Behind the Screen of Gamemastering
A few days ago, I was puttering around on RPG Geek, and I saw a front page forum conversation for Gamemastering. Intrigued, I took a look, and immediately went to Gamemastering.info to download the free eBook Gamemastering by Brian Jamison.
Brian Jamison states that the reason for writing the book was that by 2003 the gaming community did not have a comprehensive book for Gamemasters. He rose to the challenge, and over the course of several years, wrote Gamemastering…and is giving the eBook away for free, though he does encourage you to donate or pick up a physical copy.
Inside this massive 300 page book is a formula for starting, preparing for, and running a long-term campaign.
The crux of the first four chapters is Brian pointing towards a better way to start a campaign:
|Traditional Way||Better Way|
|GM chooses game system||GM chooses players|
|GM buys/writes adventure||Everyone agrees on setting|
|Characters are rolled up||GM chooses game system|
|Start playing||Characters are co-created|
|Adventure skeleton is written|
Brian Jamison strongly advocates for a sort of character questionnaire that the players work towards filling out. This involves filling out beliefs, goals, friends, foes, and defining your position regarding various vices and virtues. It isn’t too hard to see parallels to Luke Crane’s Burning Wheel and Mouse Guard.
In the case of Diaspora: The Precious Few, we followed the Better Way, and had a fantastic time creating our setting and characters. There was an interconnectedness to the characters that helped to naturally create the adventures.
In the case of Bloodstone, we are in the process of co-creating our characters. It may look as though I chose the adventure first, but my intent has been to use the Bloodstone series as a setting. I fully intend to have the characters choosing the direction of the game.
As I’ve looked at other campaigns that have been memorable, they typically involve characters that were very interconnected, as well as a handful of memorable NPCs.
The general message of these first four chapters is take the time before hand to bring the characters together and place them in a dynamic environment full of relationships and cultures. By spending time up front, the amount of time will pay dividends both in greatly reduced adventure preparation and in creating a verisimilitudinous world.
Prepping for the Game Session
Much like Apocalypse World and Dungeon World, Gamemastering advocates playing to find out what happens. Before a game session, Gamemastering recommends reviewing the goals, beliefs, friends, foes, and cultures to loosely flesh out what could happen in the game session.
Gamemastering lays out the case for avoiding dungeon crawls and three act adventures, instead advocating to focus on conquering obstacles (i.e. conflict). Overcoming obstacles involves three steps: discover, challenge, and celebrate; each step of which Brian Jamison provides expert advice. Use existing NPCs, match skills, everyone must have something to do, challenge multiple characters, pace the difficulty, and have at least two ways out.
In short, know your player and characters and how they connect with the world. By reviewing this information, and chewing on it, conflict will naturally emerge.
Running the Game Session
Brian Jamison advocates for having using a GM screen. In doing so, you create a natural division between you and the players. The division is not for propagating the GM vs. player mentality, but helps to “set up a tiny but important psychological barrier between the players and the Gamemaste.” This division can instill a sense of mystery in the players. They never know when they have “gone off the rails.”
Three roles of the GM are highlighted: Judge, Actor, and Camera. There is advice on seamlessly transitioning from one role to another. In particular with regards to highlighting important elements of a scene.
Gamemastering is an opinionated grimoire loaded with ideas and advice. Given the price tag, all I can say is please download this wonderful work and give it a read.