Monday 1 January 2018

Learning to GM - Reacting to Your Players

Yesterday, I shared a particular episode from the life of Taji, my character in an ongoing Exalted campaign. It's an important session for me: it's the moment Taji emotionally turned her back on the Realm, the home of her youth (though as you'll see, she still has ties to it and it'll take her longer before she truly breaks away. She is still human, after all; the decision has been made, but it takes time to embed that). That moment when she realised that the Realm wasn't Great and Good was a great moment for me: I was 100% with her on her emotional journey. I love that. 

The GM (Rich) didn't know any of Taji's internal emotional response until I wanted to contact the Emissary to save us. I was frustrated to not be able to remember the actual wording more accurately; I wrote it down so will try to remember to look it up when I can. I was very satisfied with it: in a short couple of sentences, I felt I managed to express a lot of what was happening to Taji. I think Rich agreed: he responded with a surprised "Really?! - I need to take some notes" and then paused to type rapidly. I don't know what was in those notes, but I know that my response has changed things - and that's kinda exciting as a player.

The day before, I was writing about our Deadlands game, and specifically a 'Hanging Judge' that came for Rich's character in the form of Paul's recently deceased character, Steve. Husbit (the GM for this game) did this because he likes running horror games with a focus on personal horror. Carson was really cut up over the death of Steve, blaming himself and searching for the body (though this was probably at least in part to ensure it couldn't rise: Carson has a vow to destroy all undead); Rich's portrayal of Carson's guilt gave Husbit an opening to feed Carson's story.

Back to Exalted and the arrival of Taji and Kito in Thorns. I added a comment to the end of that post, because the story didn't unravel anywhere near the way Rich had intended. When I rolled charisma/socialise to "find someone nice to talk to", I got a legendary amount of successes. He could have interpreted that to introduce us to the person he'd designed as our mentor there before giving us more sorrow to face, but instead went with it and created a new NPC on the fly and gave us a happy childhood. We only learnt Captain Ling was made up on the spot when he told us when we started on Mage!

I'm not very good at adapting to things my players do, but I don't run games often. I'm hoping it's something I can build with experience; I want to run more games in the future, and I want my players to feel like their actions matter to the story. To that end I'm trying to pay attention to what other people do.

I know both these GM's will scribble or type notes when someone says or does something that they want to explore later - like Taji's reaction to meeting the Undying Fury of Creation, or Carson's to Steve's death. It might just be enough to remind them the event happened, or they may have an immediate idea to spin from it that may involve more notes. Rich uses modern technology to store his notes (I don't know which program), while Husbit uses an Arc notebook. Both methods allow them to easily add notes to characters or locations and keep them together. Both GM's review their notes regularly. They both also encourage us as players to keep notes, and will occasionally go through these (mine must be a bit of a nightmare, because I write so many notes! - But knowing they do this, I include extra internal thoughts, especially in Deadlands where not all of the players are interested in character development and immersion). They can draw from what we've written and remembered that way too. I can work on the same basis, and would enjoy doing so, I think.

Reacting to what a player has just done - such as when Captain Ling was created, or every time we've decided to go to a different bit of California than Husbit had intended - is harder for me. I'm not great at thinking on my feet, especially if I'm too warm or tired or otherwise suffering from fibro-fog or migraine issues. As a player, I've gradually worked the other players (and even GM's) round to helping me out when that happens (which reduces the stress I feel when it does and helps me snap out of it). As a GM... depending on the group, this could still work. I suspect those who are used to GM'ing could end up taking over without noticing - and I wouldn't necessarily have the confidence to stop them - and those who aren't interested in world-building wouldn't enjoy it (or who lack experience/confidence - I'd have felt dread at the thought of helping a GM even a couple of years ago).

I see a lot of people saying the best thing to do is to over-prepare, but again with the fatigue/brain fog issues from the fibromyalgia, I don't think this would be maintainable for me over the course of a campaign. Maybe for the Buffy-inspired game I hope to run at sometime this year (one of my aerial friends reminded me before Christmas I'd promised her space if I did, which makes me feel more motivated). It's limited to a smallish location with a controlled cast, so that should help: I'm really not ready to play with a whole city, let alone a whole world!

I'm hoping I'll get enough confidence and practice from that to run some other short games, and from there onto small campaigns, maybe. Run in a world that's entirely mine, so I can change it as much as I want. Have a bunch of template NPC's and locations to supplement the ones I intend to be important - with some clever way of appending notes as things change and unexpected characters become important. Just need to not take it personally when someone/where I wanted to be important doesn't go the way I wanted. Can always tweak and re-use.

On one level, I'm amused. When I started, I thought I'd never want to run a game, and now I keep suffering inspiration!

What tips and tricks do you have for helping your players feel like their actions have impact - immediate or down the line, whether affecting the world or the individual?

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