This month’s RPG Blog Carnival topic is hosted by Johnn Four of Roleplaying Tips himself. He wants to know what we (as GMs I suspect) do to inspire our players to get excited to play each session. This is a tough one since I don’t GM a ton these days. Let’s take a look anyway…
Most of my GMing these days has been with a group consisting of my two daughters and most of my best friend’s family. That group of ten players includes folks ranging in age from 11 to mid-40s and we usually have a good time every time we sit down at the table. But that’s not to say that I don’t lose a few every session. Some of those players may only last an hour while others can go three or four at a pop – it just depends.
As a result, my GM style with a group that size is a bit over the top. I have to be a bit over-caffeinated and exaggerated in everything I do. I have to be louder than I usually am. And I use two main techniques to do that…
Part 1 – Memorable NPCs
First, my NPCs usually fall into three categories. They’re either very helpful, very unhelpful, or neutral to an extreme. For instance, the party ran into a guy selling weapons out of a cart in a recent adventure. He stood, aloof and alone, separate from the market they were exploring – which of course attracted their attention. When some of the party approached him, he was terse and showed his general disapproval of their manner. He knew they weren’t rich, so they were a waste of his time. And they turned out to be rude as well, which made him even less communicative.
Some other folks in the market were happy to see them, like the fruit vendor. He only had a few things left to sell and was more than happy to barter with the party. They ended up giving him a cursed necklace he took back to his wife as a present, though he had no clue it was cursed. He was downright giddy as he left town that day to travel home.
But most folks are pretty indifferent. The kids aren’t great roleplayers yet, but I like to give them every opportunity to improve. Interacting with the old lady who runs the town, she was a bit of a mystery. She gave them information, but not the whole story. And when they confronted her, she had an escape plan prepared. Did they get what they wanted from her? No. But she got what she wanted from them… the sacrifice was made – the bargain complete. So why stick around?
Each of these NPCs usually has some visual description (a deformity, some clothing choice or item, etc.) or a funky accent (I do a great old person accent and occasionally pull out a surfer dude from Fast Times at Ridgemont High) to make them even more unique in the eyes of the players. Hopefully leading by example they will come up with their own approaches to roleplaying over our time together.
Part 2 – Engaging Combat
Second, I try to keep combat fast and entertaining. We started out playing 4th Edition D&D with this group and went so far as to use Masterplan on a laptop with an external monitor showing maps and pictures and such – but battles dragged on FOREVER. So I’m happy to say with our shift to 5th edition D&D I’ve gone back to more of a theater-of-the-mind approach. I doodle maps on little dry erase boards and we try to keep to a minute or less for each player to tell me what they’re doing with their character to keep moving…
It’s not just “you missed… next!” It’s “you cast your Acid Splash at the fishman and it barely misses, hitting the door behind him. The acid sizzles and melts the door into what could legitimately be considered a work of art…” Or “the villain swings wildly at you after your last hit and his sword slips from his grasp, skittering along the ground a few steps away.”
And when the player gets a critical, I let THEM describe the scene. It makes things much more entertaining. “The arrow does critical damage, piercing the meaty portion of the villain’s thigh.” If it’s a really good description, I’ll give the player a “brownie point” to spend later on however they would like.
Am I the best GM in the world? Definitely not. But I do my best to keep my groups entertained and engaged for as long as I can. It’s the little things that help keep us all in the moment!
Great topic Johnn!
Interested in other RPG Blog Carnival topics? Check out the archive at Roleplaying Tips! There are some great ones we’ve had in the past and some fun ones to explore throughout the year!