What Am I Thinking #1

Today’s offering is a guest post from a friend who I’ve asked to write about her experiences running a game for the first time. Its been so long for me, I wanted a fresh take on life behind the screen. She’ll be visiting us when she can… Enjoy.

Cue either “New World Symphony” or “A Whole New World” from Aladdin. Whatever floats your boat, lovelies.

I decided that, instead of spamming RG’s postings with redundant questions, I’d get it all in one post. I’m going to run a D&D4e game for my friends this summer (hopefully) once a week. Mostly it’s for me, because I have not played D&D4e in months. Summer’s on its way, ladies and gentlemen! This means hazy, purple twilight dotted with early rising stars and fireflies. This means sweet tea, taco bell, good times, and gaming. I cannot wait to have a map set out on a table with my friends, listening to kids laughing through the screen door.

Okay, ideological fantasy time over, I am a little intimidated by the sheer freedom I have. What kind of game do I want to run? What kind of world should I build? Should I BUILD a world or use a pre-created one? Should I reflavor the classes, keep them classic, let the players do it?

I think, what I want to do, is create a couple of points on the map that have adventures, characters, and ideas that I like. I’ll have some races and classes that I’ve re-flavored to my liking, with full backgrounds and the like, but I won’t pull information out unless asked for it. If the players want to use a flavoring I’ve created but not the extensive background, if it isn’t essential to the world that the background of this species stays the same, I can drop it.

I don’t anticipate that I’ll always have players who want to put that much effort into creating the world around them; this is not a bad thing either, because I love being able to tell a story… it’s one of the reasons I want to game master. My little cousins want to interact with characters I’ve created. They want to play a video game only do the RPing all on their own, so I create the world and the campaign and the people for them, and they go through as themselves. It makes them happy, it makes me happy.

If I have the group this summer that I want to have, I anticipate having a lot less control over the world. This is awesome. I want to run a game based on what they want. I can figure out a lot of that, I surmise, from character backgrounds and discussions beforehand. I could be wrong, but I don’t think giving the players a lot of freedom is a bad thing at all. Any thoughts on when it could be too much?
I don’t know… I guess I’m excited. I’ve been working on this fantasy world I write in for years and years… but it’s pretty underdeveloped. I could use a couple games to help it expand and grow in ways I couldn’t even imagine! The only problem I foresee is something that I’ll have to deal with. If they blow up my favorite city or something, it’s not a huge deal.

Anyway, this was a little disjointed, I am not getting good quality sleep these days. I blame bad dreams and finals. I have no idea when this huge research paper is due, and in typing that, I realized I forgot to turn in a paper yesterday *sigh* ah summer… you just can’t come fast enough.

“In my dreams, I’m always an eight-foot-tall shifter with clerical powers and a giant purple hammer.”
Until next time, if you have any thoughts on what could be good to keep in mind in the planning process, please let me know!

– GM Lo

p.s. As for races and classes, throughout the weeks beforehand, I’ll post some ideas. We’ll see how that goes *saucy wink*

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6 responses

  1. Well, for world building, I usually split the difference between “pre-gen” and “home brew.” I usually take a world, and keep it’s biggest details (Gravity is half as much here, people distrust half-golems because they caused the great war, zombies are actually intelligent here), and ignore all the specifics (Old Man Jimmy runs the emporium on 5th Street in the Capital City, the high king is really a slaad, anyone who visits the temple of Farfignugen gets +3 to Diplomancy for a week).

    I use the overarching details to give the game a certain flavor, but I avoid the specifics to keep the players from knowing too much and being jerks about it (“But it says that Old Man Jimmy runs a shop in this town, and he always has +3 nets in stock!”).

    Also, I like to use my own NPCs, rather than worry if I’m playing an established NPC correctly. The exceptions are NPCs who’s personalities are never described in depth (Like Cholerix in my last 3.5 game. She exists in Planescape, but she has a paragraph of detail.).

  2. oh… that’s actually great advice. Are you referring to players knowing about a pre-gen world, or players that have played in your created world before?

    I like to make my own NPCs too. It’s more fun that way, and I feel like I put more into them if I know how they react. One thing I’m certainly never going to change is how much personality (however frivolous or useless it seems) I put into NPCs. I think it gives the game a life.

    What are some pre-gen worlds you like to use for a basis?

  3. I meant players know the specifics of the campaign world. If you use a published setting verbatim, it probably has important NPCs and locations stat-ed out in a book somewhere. If the PCs have read that book, they will have expectations about where people and things “should be.” If you remove the specific details, and tell the players this, they will be a bit less tempted to metagame, and it takes pressure off of you to remember where every published inn is located.

    Of course, if you really love a certain published location or NPC, leave them in. Tweaking them is fine too, but you probably want to let your PCs know before an extablished NPC starts acting contrary to their expectations (Like dear ol’ Mesos. I stole him from the Scarred Lands setting, but I changed him to the point that he was barely recognizable.).

    For DnD, I usually set my games in a Planescape world. The interactions of the outsiders and the conflicts of philosophies are what interests me about the setting. The Scarred Lands are also good.

  4. I usually, not always, but usually go completely homebrew. I enjoy setting up my own worlds, kingdoms, regions, etc. Some of these have been used long enough that they’ve sorta taken on a life of their own (like Harseburg, 10+ years) and some have been used for a single summer game or even less.

    The advantage is the ability to build areas with the help of players and to watch a new world grow, but the disadvantage to a “new” world can be that it is harder for players to get a foothold because they don’t know anything about the world.

    I would also say, to reference directly something you mentioned Lo, that if you are adding reflavors to races/classes, like making a race of gnomey-type-bird folk, then I would say that’s the kind of fluff you really do want to play up to players from the beginning. Give them a sense of the direction you’re leaning in and really show them what you value as a GM and Worldbuilder. It may seem like adding too much to their plate but is equally likely to build enthusiasm and a sense of “knowing” what the GM is thinking.

    @Paul. I’ve been thinking about this concept of “settings with secrets” and I plan to do a post about it fairly soon. Funny how it came up here.

  5. Some good advice from Paul. I can’t quite tell who you’re running the game for – you mention your little cousins, but also running it for your friends. Do you have experienced gamers in there, or is everyone new to it?

    If this is your first campaign, then you might not want to go heavy on the details, especially if your players are new. Sift through your ideas and find the ones that are most important to work in. It sounds like you’ve got a world in mind, but you’re not sure how much you actually want to use it. Don’t get too hung up on that for your first campaign with new players. You’ll spend a lot of time working on details that you likely won’t use, and may miss important things in your drive to make sure that you include all your favorite flavor. Also, make sure that when you modify class and race options that you don’t wind up providing too many options for inexperienced players.

    I’ll use myself as an example. I started gradually working on a campaign setting some time ago (and I’ll post a little about it someday). It’s pretty standard fantasy fare, with some big modifications. There was a big demon invasion and war that resulted in the creation of a second race of Dwarves who live aboveground as semi-nomadic plainsmen. Kingdoms came and went, a race of elves was lost, some inter-diety drama resulted in the Gnoll race leaving turning away from their evil god and following a more benevolent one (and they’re available as PCs!). But I realized as I was working on it that I probably wouldn’t be able to run it at any time soon.

    Then I found myself running a game for a family of five. Dad has played D&D before, but not 4e. Mom may have played once or twice, I forget…again, no 4e. The kids have played MMOs. So I whipped something up…and I didn’t use my campaign world. There were already 14 races available for use without adding 2 more and disallowing one (no Tieflings). There were already 16 classes, did I really need to get into the historical reasons why one of them was disallowed, when it would really only come across as “MY rules say you can’t play those guys”? And with my schedule and the limited attention span of a couple of pre-teens, there’s no way that the party would ever be making it to the Great Western Desert, so why even worry about whether I finished my maps that included it?

    In the end, I wound up running a pretty generic game. Hopefully I’ll get another chance to run MY campaign, but the time wasn’t right in these circumstances. And I’m not saying to sacrifice your ideas if you’ve got new players…but assuming that this isn’t your LAST GMing experience, it might be worth evaluating how many of those ideas you want to bend over backwards including if they’re not going to be relevant or appreciated.

  6. Worlds that players are not familiar with can be tough. It’s hard to find the balance between too much information and too little.

    With too little information, the players will treat it like just another generic fantasy* world. Especially if they are only told the information once – it just doesn’t really stick. Or they forget the context, or whatever – and it becomes easier just for them to just to react to the generic world that they already have in their head.

    With too much information, they don’t listen/don’t care or it becomes an information overload. And depending on the information, it might not really matter to them. The barbarian isn’t going to care that the place he is standing on was where the treaty that ended the last great magical war was signed (unless it pertained to a quest). He is going to lift up the rock commemorating it to see if the door to the tomb that the party is looking for is under it.

    I think it’s nice to have a top-ten list (or so) of the BIG things that your players would know about the world – big race/class changes, overall world events that still effect the current situation, the overall gist of what the world is, etc. The players can each have a copy to refer to and mark up. Even if they don’t read it immediately – it’s still helpful for ‘duh’ moments that can happen later in the game (‘oh yeah! that’s why the bird-chick hated my character! Her people just finished a war with my people!’). I was impressed in the new Dragon Age RPG there were a couple of pages of concise information that spelled out what the average person would know. I know that most game books have this in the form of world history, life information, etc., but in this case it was very minimal, but still hit all of the high notes (to me, anyways).

    Like most things, you will have to judge if your group will get anything out of the work you put into the world. Major things like races and classes and geography will affect there day-to-day decisions, but for the other flavoring, it will be up to them if they will take advantage of it. So, maybe put your big ideas down, and if your players show interest in something, you can then flesh that part of the world out.

    * Substitute sci-fi, urban, or whatever depending on the appropriate situation.

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