Towards Practical Methodology

Tomorrow sees the release of the last episode of Roleplay Rescue Season 10. As I take a break, I am already allowing my mind to consider some ideas for what to do with Season 11.

As I spoke about in Episode 20, I have decided to return to the position of the beginning GM and seek to clarify for myself the most effective and rewarding methods for preparing my games going forward.

How can I prioritise both my own passion for the hobby – and the elements that ignite my love of roleplaying – plus give the players maximum meaningful choice in my adventures?

To my mind, the natural way forward lies in continuing to share my discoveries with you as listeners, plus seeking out new ideas and tips from across the hobby community.

I believe that I am evolving some guiding principles distilled from the wisdom of fellow gamers around me. The greatest need I feel is that of learning to apply what I have learned.

The unique experiential offer of RPGs is wide player choice. Choices have meaning and they have consequences, and in the exploration of those consequences lies the crucible of story. For me, watching the story unfold is the richness of roleplaying games. I enjoy story emerging from the game we are playing, fuelled by the combination of player choices and GM responses.

Methodology is king. For all the talk of rules systems and cool worlds, the most neglected and yet most important toolset for creating the experience you want at the table is your methodology. But it’s more than what you do at the table. Methodology includes your preparation for play too.

The decisions we make as we prepare the World, the Characters, and the situations for the game all need to build on the core strength of roleplaying games: they need to offer meaningful player choice.

It needs to matter what players choose to do: the players need to be able to choose what to do and how they do it in every individual situation you present; they also need to be able to choose which situations to get into. While many players won’t necessarily exercise their full autonomy, there also needs to be space for the players to choose the goals they pursue within the game.

While the GM must provide clear and enticing scenario hooks, and buckets of them is the ideal, in the end it’s just as ok if the players ignore all of them and go off to do their own thing. It’s their choice that matters and the GMs role is to place obstacles in their path, to challenge the characters with complications, and to fairly adjudicate the consequences of their decisions.

To this end, I have a few practical steps I have already begun to explore:

  • Talking about the kind of narratives we want to create and the types of emotional experience we want to share before we get to the table.
  • Deciding on the precise mix of player-facing versus GM-facing information and details so that we can generate the kind of roleplaying experience we’re seeking.
  • Recognising that game structures matter and it’s time to deploy them in a coherent, intentional manner. I’ve begun with the grand-daddy of all scenarios, the Dungeoncrawl.
  • Developing some smart prep habits – as distinct from low prep, no prep, and fast prep – as the key to overcoming anxiety for the GM.
  • Creating specific tools that help me to manage the information flow necessary to run an effective roleplaying game – e.g. NPC record sheets, formats for keying locations, lists to manage clues.

While the collected wisdom of the last 50 years of gaming holds many of the answers we need, I also believe there is grand scope for exploring the edges of the roleplaying art and seeing what new vistas we can reveal. I am keen to keep pushing the edges of the RPG experience around Otherworld-immersion and the question of how to create deep lore in my Worlds.

Suffice it to say that, for the foreseeable future, I think I’ll have plenty more to talk about.

Game on!

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