Dark Phoenix Events Game Master’s aren’t just GMs, they are also game designers . Andre Kruppa, well known in the Northeast for his theatrical style and immersive audio-visual game experiences, recently published the Lucid Dreams Roleplaying Engine. The following excerpt from the Playing the Game chapter is both a window into Lucid Dreams and a widely applicable essay on running RPGs in general.
Running the Game: The Basics
By Andre Kruppa
There are a lot of factors important to running a role-playing game. The Game Master must organize play, facilitate sessions, and keep track of a myriad of factors with setting, characters, background and storytelling. It can be quite a challenge, but is also very exciting and fun!
The setting, period, and so forth can be developed out of whole cloth or taken from scenario books or supplements. When choosing a setting, it is a good idea to have a long chat with the rest of the Table and see what the players and co-GMs (if any) may desire in a game. For historically based fantasy, reading a concise history of the era is often a good idea and some of the most promising campaigns often incorporate details from the period, which helps keep the tone. A variety of published settings can be used and conversion from any Skill-based system is fairly straightforward.
There are many styles of play and no one style is best, but certainly folks often have a preference. Keeping distraction to a minimum and focusing the players on the scene in play is vital to a good session regardless of the methods employed. There are many ways to achieve this focus, from involving story bits for each Player Character to clear descriptive presentation of the environment and setting. Some folks prefer a strong narrative game with little along the lines of physical play aids, others may have well developed handouts that help give the flavor of the setting, and some may use miniatures and terrain.
Atmosphere can go a long way toward immersing the players in the game. Lighting and mood music have a strong impact, often subconscious, and can be quite helpful for those that are interested. Lighting might be as simple as turning off the lights and using flashlights, candles, glow sticks, or lanterns during some scenes, or using dimmable or intelligent lights. Some use period language and customs which help to create a feel for things as well.
Sound effects can also be effective as well, and sound boards on tablets and smart phones are beginning to be released more frequently and custom sound board apps can be used by the more enterprising gamer. Sound often helps create immersion and makes the setting come to life. One Table may have a strong preference for this, and another may wish to do without.
Description is vital to the game and the setting is framed almost wholly by the Game Master’s description of the scene. It is important to inform all of the senses, most especially sight, hearing, and smell. A few details can really add to the impact and immersion of a scene, such as the dripping sound of water in a cave, the smell of mold, the sounds of insects, the way a stone wall is made, the nature of the path or road. Details can often convey vital information and also add to the experience of each player, helping to create the mind’s eye picture.
Running a game is also often about pacing, which is an art in and of itself. Timing scenes and leaving campaign sessions with a feeling of anticipation through cliff hangers, twists, or otherwise on the brink of a vital coming scene can help when the GM can engineer it. One need not obsess over timing, but it is good to try and keep things flowing and make the tension of the plot strong and vibrant.
Every group has a sweet spot in terms of style and genre and it make take a bit of time for a group to hit its stride. When doing a new game, it is often wise to play a one-shot scenario or two to get the feel for things. Most games need cooperative effort and require a strong consensus to play smoothly and be enjoyable for everyone. Players should be encouraged to work together to create the story even when the Player Characters are not fully in alignment.