Greetings friends and fans! Josh here. The Earthdawn team has been quiet for several weeks, and for that we apologize. We made the announcement about The Adept’s Journey: Mystic Paths, launched a Kickstarter, then got caught up in preparations for GenCon and all that associated madness.
It would probably help if we actually did some work ahead of time, instead of waiting until the last minute.
(Hey, guess when I’m writing this? I said this past Tuesday I would write this week’s post to get us back on track… And still waited until after the clock had tipped over into early Friday morning before realizing I still hadn’t actually done it. So… yeah. Go me.)
GenCon. The biggest four days in gaming. That’s true for the attendees. For those of us working the convention it’s a bit more. Adventure prep. Staff meetings. Travel. Setting up the booth. Lots of work.
But damn if it isn’t rewarding. I love running games. I love the crowds. I love the familiar faces that come back year after year. I love seeing new faces. I love how bit by bit the community has grown. There’s actually no such thing as an overnight success and while there were some stumbles along the way, we’ve managed to put together a good team and are moving in the right direction. Mystic Paths will be out soon, and we recently announced the next book, Iopos.
(More on that another time. If you want more teases about what’s in store, we had an Earthdawn Q&A panel at GenCon which was recorded. As soon as I can find some time to clean up the audio, we’ll make it available.)
There were just shy of two dozen Earthdawn games run at GenCon. We had our usual selection of Legends of Barsaive entries (focused on the more recent chapters of that ongoing story) along with a few original adventures not connected to the living campaign. Those included my own entry this year, Theater of Cruelty, which mixes a bit of horror (and perhaps a Horror) with my appreciation for theatrical arts and some research I’ve been doing that might relate to a project planned for a little bit down the line.
Anyway, I am often working feverishly to have my scenario ready before the convention. (See my previous comments about the last minute.) This year… I didn’t. I had the basic outline in my head, I had solid notes for the first couple of scenes, and a good idea of where I wanted it to end up, but getting from the former to the latter was nebulous (at best), but it was, basically, an investigation.
I’ve done a panel at GenCon the last couple of years with Andi Watson (project manager here at FASA Games) called “Not Just Another Dungeon Crawl”. The focus of the seminar is to look at obstacles and challenges beyond combat, and it often incorporates some broadly useful gamemastering advice along with that. One of the things we talk about is puzzles and mysteries, and how it’s a good idea when using them to include more clues than you think you need (in case the characters miss any).
Along similar lines is the advice to not be too hung up on telling a specific story. As a GM you should be facilitating events, not really directing or dictating them. It can be great to sit back, let your players spin theories, and go from there.
And that’s kind of what happened in my sessions. I ran the adventure three times and — while the overall shape was roughly the same — the specific details of how each group made their way from points A to B to C and beyond were pretty divergent. They asked different questions, had different approaches, and rolled different results on their dice. All I had to do was listen to their questions and come up with answers based on what made sense. There was no “wrong” path.
Now, I’m a gamemaster with more than a few years under my belt. (Many more than a few.) I can usually get away with minimal prep. But that flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants isn’t just the domain of the aging graybeards behind the screen. I think it’s a valuable and useful skill for any GM to practice.
There is an understandable level of fear that comes with running a game. In one sense, you’re responsible for the overall fun of the group. The players bring something to the table (or at least, they should), but without allies, antagonists, and challenges to interact with there’s not much for them to do, and those are provided by the gamemaster. It can be daunting — but I think anybody can do it.
If there were one lesson I would like to convey from my experience running these games at GenCon (and the lesson I took away from it), it would be this: Be willing to let go. Relax. Be willing to follow your players when they go off the beaten path and see where it leads. When they’re discussing theories about what might be going on, even if they’re “wrong”… ask yourself if they might be right. Until it actually happens in the game, nothing is set in stone.
Roleplaying games are a form of storytelling, but as I’ve gotten older I think the perception of the GM as “storyteller” is a little off base. RPGs are improvisational storytelling (with some added bits and bobs) — and one of the cardinal rules of improv (to bring this back around to theater) is to accept what your scene partner presents and build off it. I think you can get your players more invested in the game if they feel they are helping construct the shared narrative, rather than semi-passively riding the rails of a theme park attraction.
(There’s nothing really wrong with that style of play if that’s what you’re into. I just think there’s… more.)
I’d like to recommend “Improv for Gamers” (DriveThruRPG link) written by Karen Twelves, published by Evil Hat. I picked it up at GenCon and while it is focused on improv-style “theater games”, the principles those activities are founded on are valuable and useful.
That will cover us for now! If you want to talk more about improv and gaming, why not start a thread on our forums, drop us a message on social media, or get into the conversation on our Discord server? Join the community! Despite rumors, we aren’t actually tainted.