For nearly a year, I have been GMing a playthrough of the Mummy’s Mask adventure path for my Twitch channel PlayingBoardGames. This was my first time as a GM for an adventure that would last more than two or three sessions. It was a daunting challenge but I was very excited to learn in a trial by fire scenario. Overall, the experience has been positive and incredibly fun. I have a lot more to learn, but these are four things I’ve learned running Pathfinder for my Twitch Channel.
1) No Player Treats Battle Maps The Same
After a few sessions I noticed a distinct divide in how my players perceived combat. Some of my players needed to know every distinct detail about where they were and where the enemies were. It made sense to me, combat in Pathfinder requires a lot of math and spatial awareness. Knowing the exact distance and how to possibly use the environment to your advantage is crucial in successful combat. However, I had some players who absolutely loathed having to look at a map and measure out their movement.
These players were my more ‘cinematic’ players. They were the kind of players who cared less about being exactly 40 feet away from the Orc and cared more about charging up to the Orc, weapons raised with a screeching battlecry. They understood the requirements for proper distance and space between enemies, but they wanted to create the entire situation in their head. Their mind made it more cinematic and, for them, incredibly more fun than a little battle map could.
To balance my players I had to come up with a way to suit both parties AND also showcase combat well for Twitch. In the end leaning towards a more cinematic approach works best. Our combat is all verbally based with myself being the only one with the battlemap. Our players who like knowing the exact distances and space still always ask, but now I am able to share that information with them on the fly.
2) The Heart of Pathfinder Lies in Your Players
I would not be anywhere without my party. They push me to give them the best story-driven experience I possibly can whenever we get together to stream. I’ve heard a lot of stories and jokes about harsh DMs that enjoy putting their PCs through the death gauntlet, the party coming out with less limbs or lives than before. To me, that negates a lot of what I find to be the most entertaining and fun role-play experiences.
Pathfinder, especially with the way we stream it on Twitch, reminds me a lot of people getting around a campfire together to tell a good story. The players act as the heroes (or villains) that hook the audience with their decisions. I’m sitting behind them building props, making costumes, and thinking of interesting roadblocks to throw at them. My job is to keep both the audience and party in suspense while also giving my players a challenge and making sure they’re following the rules. No story is fun when suddenly the main character dies for no reason. Likewise, the story isn’t good when the main characters can suddenly do whatever they want.
The push and shove and balance between the PCs and the GM is a beautiful one. We are not enemies. The greatest thing I can do to get my players engaged is to not be a jerk to them, but is instead to provide stakes and plotlines that get their character involved-- to get them role-playing.
3) Let Your PCs Impact the World
This sounds like an obvious one, but the importance of it didn’t hit me until I did it on a much smaller scale. This isn’t about your PCs having an impact on the main story, but having them influence and change smaller details.
This is best explained by an example: our PCs were called in to help decide something by the city’s generals regarding an undead invasion. Inside the war room all of the uptight officials were standing over a map of the city muttering in silence. One PC proclaims: “This room is missing a man standing with a sword over his head screaming his lungs out.” All the generals met him with disdain, insult, and confusion and the player shrugged it off. The next time the players decided to attend the war planning they barged in the following day. As they entered they found (with a successful Perception Check) that a man standing in the back quickly lowered a sword and stopped screaming when he saw players enter.
The PCs all LOVED this. I cannot stress enough about how much of an impact this little joke of a moment had on the players. It makes the world feel malleable on a smaller scale and reminds them that there is more to do than just ‘save the world’. It gives them a reason to interact with every character and circumstance they can, because nothing is absolutely set in stone. Of course the example I gave was on the sillier side, but our stream is quite purposely comedic. This brings me to the last lesson I’ve learned.
4) Pull the Rug Out From Under Your Players
On our channel our primary format is comedy. We like laughing and we like making people laugh. Due to this, our Pathfinder sessions have a lot of comedy in them. The NPCs are ridiculous, our PCs tell a lot of jokes, and most things are taken with a lighter twist. However I found that it was very important to put my players into situations where in a blink of an eye they weren’t laughing anymore.
The story has been unraveling over our sessions and I’ve been taking characters’ backstories and weaving them in the plot. I found ways to put in little story notes that would push the buttons on these backstories and exploit the emotions of the PCs. When you add in a moment of absolute seriousness after a moment where everything was happy the players can really get sucked into the story and realize that there is an actual stake that they are fighting for.
This works the opposite way too. It’s why Shakespeare’s tragedies had comedic scenes or moments within them to lighten the mood. It’s a little breather and change of pace that the audience, or in the case of Pathfinder, your players, really need. Shifts in pacing, storytelling, mood, and tension are incredibly important. Nothing that follows a straight line is interesting. Surprise your players and make them constantly feel like another twist can happen at any moment. This gives them a reason to continue playing and pushes them even further in their characters. And really, to me, this is what Pathfinder is all about: mutual storytelling with rules and dice.
When streamed on Twitch roleplaying games take on a unique presentation. It’s less of a game and more of a show. We don’t necessarily play Pathfinder as much as we perform Pathfinder. That doesn’t mean these four points won’t help GMs who play games in the private of their own home. Adding a living and breathing world is the heart of good roleplay, it takes it beyond a game and into a story. Turn your campaign into a story your players will want to share around a campfire.
Justin Cauti is a writer and Twitch streamer. He plays board/roleplaying games on the internet at http://www.playingboardgames.tv. Follow him on Twitter for updates on his boring life and writing projects @LeftSideJustin.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.