The Way We Do Things
Stewart and I do things in a way that I would characterize as atypical. In order that people can better understand the posts we make on this site, I thought it would be best to be explicit about how we run a game. What follows is a summary of a lot of our core beliefs. Some of them might get bigger posts later that go more into the why of it.
To us, a campaign is like a book: it has a beginning, middle and end. There’s some unifying plot that ties it all together. When the plot is done, those characters go away and you read an entirely different story (please ignore Robert Jordan for purposes of this analogy). A lot of people think of a campaign and the game as one and the same. They might be confused or skeptical about the same group of people just putting down one group of characters and making new ones.
Campaigns without an end point in mind from the start can last for years and years and they generally increase in power level (trying to out do themselves over and over) to a place where the characters are fighting gods or eating planets or something suitably EPIC. People have fun doing this and that’s great for them, but it’s not for us. We think it starts to feel like a TV show that’s been running too many seasons in a row (better bring in Henry Winkler and some skis). We like a narrative arc and to pick the amount of epicness from the get go and have it be relatively stable. Also, having campaigns with a designed ending lets you change settings and try on a lot of different ideas.
Though we’ll try to keep most of our content system agnostic, our system of choice is GURPS. You can follow that link or not, but suffice it to say that it stands for Generic Universal RolePlaying System. It’s basically a toolkit of rules without any setting information (contrast the famous Dungeons & Dragons, which demands a certain way that magic works, assumes that magic exists, assumes a fantasy pseudo-medieval technology level, etc.).
One of the things I like about this aspect is that you can play a D&D-like fantasy campaign to completion, then play a space opera and then play a police procedural or something. The ability to try out one thing for a while (lengths of my campaigns vary wildly, so take that with a grain of salt) and then entirely change gears for the next campaign is a big draw for me. As a GM, I really enjoy the world-creation aspect and so I’m constantly thinking about what worlds would be fun to play in and what stories would be fun to play out in them; what kind of interesting people might live there. You get the idea. That’s not the only reason I like GURPS, but I don’t want to evangelize too much.
Another thing we do that I’ve heard very few people talk about is that I’ve got a GM consultant, Stewart (the other poster on this site). This is new as of my most recent campaign, but it’s worked out so well, I can’t imagine why I’d stop doing things this way unless Stewart turned into a player. Basically, after introducing me to GURPS, Stewart moved away and, in order to get his role playing fix, offered to help me hash over things with the world building of the campaign I was thinking of running.
I strongly recommend this technique to every GM that can swing it. Having two minds on the task is an incredible boon, as long as you work well together. Your NPCs will seem more real and your world can afford to be more complex. It’s easier to track more events happening at once and you’re both going to think of cool things that the other wouldn’t have. I feel like it’s been multiplicative rather than additive to the quality of the campaign world.
Unlike other “co-GMing” plans I’ve heard, Stewart doesn’t have anything to do with the actual play sessions themselves. After each session, he and I get on the phone and I brief him on what just happenned, then we start brainstorming about what might be up next.
Let Me Get You Alone
Most RPG groups make a “party” or other group of characters that more or less always act in concert. They make decisions together and go do things all as a group. Lengthening the parade of unconventionality, that’s not how we do things. If your character is not in the scene, you’re not in the room. For some campaign settings, that means players (especially early on) can spend a non-trivial amount of time in my living room playing Rock Band or whatever instead of role playing.
The win, however, is that by containing information, you can, for instance, more easily dole out clues to each of the players and have them piece it together later when they’re all in. This is maximizing rockmost for the players, not for the GM, I should note. The other thing it does is it lets each player get used to his character and how to play him without the noise of other players doing the same thing; to establish a sort of a base line. It takes a while to really figure out how to inhabit a character you’re playing and unlike other kinds of acting, there aren’t really rehearsals.
And The Rest
There are various other things we do that aren’t so rare: We require that players make their characters with us, rather than on their own. We require that they stick to the personality, goals, etc. they’ve outlined for us and, if they’re deviating, we either need to adjust their play or adjust the character so that it reflects what they’re finding most fun. We require role play, which might seem like a no brainer to some, but I’ve been in games where the players spend more time debating (out of character) which spells to memorize than they spent speaking in character.
I hope this establishes a bit of a baseline for our way of thinking. If you have any questions, leave a comment and we’ll try our best. Just know that the answer might end up being that we’ll cover the topic in more depth later on.