Notes from PAX East 2015 (Part 3 / 3 – Dungeon Mastering)

I went to PAX East 2015! It was awesome! I took a lot of notes!

(Part 1: Social Stuff)
(Part 2: Making & Selling Games)

Here are the notes from the one talk that I went to on being a good Game Master.

Playing Between The Lines

Luke Crane, Adam Koebel, Sage LaTorra, Thor Olavsrud

  • DMs are authoritative. (this is bullshit)
  • DMs enforce a social contract.
  • DMs organize & wrangle humans
  • THE DM IS JUST ANOTHER PLAYER WITH DIFFERENT RULES.
  • Prep
    • Creating Scenarios
    • Homework
    • Game Design
    • “Lonely Fun”
      • The DM who creates adventures that will never be run. And has a great time doing it.
  • Prep in the most minimal way possible.
  • Find and create things that will drive action.
  • The GM is expected to always be thinking about the game. (this is also bullshit)
  • What does prep look like for…
    • D&D
      • Reading
      • Research
      • Environment Building
      • Narrative Stuff
    • The Great Pendragon Campaign
      • Reading Le Morte D’Arthur
      • Reading about the current period and year
      • Tying in past family events and scandalous rumors
    • Dogs in the Vineyard
      • Towns, Sins, Demons, People, Relationships, Mormons, Guns
      • Play a GM Minigame to create the campaign (Lonely Fun)
      • Use their system for “creating problems”
    • The Burning Wheel
      • Building Characters
      • Developing Relationships, both oppositional and supportive
      • Challenging Beliefs
    • Dungeon World
      • Make shit up
      • Wave hands like muppet
      • Talk in funny voices
      • Buy more copies of Dungeon World [note: the publisher of D.W. was on the panel]
  • 90% of DMing is making shit up (improv)
  • Building a cool world:
    • If you are playing a game with characters, you need to build the map in personal terms instead of locational terms.
    • Your campaign doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Learn to build external media into your campaign. Steal from pop culture. Don’t worry about it as long as it’s fun.
    • Read A Wizard of EarthSea
      • Names are magical. They give things solidity. Going after a +3 broadsword is way less cool than going after Sunbrand, Sword of the Western Hills
      • Use language dictionaries. “What langauge is magic performed in?” (mongolian!)
  • Have a folder.
    • Name List
    • Map
    • Notes
  • DRAW MAPS, LEAVE BLANKS.
    • (JIT DM)
    • Collaborate in worldbuilding with the players
  • Character (NPC) prep:
    • Use the rules. Then fudge the rules.
    • Build opposition to the characters
    • The axiom of antagonists: “They have something appalling that they want, but use methods that the players approve of” or “They have something good that they want, but use appalling methods to achieve it
    • Then take it a step further and make sure the antagonist wants something from the PCs.
  • For any character in the game, you should have 3 things that describe them.
  • Story:
    • Relationship Maps! (example)
    • NPCs should have reactions to player events.
      • “What does your NPC dad think of what your PC is doing?”
      • “What do the rest of the goblins do after you’ve killed their king?”
    • Behind the scenes, or indirect action.
  • rtfm
  • Game Mastering is Learned, Not Borned
    • Skills, not genetics
    • These skills can be taught
    • Anyone can become a GM if they’re not afraid

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