How to Host an RPG Session

How to Host an RPG Session

Being a good gamesmaster isn't just about running the game; you've also got to create the right atmosphere.

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I have been running a group more or less weekly for five years. (Before that I ran things with more disruption from school then I like to think about) I will say I do a great many of the things you mentioned. We also have gamed on Mondays. The issue with that is my players want a longer game without giving up sleep so we have just decided to go to Sunday afternoons with Monday night as are fallback night. (For when we have Sunday conflicts.)

I think this will still work out because we get at least five full hours of playing instead of what often ended up as three hours tops after futzing around with dinner and what not.

I am lucky enough that I don't need to bribe my players to bring snacks but then many of them have been in the group for years so that helps.

Ive been GM a few times. ((i perfure GK (God king) insted though))

Its not as hard as many people think. But then, at the same time, its way harder then youd expect. You really have to balance the two powers. Arsehole and Timid Bunny.

Sure you could fill the next room with imps, goblins, orks, or kobalds..... but thats to common. Insted lets fill it with a dozen golden chests. Inside each one is a different surprise! An Umber Hulk in one, a group of fiends in another, maybe a chest full of mimics ((chests)) in another?
But then ofcourse is when the arsehole in you starts to kick in. Lets make them all magically trapped, deadly to the touch, and cant be closed.

Its the proper balance between the two that really makes for a good GM.

Great read. I typically end up running my group on Fridays (No schoolwork see) and generally my group are quite good about food. Cheap sweets downstairs helps! My group ends up fluctuating between different numbers of players every week due to various commitments but the members enjoy hearing the exploits of their comrades while they were away and trying to do better than them in this weeks session!

You article was mostly good, but I strongly disagree against providing XP for being refreshments. Doing so gives a gameplay advantage to wealthier gamers who can afford to bring better food. In general, you shouldn't give in-game rewards for out-of-game actions, especially if those actions cost money.

blalien:
You article was mostly good, but I strongly disagree against providing XP for being refreshments. Doing so gives a gameplay advantage to wealthier gamers who can afford to bring better food. In general, you shouldn't give in-game rewards for out-of-game actions, especially if those actions cost money.

I can see that point of view. I mostly don't do it because I like to give out my extra points for when one of my players does something in character that is freaking hilarious or kick ass.

I make them wear a golden necklace of dice for the rest of the game that is worth an extra point by the end. I hand out about one every other game or so. I did once have a player hand theirs over to another because they though they deserved it more.

I really strongly disagree with a lot of things in this. I've been GMing for about 13 years, and by FAR the most consistent way to get gamers to the table is to schedule each and every gaming date, and not try to do them always on the same day of the week. It is more work, yes, but it actually gets the entire group together. My most recent game has run for about 9 months and has not had anyone miss a day. We play roughly every 2 or 3 weeks, and go about 6 to 8 hour sessions.

I think more important advice should have been given on stuff like: "I forgot my character sheet.. uh, now what?"

Also, XP bonus' for bringing things is a really bad way to go about things. I mean, truly terrible. What happens when you combine real money, with xp and a rules lawyer? You get disagreements about things that are important to people outside the game, that can't easily be resolved.

I do agree about reading a synopsis. I also e-mail it out to all the players between sessions to pique their interest.

Awesome article.

Hopefully this will inspire more people to pick up a pen and some paper with their mates.

Right now I am running my Pathfinder game at a large sci-fi store. One of my players is the GM of said store and yeah it's problematic because even on his day off, when we play, our game still gets interrupted and I really don't like playing in a public space even though we're setup in a area normally games aren't allowed to play in. I mean it's cool to have a gaming store at ones disposal but I am really not crazy about it at all.

Zechnophobe:
Also, XP bonus' for bringing things is a really bad way to go about things. I mean, truly terrible. What happens when you combine real money, with xp and a rules lawyer? You get disagreements about things that are important to people outside the game, that can't easily be resolved.

blalien:
You article was mostly good, but I strongly disagree against providing XP for being refreshments. Doing so gives a gameplay advantage to wealthier gamers who can afford to bring better food. In general, you shouldn't give in-game rewards for out-of-game actions, especially if those actions cost money.

I think I can count on one hand how many times someone hasn't brought food to a session, in a campaign that's be ongoing for about a year and a half. It's simply part of the play experience for us to have some snacks and drinks available and it's best when everyone chips in. Sure, we all have steady jobs, and I guess maybe ~$5 every week or every other week is a lot for some, but I have a hard time seeing that.

Zechnophobe:
I think more important advice should have been given on stuff like: "I forgot my character sheet.. uh, now what?"

You stop it before it can ever become an issue by having the DM always keep all the character sheets. The minor amount of annoyance at not having quick access to your character during the week is easily worth never having to deal with that hassle.

I'm sorry, but I do not buy the argument that rewarding experience points for bringing munchies is unfair because it rewards wealthy players. A box of donuts from the supermarket or a bag of chips costs no more than a couple bucks. That's less than the price of renting a movie or getting even one beer at a bar. We are talking about a hobby in which the average participant invests more than that in dice alone, let alone player's handbooks, miniatures, cards, etc.

This is great advice for running a game with players like mine, very inexperienced and flighty - it's my wife and her friends. We play Sunday evenings, but we get pretty messed up. it's part of the fun and really brings down their inhibitions about role-playing. I like to prepare food ahead of time myself if I can, maybe asking someone to bring extra beverages. I don't hand out extra XP because it's all more-or-less ad-hoc.

I'd say keeping the action immediate and keeping all the players involved at once are my keys to keeping a game going. Whenever I have to focus on one player alone (even if it's just some asshole who keeps interrupting me when I'm trying to help him learn to play) I lose the rest of the group and have to retread the same ground.

That said, if my players go off on some hilarious fugue that keeps the whole table entertained, I let it ride because we're there to have fun. My adventures never go the way they should anyway. Last time around they just started killing my NPCs! It was hilarious.

Some good ideas all around. In my experience (so to speak), experience point bonuses tend to even out in the end. And so long as everyone is working towards the good of the party, it shouldn't matter, right? (Pardon me while I interrogate the thief as to the location of those gems we picked up last session...)

The most recent GM I played under put the "recap" in players' hands and gave a small bonus to whoever stepped up to provide it.

Loved the piece and the topics that were covered. It does bring forth a couple of issues or notes with the group that I play with on Monday nights.

1) We always play in the same place, but if we do go for a separate location, we will car pool, since only two of the six of us actually drive. That keeps things simple.

2) The setting for the game is a comfy living room, with 6 seats - we get comfy and start to play, while the hosts sit on their computer chairs. A lack of tables makes for interesting dice rolling, but considering that we haven't rolled a single dice in 2 weeks of RP, we're doing well. If any of us (generally just me) needs to act part of the sequence out, there is enough floor space for me to make an arse of myself.

3) One of the group that DMs SLA Industries for us has a wonderful method of getting us into the game every Saturday (only 4 players this time, so it's much more cozy). He slaps on some Ministry and performs a title sequence, where he describes something happening for the cameras that are the focus of the game. As players, we see this, though our characters are usually oblivious, as the titles roll. Recaps will have usually taken place in the kitchen while I make a brew and we are quite amicable toward one another, in spite of the perceived animosity between Michael Rhodes and his Operative colleagues.

4) Munchies - we eat a meal around there, as our hosts have children, so we feed them and pack them off to bed, before starting. People are free to bring food along, so long as they share and share alike. If you're rustling plastic while the DM is in mid-flow, you'd better apologise with the offer of a bag of calories for your lord and master, who you have just derailed yet again.

5) Drinking is a part and parcel of the gaming experience. Be it a glass of wine or a bottle of cider for the ladies, some single malt for our host or just a cup of tea for me, as I am driving, we get by. No-one really gets off their face, as that's bad etiquette, on the whole.

6) Winding down sessions is never really a strong point. I've personally felt like I want to slap a few of my gamers: As I've got a pretty good eye for the time, using my laptop to store my notes and play some music for the background, I've got a clock available that doesn't make me look antsy, when I check it every five minutes. When I'm describing a scene and she interrupts me saying "sorry, but just so everyone knows, it's quarter to eleven and I know people have got to be up for work in the morning", it really harms the immersion. When we do wind down, if she is DMing, her interest stops dead and she pretty much falls asleep straight away, allowing us to sneak out, while her husband (also a gamer) apologises profusely.

7) I've been caught before trying to end a session when combat is afoot. Sadly, this happened two or three sessions on the bounce, as being unaccustomed to the combat system and the charms of Exalted, the players were a little slow to uptake it and while I try to focus on the one combatant whose turn it is, getting interruptions from the Fire Caste, who keeps going on about how she will rip someone's throat out, I have to keep pointing out that they will do nothing until their turn.

I've been Roleplaying with this group of friends for nearly 2 years and I've been playing RPGs now for nearly 15 years - over half of my life. I do make mistakes (I'm only Human most of the time, after all) and I view it as a learning experience.

Slycne:
I think I can count on one hand how many times someone hasn't brought food to a session, in a campaign that's be ongoing for about a year and a half. It's simply part of the play experience for us to have some snacks and drinks available and it's best when everyone chips in. Sure, we all have steady jobs, and I guess maybe ~$5 every week or every other week is a lot for some, but I have a hard time seeing that.

Archon:
I'm sorry, but I do not buy the argument that rewarding experience points for bringing munchies is unfair because it rewards wealthy players. A box of donuts from the supermarket or a bag of chips costs no more than a couple bucks. That's less than the price of renting a movie or getting even one beer at a bar. We are talking about a hobby in which the average participant invests more than that in dice alone, let alone player's handbooks, miniatures, cards, etc.

There's also the fact that just a few bucks not only brings some tasty snacks to the hungry party and thirsty GM, it boosts the speed at which the party levels up. This means they reach more challenging encounters more quickly. I don't see a downside, here.

OT: Good article with some great advice.

Concerning alcohol, I simply banned it at session. I love the drink, but the best intentions and gravest vows still ended in a waste of time after the first hour.

Tobacco, however! Tobacco is great for gaming. It is a prop for the tavern scenes and a special effect when the DM has to role-play a dragon.

Thank you for the article. I enjoyed reading it.

For my group, we cycle who takes care of dinner. We try to be a bit better than filling up on Mountain Dew and Cheetos. We can't really reward in-game, because the GM's handling us with Wealth by Level (WBL) rather than XP to insure we don't get creamed in combat. All of us are hungry by 4 PM, though, so it is its own incentive.

As always a great read.

I think I may need that next article by this weekend. (My group is a monthly occurrence due to locations.) This will be my first crack at DMing for this group and I am looking forward to it.
Lucky for me the atmosphere is taken care of. As I will be GMing for my current group and using most of the same rules and side items. And I only have one power gamer to worry about.

"Villanous Spouse"???

Trouble in paradise, Mr. Macris?

I ran a campaign for almost two years straight. Almost every night. It was awesome, we'd normally start around 7:30 and go until about 9:30, sometimes running well into the wee hours of the morning. I was able to keep my group fairly focused, and only had trouble with drunk gamers towards the end of when I ran the campaign. One of the guys just ended up being a nuisance and we booted him out. It's not cool when you bum cigarettes but then don't spare any, drink someone's drinks and not bring your own, and call at all hours trying to figure out when we're gaming next.

I've never had to resort to the XP for food, because it's sort of assumed that everybody (except the DM) brings snacks. The DM gets a pass because that's a lot more work. There's a strong shame element to it, if you don't bring stuff, people tend to be a bit rude to you. I am strongly in favor of social conditioning and always bring something when not running a game. Usually it's brownies and cookies, but almost every time somebody (not the same person) will bring a pot of chili or something wholesome. Works out well. Gives me an excuse to break out the crockpot or something sometimes. But I like the idea, if people start slacking I might institute it.

Our group tends to go for the biweekly marathon sessions. Start at 11 AM on Saturday, finish when people are pass out tired on Sunday morning. Not bad considering the youngest is early twenties, the oldest is mid-forties, and we all have jobs. Guess we're just hardcore like that.

blalien:
You article was mostly good, but I strongly disagree against providing XP for being refreshments. Doing so gives a gameplay advantage to wealthier gamers who can afford to bring better food. In general, you shouldn't give in-game rewards for out-of-game actions, especially if those actions cost money.

Because three bucks for a bag of oreos is really going to break the bank, right? Should you as the DM also not encourage people to own their own dice, but instead annoy everyone by constantly borrowing dice? It's not like the best refreshment gets the most reward. Anyone who brought stuff gets a bonus. If you can't afford five bucks a week on snacks, I think your priorities should lean more towards getting a job than gaming.

bojac6:

blalien:
You article was mostly good, but I strongly disagree against providing XP for being refreshments. Doing so gives a gameplay advantage to wealthier gamers who can afford to bring better food. In general, you shouldn't give in-game rewards for out-of-game actions, especially if those actions cost money.

Because three bucks for a bag of oreos is really going to break the bank, right? Should you as the DM also not encourage people to own their own dice, but instead annoy everyone by constantly borrowing dice? It's not like the best refreshment gets the most reward. Anyone who brought stuff gets a bonus. If you can't afford five bucks a week on snacks, I think your priorities should lean more towards getting a job than gaming.

First of all, what fantasy world are you living in that the job tree is just dropping jobs all over the place? You know, if the world is having one problem right now, it's that there are too many jobs and not enough people to work them. If you can't get a job, the only possible explanation is that you're lazy and not that we're in one of the worst economies in over fifty years.

And he specifically said, "To kick things off, you can even offer an additional bonus (+5% more) to whoever brings the best array of refreshments." A bag of oreos is not going to win the "best array of refreshments" award. He suggested you give XP awards to whoever can afford to bring the nicest snacks. I think this is wrong.

Absolutely loved the article. Many good ideas to use especially set schedules. My group has tried to make things work by going off availability workarounds but it seems there is always something up. Your articles get me excited to find my dice and entice my friends to join the adventure again.

Overall, I found the article to be pretty reasonable, with some occasional good insight. I've been running an ongoing D&D-type game for 20+ years, primarily on my own Toril/Krynn/Oerth-like fantasy world, and have adjusted my DMing style over the years, to wit:

Most GMs don't act decisively or swiftly enough to excise a bad player from their campaign. A single malcontent can ruin the enjoyment of the game very quickly for everyone else... but, as regular, reliable players are generally difficult to find, most GMs will avoid confrontation with a bad player. Take my advice: scrape 'em off quickly - your other players will thank you for it, profusely.

As for extra XP for bringing snacks and such... I'm not a believer in such things. The PCs get XP for role-playing, being heroic, playing smart, killing monsters, avoiding traps and similar scenarios. I keep real-world influences out of the game as much as possible, as it makes things much more equitable and pleasant at the table. Handing out XP penalties and bonuses for real-world actions is a slippery slope.

I don't allow alcohol at the table. I usually run a fairly large group, and not everyone drinks - or at least they don't while playing. If you want to divide a gaming group really fast, have half of them be "under the influence" during a big boss fight while the other half are trying not to die. It makes for a very testy evening.

For the record, my spouse is Lawful Good. If anyone is the villain in our relationship, it's me!

GrinningManiac:
"Villanous Spouse"???

Trouble in paradise, Mr. Macris?

Ooh, looking forward to the next article. I've started running the Deathwatch demo adventure (first time GMing) "Final Sanction" for some friends, and due to the unbalanced nature of the demo, and the PCs being Spess Mehrenes, I frequently find myself having to pull some visceral description of violence out of my hat, it has been surprisingly easy, I guess thats all those years of violence in movies, television, and games.

Good article as always, keep em coming.

I'm not a novice GM but I have a LOT of trouble designing sessions to last only four hours. They always seem to balloon to two sessions. Does anyone have any advice for designing with time in mind?

 

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