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Thread: GM Tips, Tricks, & General Advice

  1. #21
    gshannon Guest Spider. Just visiting.

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    I've been lurking here too. This thread has given me a new appreciation for the amount of work and time that goes into making a game. It will probably be a while before I try to run my own game.

  2. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by vitor210 View Post
    I've been following this thread and I realy like it, a lot of good tips for GM.

    I have a question, though: if, for instance, a GM is using the Forgotten Realms lore and locations, is it ok for him to "make up" places that are not mentioned in said maps or any other book related to Forgotten Realm? And how about the lore itself, can the GM alter it for the purpose of the campaing he's playing? Like, for instance, in a certain campaign the GM is creating, the adventurers are told about a great war between 2 powerfull cities that happend centuries before their time, cities that, in the context of the campaign are real and the players visit it, but in the Forgotten Realms maps their's no mention of them nor in the lore about the great war.

    I hope you understand my question
    Absolutely. Any published material be it setting, adventure path or what have you is just a jumping off point. You can and will likely have to make some of it up yourself. Especially with adventuring material. The longer you play in it the more your PCs are going to jump off the rails, and its best to let them take the lead in any kind of game. I keep a simple word document with named items, stores, etc that I've mentioned to the PCs. That way I don't forget them.

    My own campaign is set primarily within a single city of the massive Pathfinder setting of Golarion. I'd say that around half of the places my players visit in that city, and around a third of the major NPCs are my own contribution to the game. I created them either because there was a need for them, or because I thought it would improve the game. I doubt my players can tell which things are published and which I created, I try to integrate them as smoothly as possible.

  3. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by gshannon View Post
    I've been lurking here too. This thread has given me a new appreciation for the amount of work and time that goes into making a game. It will probably be a while before I try to run my own game.
    It is a fair amount of work, but very rewarding when you see everyone enjoying what you've built.

  4. #24
    Blue Tempest Guest Spider. Just visiting.

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    I have a question myself Cail: How do you as a GM deal with stuff that has nothing to do with the actual Campaign? Like how you do with the side stories for our characters, how do you decide to give us bonus abilities/items that might accidentally break the main campaign?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Tempest View Post
    I have a question myself Cail: How do you as a GM deal with stuff that has nothing to do with the actual Campaign? Like how you do with the side stories for our characters, how do you decide to give us bonus abilities/items that might accidentally break the main campaign?
    Hey Blue, thanks for visiting.

    There are two separate questions here: How do I create the side quests and how do I decide on rewards.

    Side Quests: Actually I take my cues from you guys. For instance with Lazlo (a sorcerer with the dragon bloodline) you role played your character as being very curious about his own mysterious background. How did he get his powers? Why is he a sorcerer at all? Since this was something you were interested in I created a backstory for him that will probably require the bulk of the adventure path for you to fully unravel. I dole it out in hints and rumors and let it be a persistent element of the game. Koral is interested in stealing stuff, so her side quests will likely involve that. Paizo's adventure path's ( my campaign is one of their published ones ) also suggest some side quests based on major NPCs.

    Side quests are a critical part of campaigns. A Game Master should never forget that the campaign, whether published or homebrewed is about the PCs. I'll repeat: It's not about the plot. It's about the PCs.

    Next, rewards:

    Most of the rewards you guys get in game are written in the AP. There are also some excellent guidelines for total character wealth in the PRD, right HERE

    I'd definitely recommend following those guidelines, and also to run encounters for a group until they are at least level 2 before adding in any magical equipment. Also, try to restrict the items your PCs can buy because that opens up all kinds of crazy builds that can easily be game breakers. There are some good tips for how to do that HERE

    The last thing is don't worry too much about it. If it seems to break the game, just don't allow it. If it gets in there despite your best efforts you're still the game master. Maybe the item's original owner shows up to claim it, or it gets broken in combat. Or you can always just make tougher encounters.

  6. #26
    Blue Tempest Guest Spider. Just visiting.

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    Ok that explains material awards. But what about actual Status rewards? like when you gave me that extra point of Strenght.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Tempest View Post
    Ok that explains material awards. But what about actual Status rewards? like when you gave me that extra point of Strenght.
    Bonus abilities are just another type of reward. Getting a sword +1 and getting a +1 to strength aren't that different. Well... the strength point is a little better I suppose. Maybe around a +2 item.

    Giving a +1 strength to a non-melee character probably isn't going to break the game, and it contributes to the uniqueness and back story of your character in the particular event you are describing.

    I think its interesting how players are always trying to build that "unique" character. Unique characters aren't built, they are grown in game. That's the reason I always try to get my players to tell me where they envision their characters going.
    Last edited by cailano; 09-22-2012 at 07:58 PM.

  8. #28
    Blue Tempest Guest Spider. Just visiting.

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    Ok, here's the big question. The biggest problem that can come across a GM is the eventual "off-the-rails" situation. The characters go in the complete opposite direction, or is using the wrong information to follow or by some freak accident they attack and/or kill someone important in the campaign.

    What do you do? What do you do?

  9. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blue Tempest View Post
    Ok, here's the big question. The biggest problem that can come across a GM is the eventual "off-the-rails" situation. The characters go in the complete opposite direction, or is using the wrong information to follow or by some freak accident they attack and/or kill someone important in the campaign.

    What do you do? What do you do?
    You follow the players, and have faith in your ability to get the story back online.

    Usually when you post a recruitment ad you talk a little about what the game is about. The players that sign up are interested in that type of game. So in general, they WANT to go along with what you have planned. If you recruit for a game about hunting dragons, it is unlikely your players will expect a deep role playing experience about managing a local fiefdom. That being said, there is no reason you can't deliver that along with hunting dragons, its all up to you.

    Players go "off the rails" all the time though, and its usually because they aren't sure what to do next. I find the best thing to do is to drop hints, and if that doesn't work, have an NPC come in and basically suggest what to do next. Make the "rails" more interesting than off the rails.

    If they kill someone important to the campaign, you just have to make a new NPC.

    The thing to be careful with is that you allow your players the ability to fundamentally alter the campaign setting. If they kill off an important NPC, make that a part of the game. If they want to pursue a side quest running an emerald mining operation, don't tell them they can't do it. In fact, tie it into the main plot if you can. Hunting dragons and the players want to mine emeralds? Funny... but that mine connects to an old dwarven kingdom (now run by isolated and evil dwarves of course) who have in their lore a story about the lair of the most powerful dragon of all...

    Remember, you aren't working against the players. Sometimes it seems like they are working against you and if that actually becomes the case you have to take whoever is being a problem aside and tell him or her to find something else to do. Usually though, they just want a) more attention or b) to pursue a side quest. Be careful with the former because it can leave other players feeling left out, but go ahead and let them when it comes to the latter.

    Ultimately, the story is about the PCs. You can't and don't want to force them to do anything. Let them take the lead and good things will happen. Remember, just because they are leading doesn't mean you can't guide them in the direction you want. RPGs are cooperative.
    Last edited by cailano; 09-22-2012 at 08:29 PM.

  10. #30
    Garrett Bishop Guest Spider. Just visiting.

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    Brilliant Answer! Thanks.

  11. #31
    Garrett Bishop Guest Spider. Just visiting.

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    Okay I have a question.

    How do you make a series of mundane events/tasks seem fun? I am always afraid that I am going to bore a player or two into leaving. For instance, your shingles (Rooftop running) scene.

    See now I would have just made it a series of rolls thinking the players were wanting to get to the capture, or non-capture of Trina (The character your players were chasing) Was it all in the module or did you make that info up, and if so, how?

    Garrett

  12. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by Garrett Bishop View Post
    Okay I have a question.

    How do you make a series of mundane events/tasks seem fun? I am always afraid that I am going to bore a player or two into leaving. For instance, your shingles (Rooftop running) scene.

    See now I would have just made it a series of rolls thinking the players were wanting to get to the capture, or non-capture of Trina (The character your players were chasing) Was it all in the module or did you make that info up, and if so, how?

    Garrett
    It was a combination of module, me and all the players being into the scene.

    The module suggested a series of skill rolls based on some cards that could be laid out on a table. I converted that to something that could be done in play by post, and then then made the rule that every area would have both a short cut (requiring a skill check) or a safe route (which allowed slower movement, but no skill check.) I also thought of different obstacles and worked in some new skill checks (like sense motive.) I also added in the rules for the ground chase and the Hellknight encounter down below so that everyone would have something to do.

    Then it was description. You guys came up with the idea of making multiple skill rolls at once, and that really helped. I played off of that and tried to make it a breakneck chase with lots of descriptions reflecting how insane a rooftop chase would really be, and keeping the pace up as much as possible. I also jumped from player to player very quickly, which is kind of like a film editor using fast cuts to add excitement to a scene in a movie.

    Good synergy happened when the players started getting into the scene and writing about how they were freaked out about how dangerous the chase was, how determined they were to catch Trina, etc.

    It was a scene that really demanded good play from everyone involved, players and DM alike. It could have been a boring series of skill rolls, but instead I think it worked out to be one of the highlights of the entire AP. I definitely learned a lot from that scene. I'll never think of environmental encounters the same way again.

    EDIT: I just thought of something else I did to add excitement to that encounter (always remember a game needs great encounters!) I told you guys up front that Trina would escape if she reached a certain area. That was partially out of a sense of fairness, but it was also to add a "ticking clock" element to the chase. You knew you had to catch her by that area or not at all. That encouraged you to take risks with your characters, which made the chase more dangerous and thus more exciting.
    Last edited by cailano; 09-22-2012 at 09:43 PM.

  13. #33
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    To answer Garrett's question in a less scenario specific way:

    And I want to do this because it is a really good question. How do you make a non-combat encounter exciting?

    First off, you have to think about it. What is going on in the scene? Let's say its about traversing a narrow bridge over a steep gorge. That's a classic cinematic scene.

    What's the worst that could happen? Well they could fall and die. That's pretty dramatic but I don't personally like "make this roll or die" scenarios, so let's give them some options, and leave falling and dying as something that can only happen after a series of bad rolls / decisions.

    So let's break the bridge into three sections, beginning middle and end, and lets add some variety to the rolls.

    The beginning is the most stable, so we'll call that an acrobatics check to stay on it. DC 12. Not too hard, but just for fun we'll add armor check penalties to the roll. That should get your full plate wearing paladin sweating.

    The middle is more narrow, and the gorge has a high wind whipping through it. Worse, the rock itself (we'll say its a stone bridge) is weak. The middle will take three rounds to cross on foot. Each round it is an acrobatics check DC 15 to stay on. ALSO each round the player must make a stealth check to use a light step on the stone. If the PC fails the roll, the bridge section crumbles, and they need to make a jump check to clear to the next section before they fall. Armor check penalties again apply.

    The last section is so weak that it collapses at the first step, requiring a Reflex save to stay on. Now the players HAVE to jump to the other side, and make a climb check at DC 18 to hang onto the rock slope at the end.

    To be nice, we'll say that the players can make a reflex save any time they mess up a roll. This is a "second chance" roll to save their character's life. Hero points can be spent to guarantee success on any single roll on the bridge.

    ( I really recommend hero points. Look them up in the PRD, they're a great addition to the game.)

    Now we have the makings of a death defying encounter. It's interactive, deadly, and just begs for great descriptions. Your players will come up with all sorts of work arounds. They might tie rope to each other for instance. Let them! It makes dying less likely, and the paladin falling through the middle of the bridge while tied to the orc barbarian is a freakin great scene that your players will be talking about for days. Plus, think of all the fun strength checks for the barbarian to not fall along with the paladin! And if he does, who is HE tied to?

    You make this all work with great description, using the writing tips up above.

    The Bridge of Agony stretches out before you, an impossibly thin arch of rock spanning over three hundred feet of gorge. You look down over the edge of the nearside cliff, and the Serpentine River is a thread of silver a half mile down.

    The wind whips your hair, and you have to lean into it even here to keep your balance.

    There is nothing for it. You have to cross.

    (( See OOC for the crunchy bits of how you cross the bridge. ))

    Who wants to go first?


    That was a really long answer to a question that seemed simple enough, but was actually critical to running a memorable game. Hope that helped!

  14. #34
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    The Myth of the "Most Powerful" Class

    All gamers know this stuff. Wizards are the most powerful class, or maybe the druid. Clerics are broken as well, and fighters and rogues just suck out loud. Let's not even talk about bards.

    I'm here to tell you that everything you know about this is wrong. This isn't some lame MMO. This is a role playing game and YOU, the game master are the one that makes sure everyone has something to do.

    Screw "balance." I don't even know what that means. I know for sure it only applies in combat, and only in very generic situations.

    In an open battle field, with hundreds of orcs charging across the broken earth, wizards are going to rule the field. Their area effect spells such as fireball are going to decimate a bunch of weak opponents like orcs.

    But what happens if there five separate units of orcs and only time to cast three fireballs? Now the orcs are right on top of the group and that wizard better tighten up or he's going to get run over.

    Well he can just fly above the melee or teleport away right? Maybe. Actually, I have a short list of spells I always houserule don't exist in my game. Fly and teleport are among them because they break encounters and plots left and right. I always take them out, along with raise dead and wish. It makes for more thrilling games.

    Once the battle is joined the melee classes like fighter and ranger take over as "best." Right?

    Well.. maybe. What if there are thirty more units of orcs behind the ones the PCs are already fighting? Someone has to get to the shaman leading them to stop the whole battle. If you can't fight through you'll need to sneak through... wait, now rogues and rangers are best!

    See my point? A good encounter can emphasize one PC over the others and give an individual character a moment to shine. Great encounters give EVERYONE a moment to shine.

    A good game master can guarantee that every adventure will have a variety of encounter types. Comabat, stealth, investigation, role playing, diplomacy, environmental, chase scenes, faith based scenes, and combinations thereof. A balanced party is critical.

    There is no best class. If there comes to be one, the GM isn't doing his job.
    Last edited by cailano; 09-23-2012 at 06:50 PM.

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    Nice column you have here, Cai. Well done, dude.

    Oh, and thanks for the shout-out. "Improvisational genius" is a bit much...but my players and I have a good time, no doubt.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ra-thalun View Post
    Nice column you have here, Cai. Well done, dude.

    Oh, and thanks for the shout-out. "Improvisational genius" is a bit much...but my players and I have a good time, no doubt.
    You have a 7000+ post game that started out with a world description and "what do you want to do? I'll build the game off that." Talk about putting the PCs first. I stand by my statement.

    (( everyone else, forget Ra-Thauln he's got a rare talent and he's an experienced writer. In general I recommend you prepare your adventures and know where you're going. ))
    Last edited by cailano; 09-22-2012 at 11:57 PM.

  17. #37
    Hibernate_Paths Guest Spider. Just visiting.

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    Cailano, thanks for doing this thread. I've actually been following your Crimson Throne campaign for a while now. A couple months ago I was looking into playing a PbP D&D game but didn't know how they worked. I wanted to read up on one to see how they play out. I just happened to find your game and wow...what an adventure! I'm glad yours is the one I stumbled on, because you and your players have created quite a cool tale so far.

    I used to DM for my friends many years ago, but I've forgotten much of what it entails. You're thread is a great help and is inspiring. Thanks!
    Last edited by Hibernate_Paths; 09-23-2012 at 11:11 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hibernate_Paths View Post
    Cailano, thanks for doing this thread. I've actually been following your Crimson Throne campaign for a while now. A couple months ago I was looking into playing a PbP D&D game but didn't know how they worked. I wanted to read up on one to see how they play out. I just happened to find your game and wow...what an adventure! I'm glad yours is the one I stumbled on, because you and your players have created quite a cool tale so far.

    I used to DM for my friends many years ago, but I've forgotten much of what it entails. You're thread is a great help and is inspiring. Thanks!
    Thanks, that's awesome. If you need anything in the way of links to resources or have any questions just find me here or shoot me a PM.

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    And to be fair, Cai, you don't get the credit you deserve. Because let's be honest: How many other PbP games are there where the DM needed to take three weeks off, and when he did and came back, not one player had left the game.

    Now that's pretty impressive dude.

    I have loved your game since the minute I played it; yours is the best way to play a pre-written module via PbP.

    And thank you for what you said about me. If there's one thing I can do, it's write in the second-person perspective. It's like a choose your own adventure as you go. For whatever reason, that just makes sense to me

    But in the end, I couldn't do what you do, with maps and work and reading that you put in. I, along with everyone else in our game, appreciates what you do man.

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    Conflict


    At the heart of every good scene is conflict.

    Note: I didn't say at the heart of every good encounter, I said at the heart of every scene.

    Conflict drives a story at every level. Obviously, encounters must have it or they aren't really encounters, but always look for a way to pepper your story with more of it. Maybe you're playing a module where one of the key contacts is the chamberlain to the king. Who says he has to like the PCs? Would it be possible to have him fill his role in the module while actively working against them or at least giving them a hard time whenever he's in the room? If so, that might be the way you should play it. If its not possible, is it possible to work in a new NPC to add conflict to those scenes? That would be a perfect reason to add a subplot to the game, and if you do it right the PCs might enjoy the resolution to that subplot more than the main story of the game. Nothing gets players riled up like a good old fashioned jerk thrown right into the heart of your adventure. Why? Because the players have never likely fought a dragon or necromancer, but they have definitely run into one or more jerks they would have loved to see get what was coming to them.

    Conflict doesn't have to be PC vs. NPC either. The environment can be a source of conflict; think of the environmental dangers that forced the Fellowship of the Ring into Moria in the Lord of the Rings. In my campaign, the PCs are currently dealing with a plague that threatens to decimate their home city. Does your rogue like to steal? Maybe a conflict with the local guard, the thieve's guild, or a vengeful victim is in order. Does your wizard like to summon elementals? What happens when an elemental lord decides he doesn't like it? Is your warrior a famed swordsman? What happens if a local fencing student decides he'd make a nice test of his skills? What happens if that student happens to be the son of a vengeful local duke?

    Always look for ways to add conflict to your adventure. There should never be a dull moment, or even one where the PCs have only one thing to worry about. Keep your players on the edge of their seats and your game is bound to be successful.

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