Every so often, Troll Lord Games post some ideas for GMs. Here is the latest:
Being a GM, DM, or CK is a tricky business. You must be able to think on the fly, keep people engaged and lead them down the path to adventure. Bogged down in the minutiae? Stuck in a dungeon? It's important to lead the players to the best game they can have. That's why our CEO and founder, Stephen Chenault -- a gamer for over 40 years and CK that can keep a game of 20 plus moving smoothly -- has put together another 5 gems guaranteed to give you your best game.
#1: Encourage inter-party role playing and don’t interrupt it when it happens. There are hosts of benefits. Players have more game time and feel like they are doing something more often. They develop characters more and create a more cohesive party or group. It has the added benefit, always important to me, that allows you to make quick adjustments to NPCs, encounters, or situations. It can also be used in recapping adventures and bringing players who weren’t paying attention up to speed.
#2: Weather governs our lives in more ways than we realize. Use it. Whether rain, snow, wind, mist, heat or no weather at all, describe it. I often begin a game session with a comment on the season and what that day is like. “It's late summer, the air is warm and still. The sky is a pale blue, with only a few clouds here and there to block the sun.” Everyone at the table can relate and they immediately conjure images of weather they have lived through (more than likely). It’s the primary reason I went into such detail with the Codex of Aihrde, creating weather patterns. If you are in the Darkenfold and it's raining, you know it's because the Anvil Wind is bringing the moisture off the Amber Sea. These details anchor people to a time and place. It is true even if they are going into a dungeon. Begin the dungeon outside so you can get your weather description in.
#3: When getting started, particularly as a new GM, but also for the veteran, don’t over prep a game. It is very easy to do. You’ll get caught up in your own notes and stories, write out a dozen pages of finely tuned material and be insanely fired up for the game. You are setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration. Likely as not the players aren’t going to be as excited as you are when play begins. They don’t know what cool stuff is planned and are really focused on their characters and not your story. You also run the risk of over-obsessing and when things don’t go as planned you’ll see your finely tuned game start to derail, like a slow-moving train wreck. This forces your hand into forcing player hands which rarely ends how you want it to. Better to make light notes and scribble down intentions. I’ve said it before, be flexible. Work your overall stories into the ongoing campaign, over time. This allows you to adjust the game as it develops, and tell the story as it develops. On average about a half page to a page of notes is all I start with.
#4: Remind players to equip their characters and let them know if they don’t have it written down, they don’t have it. I cannot stress enough how important equipment is to game play. It allows players to create an image of their character and set a tone almost immediately. The GM (as noted in a previous Trick of the Trade) can use equipment to deflect damage to characters by destroying it. It is used to absorb excess gold by giving players something to actually spend their rewards on. Some players take tremendous joy in equipping their characters, others do not…this latter group is why we created the Adventurers Backpack Equipment Cards…pick a card, pay the price and you are equipped and so on. At start of play, while you are organizing, they can equip. Also, be sure to let them have some idea of what they are getting in for, i.e. overland, dungeon or city.
#5: Get some names for NPCs together. Either get a book like our Gary Gygax’s Extraordinary Book of Names, or a baby name book, or a name generator online and get yourself a list of about 10 names for each gender and few for demi-humans and hang them on your screen. The characters are going to want to talk to someone, somewhere and usually when you least expect it. Have a name to give them!