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GM resources from Imagonem

puppet-master

We reject this dated conception of the Game Master’s function, but it still makes us feel cool.

Imagonem loves tips, tricks and tools of the trade. Here’s a collection of some we’ve published.

The first few are in English, Norwegian follows.

Norsk

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Den trivelige trollmannens stue

Et leserbrev til Imagonem

Skrevet av Jarvosh av Dalsøkk

Jarvosh er landsbytrollmann i den lille landsbyen Dalsøkk. Han liker landsbyboerne, og de liker ham. Han gikk i lære hos mester Gheldor, som i sin tur hadde artium fra trollmannskolen i Legd. Det var for sin munterhet og freidighet Jarvosh ble utvalgt som læresvenn den gang for lenge siden.

Til daglig har Jarvosh varierte arbeidsoppgaver i den unnselige landsbyen i markgrevskapene langt fra hovedstaden Legd. Man skulle kanskje ikke tro det skjedde så mye et så avsidesliggende sted, men på grunn av de stadige konfliktene med nabofyrstedømmene og de mange gjennomreisende som tidvis lager kvalm etter opphold på vertshuset Svingstangen er det nok å henge fingrene i. Vertshuseieren Gimler Gråsnue er en sympatisk og velmenende mann, men kunne nok med hell vært litt strengere med hvem han serverte, og i hvilke kvanta.

Jarvosh tilbringer mye tid med å helbrede syke og sårede, samt brygge helende drikker. Dette synes han er hyggelig, for han blir kjent med mange nye mennesker og får nyss om hvordan det er andre steder i verden.

honeHvis det noen gang hender at han lengter seg bort vet han at han alltid kan søke tilflukt i den lille, rødmalte stuen ved tjernet, der han bor. Her synes Jarvosh det er hyggelig å ta imot gjester, og små barn fra Dalsøkk liker å komme på besøk for å høre eventyr og se Jarvosh gjøre små triks. Han har også noen dverghøns på tunet utenfor. De er han svært glad i. Han har tryllet frem noen busker de kan gjemme seg blant (høns er fryktsomme dyr). Klara, Gullet og Hedvig, heter hønene. De legger egg til Jarvosh hver morgen, så han kan steke seg omelett.

Det hender Jarvosh liker å sitte i solveggen utenfor stuen og nyte utsikten og det pene været, men han er ikke så glad i varmen. Men er det sommer kan han ta seg en dukkert, og om vinteren kan han gå innendørs og fyre opp i peisen mens han brygger en deilig kopp kakao.

Det beste Jarvosh vet er som dere kan forstå å være til nytte. Det hender at noen av de omflakkende eventyrerne som passerer gjennom landsbyen forviller seg ut til stuen, fordi de har hørt stygge rykter om en forbrent, ondskapsfull trollmann i en hule, som gjør ugagn og kaster forbannelser over de stakkars landsbyboerne. Da forbarmer Jarvosh seg over dem, hvis han da ikke er travelt opptatt med å hjelpe noen som er syke eller trøste en liten landsbygutt som er lei seg. Han byr kanskje eventyrerne inn på en kopp kakao og forteller dem historien om fjæren som ble til fem høns. Den handler om hvor raskt rykter kan spres når folk ikke har bedre ting å ta seg til. Han får ofte hjelp av høna Klara, Gullet og Hedvig til å illustrere. Samt litt illusjonsmagi for virkelig å understreke poenget.

Some happening RPG podcasts

I’d love to have a podcast listening habit, but I don’t. I love text. Anyway, I try to pay attention, and I listen to snippets here and there when something catches my eye. There are lots of cool RPG focused shows out there now, here’s a small sample (not even capsule reviews. More like skimming, sampling and thinking out loud).gauntlet

The Gauntlet

The Gauntlet Episode 39 keeps on delving into the indie RPG scene. From 26:59 onwards, there’s a special focus on Dungeon World and what makes it awesome, as they say. Dungeon World is one of the more well-known of the Powered by the Apocalypse World engine games. For a show often covering obscure shit like Nørwegian Style games, this is pretty much mainstream. Apocalypse World reskinned  with a D&D flavor? One of my groups will be dipping into it this spring. Some timestamps is a great improvement this year, as it alleviates podcast surfing for those of us with an attention span near 0.

I’m impressed how many games the hosts manage to play in addition to recording, editing and presumably holding down day jobs. I think the collective running it are considering a third, more Actual Play-focused, weekly show? Please check out their Google Plus community for news, if you have interest in keeping track of new (primarily) US indie games. There are online Hangout sessions, Face to Face meetups in the US… cool, cool. I will keep paying attention and letting the timestamps help me navigate to the content I’m most interested in.

You can also check out The Gauntlet’s Dungeon World podcast Discerning Realities. Episode 4 also out this week.

Backstory

backstoryPart of the One Shot network, Backstory is a charming new kid on the block. «BACKSTORY is an ongoing series of interviews with game designers and other notable members of the role-playing community, hosted by Alex Roberts.»

On the show released Thursday, Alex talks to Lizzie Stark (author, game designer, organizer and journalist). The interview delves into Lizzie’s exploration of US and European larp scenes, her interest in structured freeform and many of the interesting pathways that can bring you into the hobby. Sorry, art.

Of special interest to Imagonem’s readers, Lizzie has traveled extensively in the Nordic countries to research the regional larp and freeform traditions, and has been an important ambassador/bridge-builder between US and Nordic larp scenes. She co-edited the Larps from the Factory book, a collection of Norwegian short larps published in 2013.

Designers and Discourses

D&DThis show was new to me when researching this blog post. It seems fairly new (6 episodes), and covers an interesting spectrum of classic games, OSR and indie. The format for the most recent shows is designer interviews. Episode 6, out January 11, features an interview with Luke Crane, who’s behind Burning Wheel (which supposedly is so crunchy Matthijs won’t even let me play it) and it’s more lightweight version Mouse Guard (which I have played some LotR adaption of), both modern self-publishing classics. Crane is head of games at Kickstarter since last year.

At the end of December, the show invited James Raggi, an American living in Finland where he publishes one of the OSR movement’s flagships, Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I’m fascinated by the OSR, as it seems to exist as kind of a parallel DIY universe to the «storygame»/other self-publishing scene I’ve followed far closer over the years. I dig the vibe I’m getting from many of these blogs, games and – not to mention – fanzines, I’m just late to the party and there’s lots to explore. The Raggi interview gives some interesting details of the development of the movement and the games.

On a related note, the Game School podcast released a new episode January 16, talking with Zak Smith, creator of the ENnie award winning supplement for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, A Red and Pleasant Land.

Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff

Game design veterans Kenneth Hite (contributed to GURPS, WoD, Nephilim and several other games) and Robin D. Laws (Hillfolk, Feng Shui, Gumshoe ++) have been doing this podcast for four years. Episode 174 was out yesterday (January 22), and covers a trip to Vegas, dramatic scene construction and thai food with a healthy serving of history.

The talk about Las Vegas is an interesting, knowledgeable walkthrough of the city’s history. The hosts obviously tie all the mob history and noir aspects into game ideas towards the end of the conversation. All presented with what I guess is kind of a classic US radio show style banter?

The discussion on dramatic scene construction is also highly relevant to GMs and scenario authors. kogr

 

Design Games

Also out this week is the Design Games podcast episode 23, covering setting! Some insightful and detailed ideas on that. With game designers Will Hindmarch (Eternal Lies, Storium ++)  and Nathan D. Paoletta (The World Wide Wrestling RPG, Annalise, carry and more).

If you understand Spanish, you can also check out Podcast Explosivo, out today!

What did we miss? Please let us know in the comments.

Running Convention Games

Photo: Jorge Leal (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Photo: Jorge Leal (Flickr/Creative Commons).

US game designer and activist John Stavropoulos has game mastered hundreds of games at conventions over the years. In this text, he boils his experience down into 5 basic points. Originally published on G+, shared here with the author’s kind permission. For more about John’s projects, please see the end of the article. 

When I think about the games I enjoyed vs. times where I’ve had less fun, it often comes down to a few super basic obvious things that most people say «of course» and then in practice is gets muddy…

1. Set expectations
2. Time management
3. Spotlight management
4. Character vs. Player consent
5. Direct: Focus, Edit, Ask, Review, Teach as you go, Delegate

What does the above mean?

1. Set expectations

Don’t assume. Be explicit but brief. Maybe the players didn’t read the event description or they did but didn’t understand it. Why are we here? What do you want us to do? What do you want us not to do?

Is this a cooperative game? Competitive? Are we aiming for a certain tone or theme? Should we stick together? Should we split up? Should we stay serious? Make jokes? Attack each other? Wait till the last 30 minutes before PvP? Always work as a team?

It doesn’t matter. Just say what it is you want. Or be clear you are flexible and then let the group decide. Give enough info so people can opt out if they aren’t interested or buy in so you can all get on the same page and maximize the fun factor!

2. Time management

We have 4 hours to play which is actually probably 3 considering late starts and breaks. Then it is helpful to note how much time is left. When are we half way done? When do we have 30 minutes left? 5?

John is not, as far as Imagonem's editors are aware, a Revolutionary Icon from the 60's. However, he *is* an accomplished convention GM and organizer, and has graciously agreed to share some of his insights with our readers.

John is not, as far as Imagonem’s editors are aware, a Revolutionary Icon from the 60’s. However, he *is* an accomplished convention GM and organizer, and has graciously agreed to share some of his insights with our readers.

I know many great GMs like to limit new information after the halfway point to keep the game manageable. After that we reuse what we can, twist it, redefine it, combine it, destroy it, explore it but limit the amount of information.

Then once we hit that 30 minutes left point, start wrapping things up. Close loose ends. Resolve conflicts. Answer questions. Fulfill promises.

Then once we have 5 minutes left wrap up, epilogue, clean the table, and be respectful that players need to go to the next thing and new people may be playing at this same table next.

3. Spotlight management

One of the biggest convention game problems I see (depends on the game, there are exceptions). We make characters and the world for an hour. We play individual solo scenes for another hour. It can end up where players spent about 15 minutes talking and 100+ minutes being really quiet before the game feels like it really started and then you run out of time before you get any pay off for all the stuff you built up.

And if that is the point of the game… that is great! See «Set Expectations». Tell us so people can make an informed decision about opting in or out.

Maybe instead of solo scenes do scenes that start with 2 people at a time with a 3rd person coming in towards the end of the scene. Mix it up. If someone has been quiet a while, maybe they want to be quiet, maybe they are bored and anxious they haven’t done anything, not everyone wants equal participation but give everyone an equal opportunity to participate.

And make sure that spotlight is meaningful. Waiting 20 minutes to say or do anything and then stating 6 words, rolling, failing, having the GM describe how you fail, and then waiting another 20 minutes for maybe doing something engaging can kill many people’s interest real fast (or real slow so they can savor the agony). Stick with someone long enough so it feels meaningful. Context matters. Maybe that is 1 roll, maybe that is 3 rolls, maybe that is no rolls. They waited a long time, lets get some payoff!

4. Character vs. Player consent

This is a tricky topic that I should expand elsewhere. My opinion is the people playing a game are more important than the game itself. It should not matter if I win or fail at something, it is all still roleplaying. In an RPG ideally I could fail every single roll and still have a great time. Part of this is spotlight above. Part of this is that I am ok with the results of a roll. That even of it is the worst thing for my character, that I as the player am on board with it.

Part of this is simply the 3Cs. Communicate, Consent, Confirm.

Communicate the stakes of the situation, «if you fail X may happen, if you succeed Y may happen».  Get consent from those involved, «is this cool with you either way or would you like something else?» And then confirm, «to review, this is what we are doing, cool?»

It doesn’t have to be that formal. Or maybe it can be. Either way it is easier and faster than it sound above and with practice it solves many problems before they happen.

5. Direct: Focus, Edit, Ask, Review, Teach as you go, Delegate

As the facilitator (GM or GM-less), don’t be afraid to act like a director. Keep the above points in mind. Set expectations. Manage the game. Focus people when focus is useful. Get out of the way when people need time to process or slowness or uncertainty is a benefit to the game. Don’t let people talk over each other or interrupt people who haven’t had a fair chance to talk. Edit scenes by making suggestions. What if this scene happened here? What if we play the next few scenes as a montage? Lets cut the scene here or ask, «any last lines?» Ask for input, «what do we want more if in the next 2 hours? less of?» Review what we know, where we are headed, make sure the flow of information is manageable, understandable, and not full of misinformed assumptions. Don’t overwhelm people, teach rules as you go. And finally delegate!

While «directing» sounds like the GM’s job is to be a «dancing monkey» and «provide the fun» this doesn’t have to be the case. Delegate.

Have players frame scenes, play NPCs, suggest conflicts, answer questions directed at you, teach the rules. You would be amazed how much you can delegate. Hell, I’ve sometimes delegated entire games, then handed the players my phone number to text me if there were problems, got a coffee, came back, and asked, «how am I doing so far?»

Disclaimer:

It always depends. Context matters. There are many exceptions. And ultimately the needs of a specific game override some of the above. Just like the needs of specific people override the needs of specific games (in my personal opinion influenced by my own social context, cultural lens, privileges, experiences).

And while this may be 101 level material, sometimes we assume we have a solid foundation but lack the basics that help us have a great time. Take a step back and ask, «am I really doing all these things and where can I improve and practice.»

______________________________________________________________

About the author: 
John Stavropoulos. 

Brief gaming bio:
– organized 26 conventions in NYC;
– co-run Gen Con’s Games On Demand;
– designed convention game scenarios including MvsM, The Yearbook, CyberNoia, Demons at the Door, Monsterhearts LARP, Monekydome, and the5;
– playtested 100s of games;
– run numerous gaming industry panels;
– designed games for the History Channel played by 100,000s of people;
– co-created games in Ethiopia for the Nike Foundation to help hundreds of adolescent girls learn teamwork, financial literacy, and to speak out against gender based violence.
John has written: 
– How to Run Convention Games, http://tinyurl.com/run-con-games;
– How to Run Safer, Accessible, and Inclusive Conventions, http://tinyurl.com/run-safer-cons;
– How to Write Game Instructions, http://tinyurl.com/write-game-rules.
Find out more here: http://jstav.com

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