10 Guidelines For Better RPGs

I’ve been thinking a lot about RPGs lately. As well as running two Stars Without Number groups (more on that in the future), I’m also planning a D&D5E, Call of Cthulhu and potentially more campaigns. Despite the variety of systems I’ve experimented with over the years (reading manuals since 2008, and GMing properly since 2013) I’ve come up with a few guidelines which I feel are pretty universal. Of course, these are best suited for my own personal tastes, and your mileage will likely vary. Nevertheless, here they are.

For Players

1) ‘It’s just what my character would do’ is not sufficient justification for spoiling someone else’s game. Playing your character is the key element of an RPG. However, ensuring that every leaves with good memories is more important. If you shoot John because you’re a serial killer, it’s not good roleplaying. It’s you making a character who causes problems. Please. Don’t be that guy/gal.

2) Work together. As I’ve alluded to in previous posts, there’s nothing worse than a character who goes their own way. The rule of ‘don’t split the party’ isn’t cast in iron, but most RPGs are a team effort. There are few things worse than a party that turns on itself.

3) If your character fits the campaign, the campaign fits your character. If the setting is the grim darkness of the forty-first millennium, make an Imperial Guardsman, or an Eldar psyker, or whatever the GM allows. Don’t make a communist hippy with dreams of being a samurai. Characters that don’t fit a campaign lead to players not enjoying it.

4) Invest. The more love and care you put into a character, the more enjoyment you’ll get. At the end of the day, your stats don’t really matter. As long as your roleplay is good, you’ll fit in. if you ever find yourself playing a stat block rather than a character, something has gone wrong.

5) The dice giveth, they do not taketh away. Before you make a roll, you never know what the outcome will be. That’s the whole point of having dice. Even a ‘failed’ roll advances the story. The hero whose blaster bolt misses the villain and kills the princess is more interesting than the one who mows down everything in their path like John Wick. Of course, if you roll 50 failures in a row, you may need to beg the GM for mercy.

For Games Masters

1) Know the rules, and know when to ignore them. Obviously, you should know how to run the game you are playing, but it’s also important to let things slide very now and then. If a player rolls 50 successive failures, cut them a break.

2) Reward Investment. If the players are showing an interest in your game, well done. You’re doing it right. If they’re more interested in some parts than others, focus on those parts. Make the game fun in the way they want, so long as it works for you too.

3) Don’t be afraid to torment your players. If players are invested in their characters, then there are worse fates than death. Consider injuring characters, taking an eye or hand. So long as you don’t make the character no longer fun to play, physical and emotional trauma can be a great source of roleplaying.

4) Make your expectations clear. If you’re planing a jokey campaign, having a samurai, a hacker and an Arthurian knight might be a great party. If you’re going for something more serious, then explain this to the players beforehand. It’s on you to make sure that players know what they are in for, and what is expected of them.

5) Improvisation beats planning every time. We all have plans. I make long-term story-arcs for all my campaigns. But when push comes to shove, I’ll change and adapt these plans on the fly. While players are not the enemy, no plan survives contact with them for long. The single most important skill for any GM is the ability to think on their feet.

So those are my guidelines. they work for me, and I hope they work for you too. if you have any suggested additions, I’d love to hear from you.

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