Friday, June 30, 2023

How I Run the Table

After this post, Josh encouraged me to write about some of my "soft skills" of GMing. I talk a lot about game design and scenario design. I pretty rarely talk about how I personally run my games. I've never felt confident enough that I'm qualified to really talk about such things. But in the last month I wrote that post about how I do NPCs and I've been working on the GMing advice section of the Tricks & Treats rulebook. So let me copy/paste some of what I wrote and see if it resonates. Keep in mind that a lot of this is written specifically in the context of a game about going on Halloween-y adventures. I'll try to avoid the usual advice you see everywhere. "Be consistent, reward creativity, telegraph danger, blablabla" yeah if you're reading this blog then you've already heard that stuff before.

Monday, June 5, 2023

People Are Problems: NPCs as Challenge Elements

Before we get started, I swear I'm not a sociopath.

I don't think of NPCs in the same way that most other GMs do. If you're new to the hobby, you'll find no shortage of tips and tricks on "how to make amazing NPCS!" And for many GMs, a well-crafted NPC is literally their favorite part of the game. Here's an article DM David wrote called "how to create loveable non-player characters," which, in my experience, is very typical of the sorts of advice you commonly see. He advocates that your NPCs should...

  1. Be distinctive
  2. Be flawed
  3. Be relatable
  4. Be useful
  5. Be authentic and vulnerable
  6. Struggle
  7. Ask for help
  8. Show warmth
  9. Show admiration
  10. Be entertaining
  11. Be optimistic

That sounds nice and all, but it is not how I roll. If I happen to make an NPC memorable, believable, three-dimensional, and beloved by the players, then that's a happy accident I'll gladly accept. But my goals are a bit different.

To me, an NPC is essentially the same thing as a trap, puzzle, monster, or magic item. They are simply another asset in my toolbox for crafting obstacles and opportunities to challenge my players. The reason it's hard to think of them through that lens is because... well, for one thing, they're people. But also because they are the most flexible and potent tool for crafting challenges, so all-encompassing in their possible design purposes that it's hard to make any generalizations about them. But today I'll share a few things I know.