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General Category => RPGs => Topic started by: clockworkjoe on March 17, 2009, 02:26:59 AM

Title: Bad GM habits
Post by: clockworkjoe on March 17, 2009, 02:26:59 AM
Saw this thread (http://www.enworld.org/forum/general-rpg-discussion/251551-dming-skill-not-art.html) on ENworld and it got me thinking. Here's the relevant part:

Quote
For the sake of completeness, I'll relate the issue that sparked the discussion. Basically, there was a water tube coming out the side of a mountain that led into a dwarven citadel (I think this is the scales of war path so this could possibly be a spoiler). The citadel was occupied by orcs or something. The tube was originally for getting rid of waste from mining and forging. Every so often they'd open the valves and dump a load.

So anyway, the PC's split the party. One half thinking it'd be a great idea to climb up the tube to get into the citadel, the other half thinking that's just dumb. The half that went up the tube spent quite some time clawing their way to the end of it, only to discover it was locked and there was no way through.

Honestly whether or not the tube had something interesting at the end is not irrelevant to being a good GM or not. Players will sooner or later do something irrelevant. However, I think one distinction from being a GOOD GM and a BAD GM is this:

A good GM would make the water tube side trek either an interesting adventure OR a dead end that takes only a few minutes of play time to run. If the players insisted on beating their heads on the dead end, the GM would wrap it up and quickly and move on to something interesting even if it meant breaking the 4th wall.

A bad GM would make the water tube boring, irrelevant AND take a lot of play time to run. If it takes an hour of PLAY time to find out its a dead end and NOTHING INTERESTING happens, then the GM is fucking terrible.

So, what bad GM habits do you have to share?

Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Phelanar on March 17, 2009, 04:05:54 AM
My main bad GM habit is that when players deliberately avoid plot hooks, I fail to improv very well for any real length of time. I also get pretty pissed off when they do that. If I'm the GM, it's my job to keep everybody entertained and put things out there for characters to do. When players go out of their way to avoid them, I have to wonder why they play these games at all. So I tend to get surly and get more and more anvilicious with the plot hooks (and the occasional railroading, should I get ticked off enough) until either the players finally bite or I call off the game. Sometimes I get whining about "well, my character wouldn't want to do that". Sometimes that's a fair complaint, though that's a relatively rare one given the way I operate. Most times it's just people who are more concerned with their own little roleplay world than either 1.) helping other people have fun or 2.) the fact that it ~is~ just a game and not a life-or-death theatre production. I tend to get worked up just thinking about it.

My Star Wars GM has two really bad habits which I've brought up with him on several occasions. First is his tendency to allow NPCs to overshadow the PCs. In the last campaign, Galen Marek (aka, Starkiller from The Force Unleashed) kept showing up to do awesome things while we watched. In our current campaign, he brought back a Jedi of his from a long ago campaign, made him a Master, gave him an uber sparkly super special lightsaber (white blade with a black core, also from Force Unleashed), and he's taken over. What's made this last one so irritating is that the GM has decided to ramp up the difficulty to near-impossible levels because to do otherwise would make things too easy for the NPC Jedi Master. Last session had a monster that was quite impossible for us to beat without the NPCs help (it could kill us in 2 hits and had only the most minute chance of missing) and it left most of us with kind of a bad taste in our mouth. I've told the GM that we're ditching the NPC Jedi Master first opportunity. Out of an airlock, if need be.

This leads directly into the GM's other bad habit, balancing encounters. The GM tends to make encounters too difficult and then has to cheat almost every night to bring it back from the verge of a TPK. The monster that nearly killed us all in the previous session? His claws had a damage code of 4d6+30x2 (minimum damage: 68) and his bite had a damage code of 4d6+30x3 (minimum damage: 102). The toughest PC's hitpoints? 78, ensuring that no PC could ever survive 2 hits and no PC could survive a bite without a miracle. He gets very adversarial when it comes to combat. He also tends to make enemy NPCs who are specifically designed to kill us, which tends to make battles rather frustrating.  I've advised him multiple times to start easier than he thinks need to be for a challenge and then ramp it up a little (with good justification, like the arrival of reinforcements) if it turns out to not be a big challenge. And if he can't justify a ramped up difficulty, sometimes he should just let it go and chalk one up for the PCs. This is Star Wars, after all and there's plenty of times where the heroes just mow through guys with nary a scratch.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Tadanori Oyama on March 17, 2009, 02:11:33 PM
I tend to under prepare. My improvization is my strongest asset when I'm in the zone. However, out of the zone I can be slow and not give the players the resources they need in order to advance the adventure.

I tend to try and give the players sandbox space without first defining the world they exist in, leading to players being unwilling to make up their own storyhooks or adventures. I have trouble judging my player's perception of the story. They have alternativally complained, sometimes in the very same session, that I am not giving enough direction and that I am railroading them. Originially I didn't know if that's me or the players but when you hear the same thing from different groups, you start to notice the common element.

I believe in a very real possbility of failure, and that failure helps to build story and characters. This often does not sit well with my players. I encourage them to do exciting things not directly covered by the game's rules and this often pays off visually and mechanically for the players. However, when it doesn't they tend to remember and seldom try something similar. Over time this has lead to a narrowed set of "tricks" that my players employ in most situations.

I can become snippy if my players get on my nerves. Many of my regular players are, even after some months with the systems we play in, always asking for explainations of the same rules every week. For example, one player, after nearly every action taken in combat, will ask if she gets an opportunity attack because of it. I never get vindictive but I can become very short with everyone when I am being asked to repeat information I believe is simple enough to understand.

I tend to bend rules as needed. If I need something to work differently in the Astral Sea for my story to work, than it works differently. Some players (one in particular) find this unforgivable.

Some of that probably sounds like I'm complaining about my players, and I am, but I feel that everything here is, at its root, linked to limitations on my ability as a DM. Even if they make it rudely, my players usually have a point when they site something I'd done that annoyed them.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: dragonshaos on March 17, 2009, 04:17:25 PM
I know right off the bat that I usually don't plan ahead.  Because my group and I don't usually even use a system, just make something up and it usually works, we have a lot of weird and crazy sessions.  I tend to make things up as we go which has a 50/50 chance of working, and if it doesn't the players (thank gods) will do something to make it work out and make it fun.  I started doing this just so i could work on my..improvisation.  When i finally get serious with a campaign I think I will be better able to manage the things my players want to do.

Another one of my flaws is that I tend to kill off the players...  I know that's bad but in my mind if they actually thought about how they could beat the monster, they would beat it.  Instead one player, who lets say was a timid journalist, runs forward screaming and tries to stab the monster with a pen.  I'm not saying I have elaborate death plans on how players must kill the enemies, but rather...they just run in and try to stab everything, even allies.  Ive tried to run hack and slashes with them, but THEN they get too tactical and their plans backfire and they die.  Ive tried really hard to make things easier but they seem attracted to dying.

I know i have plenty more flaws, but those I'll have to discover more about as I GM more.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: rayner23 on March 19, 2009, 10:46:14 AM
I tend to reiterate the same descriptions over and over.

Also, I sometimes have a hard time finding the balance between leading players along to the next event and letting them run wild with no purpose.

Then again, this is something all GMs face I think.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: dragonshaos on March 19, 2009, 01:25:49 PM
I tend to reiterate the same descriptions over and over.

Also, I sometimes have a hard time finding the balance between leading players along to the next event and letting them run wild with no purpose.

Then again, this is something all GMs face I think.


Yeah, I've done that a lot.  Over time Ive gotten better at being more diverse in my descriptions and narrations.  Along with leading players to the next event, I tend to let them run wild doing whatever they want until I know I can create something interesting out of what they do.  In my mind it prepares me, for when I actually get serious, to be able to make things up on the fly when the players do something unexpected.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: vcdaniels on April 10, 2009, 07:59:46 AM
I sometimes reiterate descriptions a bit too much.  And I sometimes get hung up on words - they don't come quick enough.  I've always been better with writing than speaking.  Also, I tend to jump from game to game too much or I never follow through on a game I tell players I plan to run.  It's as though I just become interested in other games or I see something that gives me inspiration to run a different game.  I love horror.  And I tend to interject the theme into many of the games I run.  I even ran a horror-themed Exalted game once.  Most of the players I know don't like horror as much as I do, so it ends up bad sometimes.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: AmishNinja on April 10, 2009, 01:13:24 PM
I even ran a horror-themed Exalted game once.  Most of the players I know don't like horror as much as I do, so it ends up bad sometimes.

What...? How in the world did you pull this off? Exalted is such a high-powered system, I'm wondering how PCs could ever be afraid of anything in the traditional horror sense. All games of that type I've been in have involved playing very mortal characters. Exalted just seems so ill-suited to this - I love horror games and I probably wouldn't have been able to get into it myself.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Maze on April 10, 2009, 01:48:27 PM
I bet I could pull off horror in any pen & paper system. It might not be fun, but I'd manage to freak the fuck out of my players regardless.

I personally don't let my players run wild per say, I run a very controlled game. Not in the sense that I prevent players from doing what they want to do, but I make sure they always have some place to be and something to do with as little down time as possible.

A bad habit I have is to let players do "player-logical" things at time and suffer the consequences, when I really should be telling them beforehand that what they're doing is actually pretty dumb.

An example of that is in a futuristic game, my players were suppose to ambush some imperial ambassadors but ran a bit late on schedule and had to improvise. The players where all in some old military truck from the 1980s trying to catch up with a advanced APC protected with a force field technology that could stand a dozens of missiles. I didn't specify it had a force field as they had no way of knowing that, but force field technology was something that they adapted to portable armors (that they themselves had), you'd think an APC carrying the most important people on the land would have some mean of protection. Anyway, the driver, [sarcasm] being the smartest player I've got [/sarcasm], decided to ram sideways into it full force. The old truck violently bounced back and crashed in the ditch, ejecting the players in the back and seriously maiming the pilot.

I made it look like he was dead, so when after 3-4 rounds of fighting against the guards of the APCs (that had stopped), I told him he woke up with glass shards in his face hearing the sound of battle close-by he did the "player-logical" thing to do : he took some glass and cut his wrists.

Sadly for him, it actually takes a long time before you run out of blood and after more rounds of hearing me say "you lose 1 hp" and skipping to the next player, he decided that he should help his friends. He ripped his shirt, tied each of his wrist, took a big shard, climbed up the side of the truck and jump on a armored guard only to be impaled on his lance. Opportunity attack + low hp = not good. The good thing is that his slender body was heavy enough for the guard to be unable to use his lance and that helped the player fighting him to finish him off.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: clockworkjoe on April 10, 2009, 02:36:03 PM
hahahahaha. That's awesome. I bet the player was pissed though.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Maze on April 10, 2009, 03:04:59 PM
The thing is: he's always pissed. He's one of those people who gets pissed at very little things. In a game, he does really stupid shit that he knows will get him killed. Later on in the campaign, they were expecting an attack so their army dug trenches and we're preparing the ambush of the century. Once they were prepared, they were all waiting in the trenches for the enemies to come out of their base (don't worry, it made sense at the time). I went : "Okay, 1 day goes by: nothing happens. The second day goes by... still nothing. You lay there waiting. A third day goes by..."
and he goes "Fuck it! If they're not coming to us, I'll go to them. I go to the enemy base"

A lieutenant seeing a soldier leave his post and walking casually toward the enemy goes and sees another player: "What the fuck! What is he doing? Go bring his ass back in the trench. If he's deserting, shoot him. I can't have soldiers starting to get any weird ideas."

The other player went to find him and had to put him down. With a katana.   ;D

The attack did occur, but they didn't expect it coming from an army of lizard-mutants headed by a 300 meters long giant lizard thing.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Tadanori Oyama on April 10, 2009, 03:36:12 PM
That's amazing.

"Your injured and your friends are in danger. What do you do?"
"I kill myself!"
"........."
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: codered on April 11, 2009, 06:21:49 PM
I hate when The GM can't think on his/her feet. I  destroy games because I think out of the box and the GM can counteract what I do at least that what I'm told (I don't think its my fault that the GM sucks and I don't)
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Dawnsteel on April 12, 2009, 10:36:49 PM
Quote from: codered
because I think out of the box

I KNOW I'm not a very good GM, but if I do ONE THING right, it's this.  I know damn well the players will think of something I didn't, even though I spent two hours working on these encounters. 

So, you want to push that orc over the ledge?  Sure thing, man, go for it, let's see that attack roll.

That five-foot diameter hole in the floor?  You can't see past the first ten feet?  You're just going to jump in?  Knock yourself out.  (Literally, as it turned out in that case.)

You want to use that transmute-water-to-dust power to dry up all the blood in that guy's circulatory system?  Range is touch?  OK, that's pretty slick, make an attack roll to grab him.

Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Alchemist on August 10, 2009, 06:09:11 PM
Well my players clame that i am too un-fair. Mostly because i throw difficult chalanges allong the adventure once i took teier powers away and then i split the party to go against a half dragon humen like thing. 3things didnt go too well.

Also i can,t control the party it self my players are like the players in the gamers 2 pretty much tring to do what they want insted of trying to finnish the story. one time they even left a teacher half-dead because she gave them detetoin then the managed to out run the cops.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: malyss on August 11, 2009, 10:00:50 AM
One thing I don't like from one of the best DM's I've played with is his expectation that players have the same knowledge as their characters. When you are playing a high-level character, they should have a certain grasp about things in their world that you being a lowly human just couldn't understand.

Like when you waste a day chasing something that your character would clearly know you can't catch (as a result of your fantastic knowledge check and the fact that it seems to be outpacing you) - this is exactly like the waterpipe.

I like role-playing - but I put points in social skills because they should have an impact on more than just the price of the sword you are bartering for. I feel that there are three proper ways of handly social interactions:
1) You have the player roll, then you tailor the conversation and the responses of the NPC based on their roll. If the players get a high diplomacy roll, and the NPC didn't, then the players should have the upper hand in the discussion and forgiveness should be given when the players slip up in the speech or start to go off-course.
2) You role-play and then give the player a bonus based on how well they did. This is a more advanced method, but still utilizes the system for its intended purpose.
3) You role-play and if you think the players did great, you just leave it at that. But if they didn't do great, you need to give them a roll, because they are playing a character - and the character can have skills the player does not. Even the most socially inept player should be able to have the opportunity to play the suave seducter of women if his character has the right skills (see Gamers 2 - Dorkness Rising and watch the bard).

The other thing that drives me nuts is how the NPC spell casters always have the right spells memorized... even though you surprised them in their lair, and they just got out of the bath, and they are nursing a hangover from the sacrificial after-party, and... you get the point.

For myself though, I have found that I am having a hard time balancing expectations from players some times. In one situation, I had most of the party locked in a jail cell in a stone building. It was up to them to either talk their way out or wait for another PC to bust them out. I explained that this building was made of stone, had a slate roof, and only a very large support beam running across under the roof to hold it up. He decided that the beam would catch fire if he through alchemist's fire at it and the guards would let everyone out. He through the fire in, and sure enough it dripped into the cell where the other PC's were and caught their bed on fire, but since the beam was so thick, it didn't burn. A lot of smoke was created and the guards ran out because they wouldn't just try to free the PC's to save them. The fire went out soon enough and other than being dirty and warm everyone was ok, but the PC who threw the fire wasn't happy with the result. He still thinks it should have worked. I normally will let any decent idea work, and just modify my plans, but I tried to make it clear, even to the point of telling him it wasn't going to catch fire, but he still did it. So this time, he wasn't satisfied with the result.

Another time, they were doing some reconnaissance on an enemy occupation of a town. The PC's that went in are very stealthy, in about the +14 range, and they knew the town better than the occupiers. They were sticking to the roofs of all of the nearby buildings and discovered what building it looked like the enemy commander had taken over to make his own for the duration. This is not a big town, nor is it a rich town. Most of these buildings have poor locks if any. And the windows don't even have any as a rule. Sensing an opportunity, the PC's decided to see if they could get inside. They proceeded to roll nothing under a 15 on the die the entire time. They get in, find the commander sleeping and coup-de-grace him. We are using the pathfinder system, which is basically 3.5, so if you are familliar, you know how easy it is to kill someone in their sleep. Needless to say, I hadn't anticipated them rolling so well, and I don't like to allow basic guards who are 20 feet away at night with no light source (cloudy sky) and at most a perception bonus of +6 to see players when they are tolling over 30. It makes the players feel like their skills don't matter. But this outcome was not one I had anticipated fully. The players were happy (they had to leave behind almost all of the possessions since they wouldn't carry them back out the second story window) as they had just decapitated the enemy, but I was dissatisfied with the result as I hadn't really anticipated them being able to pull it off. It was an excursion that didn't involve the whole party so that is my main problem with it - the battle with the big bad guy was denied to half the players.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Murph on August 11, 2009, 10:18:22 AM
I suck at coming up at names on the fly.  Personalities, physical descriptions, etc are all fine.  But names?

Just two sessions ago, the PCs wanted to talk to a priest.  For the people they were talking to I had been using Roman sounding names like Ajax, Titus, Lucioious, Hermese etc.
 
Pc: "So what's the priests name?"
Me: Ummm uhh his name is ...... ummm, Ral (even said with the Spanish accent)

Thankfully Ral did not become very prominent.

Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: clockworkjoe on August 11, 2009, 04:48:45 PM
Another time, they were doing some reconnaissance on an enemy occupation of a town. The PC's that went in are very stealthy, in about the +14 range, and they knew the town better than the occupiers. They were sticking to the roofs of all of the nearby buildings and discovered what building it looked like the enemy commander had taken over to make his own for the duration. This is not a big town, nor is it a rich town. Most of these buildings have poor locks if any. And the windows don't even have any as a rule. Sensing an opportunity, the PC's decided to see if they could get inside. They proceeded to roll nothing under a 15 on the die the entire time. They get in, find the commander sleeping and coup-de-grace him. We are using the pathfinder system, which is basically 3.5, so if you are familliar, you know how easy it is to kill someone in their sleep. Needless to say, I hadn't anticipated them rolling so well, and I don't like to allow basic guards who are 20 feet away at night with no light source (cloudy sky) and at most a perception bonus of +6 to see players when they are tolling over 30. It makes the players feel like their skills don't matter. But this outcome was not one I had anticipated fully. The players were happy (they had to leave behind almost all of the possessions since they wouldn't carry them back out the second story window) as they had just decapitated the enemy, but I was dissatisfied with the result as I hadn't really anticipated them being able to pull it off. It was an excursion that didn't involve the whole party so that is my main problem with it - the battle with the big bad guy was denied to half the players.

But that's the whole beauty of RPGs - you don't fully control the story, nor does anyone else so it goes in directions no one can expect. In this case, you just have to figure out how the bad guys react - I assume they are organized enough that killing the officer won't cause them to disband. So what I would do is think back to history: how do invading armies deal with the assassination of officers? Rather violently of course.

The army punishes the poor villagers and executes some of them - more will die unless the PCs surrender.
The army appoints a new officer - a more ruthless and paranoid bastard who is better protected against assassination.

However, the death of the officer and subsequent atrocities inflicted by the army hardens the hearts of the people. They view the PCs as folk heroes and some volunteer to do ANYTHING to help them - lie for them, fight for them, kill for them, die for them.

What I am saying is you raise the stakes - when the PCs do something dramatic then you need to ratchet up the intensity of the adventure. In other words

THIS SHIT JUST GOT REAL

 8)
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: malyss on August 12, 2009, 08:37:27 AM
Oh yeah, there will be repercussions. I already have some of them planned.

They were holding a couple of the PC's associates hostage for supporting them, but now they will just have to kill them. It was a relatively benign invasion to this point...

The whole campaign so far has been taking place in the border kingdoms of 3.5 forgotten realms, and this is a little town called Telchyrn (not sure of spelling right now).

Part of the challenge I am running into though is that the PC's are mercenaries... and they are playing them pretty rough. They just won't care that much that the people are suffering. This campaign is heading for a dark conclusion at this point. They know who their main adversary is to this point, and he has been pulling strings to make things happen in this area of the world. From his point, he has tried to fight them, work around them, have them killed, have them arrested, and none of it is working. His next step is to try and buy them. And I have a bad feeling it will work. Which will make them working for the enemy... which turns the campaigns original premise on its arse. Don't you just hate it when your players play their characters too true to their characters' personalities?

As a little note about the names, all I have done is before I start any session, I make a list of 10-15 acceptable names and jot them down on a piece of paper - 7-10 male names, 2-5 female names. I never have to scrounge again. And believe it or not, when all else fails, name them after body parts. Left & Right are my favourite bodyguards; Blackeye is a favourite stooge; Fingers is a classic thief; Skully is a great cook or enforcer; Toes is a runner or sneaky guys; Toothless is a wimp; Knuckles... what an awesome name. Anyway, even silly names can be good and they only don't work if there is no character behind the name. They are somewhat timeless as well - we have always had people nicknamed after body parts. I'm sure even the romans had a "Smiley."

If you want some awesome names, and don't mind borrowing, take a look at any of the Malazan books by Steven Erikson. He has a cast of characters in the back of all of them, and he has some awesome names. Awesome books too - best I have ever read honestly.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: xHero on August 12, 2009, 06:52:58 PM
Aside from the occasional "substitute GM" I just started DM-ing my first campaign yesterday.

The party consists of a Druid (D&D virgin), Rouge (Stat-monkey who thinks money is free), and a Hexblade (an experienced gamer and DM). Things were going very smoothly, I found that when an incident occurred that I wasn't prepared for that I was very adept at improvising. The encounters were tough but not too tough, and the NPC's were memorable and the party enjoyed interacting with them.

Here's were it started going wrong: My preparations had accounted for two story arcs in the first session (if possible) and as I am a heavy smoker playing in a smoke free environment I had "scheduled" a smoke break at a certain plot point. Unfortunately, the druid's wolf companion was unconscious after the encounter and he was solely focused on tending to her. He was role playing it very well but I needed a f#@king cigarette and didn't give a damn about his dead dog. I suggested they continued to follow the creatures who were apparently leading them somewhere (where they were going to be healed). I went as far as to move their miniatures for them repeating "it would behoove you to follow the charmed bird" I began sweating and staring intently at any player who would make eye contact. The rouge was trying to argue the point that they should leave the river they were near and return to the settlement because "EVERY BAD CREATURE DRINKS FROM WATER!"

At this point I had to roll to see if I had lost any sanity, the druid and hexblade began bickering about the process of healing methods and pulling out the PHB and sourcebooks. I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that the thought of recreating the scene where Napoleon plays Risk in "Bill and Ted's blowjobbing extravaganza" and just knocking everything off the battle map occurred to me twelve too many times. I also found that I couldn't not use the word  "behoove" in every dialog that ensued.

Two cigarettes later I return and the stars aligned and everything returned to it's natural order. The rest of the gaming session continued to impress and intrigue the players. Everyone left satisfied so I can't be doing that bad... but I really need to invest in some gum or something.   
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: malyss on August 12, 2009, 08:35:54 PM
We frequently have scotch and cigar breaks... they aren't scheduled, just whenever seems like the right time. Usually though, we keep role-playing while having them, we just don't bring any dice with us.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: ArtfulShrapnel on August 20, 2009, 10:53:34 AM
I have a few.

One, mentioned here before, is under-preparation. I prefer to stay loose and improvise a lot with my game worlds, but if it doesn't click I'm screwed. I should really be going into my games with a bit more plot ready and have a more solid idea of where things are going to go. Sometimes this will leave the players thinking an encounter was pointless or just vague, and like they don't know where to go. (The blind leading the blind, in this case) It's something I'm working on a bit, and I've been doing better.

Another is over-focus. If a player starts a really interesting scene or adventure, I will often focus in on them to the detriment of the group. It has made people feel left out and unimportant, especially when the player isn't with the rest of the group. I've done better in my last couple games on this, but it's something I have to constantly watch myself for. As a Type-A personality, I tend to get sucked into engagements with the other Type-As at the table, and the quieter players get less spotlight time. Again, trying to work on this by putting a sort of mental timer in my head and constantly asking myself "when was the last time player X did something?" Rearranging my table so that the most vocal players are the furthest away from me helps. In extreme situations I actually put myself at one end of the table, sitting across from a particularly quiet player so that they are right in front of me and get more attention.

I suck at killing characters. I do not believe I have ever killed a player character in one of my games. A few killed each other off in my last CoC game, but I constantly find myself fudging numbers and pulling down encounters to make sure that everyone barely makes it. I think it's taking some of the drama out of my games, and I think that some of the players have noticed the behind-the-screen action. The problem is that now I think people expect it of me, so I'm afraid I'll loose a good player if I suddenly start killing PCs for real.

Last one... not really sure if this is a "bad habit" or simply an overused GM tactic. I tend to write my scenarios with no obvious solutions for players to win. This has only backfired once in about a dozen games, in which the players just stopped dead and gave up, deciding that it was impossible. The other times it has led to some incredibly brilliant plans that were very memorable and a lot of fun for both sides. I think it only pulls through because of my aforementioned reluctance to kill off PCs, though. If I was being a hard GM, most of these plans would have ended in disaster. Again, not sure if this is a bad habit or just something I should use more sparingly for flavor and variety.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Sentinel on August 21, 2009, 12:43:26 AM
I suck at making NPCs. My favorite types of adventures to DM and play are challenges: break into that building, steal that zeppelin, rob that bank, etc. When I DM, I try to craft these scenarios so that they can be approached in any way the players come up with. I prepare lots of details that I can plug into whatever solution the players come up.

Unfortunately, after figuring out all the conflicts the players could encounter, I forget about NPCs. I know what information NPCs could give and what roles they could play in the adventure, but details like their names or personalities are neglected. They're basically objects in my campaigns, generic and improvised. It doesn't help that I'm a pretty poor actor; every NPC acts and sounds like I do. There may as well be plot information kiosks on every street corner (which sometimes explode if you push the wrong buttons).

The upshot of all this is that NPC interactions are the low point in my games. The action grinds to a halt and we all sit around stuttering and stammering. Everyone besides the party's Faceman can use the time for snacks or the bathroom.

Currently, I'm gearing up run a superhero campaign. We started with a one-shot weeks ago, and it went well, aside from the scene in which I had to portray an over-the-top villainous NPC who fell completely flat. I'm worried that if I can't find a suitable voice for NPCs in this game, it's going to be a very awkward, short-lived campaign.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: malyss on August 21, 2009, 09:51:00 AM
Sentinel, I suggest you listen to the RPPR podcasts if you dont already do so. Especially the new world campaign.

Ross switches characters without necessarily switching voices and it works well. They have their own personalities, and feel distinct.

He doesnt go over the top with acting (which might not work for him as it can work for others) but I seldom have any difficulty determining who is speaking. Its not easy to do, but Im sure with some practice you will be able to get it.

Some of the best NPCs Ive encountered in games Ive played in were the characters with a few, predictable traits. They are easy to remember and relate to, help with the distinction of who is doing what, allow for some predictability and are effective in their roles. An example would be the one guard in town who is always looking out for the kids he/she would be predictable in that they will always do what is best for the younger members of the community. A trait they would have is that they are gruff, but always well-meaning. Then there is the letch. A nice lecherous bastard makes a good NPC. Anything that is pretty is fair game to them. Every line they utter has a connotation to it. Their eyes are always following the tail

Maybe for the guards in your settings you could have one that is always a bit lazier, and everyone around him seems to know it. He walks slower, does a half-assed job of checking the doors, is always texting on his cell-phone when he should be looking around. Then there is that hard ass the one who kicks peoples feet off the table, checks every door twice and seems to run to everything. If the PCs watch for even 10 minutes, they can notice these traits.

None of these are complex characters, but fill a role. PCs will remember someone who is different from the background in some way.

As for names, make a list; keep it on hand and cross names off as you go. Just write the name next to the stat block of the NPC (if you bothered to make one most of the time I dont even bother only a true ass of a pc will do the math on AC if you describe them as wearing some armour or not and how the hell are they to know what the attack bonus should be)
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: ArtfulShrapnel on August 21, 2009, 01:02:24 PM
Sentinel, that's some really good advice there from Malyss. Simple, easily defined characters can make some of the strongest concepts. I would make an effort to record them in simple, one word character traits. So you end up with things like "Leonard, the Lazy, Overworked, and Kind guard".

In addition to the resources set out by Malyss, I recommend checking out the FATE and PDQ/PDQ# systems. They have a neat set of tools for choosing good character traits (Called Aspects in FATE) and playing to them.

If you want a neat tool to try and get interesting, lifelike characters, try using a Character Diamond. Decent Article Here (http://lore.dramatis-personae.com/creation/diamond.php) (WARNING: WoW website). The basic idea is that you draw out a diamond, and put traits that oppose each other on opposite faces/points (doesn't really matter which you use). Generally it's used like this:

Quote
Top Corner: Primary Trait. In protagonists and antagonists, this is the quality that makes them "good" or "evil". In an NPC, it should be the thing that is most obvious about them. "Lazy" for the Leonard the Guard.

Bottom Corner: Opposing Trait. This is a trait that directly conflicts the Primary trait. The interplay between these two would be the main source of conflict for the character. Let's give Leonard "Kind".

Left corner: Supporting Trait. Something that modifies or harmonizes with the Primary trait. Oftentimes, you will find that this trait arises out of the conflict between the Primary and Opposing traits. It should not directly conflict, but it should also not be a repeat. "Stressed" might be a good one for Leonard, as he constantly battles between his desire to do good and his lack of motivation to do anything.

Right Corner: Disruptive Trait or "Shadow Trait". This should run counter to the supporting trait. Oftentimes it will amplify the issues that the supporting trait causes, or make the effects of it worse. It should almost always be a negative trait for the character. So let's give Leonard "Inept"

At the end of the day, Leonard's character diamond looks like this:
Lazy
/        \
Stressed   Inept
\         /
Kind
There's even a random character diamond generator HERE  (http://aii.lgrace.com/documents/html/character_diamond_generator.php) that you can use if you're totally stuck for a minor character's traits. Something I always keep open in my laptop alongside the Fake Name Generator.

Hope that helps out some, Sentinel!

Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Sentinel on August 21, 2009, 05:20:58 PM
Thanks for the tips, guys. Hopefully I can develop a solid process for developing NPCs. I've also been cramming AP podcasts to hear how GMs across the gameosphere handle NPC interactions. And of course, for my superhero game I'm reading comics like mad. I just have to put all these pieces together.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Dawnsteel on August 21, 2009, 08:39:57 PM
Quote from: malyss

Ross switches characters without necessarily switching voices and it works well. They have their own personalities, and feel distinct.


Ross was especially creepy as Jim from the Fear Itself game.  (I think that was his name.)  I get echoes of that character when Ross does the Water Spirit from the New World.
My absolute favorite, though, is Ross speaking as King Sea-Moss.  Damn, he's totally awesome.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: clockworkjoe on August 25, 2009, 11:20:43 PM
Quote from: malyss

Ross switches characters without necessarily switching voices and it works well. They have their own personalities, and feel distinct.


Ross was especially creepy as Jim from the Fear Itself game.  (I think that was his name.)  I get echoes of that character when Ross does the Water Spirit from the New World.
My absolute favorite, though, is Ross speaking as King Sea-Moss.  Damn, he's totally awesome.

I tend to fall back on certain archetypes for minor NPCs - each different because of a few varying traits. This informs how I roleplay the NPC and how they will act.

The dealmaker from Fear Itself (an ovashi if you want to be technical) and the water spirit both fall into the cosmic mover and shaker archetype - they look down on humanity and are accordingly arrogant and farseeing. However, Jim the dealmaker is a sadist who wants to hurt as many as possible while the water spirit is unpredictable and erratic (just like real women amirite thanks i'll be here all week) Neither seeks combat but rather to prove that they are better than the PCs - by forcing them to jump through hoops and then pulling the rug out from underneath them.

Look at stock characters for inspiration http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stock_character

Seldom do I need to go past a stock character type with a few minor unique traits - The governor wyatt, the merchant lords and tribal leaders all use the mortal leader archetype - whether out of ambition for power, duty or a feeling of responsibility, these NPCs take their position seriously and seek to improve their position, take out their rivals and help their followers. Their job consumes their life and they can barely keep above the tide. Each has a different point of view - Wyatt is a pragmatist while Axgore follows a barbarian slaver's code and the other merchant lords seek profit above all but I play them pretty similarly.

Think of the NPC's station in life, their personality and their mannerisms. This doesn't have to be complex. Just think "Okay, Balgron the fat is a nervous goblin chieftain. The players want his help and he is terrified of saying no so he will overcompensate to hide his insecurity by making bold claims but he has a nervous tic of say yes way too much" BAM. done.

Only rarely do I need to make a complex NPC - someone with a conflicting personality and agenda - even has contradictory traits. Only Pontifex the lich really qualifies. That has to be done on a case by case basis.

Does that help? If anyone wants, I can break down my thought process on any given NPC from a game I've run.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Tadanori Oyama on August 26, 2009, 07:47:34 PM
I like to grab from the "NPCs you haven't met before" list in Damnation City. The list is build around city dwellers, not as useful for DnD, but great in my Hunter game.

I like to use accents with short term NPCs, it makes them entertaining without really endearing them to the players. If I want them to leave somebody behind after five minutes I use an accent. If I want them to deal with an NPC over a long time, I use a normal voice and work through word choice.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: rayner23 on August 27, 2009, 10:02:30 PM
I suck at coming up at names on the fly.  Personalities, physical descriptions, etc are all fine.  But names?

Just two sessions ago, the PCs wanted to talk to a priest.  For the people they were talking to I had been using Roman sounding names like Ajax, Titus, Lucioious, Hermese etc.
 
Pc: "So what's the priests name?"
Me: Ummm uhh his name is ...... ummm, Ral (even said with the Spanish accent)

Thankfully Ral did not become very prominent.



Same here. I fucking hate coming up with names.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: clockworkjoe on August 27, 2009, 10:20:55 PM
I suck at coming up at names on the fly.  Personalities, physical descriptions, etc are all fine.  But names?

Just two sessions ago, the PCs wanted to talk to a priest.  For the people they were talking to I had been using Roman sounding names like Ajax, Titus, Lucioious, Hermese etc.
 
Pc: "So what's the priests name?"
Me: Ummm uhh his name is ...... ummm, Ral (even said with the Spanish accent)

Thankfully Ral did not become very prominent.



Same here. I fucking hate coming up with names.

orly
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Tadanori Oyama on August 27, 2009, 10:52:33 PM
Same here. I fucking hate coming up with names.

I often reply "He doesn't have one" and then continue on, ignoring anything else the player who asked says.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: rayner23 on August 27, 2009, 11:11:37 PM
Same here. I fucking hate coming up with names.

I often reply "He doesn't have one" and then continue on, ignoring anything else the player who asked says.

Your players are pussies then. If Ross pulled that shit with me, I would continue to insist until he caved. That's the way I roll though.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: clockworkjoe on August 27, 2009, 11:20:03 PM
Same here. I fucking hate coming up with names.

I often reply "He doesn't have one" and then continue on, ignoring anything else the player who asked says.

Your players are pussies then. If Ross pulled that shit with me, I would continue to insist until he caved. That's the way I roll though.

yeah don't you love anakin the prodigal wizard student  8)

gonna have a list of names when i start new world back up -

inuyasha names
eragon names
twilight names
bleach names
naruto names

so yeah go ahead keep asking for names for stupid little NPCs
I'll give you names

great names

names like Renesmee, Galbatorix, shinji or sasuke

how bout that
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Boyos on August 27, 2009, 11:25:38 PM
yipes, edward cullins crits you for 127 necrotic damage!
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Tadanori Oyama on August 28, 2009, 12:14:04 AM
I'm considering dipping into popular culture and news for names on the fly. My players will likely find it funny, but I bet they'll remember.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: clockworkjoe on August 28, 2009, 01:38:53 AM
Cody absolutely hates the fact that Locke's best pupil in his wizard school is named Anakin. HATES.

Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: malyss on August 28, 2009, 08:23:30 AM
I was pestering my DM once about names... it was one of those days where I was "Mr. 20 Questions."

Here are the names he gave us:

Wes Sigh-yeed (phonetic)
Ee-val Fu-Kar (phonetic)

I stopped asking... it was only going to get worse. And there was a good chance in spite he would make one of them important and we would all have to live with it.

But now I am DM'ing him...

Payback is a bitch. And she carries a whip.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Tissue on August 28, 2009, 10:11:50 AM
Cody absolutely hates the fact that Locke's best pupil in his wizard school is named Anakin. HATES.



The one wizard destined to save the universe?  How could you hate that.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Nuncle on August 28, 2009, 01:39:26 PM
I'm considering dipping into popular culture and news for names on the fly. My players will likely find it funny, but I bet they'll remember.


That works. My GM had a company of mercs that we'd hired all named after singers. There was Giles, Benetar, Dury, Parsons, etc...  :D
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Dawnsteel on August 29, 2009, 10:13:18 AM
I wish I'd thought of the singer's names one.  That's great!

I had an NPC trader named Ahmad Rashad, and a captain of the guard named Ackbar.  (Which no one noticed until, upon legitimate discovery of a dangerous situation, he yelled, "It's a trap!")
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Setherick on August 29, 2009, 12:32:25 PM
Cody absolutely hates the fact that Locke's best pupil in his wizard school is named Anakin. HATES.



Ah, but nothing can top the McYokel clan.

Screamy McYokel
Yelling McYokel
Smelly McYokel

How many McYokels did your party get killed?
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: rayner23 on August 29, 2009, 11:05:30 PM
I believe there should be a badass Ranger in all D&D games named Myke Hawk.

If you watch the Soup then you know what I'm talking about.

Say it aloud if you don't get it.
Title: Re: Bad GM habits
Post by: Maze on August 30, 2009, 02:21:04 PM
I believe there should be a badass Ranger in all D&D games named Myke Hawk.

If you watch the Soup then you know what I'm talking about.

Say it aloud if you don't get it.

His ranger partner should be named Mike Hunt.

Oh, if you guys need NPC names, these guys have plenty: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0xMSYX7KtA (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0xMSYX7KtA)