Saturday, March 7, 2015

Game Masters’ Roundtable of Doom: Evolution of GMing style

I'm taking a stab at the Game Masters' Roundtable of Doom. I'm not completely in the "circle" yet but my friend Darcy suggested I give it a shot.
The Game Masters' Roundtable of Doom is a meeting of the minds of tabletop RPG bloggers and GMs. Every GM has his or her favorite system, but in these articles we endeavor to transcend a particular system or game and discuss topics that are relevant to GMs and players of all roleplaying games.
If you are a blogger, and you'd like to participate in the Game Master's Roundtable of Doom, send an email to Lex Starwalker at and supply the URL of your blog.
This month's topic comes to us courtesy of Scott Robinson, who asks, "How has your gaming and/or GMing changed over time?"

To start off, let's cover my general gaming background. I feel that the games you've played in really impact both what you like to play in and what you like to run. Most of the PCing experiences were one-shots.
Timeline based on first appearance. It isn't the most impressive list, but it is mine. Also included is if I've ever PC'd or GM'd that game.
  • Advanced Fighting Fantasy (PC)
  • BECMI/Red Box (PC/GM)
  • 3.X (PC/GM)
    • Iron Heroes (GM)
    • Iron Kingdoms (GM)
  • Feng Shui (GM)
  • Fantasy Craft (GM)
  • Lif's Children (friend's super "story"-style game; history, secrets, desires, fears, and trust type mechanics) (PC)
  • Dark Heresy (PC/GM)
  • Call of Cthulhu (PC)
  • Rogue Trader (PC)
  • Dark Dungeons (GM)
  • Star Wars Roleplaying 2nd Edition Revised and Expanded (GM)
  • Labyrinth Lord w/ advanced companion (GM)
  • Mountain Witch (PC)
  • Dungeon World (PC)
  • Pokemon Tabletop Roleplaying (PC)
  • Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition (GM)
    • Planescape
  • Numenera (PC)
  • Honor and Intrigue (PC)
  • Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition (GM)
  • Dark Heresy 2nd Edition (PC)
  • The Strange (PC)
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess (GM)
Changes: how would I characterize how my GMing style has changed over time? Here are 5 general ways I can tell where I've experienced the most change.
  1. Structure: The way I brainstorm and plan my campaigns has gone through a lot of different phases. Early games were mostly built around a simple map and a missing or totally linear storyline that would be completely destroyed by my high school buddies. Then, I switched to concept campaigns that were really focused on producing a specific experience. This was part of my Fantasy Craft phase which involved rather constrained worlds. The story and roleplaying moments took place in the heat of combat or during the "cut-scenes" between different adventure options. The current phase is geared more towards sandbox-like games. Using a more pointcrawl/abstract approach to maps, I set up a bunch of 1 page adventures that are distributed in space. This way the players have a lot of options, but I'm always prepared while not having to describe every hex.
  2. Rules: From the beginning I've always taken a mixed approach to the rules. Early on, the rules were more an interpretation of what was written down rather than what was actually written down. Over time, the raw rules became more and more important. This culminated with my Fantasy Craft campaigns, which were as RAW as possible with full on 3-D battle mats. After that, I've kept that general attitude though I've shifted to almost only running lighter rules systems which is reflected in my use of OSR systems. This way I actually use the rules, but there are so few rules that I don't have to ignore any of them. It is wonderful.
  3. Tone: With each subsequent campaign, one thing has really started to take root and become the norm. In the beginning, my campaigns were obviously derivative. Slowly, I started trying to branch out. Now, in general, my campaigns are dark in tone but still lighthearted. This means that the world is terrible and beshitten and the PCs aren't going to be able to change that. Instead, they try to improve their personal position while telling a lot of jokes and having fun despite the horror of their surroundings.
  4. System choice: As time has gone on, I've become more into changing systems with every game. This means that there isn't a standard system. I used to play only 3.X/OGL derivatives. This was partially because it was the only books I owned and because it made it very easy to find people to play with (a common story). With more and more time, I've just wanted to try more and more systems. System choice is a really important part of preparing for a new game.
  5. Scene: In the beginning of my GMing tenure I started by planning whole campaigns with multi-adventure arcs. Now, I don't do that anymore. At all. Now, I just write a series of potential scenes or interacting parties. While at the table, I just riff off of these notes to try and get the PCs from scene to scene. I also like to bring a lot of random tables to the table. It makes the while thing more fun for me as the game is still a "game" for me. This also works very well with the pointcrawl/abstract style of sandbox design; each of the points is a written up scene or set of interacting NPCs. Hopefully I'll show some examples of this soon.
What do you all thing?
Here are some other blogs participating in the GM roundtable: