RPGs are not what they used to be. When you started out with the original D&D game you had maybe a couple hit points and a rule or two to worry about. Now, there are far more books, far more rules, and far more pointless arguments and rules discussions which can bog down your game. Even games which try to be ‘retro’ or ‘different’ tend to be a little more long-winded out of sheer survival instinct. Some player is always bound to ask, “What if I do x?”
There are generally three options available to a GM of such systems: 1. Memorize absolutely everything the instant it comes off the printing presses, 2. Consult your notes for 15 ½ hours every single game session to find the ‘right way’, and 3. Make up random crap and then (possibly) look up the proper way to do it after the game is over. As you can probably guess, this article will be focusing on number 3.
The Fine Art of B.S.
Since the ancient days of the original D&D game, making up random junk has been one of the primary strategies of the GM. It has perhaps been forgotten, though I seriously doubt it. Depending on your particular stance, you may consider this article either: A. a formative lesson, B. a refresher course, C. or absolute baloney.
At its core, the B.S. strategy focuses on making stuff up. After all, the GM makes up the adventure, why not do a bit of it with the rules as well? The next time the players ask you something, you can’t readily answer. Whatever your answer—no matter how inane and ludicrous—they have to buy it. You’re the GM, after all.
Here are some examples:
A. Player: What happens when I hit x with x combined with x using my x racial ability and the fact he’s under xxxxxx, oi3399, 039403, and y conditions?
Wrong Answer: I don’t know.
Right Answer: Your head explodes. Take 12d7 damage.
B. Player: I forgot how Super Long-Stride X-wing attack of doom at level 7 works, and what my modifiers are.
Wrong: Look it up.
Wrong: Pick a high number.
Right: You miss, and would have done only 1d6 damage even if you hit.
C. Player: I do x.
Wrong: Hm, I wonder what skill that is?
Right: Roll ‘insert random skill here’.
Or (If you’re nice)
Right: Just pick your highest skill and roll that.
Making it Believable
Okay, let’s say you’re actually buying all this B.S. and want to believe me (unlikely). Your next likely question is: “How the heck am I going to make my players buy into this, and do I even want to?”
Whenever the players sit down to play your game, they’re already ‘buying into it’. If they can actually sit around long enough to play your crazy plot you’ve probably got them so messed up in the head they’d believe it if you said the moon crashed into their campaign world. The only likely time they are to dispute this is if it adversely affects their characters. For example, while they might have no problem with the moon crashing into the earth, you can bet your bacon if it’s heading for their castles they’ll raise a huge, scientific stink.
Just play it cool and speak as you normally would describing a whacko magic item, your incredible plot, insane magic, horrendous monsters, and physically impossible dungeon structures. If anyone tries to dispute you, just scream you’re the GM, give them -10 billion xp, or ask them “Well, what do you think should happen?” Please note: Whatever they say, you can still ignore it. It’s just a delaying tactic to get your way and seem democratic.
As to the second question, why you would even want to in the first place: What’s more fun? Sitting around and watching a guy page through a book, argue, or whimper about modifiers for 3 hours; or actually playing the game? Besides, making up crazy stuff is fun anyway and you can look it up after the game if it’s really that important.
Always Keep Speaking
In addition to your existing campaign rules of: Anything I say is law, look up rules after the game, and annoying me equals -10 billion xp, you should also come up with some kind of “No stopping the game” rule. Something to the effect that if you go to the bathroom you’re struck by lightning, if you discuss things off-topic you lose your turn, and 6 second combat rounds last for 6 seconds in real life too. Players are quite fond of explaining their actions for hours on end during fast-paced battles. A little planning is okay, just not all the time. Even a ten minute time limit on a 2 second combat round is better than nothing.
If you absolutely must check notes, maps, or rule-books; always keep the game running either by speaking or letting the players continue their actions and GM themselves. If they abuse this power, you can just kill them off when you return to power.
Use the actors’ trick when you feel like it. The one where anything someone says can’t be ignored, it must be played off of.
Player: I killed all the orcs.
GM: Okay, but ten million more round the bend.
Player: I kill them too.
Your game should be one continuous narrative. The movie at the theater doesn’t stop when you go for popcorn, does it? The script director doesn’t run onto the screen and yell, “Hang on, what would happen here? Let me look up a rule.” The actors don’t forget their lines and wander off to check scripts, do they?
You can argue that movies have many cut scenes. Well, too bad. RPGs don’t. It’s all improv and you can use this to your advantage. When people mess up their lines, do silly stuff, or whatever; you can feel free to ‘make stuff up’ and get them in all kinds of trouble.
No game is perfect. Sometimes there will always be a slow up. When this happens, time limits are very handy. If the party is totally stuck, give them a clue or a time limit and force them to act. Even if it’s a totally stupid action, it’s better than nothing (see above).
Most of the time, most of the players will get to do practically nothing while they wait for their turns. This can be remedied by nuking turns and saying whoever yells the loudest gets multiple actions. A more reasonable solution could be to ensure lots of dice are being rolled in your game. Rolling dice means ‘Something is Happening’ to players. GM rambling, role-playing, and cool plots often don’t count; but no player can bemoan their fate when they’ve rolled 12 hundred d6 in under an hour. Okay, that’s a lie.
Another trick is to either encourage, or force the players to write things down. Whenever the players receive something physical (like a map handout, or a thwack to the head) they become more ‘into’ the game. While it might not trump dice rolling, getting sweet stuff to write on your character sheet can improve a game no ends. If the players are doing this without your help you’re probably a master GM and ought to write your own article on the subject.
Here are some of the main ways you can encourage writing stuff:
1. “That guy’s name is important.”
2. “You find 3,434.4 copper/silver/gold coins.”
3. “Aren’t you going to loot the bodies?”
4. “The note says ‘insert random cryptic riddle which sounds important here’.”
5. “Write that down!”
6. “You took 20 hp/stamina/lung cancer/transformation points.”
7. “Remember to write down your deeds on the adventure because I’m handing out xp for the best three things you did this adventure, but if you forget them you get zilch.”
The Players Totally Destroy the Plot
This kind of happens a lot. They skip the adventure, they instant kill the villain at the start, they nuke the dungeon, whatever. When this happens, just laugh evilly and use the above strategies to create a successful adventure. If you can’t be creative on the spur of the moment, you can try the following to buy time:
1. “You’re surrounded by impenetrable fire, try to find a way out while I write some stuff down.”
2. “Who wants to GM for the next half hour?”
3. “The locked room has this riddle on it ‘insert random jibberish here’.”
4. “Huh, well, what do you guys want to do?”
How to Interpret/Make up Rules
Most of the time, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how a ruling should go. I.e. the player’s power doesn’t work, or the interpretation kills them dead. Other times, you have no clue and are very tempted to open a rule-book. Don’t open the rule-book! (Just put your elbows on it and smile).
You have a couple of options. Most of them equally unworkable:
1. “Your head explodes.”
2. “It fails.”
3. “It succeeds.”
4. “Okay guys, let’s vote. My vote is worth the number of players +1.”
5. “What do you think should happen?”
6. “Based on reasonable scientific/magical/no evidence x should happen.
7. “Roll x and if you get a number which I’m not going to tell you, it works.”
8. “Okay, we’re going to ignore that rule until later.”
9. ‘Insert completely weird and random result here’. After all, it doesn’t really matter what happens does it? So long as the game keeps running smoothly.
The other primary thing which will ruin your game’s flow are arguments. Usually, these are caused by the players. Why should the GM ever need to argue? You’re in charge. You don’t have to explain yourself.
In all likelihood, most of these arguments will be due to the unfair rulings you imposed above or an assortment of other piddly little things like: character death, arbitrary loss of money or magic items, and so forth.
While you can hear them out like a reasonable person, it’s probably much better to keep the game rolling by imposing a random end to the argument.
1. Randomly pick a winner for the argument. Usually, yourself.
2. Have both sides roll 1d6 with the high roller winning.
3. Call for initiative and the first one to cause x damage wins.
4. Call for a random and arbitrary skill or ability check to determine a winner.
5. Make the argument redundant by removing the root cause: fire-balling the party, nuking the monsters, removing two weapon fighting from the game, or possibly doing something so ridiculous and unfair that the argument is immediately forgotten and focused on you.
6. “Let’s call for a vote. As always, my vote counts for 51%...”
So, it can be concluded, that the best way to keep the game running smoothly is to: ignore rules, do arbitrary and random things, abuse the players, hit people, and make stuff up. Sounds kind of like the job description of GM, doesn’t it?
Warning: The above article should not be tried at home, at work, or anywhere really.