How do you perfect the craft of GMing or adventure writing?

For me, “perfect” is an unreachable ideal. There is no perfect game, but we can work and strive for as close as possible. If everyone a) stays engaged, b) challenges each other and the GM, and c) has fun – it was a success. Without the interplay between players and between players and GMs, there is no game.

Writer Sitting B&WSo I’m always looking for other perspectives on how to create good adventures. Recently I saw an article in Entertainment Weekly about John Lasseter of Pixar fame. In the article, he stated his team’s formula for making great Pixar movies:

1) Toil to perfect the story.
2) Tackle technical innovation.
3) Take creative leaps of faith.

Why couldn’t we take that approach and apply it to… roleplaying games? If you think of an adventure as an episode or a campaign as a movie series, why not see how they work with RPGs?

1) Toil to perfect the story.

This one for sure applies. Story is the backbone for getting and keeping player interest. Yes, I’ve played games where all you do is clean out dungeon after dungeon. But without a reason for doing that – a reason for taking that path – all you’re doing then is stumbling through the dark killing things that move and taking any loot you find.

Occasionally, sure. I like a good dungeon crawl as much as anybody. But without having a story to explain WHY your PCs should care about these little podunk towns, why they should rescue the damsels or find the lost treasure of Whosit… they’re just going through the motions. As GMs or designers, we need to keep story in mind from the very beginning.

So before designing dungeons or monsters or setting up encounters… Make sure you have a story first.

2) Tackle technical innovation.

Now this one I’m not too sure about. As a software engineer, I have to admit I’m always looking for the next great gadget or piece of software to make my life easier (99% fail in this regard, yet companies like Microsoft are still in business – go figure). But I tend to go old school with my gaming and leave the toys off the game table.

I’ve seen many interesting and detailed discussions about using new technologies like Netbooks or Google Wave, touch-sensitive displays, projectors, and so on. However, I’m most comfortable gaming with a few books, paper, pens/pencils, and real dice.

Some of you may like to go techie when gaming – but so far I’m not one of them.

So maybe this one doesn’t apply in all cases.

3) Take creative leaps of faith.

This one I can definitely get behind. With story, you have the beginnings of a latticework you can add plot, setting, and characters to. But without being creative in how you create and present the end result, even the best stories can fall flat.

One huge creative leap for me is trusting in your players to fill in the gaps. Without the PCs, there is no game. GMs are there to set the stage and the PCs have to give it life in my opinion. So involve them from the beginning – let them fill in the backstories for their characters, let them describe parts of the world their characters would know intimately – get them involved in the creative process.

Another huge creative leap of faith can simply be presenting a heck of an idea in the story. Mix and match things in new ways. Take the Chinese Menu approach – a few things from column A, a few from columns B and C, mix, smooth over the seams, and voila…

Will the Pixar/Lasseter three-rule approach help? It certainly can’t hurt by offering another perspective.

So what are the cardinal rules for you GMs or game designers out there?

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This article has 2 comments

  1. TarlSS Reply

    I think in this case, tackling technical challenges is more applicable if we talk about the crunch and rules of the game. John Lasseter talks about making computer generated movies, in that case, computers is the applicable technology. Here, rules and systems are the applicable technology.

    • Fitz

      @TarISS – Very true. I hadn’t quite thought of it in those terms. Thanks for the observation!

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