STs fall into, and one I only narrowly avoided because the first game I ever ran was with two other people in a LARP. Also, these ones could probably bear to be condensed a bit, so...

Rule #16 wrote:
Never be afraid to ask for help. You are not omniscient, so don’t expect to be able to answer every question or deal with every problem yourself.

Rule #16a wrote:
If you decide to do homebrew, or want to try something from a book or system you don’t know, check it out with someone you trust, who has knowledge of game mechanics.

Rule #16b wrote:
Always keep in mind that what works in your group may not work for others, and vice versa.


So let's get one thing out of the way: I love these forums, because (almost) everyone is smart and helpful and will give you advice if you have a problem. However, I was running for several years before I ever got to these forums, and that meant I got my advice where everyone always gets their advice: from their friends. Ostensibly, this included Dom, but I learned fairly quickly to ignore some of his advice, since he was mostly concerned about the players wrecking his fun.

However, I learned pretty quickly that trying to get advice from my own group of players was fruitless, since a) they didn't want to offend me by criticizing my GMing style, and b) none of them really could really agree on what would be best. So I wound up having to go outside my own group for advice, to a friend who only ever roleplayed once and never ran. And he had some valuable advice: stop questioning myself. If no one thinks anything's wrong, then there isn't a problem, so stop trying to fix it.

As you'll note, that's the flipside to my Rule #1: don't fix what isn't broken. It was great help to me, and since then I've remembered to ask my friends for help when I was having trouble and couldn't figure out what to do... but only when I thought there was a legitimate problem, and not just me worrying.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

Demetrius7997
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 2:09:31 PM(UTC)

16 Is a very good rule. It's also one it took me years to figure out.
MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 2:30:33 PM(UTC)

This one is probably going to be harder for the GMs around here to swallow, but it's fairly fundamental nonetheless.

Rule #17 wrote:
Sometimes, you’re wrong. Deal with it.

Rule #17a wrote:
If you’re having a bad day, don’t be afraid to take the day off so you can recover. A mentally disabled GM is never a good GM.

Rule #17b wrote:
If you say something that offends someone, apologize. If that person is offended regularly, either they need to chill out, or you need to work on your social skills.


While rule 17 is much more fundamental, 17a is actually the one I learned first, through our good friend Dom again.

Remember when I said Dom had tons of medications, way up there? Allergy meds, anxiety meds, meds to combat the side effects of meds, stuff like that? Well, the net result of this was that he didn't really sleep, per se. He would go days without sleeping, and then pass out for 18 hours or more, and then wake back up and repeat the cycle.

However, this never stopped him from running game, even when he was starting to hallucinate from sleep deprivation. He had gotten so used to hiding this stuff for so long that we could never tell how tired he was... until he started to run. You see, he really liked Dark stuff, and making things Dark was his first impulse, so the more tired he was, the more he started to inflict torments upon our characters, and the more brutal and emotionally devastating those torments were.

So when he had just slept, things were relatively pleasant. By about day three of his insomnia, we would get nasty brutes dual wielding weapons with White Phosphorous rounds. Of course, he usually took our complaining to be simple bitching and moaning, so things never really got any better.

So yeah, sometimes, as the ST, you're just plain wrong. Accept it, deal with the problem (which, in this this case, is you and the way you're doing things), and move on.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 2:39:29 PM(UTC)

Alright, last one, kiddies. Then, I'd like to open the floor for some advice and possible additions.

Rule #18 wrote:
Remember that everyone should be having fun, GM and player both. Otherwise, it will become an arduous slog for everyone.

Rule #18a wrote:
A game is a team sport, where everyone wins if they play together.

Rule #18b wrote:
You’re not here to “train” your players; let them do as they want, and let them succeed or fail on their own merits.


This one is rather unique in that it wasn't inspired by practical experience, but rather by a thread on RPG.net where someone was asking about "training" their players. Basically, using in-game rewards and punishments to coerce players into certain kinds of action and certain lines of thought. Many of the people in the thread thought this was a great idea, and subsequently bemoaned how their players kept wanting to do stuff that the GMs didn't want to deal with.

The lesson they walked away with was that conditioning your players with in-game rewards and punishments was a great way to handle "problem" players. The lesson I walked away with, on the other hand, was that some GMs don't give a crap about whether their players were having fun or not, and were more concerned about "training" their players into playing the sort of game that the GM wanted to run, the way he wanted to run it.

So despite the fact that this was blatantly obvious to me, I added it anyway. Because sometimes, you really do have to remind people that it's a game, and everyone should be having fun.



Alright everyone, that's the end of my list. Does anyone else have any other ideas? Things to add or change? I'm open to suggestions.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

Scathach
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 2:48:36 PM(UTC)

Thank ALL the things!
Limited Reagent
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 2:50:00 PM(UTC)

MrInsecure wrote:
Rule #17a wrote:
If you’re having a bad day, don’t be afraid to take the day off so you can recover. A mentally disabled GM is never a good GM.
As a corollary to this, one that I've learned over the years is:

Quote:
If you're not having fun with a game anymore, if it feels more like work than play, if you feel burnt out, then it's probably time to switch to a new game or take a break from GMing.


I've had it happen far too many times, when a game is fun at the beginning but starts to drag. It happened with my Vampire: the Requiem game. It has been going for about a year, and I was just feeling drained. I wasn't putting as much effort into planning, or planning at the last minute. So, I decided that it was time for a break after the story we're on concluded. We'll come back to the game later to finish up the final act, but right now, we moved onto something completely different (Eclipse Phase), and are rotating GMs so I can play some instead of run all the time.
Make some shit up that you think will be fun.™

Book of the Emerald Circle
MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 2:50:11 PM(UTC)

Xelian wrote:
I've had my share of "Dom" in my games as well. He was never much for running a game but he was awful as a player. We played D&D 3.5 and basically there weren't a single session in which we haven't argued for something (and D&D 3.5 is much much closed to interpretation than Exalted is). We argued for things like - should a 1 feet tall grass counts as difficult terrain for the players and does not count for the 30 feet monster which attacked it, whether a GOD should be able to move a city (only for storytelling purposes to set up a plot and having no direct effect over the PC's), whether he knows every spell in existance just because he rolled 20 on the dice once etc. etc. etc. I stopped running games on him when he said to point him in the book where is the rule which says that "players must listen to his Dungenmaster (Storyteller)".

I was about to say he was just a plain old rules lawyer, but no, he's just a dick.

Xelian wrote:
Anyway - your rules made me realize I railroad a bit too much. I'm not sure if it is obvious for my players (i'm trying to cover as the railroad is a result of their own actions though this is not always possible)

Well, I have a question for you: are you having fun? Are the players having fun? If so, then there's no problem, so don't try to fix it. But if your railroading is causing an issue, then by all means, open things up a bit.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

Ulc
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 2:55:15 PM(UTC)

MrInsecure wrote:
This one gets back to that Exalted game earlier. Don't worry, it's a lot shorter and a lot less painful.

Rule #6 wrote:
Don’t mess with anything on a player’s character sheet. If they earned it with experience, it is sacred.

Rule #6a wrote:
Some in-game effects will alter a character sheet on a temporary or permanent basis. Use these sparingly.



Both of these need an addendum; Unless you have obtained prior permission.

One thing i have learned in the game I current ST for is that asking for permission from players to do something, that would otherwise not be okay, can be totally cool. Of course, you have to respect it if they say no, but asking one of my players "hey, this intimacy you have, can I use that for something unrelated?" along with a minor explanation of what I was (roughly) planning, has lead to some really cool stories.

If I had sprung the same plot on my unsuspecting players, I'm pretty sure that they would have quit the campaign. But because I had talked with them about it first, they trusted it to be cool, and it did indeed turn out that everyone involved thought it was incredible cool.

And at least one email went out with the basic message being "Hey guys, as part of the plot you asked for I'd like to use some fairly nasty UMI that will force some fairly unlucky intimacies upon the targets, if I have your permission to use that on your characters, please send me an email".
Demetrius7997
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 2:57:14 PM(UTC)

My players quite have often needed a little bit of railroading. It works in our group, but it was usually more hand holding and drawing them along with encouragement than shoving them down a path. My original storyteller turned really bad player tended to draw a line to follow and deviation was not recommended. One of my players came into the hobby playing with a DM who was a very controlling person both in game and out. They all had to work against what they learned at the beginning. I did too. The only storyteller I'd ever had was the bad railroading guy , so that did effect my storytelling style for a long time.
MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 3:05:34 PM(UTC)

Alright, you know what? I think I'm gonna stick a link to this thread in my sig. I think it's helpful enough for people, at least, that having some kind of permalink will be good.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

Omicron
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 3:07:35 PM(UTC)

And now that the list is over,

THE TWIST

Dom was actually Mr. Insecure himself in his wild days of youth.

Ta-dam!

This thread was presented to you by M. Night Shyamalan.



Seriously though, awesome thread and advice.
Characters, setting hooks and other things of mine.
Chaka wrote:
Thief-of-Faces wrote:
Oh my God.

What the Hell happened in this thread?
HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY EVERYBODY

Fitter Happier
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 3:33:46 PM(UTC)

MrInsecure wrote:
The lesson I walked away with, on the other hand, was that some GMs don't give a crap about whether their players were having fun or not, and were more concerned about "training" their players into playing the sort of game that the GM wanted to run, the way he wanted to run it.


Ugh, I hate that kind of thinking. It's not the GM's job to "train" or "condition" the players--

That's what the books are for! nyuck-nyuck-nyuck.
Holden wrote:
As a general rule, Fitter is correct.


"The whispers of the Wyld say, 'This is the story that articulates the mystery of conflict.' Then they explode!" Legend of the Shinma.

I WILL MAKE OF THIS WORLD A TORTURE CHAMBER: Rewritten Resonance.
MrInsecure
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 3:40:18 PM(UTC)

Demetrius7997 wrote:
My players quite have often needed a little bit of railroading. It works in our group, but it was usually more hand holding and drawing them along with encouragement than shoving them down a path. My original storyteller turned really bad player tended to draw a line to follow and deviation was not recommended. One of my players came into the hobby playing with a DM who was a very controlling person both in game and out. They all had to work against what they learned at the beginning. I did too. The only storyteller I'd ever had was the bad railroading guy , so that did effect my storytelling style for a long time.

My rule of thumb is this: if they know what they want to do, let them do it. If they don't, supply them with something to do, and guide them along if they're not sure where to go.
We do not quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. - Oliver Wendell Holmes

My character creation thread.
My personal rules for running games.

Lord Stone
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:18:55 PM(UTC)

This is a good set of rules I say. I think I am a pretty decent ST myself (my players sometimes tell me this, and I trust them on their word :-p) and none of these rules are much of a surprise to me to be honest.

A good mix between sandboxing and railroading is the key to a good story I think. The good ratio will be different with each group, and even with each story. Additionally, good railroading is well disguised. The stereotypical railroading (the players have no choice in the matter) tends to be bad. If you do let the players make a choice and coax the results onto the desired railroad track they will never truly notice because even though their choice may have been irrelevant, it was their choice after all and they only get to actually see the result of a single choice anyway. The most difficult, but probably also the strongest kind of railroading is the kind where despite the fact that you keep the story in the direction you wanted, you take the actions and choices of your players as a flexible input, make it matter in some manner despite the fact that you're railroading, on both an immediate and long-term manner. Yea, that last one takes a lot of contingency planning and improvisation.

A good mix between storyline and character background is important as well I think, but this is a mix that is much harder to get right, and the balance varies between groups. I always try to get character background stories to tie up with the main plot in some way or another, while avoiding the trap of linking them to the main plot too strongly. When a player takes the effort to root his character into the world with a good background story, it is important to heed it. You as the ST are the strongest factor in rooting characters in the world, because if you ignore their backgrounds alltogether they might just as well have appeared out of thin air at the start of the story.

In addition to the rules dealing with strong/powerful NPCs I have something to say. There is a very important role for NPCs like this in any campaign... and that is to be overshadowed by the players. There is nothing more thrilling than defeating that opponent who at the start of the campaign had seemed impossible to defeat. The powerful ally is a great storytelling tool if only for the moment your players can surpass them. And the surpassing doesn't even have to be in terms of strength... a powerful NPC can remain more powerful than the players if they surpass him in a different manner, like pointing out that they players are in fact better people, greater heroes, than this NPC is despite their gap in power. Another good one is that the players have more influence in the world than this powerful NPC. (Don't literally point it out these things though, the "Show, don't tell" rule is very strong here).
Limited Reagent
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:40:19 PM(UTC)

Fitter Happier wrote:
MrInsecure wrote:
The lesson I walked away with, on the other hand, was that some GMs don't give a crap about whether their players were having fun or not, and were more concerned about "training" their players into playing the sort of game that the GM wanted to run, the way he wanted to run it.


Ugh, I hate that kind of thinking. It's not the GM's job to "train" or "condition" the players--

That's what the books are for! nyuck-nyuck-nyuck.
Mechanical incentives, clear from the start, for certain behaviors are fine. That's basically what stunts are, after all. I'll often calibrate for what I give out xp based on the goals and themes of the campaign, as well.

Playing favoritism for players doing what you like (and the opposite), on the other hand is not a good thing.
Make some shit up that you think will be fun.™

Book of the Emerald Circle
Thoth
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:42:18 PM(UTC)

Overall the above stated rules are pretty much identical to my own.

The one addition I would put forth from my playbook, is that GM/ST/DM duty should be rotational within a group.

On many occassions there will be a group of players and just one ST, and it is the same set up over and over again. The same guy is always the ST, while the players enjoy the game and randomly be stubborn or my favorite intenionally derailing the game for laughs.

It was an early rule in my list that people in the group should take turns being the GM, on one hand this allows the GM to avoid burnout, but also it gives the players a bit more respect for the amount of work that had to go into the given nights entertainment.

Essentially if you are not willing to ST at some point, even a random one off game once or twice a year, why should the ST put a game together for you every week?

There is the side benefit that different STs have different styles and seeing them in comparison can inspire both player and ST alike.
The Unrepentant Architect of Manse Induced Suffering

"The current MA system is like the Twilight series. Incredibly popular, but an enormous waste of time and effort." - Inugami

Manse Design by Thoth
AstraKiseki
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:58:28 PM(UTC)

Thoth wrote:

Essentially if you are not willing to ST at some point, even a random one off game once or twice a year, why should the ST put a game together for you every week?


Because some people have enough trouble controlling one person, let alone a whole world? Because others hate the stress? Because certain people and styles don't jive? Because some people are not GM-material? Because there are ways to show gratitude that don't involve returning the favor?

I know I've tried to run games, and realized I hate it. I would rather do book-keeping, bring baked goods, pay for group commissions, things where I don't have to be the leader. Not to mention, there are people in my gaming circles who are fun players, but absolutely horrid GMs and playing under them would mean I will vanish until that game is over. It's a nice idea in theory, but not for everyone.

There is a reason why I try to link my long-running GMs to games, damn it. I can't do it personally, but I can sure as hell find ways to return the favor without doing it myself.
Serenity Punster with a side of Elloge and Manses
Once there was a maiden... / ...Who spoke words with meanings as facets / Those around here groaned and wailed
And begged of her to spare them / But the maiden did but laugh and laugh / "I have only punishment to spare" she said - Rockbird
Ryumaru
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 5:02:29 PM(UTC)

MrInsecure wrote:
This next one is tied directly into Exalted, as it was my first time ever playing the game... and it was, of course, being run by Dom.

Because he was the only one who would run it, of course, and because I fail badly at pattern recognition.

Rule #4 wrote:
Communication is the basis of any successful relationship. This is no less true for the relationship between a GM and his players.

Rule #4a wrote:
Make sure all of your players are on the same page, with you, from the beginning.

Rule #4b wrote:
Establish expectations and rules beforehand, then stick to them.

Rule #4c wrote:
Keep track of what your players want to do, and make sure they get to do those things at some point.



This rule/bunch of rules is probably the one that I push hardest, myself. Without knowing who your players are and what they want, disaster is imminent.
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Thoth
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 5:08:33 PM(UTC)

AstraKiseki wrote:
Thoth wrote:

Essentially if you are not willing to ST at some point, even a random one off game once or twice a year, why should the ST put a game together for you every week?


Because some people have enough trouble controlling one person, let alone a whole world? Because others hate the stress? Because certain people and styles don't jive? Because some people are not GM-material? Because there are ways to show gratitude that don't involve returning the favor?

I know I've tried to run games, and realized I hate it. I would rather do book-keeping, bring baked goods, pay for group commissions, things where I don't have to be the leader. Not to mention, there are people in my gaming circles who are fun players, but absolutely horrid GMs and playing under them would mean I will vanish until that game is over. It's a nice idea in theory, but not for everyone.

There is a reason why I try to link my long-running GMs to games, damn it. I can't do it personally, but I can sure as hell find ways to return the favor without doing it myself.


But the important thing is that you tried and realized exactly how much work it was. As a result you are willing to counter balance your lack of STing in other helpful ways. Which by the way, makes you worth your weight in gold in my book.

I actually have a whole sepperate system for what I call "homework and extras XP", this is where a player can make up lost XP if they had to miss games or they just want to get a bit more xp to be functional faster (mainly for XP sink builds like Crafters, MA-ists or Sorcery Characters).

Bringing food, helping with transport of players, providing ST book keeping help, etc all earns the character benefits because it will enhance the game itself.

EDIT: I didn't bring up the XP benefits trade in regards to the mandatory ST stuff, because not everyone uses the same XP sytems and figured that would be a seperate discussion.
The Unrepentant Architect of Manse Induced Suffering

"The current MA system is like the Twilight series. Incredibly popular, but an enormous waste of time and effort." - Inugami

Manse Design by Thoth
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