[HOW-TO] Simplify GMing

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Noctis the Devious

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Disclaimer: I'm not a very wordy person by nature and chances are something like this has already been posted. I also don't claim to be right and all that is below is based on my experience as GM and a player on both this site and another. Also, I've only ran one or two successful games, none of which are on Iwaku, and the rest have died in one way or another. So uh yeah... What I have learned from those tragic deaths of my plot babies I guess?

The average group Roleplay on Iwaku doesn't surpass twelve players. Not that it doesn't happen, but that's not what we're going to be focusing on. We're going to be focusing on smaller groups and ways to avoid being too ambitious as the GM.

→ Have a specific age group. This is more situational than an actual guideline as school roleplays of any sort might benefit this more than others, though when creating a roleplay it helps to keep a certain age group in mind, or putting limits on how young and/or how old a player-character can be. Harry Potter focused on Harry and his friends/enemies, while also introducing other cast members, but never taking the focus off of the picked age group. Any one outside this age group was a supporting character or a "non-player character". I've seen roleplays accept characters of all ages and I've seen players join these roleplays with a young character and make that their only character. This isn't a horrible thing to do, but the plot of the game may prohibit those characters from interacting with the rest.

The exception being roleplays that have a more "general" setting when it comes to age, especially roleplays that involve the party in one place and needing to work together towards a common goal. This may include but is not limited to: Apocalypse - zombie or otherwise, Dungeoneering, or any roleplay that involves the characters waking up in a strange and unfamiliar place - amnesia or otherwise.

→ Keep things small for a small group. The best thing to do as a GM upon creating a game is not anticipating a large number of people. With that said, if you're creating a roleplay that involves multiple jobs/fractions/et cetera try to limit them or maybe focus on one of them. I've recently been in a roleplay that focused on village life. When doing something like that, don't widen the focus but keep it trained on a specific "way of life". How to Train Your Dragon focused on Hiccup and his peers - a specific age group I may add - but fleshed out the setting using a supporting cast and the main cast's connection to this setting. Divergent has a handful of different factions but kept the audience invested in one, again fleshing out the world with a supporting cast, the main character's connection to all of this, and an antagonist. Harry Potter did the same thing with both picking a targeted grade and a specific "House".

A common thing for me to see is attempts at a Mass Roleplay. This seems to be popular in fandoms like Pokemon that often introduces a large world and a cast that explorers it, but thats the thing: these fandoms focus on a cast, a small group of people, and often pushes them towards a common goal. If your description is something along the lines of this, "There's a whole wide world out there to explore! Catch fish, tame horses, and meet the person of your dreams!" Chances are your focus is way to broad for even a twelve-cast roleplay. Focus on a goal, a group to accomplish this goal, and build the world around them. If you gain more players than you anticipated, that allows you to integrate more into your roleplay.

→ Goals within goals can make things interesting. A game should be created with an end goal in mind to begin with, but that's only half of of it. Both your cast and crew need stepping stones; goals and challenges to get to the end goal. I've recently been useing a "round" system in my groups that works similar to chapters in a story or acts in a play. Normally I'll start off with a "Meet & Greet" round, or the prologue that often lasts a week or so, and gives the players a chance to settle their characters into the setting and familiarize themselves with the other characters in the game, and that's the goal: meet the other characters. Even if you don't include visible ways to seperate your roleplay you should still include goals for your cast and it even helps to give them a time frame in which they should complete each goal.

→ Teamwork is magic. Try to involve more than one person to the solution of the problem and encourage your cast to work together and discuss a solution to what you had presented. I personally find it fun as both a GM and as a player to watch my players discussing and to discuss what needs to be done to advance further in the game. Involving more than one person is also a great way to engage your players, so switch it up a bit with each challenge so everyone has a chance to be apart of the answer at some point. This also prevents certain cast and crew members from hijacking a scene and being the end-all be-all solution. What may have worked last time should not work the next time.

→ Don't be overbearing with your goals and challenges. Once a goal is complete give your cast and crew some down time - no, not actually stopping the roleplay for a break - but allow for some "in-between" moments. These can help your cast and crew to reflect on previous events. Maybe you, as the GM, purposely guided your cast to a specific area so they can learn the next goal and plan accordingly, or find out new lore. Being held up in an ancient library after being chased by some acient guardians might give the characters a chance to discover things like how to kill the ancient guardians or maybe the ancient library was your goal all along and the answer to a problem lies here. Two birds with one stone. At the same time, interesting tid bits and insight can be included as well as some discussion and overall rest from the previous goal. In other words, In-between moments can serve a purpose other than slowing down the pace of the game before picking up again.

→ Character Arcs are both fun and important. A plot and a setting is great and all, but what are the characters going to accomplish? What are they going to gain? Most GMs have experienced that one character that always wants to be in the center of the spotlight. Should they be discouraged? Yes and no. Some GMs create games centered around their character. Should they be discouraged? My answer remains the same. For the former, a seasoned GM should give them a pat on the wrist and make them take a step back to evaluate how they should fit into the roleplay. Working with them to figure out when is the right time to explore what their trying to pull off should refocus and reign in that energy. If it's the latter, the players should do the same even if it's not their game. The game belongs 90% to the GM and 10% to the players. If neither of the mention are the case, or even if they are, GMs should figure out each character's role and give them a chance at the spotlight. I tend to ask what my players want their characters to accomplish short term after each "round". That gives me an idea what the next "round" should include as well as how they should accomplish their next goal.

→ Loot and Rewards. Going off the above goals and character arcs, how do you, the GM, plan on rewarding your cast for completing a goal or what do you and your cast want to gain after exploring a character arc? Sometimes I'll creat a game baring in mind rewards and try to tailor my cast members so they gain something from those rewards. In my recent, not-started-yet game, Caster's Challenge, I discouraged "legendary creatures" as familiars and tried to keep spells on the weaker end of the spectrum. This gives me room to build up to something and leaves them room to grow and actually be effected by what they may come across. To be blunt: characters should take something from your adventure and look forward to the next. Knowledge, lore, better gear, money, long lost treasure of some dead guy, or maybe finally getting that kiss are good ways of rewarding your characters. Sure you may not have total control over romance, but I always did prefer plot that interfers with such affairs. Makes it that much more rewarding.

→ There needs to be an end! Both of my recent roleplays Caster's Challenge and Pokemon Kingdom (sue me) have been created with a clear end. For Caster's Challenge it's winning the challenge. For Pokemon Kingdom it was making it to the finals, trying not to lose your place in the tournament, and beat Red (sue me). My players know an end is coming and that is their ultimate goal. Does yours?
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