Sunday, October 4, 2009

Just Relax

As a guy who has spent a lot of his gaming time GMing, or preparing for GMing, I know how much stress it can induce. You don't want to have your players walk away at the end of the night thinking the game sucked, and so you want to do everything you can to make the experience fun. The key to this?

Just relax.

There are some easy tools you can use to make your workload much smaller, and to make it seem like you spent days or weeks preparing for a game you whipped up in a few hours - if not less.

One of my favorites is simple - a name generator. I keep a short list of names I've pre-generated in the notebook where I keep my campaign notes, and if the players meet an NPC, I just make a note of that by the name I use. Using a variety of names helps, because humans and elves and dwarves and such don't all have similar-sounding names. This can go for taverns, shops, or other businesses, too - I have a half-dozen or so names to use for inns, merchant stores, or even temples.

Also, learn to keep a game face. This sounds silly, but it helps. You need to be able to react to things your players do the way you want to, not they way they expect. If you react predictably all the time, they will catch on, and it will be hard to surprise them. The caveat to this is, of course, the fake-out - react just the way they expect until the very last minute, and then fake it. You lead them along and surprise them at the last minute, and if you pull it off you will earn both their hatred (not really, of course) and respect.

Be willing to be flexible with the rules. I've been guilty of problems like this many times, but while the rules are written out for a reason, they are not the final arbiter of the game - you are, especially in tense situations. Nobody wants the GM to start looking through a rulebook when their PC is trying to launch himself off an ogre to stab the giant in the face.

To go along with flexibility, improvisation. With games like D&D, it can be easy to get bogged down with tiny details, but some things can just be hand-waved. When you throw the PCs against a group of standard human cultists, you don't need a precise total for hit points - they are just cannon fodder. In one game recently, the first fight I threw in was against cultists who were minions (a special designation in D&D, where one hit will kill a minion), and I did it just to make the players feel cool. With the big bad guys, you may want to have a bit more info, but with lower-tier guys, you can wing it for a turn or two while you find the right info - or, you could just put it all in your notes.

Above all, remember - RPG means role-playing GAME, and you play games to have fun. As a GM, you shouldn't be killing yourself or driving yourself nuts to try and provide an absolutely perfect gaming experience; you should be having fun. If it isn't fun anymore, take a step back and re-evaluate, or let someone else take a turn at the wheel.

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