Hello folks

Hello folks

Hello folks,

I wanted to open up a discussion about how to make the game more “exciting” as a GM. In my group’s game, I’ve come away from the past few sessions feeling like we didn’t get very “far” into whatever dungeon/environment we’re in because we get bogged down by lots of “details”. We DO do some cool things, but moves like “speak to stones” or “what here is evil” or the players being indecisive at which direction to try at a fork has them turning to me to come up with little things for a dungeon I probably made up 10 minutes earlier. By nature of “play to find out what happens” I’m not going to have an answer right away because this stuff isn’t pre-planned. I don’t want to say “forget about it and keep moving” because that’s passing over moves their characters rightfully have. I try to purposefully give lots of options because I don’t want anyone to feel railroaded (eg. “you can go this way or this way, OR you can just turn around and LEAVE this place to chase the yeti who stole some of your equipment, if you want”) but maybe that’s working against us?

I always endeavor to get down to business next session, but then get caught up in the details all over again because of the stuff that’s being asked!

I dunno, I just want to fill lives with adventure here! I don’t have a story I’m looking to selfishly “get to”, (I have a half finished front and the rest is by ear, results have been pretty good so far). One of the things I don’t miss from 4E was slogging through combat encounters that felt like they didn’t matter, and when they slowly pick their way through a dungeon or town it can kind of feel the same way. I haven’t had any complaints from them or anything like that, but there always a nagging feeling of “well, I could have made that more exciting” when we end off (we only get to play once a month too, which might be amplifying my feelings here).

Any tips for more active play? Punish indecisiveness with more GM moves? Maybe ask one player at a time for navigational decisions instead of waiting for a consensus? Carry on, because maybe they like this way of playing and I am imagining things? Throw more ogres at them? Thanks for any input, guys!

15 thoughts on “Hello folks”

  1. I wouldn’t say you need to punish them, just put pressure on them. A dungeon should never be static after the adventurers have entered it. Noises coming from the darkness, strange smells, monsters prawling about.

  2. Any tips for more active play?

    Turn the questions they ask back at them.

    Player: What do I see when I look down the well?

    GM: You tell me, what horrible thing is down there?

    Player: Tentacles.

    Then you run with it and make it better/worse than what they originally said. Whenever I get hung up on details I get lazy and let the players come up with something.

    Punish indecisiveness with more GM moves?

    Absolutely! My favorite thing to do when the game gets bogged down is “Men with guns come into the room”. If you have a front, move it along the next time things start getting slow.

    Maybe ask one player at a time for navigational decisions instead of waiting for a consensus?

    Easy way to do this is to ask poignant and leading questions. Don’t ask the group, instead go “Fighter, which way do you lead the group, to the main hall or to the armory?” 

    Carry on, because maybe they like this way of playing and I am imagining things?

    Talk to your group. If everyone is having fun, great! If you are not having fun, then talk to them.

    Throw more ogres at them?

    Yes. Just on principal, everything is better with more ogres.

  3. Consider preempting discussion by asking individual characters loaded questions like, “Which way do you lead the group?”  Consider preempting excessive investigation by asking questions like, “Are you going to take the time to look more closely?”  In a dangerous environment, taking the time to examine things carefully or discuss options thoroughly may be golden opportunities to which you should be ratcheting up the tension by making soft moves. 

  4. If they’re looking at you blankly, that is definitely your time to make a move. Not punishment, just something to make their lives more…interesting.

  5. Hesitate to proceed left or right, and look to me for a response? “WHAM! A huge, thick iron portcullis just slammed down behind you, cutting off your path out!”

  6. Lots of good feedback here; i concur with all of it.  I’m gonna offer feedback from a slightly different angle.

    What i keyed on are two things you say:

    1. “playing to find out what happens” means you don’t have the answers at hand.

    Playing to find out what happens means exactly that you don’t know the answers before the questions are asked.  You need to get comfortable riffing with players.

    part of this means getting comfortable answering NOW, and making sense of it LATER.  Just run with your gut instinct.  Embrace the challenge of sticking to it and making it meaningful as you explore what that answer actually means!  

    this may be my favorite part of PbtA – painting myself in a corner, and then finding a way out, while keeping everything consistent and meaningful for players.

    2. “i  try to give lots of options….” to avoid railroading.

    I struggled with this a lot.  But then i realized that preparing a lot of options is just building more rails on the railroad.  And then i took it further…  providing a lot of options is railroading, even if i make them up in response to a direct player question.  I’m telling them where they can go.

    Instead of providing options, provide problems.  Give one, two, or three details for them to consider, and then ask them the carefully constructed, wide-open question “What do you do?”

    It is not “Do you do A, B, C, or D?” Because that provides them with only four avenues to handle their situation.  “What do you do?” tells the players it’s THEIR job to figure it out.

    And then it’s your job to adjudicate, describe extemporaneously, and throw em back in the fire.

  7. Try asking yourself “If this was TV show or a movie, what would happen next?”, then use one of the GM moves to make that happen.

  8. At the beginning of a DW game (or a new adventure/plot arc in DW), I (as GM) want to know the following as quickly as possible:

    1) Why are the PCs here?  That is, why are the PCs exploring this area that they know is dangerous?  What are they looking for?  What are they hoping to accomplish?  What’s their motivation?  _Once you know this_, use it to tempt the players, to lure them on, to put the success of this expedition on the line.

    2) What makes this place dangerous?  What is the nature of the threat?  Is it static, contained, and waiting (e.g. an ancient tomb with curses, guardians, and boobytraps)? Is it home to someone with an agenda (e.g. cultists trying to summon Dread Azathoth)?  Home to something else that’s dangerous but not malevolent (e.g. dire bats have taken up in the foyer)?  _Once you know this_, use the dangers to answer player questions.  Point to these dangers as soft moves, and if the players ignore them (or roll a miss, or get a 7-9 on defy danger), bring the dangers to bear!

    3) Who else is involved? Are there any rival adventurers?  Is someone paying them to come here?  Did an old mentor/friend/rival try to explore this dungeon before?  Are there are old inhabitants that were forced out by the current ones? Are there rival factions among the antagonists?  For each new group, ask yourself “What do they want?”  _Once you know this_, use it to add time pressures, to open other avenues, to force the players to make decisions.  

    4) What’s the story so far?  What’s the sequence of events that led to this current situation?  Who built the dungeon and why? What happened to them?  Who inhabits it now, and how did they come to be there?  What happened in between?  _Once you know this_ (or as you develop it), use it to add texture, details, motivations, etc.  This doesn’t necessarily make the game more exciting, but it makes it better.

    Now, you don’t need to know all that stuff in advance!  Ask the players for what their characters know about these things.  Don’t ask the players to make up details on the spot.  Ask what their characters believe, have read, have seen sign of, want.  Use their answers to answer the questions above, and the use that information when you make your GM moves.

    For the first session of a DW game, I like to grab a blank map and a name for the dungeon (Dyson’s Delves is great for this).  Start the players at the entrance and ask them:  Why are you here?  Bard, what threats have you heard dwell within here?  Wizard, who is said to have built this place originally?  Thief, why did you drop everything you had going in Esterhaven and race out here?  Ranger, what dangerous creatures are said to prowl hereabouts?  

    Then, be prepared to tear it all down.  

  9. Daniel Powell mentioned giving lots of options.  Here’s how multiple options seem to play out:

    1 option = railroading

    2 options (either/or) = relatively quick to choose but can feel limited

    3 options = choice is likely to require a discussion but feels open

    4+ options = prone to analysis paralysis

    The sweet spot seems to be 2 options when the choices are genuinely very limited, and 3 when they aren’t.

  10. Wow, thank you for the responses! There are some good things to think about here, especially when it comes to “options” (completely open versus 2-3 defined paths). I think a mix of both could be something to try, with more open choices coming out at times when they “return to town”, and the more defined paths for when that makes sense (exploring corridors and whatnot)

    Delos Adamski Thanks for taking the time to answer! On your first point, I’ve been reluctant to press the players for details in that specific way (completely turning the question around on them) because I’ve been burned by “random” answers a few times that seems to break the narrative flow (at least to me, maybe that’s selfish of me? I’m not sure). Like I’ll ask “What kind of creature is chained to the floor here” as an example, and I’ll get a silly/nonsensical answer in response. Not that I’m against silly, since DW seems to be aiming for a light-hearted tone, but it’s sometimes hard to work with something completely ridiculous given a specific context!

    I’ve seen some discussion about narrative control around here and other places and it seems it’s still up to some debate on what is the best way to handle it. Perhaps I should have a discussion about what kind of themes we want to have in our game with the group and get everyone on the same page and continue from there.

    Andrew Fish Thanks for your thoughts. We’ve been playing for a while now but I think you might be right about the “playing to find out” rhythm. I like the concept of “answer now, and figure out how it fits together later”. I think if we nail down the kind of game we’re going for thematically this could work out very well. Part of what’s “slowing me down” I think is trying to make things work a little too well right off the bat.

    Jeremy Strandberg These are great tips; especially for a first session. What I am realizing now, now that we are many sessions in, (it honestly doesn’t feel that long and I still feel like a new GM, but we’ve probably had over a dozen sessions by now), is that we might be losing the “Why are they here?” at this point. It becomes more difficult to give quick back story about why each character cares about this place when they’ve been traveling together a little bit already, as opposed to finding these reasons in a first session. In our current situation, the lead the PCs had been following was resolved by them and now they decided to chase a rumor into the north and stumbled across an old lab/dungeon/hideout. Perhaps next time I’ll lead off the sessions with more rumors/facts their characters might have heard about the place to ground it in the world a little more.

  11. Regarding player-generated content: don’t ask the players to make up a detail, ask their characters to tell you about themselves.  What they know, what they’ve read, what they’ve heard, what they feel.  

    It’s a subtle distinction, but I think an important one.  When you ask the players to make up the monster chained to the floor, you’re taking them out of one stance (portraying character) and putting them in a different one (making up content).  When you ask them about their character’s past, they get to stay in character and answer it from their perspective.  That also gives you, the GM, the out of it being a subjective experience. Yeah, maybe the heard that that dungeon was stocked with killer clowns, but you might decide that their a particularly vicious brand of murderous fey.   

  12. As for the using those sort of first-session techniques well into an established game… you said they just chased a rumor into the north, right?  That’s a great time to use the “love letters” idea from the advanced delving chapter.  Make up a custom move for each PC, the results of which establish how the journey went and what situation they’ve found themselves in at the start of play.  

  13. That’s good advice from Jeremy Strandberg

    However, don’t be afraid to let the other players add things their characters have never heard of.

    I know this breaks the illusion but, in tabletop RPG’ing, players drop in and out of the illusion all the time (e.g. every time they roll dice to determine an outcome).

    The players aren’t just immersing themselves in their characters, they’re also immersing themselves in a world – and that world becomes richer and more real for them when the ideas they have about it (both In-Character and Out-of-Character) appear in the game.

    Start with the characters, but also give the other players room to add things outside their character’s experience.

    If a player can add something that makes the game more awesome: don’t just let it happen, encourage it. 

  14. Jeremy Strandberg  I just looked up Love Letters and… my god, how did I miss this?! Looks to be something that was in AW originally? I wish I had known about these a few months ago! Either way I am super excited to start incorporating letters into our game, maybe even after this current dungeon. It sounds like an awesome way to “refresh” the adventure after a big victory (or defeat), almost like a reboot with the same characters! Gah! I was kicking around the idea of rebooting at some point, but I think my players still like their characters a lot, so this is perfect. Thank you, I am excited to try these out! 🙂

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