If I were to describe GMing to someone who had never done it, I’d say the job is a combination of author, actor, director, and traffic cop. You’re handling rules, telling a story, playing all the NPCs, and trying to make sure that all the players have fun. In other words, you have a lot to do.
The obvious solution to that intimidating To Do list is to delegate. While players may not be averse to providing assistance, though, it would work even better if you could make it fun. Just about every player I’ve ever met won’t pass up a chance talk about his character. So, what if we could get the players to help with the game by expounding on their own characters?
3 x 3 x 3
This is the only tool on the list that I haven’t yet used. I think that it originally came from the Serenity RPG, which I (obviously) have also not yet tried. However, I think the idea shows a lot of promise, and I’m really interested in giving it a try.
Each player provides nine NPCs important to her character. That’s three each of Allies, Contacts, and Rivals. The first benefit is that it forces the players to consider how their characters fit into the world.
On top of that, you get free NPCs. If you have even four players, that adds up to thirty six free NPCs the players have provided, each with a built-in hook to a PC. You have twelve potential villains to threaten them, and twelve allies that could pull them into trouble.
We’ve written about the Fear the Boot Group Template several times before, but I’m including it again, because it really does save you time. With this tool, the players come up with the “character” of their group as a whole. Are they a gang of thieves on the run? Maybe they’re a down on their luck mercenary unit.
Whatever they choose, the template gives the GM an answer to the age-old gaming question, “why are these people adventuring together?” It gives the PCs a reason to stick up for each other. It also gives you an idea of what they’re looking for in the game, and how to motivate them.
Adventure Guest Starring
I first encountered this idea in Fate, in which it’s used during some of the character generation phases. Every character has his first adventure, in which he begins to come into his “power” (however you define that in your game). Each PC is then paired off with two other characters. The player must then figure out how her character figured into the adventures of those two other PCs.
This has all sorts of benefits. First, it creates a web of interconnections between the PCs. Second, it creates a past conflict for each character that could be brought into the game. Third, it will likely create several NPCs, possibly including antagonists, that you can use. Each of these had an existing hook to at least three of the PCs, which will make their inclusion in the game that much more effective.
When I first played the Dread system, I was amazed how much character depth you could get from nothing but a handful of questions. Though in that system, the questionnaire makes up the entire character generation process, there’s no reason you couldn’t incorporate it into another game with more extensive rules. It will, however, require some player buy-in, since the questions give you leeway to make stipulations about the character.
For instance, if you want the group to be on the run from the police, you could include the question, “why is the law after you?” This allows you the setup you’re looking for, while giving the player the chance to spin the situation in a way that fits her character. You’ll inevitably get plot ideas from the responses, and the players are forced to think “outside the box” by the constraints the questions impose.