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Let the Players Do the Work

Why should the GM be the one to have to come up with all the ideas anyway? They have enough to do. So why not have your players put some effort into shaping the session?

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

There is an old adage that says ‘don’t give the GM ideas’. As if we don’t already have enough ideas to cause misery and torment already in our toolbox! But the players can help, and it's a matter of giving them the right incentives to create a fun role-playing session.

Incidentally, the following is also useful if you’ve forgotten your notes and don’t want to let on. Bob McWilliams offered the best advice for this in his Traveller article ‘We have a Referee Malfunction’ in White Dwarf #35. One of my favourite suggestions was to get each player to detail the area they were in and then say quietly afterward “Hmm, so no pot plants? Interesting.” After ten minutes every player character is desperately running about trying to locate a pot plant, even though not one of them has the faintest clue why.

Organise a Party

The characters must have at least one friend out there to invite them to one, and there are very few places you can’t have a party if you make the effort. In fact, the odder the location, the more interesting the party. Social gatherings are a good opportunity to throw some role play at the characters and see what they’ll do without the option to stab something. While the host will be a friend they don’t want to embarrass (or they’d not have got an invite) not all the guests will be. So you can throw in some NPCs they really don’t get on with and see if they will keep their cool when provoked or cause a scene. Whichever they do, you will either generate a tense role play scene or they will create consequences they will have to sort out afterwards.

If the wine is flowing there is the opportunity for drunkenness, which always leads to bad decisions, which always leads to story. It might even offer some liquid courage to provoke a little romance, or make a mess of one.

Go Shopping

I can’t tell you how many sessions I’ve ‘lost’ to a shopping expedition. These are often a consequence of being asked to a party as well; given few player characters have some decent formal wear to hand. Even those who do will probably need to help those who don’t find something, if they don’t want to be embarrassed when they arrive together. When buying clothes, ask each player what their character wants, and how comfortable they are feeling about it. The Elven sorceress may know exactly what sort of gown she is looking for, but what colour silk, can she get the right accessories and where will she get the right shoes. Will the female Orc barbarian just want a nicer set of animal skins or does she want to try a dress? How will she look and how much have the other player character’s assumed about her because she's a barbarian? This isn’t just limited to the female characters either, men can dress up too and the same things apply as to whether they know how to dress well for a nice occasion. Tests can (and should) be made to see if they can find something good and if they know how to wear it with style. There may be a lot of surprises for the group when they find out who scrubs up well, and who doesn’t.

However, shopping need not be just confined to clothes. If you need a new sword, where will you get it? How can you be sure the weaponsmith is really good? What sort of style do you want and how expensive do you want it to be? Do you want it to be showy or elegant or resilient or all three? You can ask these sorts of questions about just about any purchase and by answering them the player has to think a little about what their character wants and what they are looking for. Then they will be able to drive the story forward as they look for what they want.

Filling in Time

Not every day is filled with excitement for adventurers. So it’s quite reasonable for the GM to tell the players that nothing is happening and they have to make their own fun. They will usually come up with either a new project or some sort of trouble to either flesh out their character or drive some action. I did this recently in a Star Trek Adventures campaign. They were exploring the frontier but before I let them run across the distress beacon that would start the next scenario I decided to roll for how interesting their time had been recently. I rolled a 1, so decided that despite coming across a load of new systems, pretty much every planet had been a barren dud.

So I asked each player what their character had been doing to fill in the time, as each duty report was taking only a few moments to complete. Some started new projects, the security chief organised a boxing contest and one of the pilots decided he could tell which shuttle was which by only the controls (provoking a lot of betting and cheating). For each project they decided to do, I gave them a simple test to see how they did. Some projects went well, some badly but they all knew what their characters had been up to and how things had gone recently in their jobs. Once all that was resolved, they picked up a distress call…

"What Do You Want?"

The last option is the most obvious, but one not every player has an answer to. Simply ask the players what their character truly wants. Is it gold, power, romance, respect etc? Then ask them what they are doing to get it. Not only does this tell you (and the player) why the character does what they do, but also helps them shape a personal quest. If they want power, who stands in their way? If they want romance, who are they interested in? These ideas can either be worked into the current adventure or become adventures in their own right. If there is a villain to be taken down, a princess to be rescued or a treasure to be stolen the character is going to need some help from their friends. Then as the GM you just ask them what they are going to do and let them write the adventure for you.
 

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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine


pming

Hero
Hiya!

Easiest way I've found that has worked well for almost 40 years of DM'ing.... encourage the Players to TALK at the table. Then I, as DM, can hear what they are thinking, so to say, and gauged where they are likely to want to 'go'.

For example, say an NPC is coming back from an illicit affair with her lover and doesn't want anyone to know, and she starts being "defensive" or "avoiding questions" or otherwise seems like she's hiding something. One Player then pipes up "Hey guys...why is she so defensive? Somethings up! And why is a well-to-do lady like her in this section of town? I bet she's involved in this whole 'gang-war thing' somehow. Lets keep an eye on her".

Well, that just give's me, the DM, nice little idea-sparks. :) Maybe she is directly involved. Maybe her lover is. Maybe her lover's ex is and is going to try and 'pin' something on her to get back at the man who scorned her. Maybe one of the warring Thieves Guild members notices her comings and goings and tries to blackmail her for support? The opportunities are endless! :)

And all simply because I encourage my Players to "talk out loud at the table" during the game.

The second most useful thing? RANDOM TABLES & RANDOM ROLLS! :D Too many games nowadays poo-poo randomization as something to be avoided, lest a PC end up dying or the oh-so precious storyline/narrative go in a different direction. :mad: Ick! Give me a book full of randomization tables and I can run a game off the cuff for HOURS, DAYS, or even YEARS.

The most powerful tool in a DM's kit is his/her imagination. Use it!

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

cmad1977

Hero
Hiya!

Easiest way I've found that has worked well for almost 40 years of DM'ing.... encourage the Players to TALK at the table. Then I, as DM, can hear what they are thinking, so to say, and gauged where they are likely to want to 'go'.

For example, say an NPC is coming back from an illicit affair with her lover and doesn't want anyone to know, and she starts being "defensive" or "avoiding questions" or otherwise seems like she's hiding something. One Player then pipes up "Hey guys...why is she so defensive? Somethings up! And why is a well-to-do lady like her in this section of town? I bet she's involved in this whole 'gang-war thing' somehow. Lets keep an eye on her".

Well, that just give's me, the DM, nice little idea-sparks. :) Maybe she is directly involved. Maybe her lover is. Maybe her lover's ex is and is going to try and 'pin' something on her to get back at the man who scorned her. Maybe one of the warring Thieves Guild members notices her comings and goings and tries to blackmail her for support? The opportunities are endless! :)

And all simply because I encourage my Players to "talk out loud at the table" during the game.

The second most useful thing? RANDOM TABLES & RANDOM ROLLS! :D Too many games nowadays poo-poo randomization as something to be avoided, lest a PC end up dying or the oh-so precious storyline/narrative go in a different direction. :mad: Ick! Give me a book full of randomization tables and I can run a game off the cuff for HOURS, DAYS, or even YEARS.

The most powerful tool in a DM's kit is his/her imagination. Use it!

^_^

Paul L. Ming

The random tables of downtime have led to entire sessions/adventures/arcs that I didn’t expect.
 

Crit

Explorer
Hiya!

Easiest way I've found that has worked well for almost 40 years of DM'ing.... encourage the Players to TALK at the table. Then I, as DM, can hear what they are thinking, so to say, and gauged where they are likely to want to 'go'.

For example, say an NPC is coming back from an illicit affair with her lover and doesn't want anyone to know, and she starts being "defensive" or "avoiding questions" or otherwise seems like she's hiding something. One Player then pipes up "Hey guys...why is she so defensive? Somethings up! And why is a well-to-do lady like her in this section of town? I bet she's involved in this whole 'gang-war thing' somehow. Lets keep an eye on her".

Well, that just give's me, the DM, nice little idea-sparks. :) Maybe she is directly involved. Maybe her lover is. Maybe her lover's ex is and is going to try and 'pin' something on her to get back at the man who scorned her. Maybe one of the warring Thieves Guild members notices her comings and goings and tries to blackmail her for support? The opportunities are endless! :)

And all simply because I encourage my Players to "talk out loud at the table" during the game.

The second most useful thing? RANDOM TABLES & RANDOM ROLLS! :D Too many games nowadays poo-poo randomization as something to be avoided, lest a PC end up dying or the oh-so precious storyline/narrative go in a different direction. :mad: Ick! Give me a book full of randomization tables and I can run a game off the cuff for HOURS, DAYS, or even YEARS.

The most powerful tool in a DM's kit is his/her imagination. Use it!

^_^

Paul L. Ming
I'm looking to run a sandbox game, and I think this is all good advice. I want to react to my players and let the journey unfold as it will. I recently got books like Yawning Portal and Ghosts of Saltmarsh, which are basically just dungeon compendiums that I'd be able to improvise in places should the party want to get deep into something.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Player 1: Here is the 3 page list of stuff I'm buying.
GM (Looks at list): Hmm where did they find vacc suit deodorant?
Player 2: I don't want to go shopping! I'll just have stuff.
GM: Can you please just make a simple list of what you want to have?
 

pming

Hero
Hiya!
Player 1: Here is the 3 page list of stuff I'm buying.
GM (Looks at list): Hmm where did they find vacc suit deodorant?
Player 2: I don't want to go shopping! I'll just have stuff.
GM: Can you please just make a simple list of what you want to have?
GM: Player 1, this is it? You just want me to assume you pick this stuff up?
Player 1: Yeah, why not? It's just shopping...that's boring.
GM: Are you sure you don't want to do even a little RP'ing?
Player 1: Naaa...lets just get back to the ship and get off this station.
..
[my Evil GM Brain starts turning as a wry smile, barely perceptible, turns at the corner of my mouth...]
..
GM: The Agran Warship hails you. A visage of a VERY po'ed Agran High Warrior screams, "Dishonorable Vath'Ick! You have used the ashes of our greatest Warrior-Priest to...to...to coat your putrid under-arms! The Agran Collective will NEVER forgive this grave injustice! Prepare to meet whatever gods you pray to, scum!". Their 72 singularity-drive weapons are charging up...what do you do?
Player 1: WHAT?!??!
GM: That 'all natural' vacc suit deodorant you bought from a shady vendor. Yeah, turns out it wasn't deodorant you've been rubbing on your pits for the last week.
Player 1: How? Why?! What?!? I would have never...I didn't...wait a minute! That's not fair!
GM: shrug Maybe next time you won't leave all the details of how, who and what your character buys up to me.
😈

Seriously, I have done...and continue to do... stuff like this when I GM. Well, maybe not quite so..."detrimental", but man o' man do I have a FEILD DAY with being given carte blanch by a Player to "assume the PC agrees to whatever it took to purchase/see/acquire/consult" something. :)

Many a PC over the decades have found themselves in possession of stolen good, cursed items, or otherwise associated with, or indebted to, lets say... "less than upstanding individuals". ;) Always makes for a great sub-plot or new storyline!

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Hiya!

GM: Player 1, this is it? You just want me to assume you pick this stuff up?
Player 1: Yeah, why not? It's just shopping...that's boring.
GM: Are you sure you don't want to do even a little RP'ing?
Player 1: Naaa...lets just get back to the ship and get off this station.
..
[my Evil GM Brain starts turning as a wry smile, barely perceptible, turns at the corner of my mouth...]
..
GM: The Agran Warship hails you. A visage of a VERY po'ed Agran High Warrior screams, "Dishonorable Vath'Ick! You have used the ashes of our greatest Warrior-Priest to...to...to coat your putrid under-arms! The Agran Collective will NEVER forgive this grave injustice! Prepare to meet whatever gods you pray to, scum!". Their 72 singularity-drive weapons are charging up...what do you do?
Player 1: WHAT?!??!
GM: That 'all natural' vacc suit deodorant you bought from a shady vendor. Yeah, turns out it wasn't deodorant you've been rubbing on your pits for the last week.
Player 1: How? Why?! What?!? I would have never...I didn't...wait a minute! That's not fair!
GM: shrug Maybe next time you won't leave all the details of how, who and what your character buys up to me.
😈

Seriously, I have done...and continue to do... stuff like this when I GM. Well, maybe not quite so..."detrimental", but man o' man do I have a FEILD DAY with being given carte blanch by a Player to "assume the PC agrees to whatever it took to purchase/see/acquire/consult" something. :)

Many a PC over the decades have found themselves in possession of stolen good, cursed items, or otherwise associated with, or indebted to, lets say... "less than upstanding individuals". ;) Always makes for a great sub-plot or new storyline!

^_^

Paul L. Ming
That is cool if it works for you. The space suit deodorant is a real item, from FASA's FCI guide or something. The only burden is trying to think up something to do with it, which you have done. Neither player is wrong in how they want to play, it is only how to balance both ends and be fair about it. Even though it is sort of like being on a number line, I am in the middle about gear, then again 'the things they carried' also says a bit about the character, and helps me visualize them better.
 

werecorpse

Adventurer
While I get the value of the latter part of the OP; Shopping? organising a party? That’s not what I or my players want to do during our limited time game sessions. I ask my players to create adventurers or investigators not party planners - the implication is that I as GM with present them with an adventure or mystery etc.

While I definitely agree with pming‘s first post about listening to players as a great place to get side quests or subplots - that dm gotcha from the players just skipping lightly over getting their equipment is the opposite of my style. If it were my gms style as a player I would tell them I’m not interested in roleplaying checking out or researching the efficacy of the gear I have purchased but my character does so, how long does it take? Just to cover off the GM pulling such “your sword/armour/pistol/rope has a defect and breaks/backfire/just angers the enemy” shenanigans.

But to each their own.
 

It's very player dependent. I always build my characters to give the GM plenty to work with, giving interests, motivations, and goals. Others, however, have very little of their character beyond what's on their sheet. I've found those players are hard to engage in anything not directly related to the adventure.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I get to play once a month. Even though it is a long session, we generally do not want to spend time shopping. We handle that as downtime activity for between sessions or, in session, it'll be some rolls on the XGE downtime tables and a montage with perhaps a complication.
 

pemerton

Legend
Spending play time shopping is not something I'm keen on. Once availability of gear is confirmed, update the equipment list! If it's a system that requires a check, let's make a check!

In a recent Traveller session a PC had an hour to write a report which would help inform the decision a NPC had to make about dealing with a possible first contact site. The player didn't actually spend an hour writing a report! He and I settled on the headline points and then we went on with the action of play!
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
I find the best halfway house with shopping is to use it to add:
  • Rumours (you’re lucky sir, that’s the last longsword since the caravan way was set upon by bandits)
  • NPCs and contacts (By the Gods, if it isn’t you. I didn’t know you liked enamelware shield strap rivets, how have you been)
  • Wildcards (You’re shopping for jewelry and you see a ring that you think is almost certainly magical but it’s priced much lower...)

I also think this kind of thing is best done sparingly.
 

I prefer the players do their purchasing of standard equipment (to include common potions and scrolls) between game sessions. Like a few others upstream in this thread, I'd rather use my (limited) gaming time on the actual adventure.

Johnathan
 

Arilyn

Hero
I think there might be a bit of misunderstanding with the shopping idea. It's not that shopping is the plan for the session. Sometimes players get caught up in it, just like sometimes they decide to really linger at the party, dressing up the usually shabby ranger, etc. I find that it can't be planned for because most of the time, it's not that interesting for anyone. But, whether players just want a relatively relaxing session, or are just feeling like poking around market stalls chatting with NPCs, if the table is into it, let it happen.

It's a good place to introduce potentially new plot threads, or mysterious items, or rivalries. It's not frequent, but it has happened with every group I've run. If there are any signs of boredom from anyone, we move on. And I'll ask.
 

GrahamWills

Adventurer
From my Dracula Dossier campaign:
  • Session 1 — introduce players to mechanics and have them fight and kill a half-vampire and a Romanian sorceress
  • Session 2 — run short scene where player goes on a date with non-killed Romanian sorceress
  • Session 20-22 — players rescue Romanian sorceress from castle in Transylvania, stealing military helicopter on the way and starting a cross-European manhunt for them
  • Session 28 — wedding of player and Romanian sorceress attended by diverse cast, including Dracula. Fewer deaths than expected.
yeah, players generate story all the time, given any encouragement whatsoever.
 

nevin

Adventurer
Hiya!

GM: Player 1, this is it? You just want me to assume you pick this stuff up?
Player 1: Yeah, why not? It's just shopping...that's boring.
GM: Are you sure you don't want to do even a little RP'ing?
Player 1: Naaa...lets just get back to the ship and get off this station.
..
[my Evil GM Brain starts turning as a wry smile, barely perceptible, turns at the corner of my mouth...]
..
GM: The Agran Warship hails you. A visage of a VERY po'ed Agran High Warrior screams, "Dishonorable Vath'Ick! You have used the ashes of our greatest Warrior-Priest to...to...to coat your putrid under-arms! The Agran Collective will NEVER forgive this grave injustice! Prepare to meet whatever gods you pray to, scum!". Their 72 singularity-drive weapons are charging up...what do you do?
Player 1: WHAT?!??!
GM: That 'all natural' vacc suit deodorant you bought from a shady vendor. Yeah, turns out it wasn't deodorant you've been rubbing on your pits for the last week.
Player 1: How? Why?! What?!? I would have never...I didn't...wait a minute! That's not fair!
GM: shrug Maybe next time you won't leave all the details of how, who and what your character buys up to me.
😈

Seriously, I have done...and continue to do... stuff like this when I GM. Well, maybe not quite so..."detrimental", but man o' man do I have a FielD DAY with being given carte blanch by a Player to "assume the PC agrees to whatever it took to purchase/see/acquire/consult" something. :)

Many a PC over the decades have found themselves in possession of stolen good, cursed items, or otherwise associated with, or indebted to, lets say... "less than upstanding individuals". ;) Always makes for a great sub-plot or new storyline!

^_^

Paul L. Ming
LMAO that's great.
 

nevin

Adventurer
When I run Campaign's I generate a large macro narrative with the importan NPC's and then feed the players information and let them drive it until they interest someone enough to start interfering. To be fair I have had PC's ignore every hook and "turn left at Albaqerky" but that has also created some of the most memorable games.
 

nevin

Adventurer
I think there might be a bit of misunderstanding with the shopping idea. It's not that shopping is the plan for the session. Sometimes players get caught up in it, just like sometimes they decide to really linger at the party, dressing up the usually shabby ranger, etc. I find that it can't be planned for because most of the time, it's not that interesting for anyone. But, whether players just want a relatively relaxing session, or are just feeling like poking around market stalls chatting with NPCs, if the table is into it, let it happen.

It's a good place to introduce potentially new plot threads, or mysterious items, or rivalries. It's not frequent, but it has happened with every group I've run. If there are any signs of boredom from anyone, we move on. And I'll ask.
yeah it really depends on the table. I've played and run games where the players would riot if they had to "shop" . I'm currently playing in a game where we'll sometimes "bog" the entire game into shopping, or other roleplaying non combat stuff., etc. That table love's it.
 

nevin

Adventurer
From my Dracula Dossier campaign:
  • Session 1 — introduce players to mechanics and have them fight and kill a half-vampire and a Romanian sorceress
  • Session 2 — run short scene where player goes on a date with non-killed Romanian sorceress
  • Session 20-22 — players rescue Romanian sorceress from castle in Transylvania, stealing military helicopter on the way and starting a cross-European manhunt for them
  • Session 28 — wedding of player and Romanian sorceress attended by diverse cast, including Dracula. Fewer deaths than expected.
yeah, players generate story all the time, given any encouragement whatsoever.
I remember a game of heroes unlimited that started out with players creating thier new "future " hero's .

Game one figure out who the villian is break out player created by him.

Game 2 player freaks out when FBI shows up, thinking he's going to be imprisoned again, drops a full load from his multishot grenade launcher killing all the FBI agents and starting manhunt across the country while they still try to get the bad guy.

many many sessions almost playing the A-team instead of the bloodbath DM expected after game 2.

Eventually they escaped to Australia got a short break and then discovered the FBI doesn't give up.
 

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