Gamemaster Tips

Worldbuilding The Power of the unimportant details

World building It's all about the little details that make a world rich 

It's currently 5 AM on a Saturday and I have no idea why I am awake. I have spent the last three hours staring at the ceiling. Mostly what has been going through my mind is the little details of Star-Fall. I'm not talking about the details with the various characters or even the villains. The details I'm thinking about has nothing to do with even a planet that will have any conflict in the series. I have been thinking about a farm. What? In a galactic conflict that may result in a war between to superpowers, I'm thinking about an unimportant farm. No There is no farm boy who will grow up to be a fighter pilot and discover his father is a Space Samurai Daimyo with the power to command Kami. Just a farm. 

Why is the little details it important?  

Have you ever watched a movie that every character no matter how small seemed to have a deep story beyond what was on the screen? That was the result of some deep world building. Your characters do not live in a vacuum. Thinking about how the world exists on the smaller planets that nobody cares about making it seem more alive when someone visits. Thinking about how technology is different from our world changes everything. The little details of knowing that the Pumpin Pie on the Spaceport of Helios is horrible in comparison to any diner on the planet Turnhout starts to take those two-dimensional characters and makes them feel a little more alive. Working hard on Alien farm

Example The Planet Turnhout 

The planet Turnhout is the result of successful Terraforming with the mindset of making the entire planet the perfect agricultural Environment. The planet is part of the Jhoddian Confederacy and provides 60% of the Coffedreatations Livestock, Vegetables and grains. It's safe to say that if this planet was to fall to enemy hands the confederation would starve. Lucky for the confederation this planet is way within the Confederations borders. 

So with that as a foundation, I started to think. What would the people on this planet be like? Many of them are descendants of the people who designed this planet. What was it like for the people during the fall? (The Collapse of a galactic empire when All artificial intelligence went nuts all at the same time.) 

  • Unlike the rest of the galaxy, the people did not starve during the fall so the population is larger 
  • The Planet would be mostly fields and wide open spaces 
  • The planet would have an ecosystem that suited the plants not necessarily the Humans 
  • The People would be hard working but enjoy leisure time 
  • Because of the large population and the love of leisure time this planet would be the cultural hub of the Confederation 
  • Most people live on Generational farms passed down from parent to child (Gender is not an issue here) 
  • Families tend to be larger as they are needed to help with the crops (not a lot of workers you can hire) 
  • The Starports tend to be set up to handle bulk goods as well as passengers 
  • Most of the ground craft is designed to be useful on the farms with exception to the cities. 
  • Education would vary widely. 
  • The Planet is covered by massive rose quartz crystals that often stick out of the ground. Geologists suggest they are the result of the Terraforming as they are only 900 years old

The Smaller details 

Alien Creatures RPG Podcast 4

  1. One of the creatures on the planet is a cross between a chicken and a cow called a Ch'ow (does not taste like chicken) 
  2. Almost everyone wears a hat. This is not fashionable but protection from the sun and almost random rainstorms. 
  3. Families will often have huge feasts called "Big Tables' where all the neighbors are invited. 
  4. "Big Tables" are often political events in disguise (Though not often planned that way) 
  5. "Big Tables" Are so important to the culture some families have put themselves in debt trying to impress others with a grander "Big Table" 
  6. "Big Tables " will often have brawls break out between rival individuals. Many times others will not interfere with the fight as long as "No lasting or property damage" is caused. as it 's considered a way of airing grievances and blowing off steam 
  7. "Big Table Brawls" are ignored by the constables as "Youths will be Youths" (Note the lack of Gender here .. yes the women scrap too) 

With this as a foundation, we start to look at how people from Turnhout may interact with others 

Alien Creatures RPG Podcast 3

With looking at the rule of "Nothing happens in a vacuum" I start to look at this on a larger scale. like when you throw a rock into a pond this planet would affect others. The rest of the confederation would be dependent on shipments of food from this planet so there would be a large need for independent and corporate haulers. Being that Farmland is more important than cities .. the Cities would be denser and have taller buildings. People from Turnhout would be very hospitable to others even if they lived on another planet. At the same time, they would also not consider a physical or verbal confrontation to be socially inappropriate at a gathering. Sure they would know better and perhaps decide not to fight but it would really bother them. 

I would think about how a character from Turnhout would act at a high society party on Nav-Luna. Or think about how they would feel while trying to prove their worth at a corporate event on Jhodd when they were born in a city and never worked on a farm. 

This is just the start 

This is just a sample of the world building. My notes on Turnhout are far more extensive than this however you don't get to see those .. I may decide to post them on the Pateron. Now I just have 15 more planets to go. 

Setting a non-combat scene in your Roleplaying Game

How do you keep your players from causing problems with the NPCs? 

One of the problems I hear gamemasters complain about all the times is the players being mischievous during non-combat scenes. Your mage starts to cast obvious spells to impress the court wizard. The barbarian will most likely scratch themselves or belch loudly. Lets not even talk about what the thief is going to do in the king's courtroom. Is it a role-playing game after all right? The players should be able to do whatever they want because they can. But what happens if that does not help the story move forward. This article is for those Gamemasters to make non-combat scene easier to run. 

Why do we have non-combat scenes in RPGs? 

The first thing you need to ask yourself as the gamemaster is "What am I trying to achieve in this scene?" Many gamemasters never ask that question I myself included till a few years ago. Have you ever watched a badly edited film where there are scenes that make no sense at all? Why was going to the corner store and picking up milk important in the middle of the movie important? In a role-playing game, every moment should be important. That could be as simple as "I would like the players to flesh out their characters more" or "I want them to have the chance to be suspicious of the NPC Mage who is really working for the Dark King". The important part as a GM is that you know what that reason is. You may want to tell your players or maybe not tell them anything. If you can't think of a reason maybe it's a good idea to skip that part of the game. 

How to set expectations with your RPG Party

It may not seem like it but in the Zapperburger Episode of Star-Fall  I had told The Fifth Crew what I had expected from them. They went into the game knowing that they were going to be in a non-combat situation and should not cause any trouble. The result was just as fun as the players used the fast food restaurant as a way to explore their characters more. 

The exact mission goals may be obfuscated but the fact they are looking for something and causing problems would be a bad idea is the key to making this work. 

How to keep your Pranksters and Murderhobos happy while everyone else is Roleplaying

Thieves, pranksters & Murderhobos are often the key problems in scenes like this. One of the techniques that I use is allowing a knowledge role with a huge bonus "Due to their expertise". If they roll anything even close to decent (Did I mention huge bonus to the Dice roll) you inform the player that their character is smart enough to not cause problems in this area. you can find all kinds of reasons for the character to not want to do anything stupid. By making it the characters idea the player (and it being something that makes them look good or an expert) they are less likely to cause problems during the scene with the king. 

 Keeping the Thieves at bay 

  • You noticed the King has an alarm spell on everything only an amateur would try to steal anything from this room. 
  • You notice a bit of writing in "Thieves Cant" warning you that stealing anything is a trap ... all the real goods are hidden elsewhere
  • You notice your old instructor working as a consultant for the king. They give you a gesture of "Back off .. we will talk later"  

Reasons for the murderhobos to be not murderous 

  • You notice a hidden guard ready to snipe you at any second if you get too close 
  • You recognize one of the guards .. You have seen them fight. You know you are no match for them

Reasons to keep the prankster at bay 

  • You know this is the one time you should behave yourself. 
  • Before entering the room you overhear the guards talking about the last person who played a prank in this room 
  • The King has learned of your pranks and comments on it... best be nice here 

Using the Stick to keep Player Characters in line 

Using some of the examples above of coming up with something very creative. This is a great time to use natural consequences as a big stick to keep the mischievous players at bay. Truth be told I'm not one of those GMs that feels like you have to punish your players (Really unhealthy mindset for some people) but I am a firm believer of "natural consequences" This is where the logical progression of an action happens. Such as you try to steal from the King and you are going to end up at the end of a hangman's noose. It's very important to give all the warnings as possible to prevent the character from doing anything that would be stupid. However, if they keep along the path and you have provided many warnings to allow them to get into trouble. This does not mean that they have to DIE. But it does mean that they may end up spending some time in the dungeon with an unpleasant cellmate till the bard is able to talk the king into letting them go. 

Using the Carrot to keep everyone happy 

Now for some players, you need to know their motivations. Having a social interaction where the player knows they are going to get something out of it is a major motivator to behave. This does not mean that you should allow the barbarian with a CHA score of 4 do all the negotiations. However, letting the Theif know that having an important patron like the king is worth more than anything they could take from the throne room. Letting the players know in advance the advantages of a successful or at least not a failed social interaction will keep the pranksters at bay. 

Listening to your players because it's not about the Gamemaster 

 Sometimes the gamemaster has a great idea but the players are not going to think that it is fun. There was once a game where I tried to run a social heavy module for my friend's 10-year-old son and six friends. (WHo all had names like Wolf Shadow. Blood Shadow. Shadow blood wolf) and headbands with swords in them... Ummm yeah .. this is not the kind of game where a political debate between the ork captain and the king of the elves is going to be appreciated. 

As a Gamemaster your first responsibility is to your players. so Find out what they want to do. If you have a party of five muderhobos. Then give them something that murderhobos will like. By asking the players what kind of game they want to play does not diminish your creativity at all. But it does set the expectations for what kind of game should be played. I personally go and find players that fit the game and not the other way around. Though if they are already at my table it's my job to make sure they all have fun.

 

Things I learned by producing an RPG actual play Podcast

Gamemaster tips from a podcaster

Things I learned Gamemastering an actual play.

You would think that someone who has been running the same game for over 20 years would know everything there is to know about being a gamemaster. However, it turns out I have learned more about running a game in the last six months of running an actual play podcast than all the years before. Maybe the fact I was learning how to podcast opened up my mind to the lessons I have been ignoring previously. Or it could be that there are some actual differences.

Looking at gamemastering differently

Partly one of the reasons why I think my perspective was changed was because I was looking from a standpoint of entertaining the listener and not just the players at the table. So when faced with this puzzle I had to find new ways of talking to the players to achieve this goal. How can I balance making the players happy and the listeners? Truth is it's not all that hard you just have to see things slightly differently.

Many of the tips I'm going to put before you today will apply to your Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder or even Numenera game.

One of the key things that I have noticed Is I am starting to look at everything like I am writing a TV show and not a Scifi RPG Game. THere are a few things that I have noticed in while trying to produce Star-Fall

 

Setting Soft goals


"OK, folks we are going to run a game that will be fun to listen to" basically because everyone is on the same page the players going into the project know what to expect. This makes direction a lot easier. More than once we have made a choice to do something because it "Sounds better". These are called soft goals because it does not go into the mission details of the actual adventure. 

Its ok to let the players know what is going to happen.
This one seems counter-intuitive for more gamemasters. We tend to want to hide everything from our players and let them experience everything first hand. But what happens if you don't want a battle? What happens if the scene is to be diplomacy.

Set Roleplaying goals

Perhaps the same as soft goals but you need not mention these to the players. (or you might) 
These goals are to highlight parts of the characters skills, personality or concept. Such as in season two I have the following goals. These need not happen all in the same game night. Sometimes the adventure just will not allow it. 

  • Have an argument between Dave and Terry 
  • Dave gets to use his tattoo in full effect
  • Reza gets to perform surgery
  • Lava gets to con and NPC out of something valuable
  • Arkady gets to teach the turbo weasel a new trick
  • Each player gets a highlighted combat

These goals are designed to give each of the players a spotlight. This does a few things. Each of the players gets a chance to be a hero (like in the Avengers ) and it also helps build the story. We also have some dominant personalities in the group who need to take the backseat now and the. This helps determine who is in the driver seat so to speak

Season one Episode four of Star-Fall the player characters were on a campout. I told the players a week in advance that is what would happen.
-There will be no combat
-Think about a question you might ask another character

The result was an awesome episode of roleplaying that the players really enjoyed. You might want to use this in your games where you tell everyone that they are going to be meeting the king and all the characters know its a bad idea to cause problems. (For those prankster characters). Inform them this in advance "How would your character impress the king with your diplomacy or not screw up the diplomacy for another player "

Its ok to re-do a scene

Now and then I put on my director hat setting aside my Gamemaster role. A Player would describe some action. I would stop them and suggest a better way of saying that. (We edit out the previous action from the podcast) the die roll stays the same but the description of what happens is better

Chatting in bar good, battle bad

It seems that the entertainment of others is the reverse of some players. I personally love a long drawn out battle as a player because it gives me the chance to really work out my strategy. However, a battle that lasts longer than 1O min in a podcast puts me to sleep. (Exception is if the players are very descriptive) Whereas a conversation between a wizard and a barbarian on the best way to serve elk meat in character I can listen to all day.

Something to consider is to edit out a lot of the "Missed attacks" or ideas that did not pan out. You can bring a two hour battle to about 15-20 mins. much easier to listen to. Stays exciting. But make sure you let the players know that you are doing that. 

Season one of Star-Fall there is an entire show done in a Zapperburger restaurant. like above I told the players that they are safe and I would not throw in a random encounter. A ton of character development happened during that time.

Lots of edits

I tend to do a lot of editing of content when producing an RPG Actual Play Podcast. Many of the edits are "wrong turns" Often Imp will come up with great ideas that do not pan out. Such as "I contact Glipcore to see if they know anything". In that case, the company had no idea what as going on. So unless the wrong turn adds to the world building I edit it out. I will also keep clips that are funny.

example of a wrong turn I kept in " I go through the life support to connect to the coms to see if I can listen in to what is going on." My reply was "That does not work because the systems are not connected as confederate ships are paranoid about Artificial intelligence taking over the ship"

This adds to the world of Star-Fall. So keep it in.

Trust your players

Jade who players Lava is amazing at creating subplots. Everything from the Dave drinking all her Warmedian Whiskey to Turbo destroying her Sewing machine. I welcome these during the game especially when we are not in combat or an interaction with an NPC

Asking the players to be co-directors for the RPG podcast

Now and then I ask the players to give me suggestions of what they would want to see in the next game or season. They come up with some amazing ideas. They are also good at pointing out where we need to make the show better. I take this all onboard. I don't use all of it but I listen

The most counterintuitive thing you can do as a Gamemaster

What is the most counterintuitive thing you can do as a gamemaster? 

Aks for Permission? 

What? As a GM aren't you supposed to be in charge? Maybe if this was still the 80s where the general concept was GM vs Players. But these days the players are asking for more than just cool stats on their character sheet. They want a good story. Well, part of that is creating a few situations that may require some permission. It sounds odd but let me set the scene for you if that is ok? 

Player Agency 

I'm thinking it was Monte Cook who said that its not a good idea to capture the party because they will all lose their player Agency. And I agree with this. There is nothing worse than having the feeling that your character has been stripped away from you. Be that Death, Mind control or having the party captured. (TPK is the worst by the way). We get really invested in our characters and in our head, we are always running some kind of scenario where we are the actual hero of the story,(and the rest of the party including the Paladin are your sidekicks). So anything that disrupts that destroys the fun. The moment that the players are not having fun the Gamemaster has failed at their job. So how do you do these tricky situations without destroying the fun of the game? You get permission.  

Getting permission

One of the things that I have tried is asking the players for permission to capture them. I told the players in advance.

"In this scene, you will all be captured. I'm going to offer you some extra XP for making it a good fight.... don't worry you will get all your stuff back at some point but this will be fun"

Now conventional wisdom would say that the party would not have any fun knowing the outcome of the scene. If that was the case why do we watch the same film more than once? It's not the outcome but the journey that really matters. By telling the players that is what they can expect (and asking for permission) the players are still in control. Not to mention that the players also have more trust in you as a gamemaster. As for the fun. In my experiment with this technique the players really overacted the moments of falling to almost death and being captured. 

Enrolling the Players in your plot 

This is actually an old technique. Where you take a player aside and let them know they have been mind controlled and asking them to play the part correctly without telling the other players. But if you were to just tell the player across the table "You have been mind controlled"  you have a chance of making the player uncomfortable.  This makes the player actually a co-gamemaster. What I am suggesting is that you do the same sort of thing in a larger scale. By making the players part of the plot vs having the plot being something that is done to them it ensures the player agency. 

What if the players tell the GM no? 

If you are going to ask for permission you should really make sure that you stick with their answer even if you do not like it. There is nothing worse than losing the trust of your players. I recommend that if you are going to be setting a scene that requires permission that you have some kind of backup plan just in case. Something that may be more standard sort of plot device. 

It works for all kinds of stuff. 

  • Mind control 
  • Having something stolen from a player character 
  • Being captured 
  • Death 
  • Betrayal in the party 

It's amazing what you can get away with if you ask for permission first. 

 

 

How to make an RPG Podcast

How to start your own Actual Play RPG Podcast

How to make an RPG Podcast

So you want to start an RPG actual play podcast? 

Great idea!! Rpg podcasts are really hot right now.  just think of the story your party can tell about evil wizards and warrior maidens !!! Podcast and RPGs are a lot of fun to make!! So what are you waiting for? This article will point out some things you can expect from this process. At the bottom of this article, I have a list of tips on being an RPG Podcast producer

Have a great concept for your podcast

Just like running a game of Dungeons and Dragons, A podcast takes a little bit of prep. Some Gamemasters plan out every single detail. Some fly by the seat of their pants. Or if you are like me its a little of both. Podcasting is very similar. I know more than one podcast where every word is scripted like a play or a movie. Others will be recorded chaos. whatever you decide to do you are going to need a great concept.

You are going to hear me say this a few times "Content is King" The stronger your content the more listeners you will keep. (Getting the listeners in a different story) Make sure your idea stands out. having the DM Run another Dungeon Crawl from that module from the 80s will only go so far (That and there may be copyright issues) Have a Unique idea that is all yours.

By the way, the whole "Getting Drunk and playing D&D has been done a lot so if you are going to go that route bring something more to the show than vodka 

Hosting your RPG Actual Play Podcast 

There are all kinds of hosting companies. You could code your own RSS feed but I found that paying a hosting company who specialises in podcasts works best. I am a fan of Libsyn. They are easy to use hand do a lot with your RSS feed that would take me forever to code myself. Oh and their customer service Rocks (They do not pay me I am just a happy customer) 

It takes time to edit the show  

Some people think we just hit record then publish. There is a ton of editing to do. I figure that my podcast takes 5 hours production for every hour of published content.(You can reduce that ratio by practice or good planning ) I highly recommend that you set aside some time to work a little bit every week. Personally, I'm up at 5 AM every day before work, doing something for the show.

How long should an RPG Actual Play Podcast Be? 

it's easy to have a game session take four to six hours in one session. However, your listener is not going to stay listening to that long. I have already done the research for you. My listeners want between 30 Min to an hour per episode. This means that a single game night we a get anywhere from two to three episodes. (We remove a lot of content) 

But do not take my word for it .. .ask your listeners to do a poll on twitter. 

You don't need an expensive microphone or software.

I know I know, you need to kit out your game studio like a 7th Level Palidin on a shopping spree. But don't fall for that.
I have been podcasting for a very long time. I know more than one podcaster that is all about the whiz-bang microphone and top end studio software, And yet their show is not any fun. It is better to have great content and crappy equipment than to have spent all the money so your crappy show is a very good sounding pile of shit. We are still trying to make ends meet with the show. However, with patience and a few backers, we are going to slowly add to our equipment but we need to have better content first. 

Say it with me "Content is King/Queen"

The first season of Star-Fall was recorded on my phone. Yah that is right my phone. The sound quality is not horrible and its portable. Get your show going then work on upgrading.

Here is some Free/Cheap software to help with the editing

Garageband (OSX comes on every mac)
Audacity (Free and Cross-platform)
Ardour (Cross-Platform Pay what you want)

Pro-tip : Youtube has video lessions on all the software above. 

Rpg Podcast is not an overnight success

Unless you have a HUGE budget to advertise before you even publish forget about the concept of being an overnight success. Podcasting is not a sprint. Or a Jog or even a hike. it's more of a long journey where you are not sure where the castle is located. It's about the random encounters along the way and having fun. It's far too common for a podcaster to start up something and notice they only have 10 downloads for their first episode and give up. It takes time. As long as your notice your downloads slowly growing you are doing fine.

Copyright is not your friend unless you are the creator

So by now, you should know that you should not be playing your favourite music in the background when recording a game. There are a few other IP issues you should be aware of before you hit record. Such as much as your rules lawyer player wants to read the spellcasting rules for Shadowrun 4th Edition out loud to prove a point. Unless you want to talk to real lawyers with a real lawsuit DONT!! Edit that out!! The text in the rules are copyrighted and you should avoid it like a first level cleric avoids a Black Dragon.

Artwork.

As an artist, I get Real angry if someone uses my artwork without a pre-arranged contract or permission. This is not better to ask for forgiveness scenario. If you need artwork for your game look up public domain images and try your hand at photoshop or contact an artist to do it for you (Hint Hint)

Trademark.

Putting the famous logo of your favorite game on your website has some serious potential for lawsuits. It implies they are endorsing you when they are not. A company MUST defend their trademark like a dragon guards a hoard. They have no choice but to contact their lawyers to deliver the legal smackdown on you. They are not being evil its just the rules 

Useful Links 

Public Domain music

RPG Clip Art 

Hire an artist 

 

how to make money with a podcast

How to get paid for your RPG podcast

How do you like the idea of being paid to be a gamemaster? Being a gamemaster or running a podcast is hard work. Why should we not get paid? There are a few ways to get paid my Favorite is Patreon. This service allows your listeners to subscribe to your show. This has been very good for us as it keeps our show up and running, At the time of writing this we make double what it costs to make the show. The rest go for Pizza and beer for the cast (And computer upgrades) 

downloads wordmark white on coral 

RPG Podcasting Tips you are not going to find in any book.

have a backup recorder. RPGs are very impromptu if your mic dies for some reason you are never going to be able to have that moment again. Use your phone recorder as a backup recording device.

Get involved with the RPG podcasting community. Other podcasts are NOT your competition they are your allies. A show that does the same kind of show as you have listeners that would love your show. Reach out say Hi.. most are willing to help. That said ... help other podcasters!

Contribute don't Distribute.
If you are on twitter do more than post links to your show .. talk about RPGs as a whole. Get into conversations with other podcasters and RPG lovers about their games. if you must have a formula for this a good ratio is 10 RPG tweets for every one link to your show.

Record 5-10 Episodes before publishing
It's really hard to keep up with the publishing schedule. If you get behind you are going to lose listeners. We did not do this and I'm busting my ass even with an assistant editor (Who ROCKS BY THE WAY )to not fall behind. It's not uncommon to have an entire season ready to go before publishing.

You may have quiet fans
Just the other day I was thinking that nobody cared about my show when someone random at work told me they loved the show. So fans may not reach out to you.

Figure out if you are going to be Clean or Explicit and stick with it. Explicit has a limited range vs Clean. But clean is more work because you have to edit out the cursing or get everyone really good at not cursing in the first place.

The GM should not be the one controlling the recording equipment. This took me a while to get. WOW does it make a big difference to the game as a whole to let someone else control the microphone
. Now I can focus on being a good gamemaster and not a sound tech.

Fun anymore Rule If you re making no money whatsoever. but you are having fun!!! Then keep going. The moment this becomes a job stop. Your listeners can tell.  

Home Menu