How My RPG Sessions Need More Oomph

Getting back into the roleplaying hobby as an active participant and not just a buyer and reader of product has been great. It has brought me whole slew of new, good friends (especially one in particular) and got me back together with old ones. I’ve also got a better idea of not just where my skills are at, but what I want out of a session myself.

The trick is working out what I need to do that I’m not already doing to get us all there.

The gulf between my dreams and my powers

I am very glad of the monthly Star Wars: Force and Destiny sessions. While the rest of my gaming calendar has been somewhat up in the air, they’ve been a reliable anchor. It’s also been good to game with folks who are new to the hobby; after my time away from it, I feel as though I’m learning as much as they are.

GM Radio Rob as game master of a session of the Star Wars: Force and Destiny roleplaying game.
GM Radio Rob as game master of a session of the Star Wars: Force and Destiny roleplaying game.

There are some things I’d like to do better for us, though. I’ve noticed that as a group, we tend to long pauses in the action while my players discuss what they should be doing next amongst each other. At least one player has regularly asked when it’s his turn to act, even outside of the structured time of combat.

I think this is in part due to the encounters I’ve thrown at them. They’ve largely been combat related or at least adversarial; there’s not been a chance for them to make an interesting choice with the pressure somewhat off.

(Or, maybe, there’s been too little pressure for them to make an immediate choice.)

They’ve also expressed concern about not wanting do do anything outside what I’ve prepared for them. On one hand, I’m glad that they’re considering the time I put in before each session – but on the other hand, I don’t feel I’ve earned their trust that, no matter what they do, I’ve got them covered (even if I may need to take a biology beak every now and again to gather my thoughts and work out what to do next).

What do I want?

I’d like our sessions to move with a bit more pace, and have the players be more willing to go straight for the decisions that are more entertaining (rather than the ones that are safe or make sense).

As the game master, I can try demanding this from my group, but frankly, I think that’s unfair. We’re all still learning and we’re all nervous.

I need to be showing rather than telling. I need to embody the confidence that I want to see from my players.

Most importantly, I need to make the entertaining choices – well, entertaining.

The City in Ice

“Big 4 Ice Caves Explorer” by Michael Matti is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Before we started proper play, sessions, we used the beta version of Kimi Balcomb’s Decuma world-building kit to generate some setting elements in the sector of space our group woudl call home. While the material we’ve used has been good, I feel as though, likely because we were learning as we went, we came up with stuff that seemed good enough at the time, but ultimately wasn’t grabby enough to compel anyone, myself included, to head toward it.

It was when I did a little private brainstorming on “Cool Star Wars-style places” that I came up with The City in Ice. Originally just two words in my brainstorm list, “ice city,” it became the surprise destination at the end of a hyperspace corridor that the players thought would lead to Ossus, the fabled home planet of the Jedi Order.

I went with the idea that it was, at first blush, long deserted, googled some images of ice caves to get some good descriptors, then threw in the idea of some ice droids to balance out an eventual encounter with an arriving Imperial shuttle laden with Stormtroopers. Finally, after some brainstorming about a possible villain, threw in a mural depicting a battle between Jedi and some mysterious entity (which I managed to tie back into one of the mysteries we created during the Decuma session).

And when I introduced this massive, kilometre-deep cavern of rippling blue and black ice list at regular intervals from within, filled with stalactites and stalagmites that featured regular marks in them – like windows in skyscrapers- the players leapt on it. They wanted to hang around and find out more, even though I’d not given that “more” much thought. The next session was going to be them finishing the space race they were in, after all.

But now, I know I was missing an opportunity. My players have told me in no uncertain terms that, for the first time in these sessions, there’s something they’re really digging. Fuck what I thought the next sessions should be; I need to embrace this enthusiasm and run with it!

Giving the City in Ice Oomph

Due to some life issues, I cancelled this month’s game session, which means I have until Saturday, January 4th to come up with a session’s worth of stuff that will hopefully grab my players just as much as the City itself did – not to mention more in general to cover for when they do something semi-unexpected!

On that, I would like to write a lot more. I’ve watched streams and videos of RPG sessions in play to help learn my craft as a GM, but a lot of the important stuff – what happens in prep – never gets shown. I want to see more of the decision making and development that the GM does between sessions so I can build my own process and, more importantly, my confidence in it.

So, in the name of being the change I want to see, I want to share my challenges as a game master and how I’m working on overcoming them. I hope it helps you GMs out there improve your craft too!

Notes to Self

Next time I run a Decuma session:

  • “No Sleep ‘Til Awesome!” – we drive for “Holy shit! That’s great! I can’t wait to visit there or speak with / fight that one!” and jettison anything that feels weak sauce (with apologies to The Beastie Boys).
  • What The End Looks Like: Be clear about what Decuma does-
    • Relationships between player characters
    • History of the group
    • Places and people in your home area
  • and how I want it to achieve making our sessions more entertaining (and my prep work much easier):
    • A sense of shared history, especially things your characters can give each other shit about.
    • A “home” zone which only has external problems, i.e. it’s not either in immediate internal conflict or already ruled by evil.
    • Friends and contacts you have in your area; people you not just know but have some history with, who live / work in places you’ve been and possibly even frequent.
    • At least one threat to yourselves and / or your home that’s immediate (in your face) and has characters on its “side” with personality.