Preparing to GM

I'm running a game for Technical Difficulties next Saturday and three games at GenCon in mid-August. So this seems as good a time as any to talk about what I do to prepare to GM a game.

There's only a few systems I'm comfortable enough with to GM, but I don't regularly GM. So I don't have all the rules memorized at any one time and like to review some areas I know I'm weak in before GMing. Right now, I'm comfortable with A Dirty World (next Saturday), first edition Eclipse Phase (GenCon), and Red Markets (intermittently). I have the basic mechanics and expected genre/setting/mood of all three down (which is more or less my baseline for saying I'm comfortable with a system) but before a game, I like to review:

  • the combat system in A Dirty World, both physical and social;
  • hacking in Eclipse Phase;
  • negotiations in Red Markets.

I think with time I'll move on to a more complex part of A Dirty World than combat. Not that there's a lot more to the system — I like A Dirty World, but it designed to do one thing (noir) and one thing only. So, not the most complex of systems. Hacking in Eclipse Phase and Negotiations in Red Markets are probably going to be the go-to review sections for a while though. Hacking because it's both complex and not used frequently in games I run. Negotiations because it's just different than other systems I know and the most complex part of Red Markets, period.

In addition to reviewing the system is the prep I do for the adventure. I typically run pre-written one-shots, so I'll have to write a new post exploring how this changes if/when I run a campaign (I have an idea...) But any rate, for one-shots, I like to review the pre-generated characters, read the adventure thoroughly, let it sit for an hour or a day, and then read it over again, thinking about how my players are going to something completely bonkers.

And then the day of, I'll have the rules books to hand, ready to go aaaaaaand everything flies out of my head. So I improvise the whole thing anyway.

But the prep work means the improvising happens faster (no 5 minutes of dead air and players twiddling their thumbs) and more coherent, because I know (theoretically) where I'd like everyone to go.

Not that they go there. Player Characters == Cats. First rule of tabletop rpgs, that is.

I think that went all right

Not unexpectedly, last weekend's gaming session did not wrap up the plot – part two (of two, hopefully) is this Saturday.

And yes, I did steal shamelessly from Gibson's story Burning Chrome, just not as I expected to. I honestly thought I'd be snagging plot elements and instead used some of the setting places as starting points for my own plot elements. So the shameless stealing (homages...) were for the names of a couple characters and one place. Considering that Partner is the only one who's already read Burning Chrome though, I'm pretty sure I haven't given the other players any undue hints or accidental bum steers, which is a good thing. Now if I could just keep Partner from snickering in the background of the recording...

I'm finding that, when it comes to gaming, I'm much more of a pantser/improvisor than I expected. In this case, I came up with a basic setting and inciting action to get things started and after that... just went with off of what my players did. There were two options I could see them going in and, while I didn't have anything exactly planned for either, I had ideas on what could happen. But nothing set. Which might explain why I cut the session when the second major NPC showed up on screen but before they could speak – I've got to figure out what they'll open the dialogue with.

That said, I like running pre-made one-shots. I've felt like I know what I'm doing more and I've certainly been better about including more description... which might be an artifact of the different systems those games have happened in. All the pre-made one-shot's I've run have been in Eclipse Phase which has a very rich and deep setting description. This one was in a system which, as we've learned, wants the players and GM to collaborate together before hand to build aspects to the world and how it feels. But, yeah, either way, I need/want to work on improving my descriptions, both for gaming and in my writing.

Next week, thoughts on how my game finished and on the system we used in detail.