ST’ing/DM’ing 101 - Sun, Feb 1, 2009

Running a good tabletop game (to me) is something that can be explained in 1000 books, yet all of which give you no useful information. It is one of those skills that has to be fumbled around through trial and error. Since I am crotch-deep in this Shadowrun game that I’ve been running for the past 3 months, there are some things that I have realized and decide to share (in case anyone else reads this and has the urge to run a tabletop game).

My players are the hard-core types.  They wish to have character development off-of the sheet.  They are not a big fan of Experience Points to add dots or ranks to their characters.  Usually dice aren’t rolled unless they are doing something great or has a great deal of ‘can fail’.  These players tend to enjoy to see their characters evolve, like to see their backgrounds (which all of them wrote) incorporated into the story, and really have their characters be actual ‘people’.

Thats not to say that the game is 100% serious-face with no laughing.  There is plenty of antics, off-the-wall plans, etc.  Its just ‘realistic’ off-the-wall plans.  We have an zany-antic game thats seperate from this one that a few of us play in for crazyness.

Now I’ve played (as a player) in tons of RPG Tabletop games.  Boring ones to exciting ones.  However I’ve never really ran one of this caliber.   It was a new system with a bunch of die-hard players.  Die hard in the way that the’ll expect a ton out of me, but also will ride out any storms due to my inexperience.

Helpful tips for some new ST’s that might be reading this and want to run a game:

  • Get your shit together before game.  Know the system inside and out (especially Shadowrun, the most complex and poorly written (see page 123) book (see page 13) ever (see page 56 subtable on page 57) written).
  • Get a feel for what your players want.  If they want zany then ninja-clowns and unpossible feats (which in turn are very much possible) so be it.  However if they want dark and serious and pseudo-depressing, then be prepared for that.
  • Always roll dice.  I made this huge mistake when the story-running NPC first came into play.  He had so much dice ahead of the players that I didn’t bother rolling.  Always roll, even if what your NPC does is scripted.  Not only does this give the player a sense of actually having a part in his/her fate, but also gives you colorful ammo in case they horribly fail/botch the roll.  That snowball may roll 4 dice against hell’s 4000, but what happens when the snowball fails horribly?
  • Give small victories.  You may wish your game to have the Blade Running doom-and-gloom, but pay attention early on what your players wish they can get, and if the game is turning too dark, throw them that bone.  It’ll improve player morale.
  • The players have to win.  They may not win in the fashon they want, nor their definition of ‘win’ might not be the same as yours.  However having them show up to your game week in and week out to have them ultimately fail (unless they were being total dumbasses) is going to leave a bad taste for future games.
  • Don’t fall into the rocked NPC trap.  Sure, its fun to play a totally butch bad-guy NPC with tons of stuff you would never -ever- get as a player, but always have a key weakness.  The weakness might be known but not obtainable yet, or may be something stupid but unknown.

Last and not least

  • No matter how hard you plan, no matter how much track you lay down to railroad your players into a direction you want the story go to, they will ALWAYS find a way to derail your story and make it their own.