Hi there! This is Zachary Houghton from RPG Blog 2, stepping in for my buddy Michael and his pals at Stargazer’s World. This seems to be a week for GM advice, so I figure I’d throw another piece out there.
When I was in Little League Baseball, the coach always used to tell us, “Don’t go out there and try to hit a home run every time. Just worry about making contact with the ball”. Although it turned out I wasn’t very good at either approach, the lesson stuck, and even has some applications in gaming.
I think at times, as Game Masters, we don’t take the long view enough. We want every NPC to be over-the-top, every revelation to be an absolute stunner. If a moment fails to bring about the Big Reveal, we feel bummed.
Look, players are going to miss things, and we aren’t always going to communicate as clearly as we could have. Clues get missed, NPCs fall flat, and revelations are greeted with yawns. We try for the epic, but it doesn’t always happen.
Try instead to make the epic an extension of what you’re doing. If you’re putting in the ground work, and you’re plugging away every week, the legacy and meaning of the game itself will give that extra meaning to scenes. You can reveal the most despicable, horrid villain in your first session, but what’s the meaning for players? Wait 15 sessions, until he’s foiled the PC’s plans 3 times, killed their brother, and set their kingdom to the torch. By then, there’s depth, there’s a history, and that’s what you need to make those moments hit home.
The best “WOW” moments at the table aren’t forced; they can’t be. Run a solid, dependable, reliable campaign, listening to what people want, stay the course, and those moments will happen organically.
Now, of course, there are times when you’ve done all the legwork, and moments still go sour. Every campaign has them. When it happens (and it will), you pick up the pieces, and move on with the progression of things.
If there’s one thing I could tell people about Game Mastery, it’s that you aren’t alone in these problems. Game Masters, good Game Masters, still struggle with them all the time. Now that it sounds like I’m about to sell a self-help book for depressed GMs, I think I’ll leave off.