Author Topic: Bad GM habits  (Read 24155 times)

malyss

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Re: Bad GM habits
« Reply #15 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.

Murph

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Re: Bad GM habits
« Reply #16 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.


clockworkjoe

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Re: Bad GM habits
« Reply #17 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)

malyss

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Re: Bad GM habits
« Reply #18 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.

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Re: Bad GM habits
« Reply #19 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.   
« Last Edit: August 12, 2009, 07:32:22 PM by xHero »
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malyss

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Re: Bad GM habits
« Reply #20 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.

ArtfulShrapnel

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Re: Bad GM habits
« Reply #21 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.
« Last Edit: August 20, 2009, 10:59:19 AM by ArtfulShrapnel »

Sentinel

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Re: Bad GM habits
« Reply #22 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.

malyss

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Re: Bad GM habits
« Reply #23 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)

ArtfulShrapnel

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Re: Bad GM habits
« Reply #24 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 (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 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!


Sentinel

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Re: Bad GM habits
« Reply #25 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.
« Last Edit: August 21, 2009, 05:23:38 PM by Sentinel »

Dawnsteel

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Re: Bad GM habits
« Reply #26 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.
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clockworkjoe

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Re: Bad GM habits
« Reply #27 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.

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Re: Bad GM habits
« Reply #28 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.

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Re: Bad GM habits
« Reply #29 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.
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