GMing styles are as diverse as RPG settings. Strict, lenient, a combination of the two, or a combination of a dozen other variants and gaming-upbringings, you're bound to run into a few of these during your role-playing tenure.
And as good and encouraged as diversity is around these parts, and as it should be around the world on a daily basis, there are those that run their sessions with a bit of an iron grip; those who turn players away by either adhering too strictly to the rules or not knowing how to cater to a particular group's needs.
Role-players are possibly even more diverse than the GMs themselves – if even for the fact that they tend to outnumber the impartial role-playing referees on a bunch-to-1 basis – but this doesn't mean that they don't have a certain common denominator that makes them tick, and helps them get the most out of a given RPG session.
What follows are 3 short, general guidelines that I find a GM should follow to get as much response out of their players, and to immerse them in the world/adventure/campaign from the get-go.
I call these... *drum roll*
*more drums rolling*
*drums rolling down the stairs out of control*
The three Fs of role-playing... playing... aying... ing...
Freedom is a beautiful thing to have, in life, as well as gaming. Being able to feel like your choices in-character take you in one direction or another and help you evolve over time, without the contrivances of railroading or others pushing and prodding you into making "the right choice," can do wonders for someone's self growth.
It's all well and good that you've let your players know taking on that dragon using nothing but balsa wood and chewing gum might end up with them having to roll up new characters, but who are you to rain on their wannabe-MacGyver moment? Work WITH the players when building your adventure. Have them make their mark on anything and everything you throw at them. You'd be surprised at the amount of good content a party can come up with, provided they feel their input is valued.
A GM's duty is first and foremost that of setting the scene, then giving the players the tools they need to achieve whatever they set out to do, and then carefully, and without much interference, seeing to it that they are supplied with any and all set pieces that they feel they need.
Within reason, of course.
If anyone wants to jump off the edge of the Disc, it's their funeral; there's no need to drag the rest of the party down with them.
The aforementioned F brings with it a second one: the ability to bend and adapt to any actions the players may attempt while still making sure a certain logical plot arc exists amidst all the shenanigans, one-liners, witness-me-events, and other incredible feats of polyhedral-assisted madness.
There should always be a reason for that madness.
Unless you're running a Monty Python campaign. That always seems to descend into hamster/elderberry-related parenting jokes, political commentary regarding lake-residing females, and generally Antiochian amounts of taunting, French or otherwise.
One or more players' freedom should never come at the expense of the party's main goal, else you risk ending with a fragmented group. This often ends with players aiming for something entirely different and trying to reach it in a completely different way. This may also stem from a party not having perfect chemistry with one another, but that's where the GM steps in, distilling every person's individual strengths, showcasing them, and allowing them to shine within the confines of any given situation... and, of course, make sure their weaknesses are thrown in as a monkey wrench whenever the situation calls for it. Insert evil laughter here.
Stick some yoga in there, in the literal sense of the word and you're bound to score some extra points for creativity!
Role-playing is all about the je-ne-sais-quoi...
The piece de resistance...
The boogie that rocks the woogie!
You know, that one little aspect that takes a regular session, uses what the players have added to it, spins it around and turns it into a time of greatness, an epiphany, a jaw-dropping crescendo reveal into an exploding epilogue that nobody saw coming but the seeds of which you've been planting from the get-go.
It's your duty as a GM to tweak and finely tune any and all aspects of a story in order to make it more about the players and their characters than the story itself.
There's no way you'll be able to impress a group if you've got a sterile plot onto which you just slap their characters' names and hope they'll enjoy it. Even with a pre-published adventure, you need to dig around its set course, veer slightly off it when the situation calls for it, peppering each scene with character background hooks, corner-of-your-eye details, or otherwise obscure references that may or may not add up to anything in the long run... but they should!
It's all of these tiny details that you sprinkle liberally across the entirety of an adventure, the smallest mannerisms of a random passerby performing a mundane task or the way some wizard or another is holding their wand, harkening to a long-past conflict the players may have had... these are the elements of Finesse that bring out not only your idea of a grand story arc, but also blend the players into it and make them feel like the world they're traveling through is lived in by them as well as your NPCs and beasties.
So get tinkering, keep your eyes and mind open at anything the players throw at you – beware of Core Books, those always make a dent – and organically insert their quirks into that apocalyptic post-dwarven dieselpunk-unicorn saga you're brewing.
We could talk about these ad nauseam and go into a bunch of details for each point, so I hope I've covered the basics of the three Fs of role-playing,,, playing... aying... ing... and you can take these and explore what each of them means to your particular situation.
Either that, or I've just wasted your time on some random words beginning with F that have little to no bearing on your enjoyment of the role-playing experience as a whole.
Thanks for stopping by anyway!
Writer, gamer, and - provided he's got the time for it - loving husband, Costin does not rule out sacrifices to the Great Old Ones in order to get into the gaming industry. He's been role-playing for the better part of 6 years, but has been a joker, gamer and storyteller for as long as he can remember.
His greatest pride is once improvising a 4-way argument between a grave digger, a dyslexic man, an adopted child, and a sheep, all by himself. That moment is also the closest he's ever come to giving himself a role-playing aneurysm... Thus far.
He's been dabbling in plenty of writing ventures lately, and you can find him hanging his words around the Oh Be Wandering hangout page on Facebook - https://goo.gl/4be3Bj
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.