How to Get Into Tabletop RPGs!

2022-08-25T18:14:39Z

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I’m 10 mins in, and so far Quinns has spent the entire time enthusiastically making VERY GOOD POINTS and he’s totally right.

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[waits for the classic mid-video turnaround]

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Nope, the second half was also only made of ENTIRELY CORRECT STATEMENTS and was quite impressive. It’s all “Here’s a tip: [Genuinely very good tip, huh]”.

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Yes indeed. I might take issue with some of the specific examples but the core points are rock solid. Gatekeepers are just wrong: there are lots of ways to play RPGs, many of which I won’t personally enjoy, but that doesn’t mean they’re a bad way to play.

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Agreed. I think some new GMs might fare better with a pre-generated adventure that is more plotted and less improvisational. Being creative on one’s feet is a skill that takes practice and experience with some picking it up faster than others. Give the players the plot at the start, let them create characters with that plot in mind, and jump in. Some new players* can also benefit from being given clear directions on what’s expected of their characters. Freedom of choice can be paralyzing.

  • As a roleplayer of 40 years, I still want some direction.
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I finally watched it—right after buying an RPG as a present for someone newly wanting to try RPGs—and I feel a bit vindicated. In this household we have two people who have GMed a lot over the years and we‘ve always had this debate about plotting vs just putting people into situations and see what happens.

I am the one who just loves to create a setting and wait for the players to mess with it. My partner needs to know the ending, needs to have his set pieces… he wants the drama of it all. I gave up GMin because my „situations“ tended to never quite resolve to a satisfying end. He stopped because he didn‘t have the kind of time anymore to create those huge plots. (And I dislike being on rails a lot)

Maybe we need to „meet“ somewhere in the middle. The “situation“ Quins describes probably envisions several endings but these are implicit in the situation that needs resolution. So that‘s my take-away.

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I’ve had some success thinking that this person is going to fight the PCs, and that room is where it’s likely to kick off, so they get a bit more preparation. But if that doesn’t happen, I can always use them next time.

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I’ve had the most success with “the bad guy is going to be in this room, so it’s likely the party will get there because they want to. What are the 5 main ways this could resolve?” and then planning for those instead of imposing one on them.

And if they do something else, I look at general resolutions that will be satisfying “is the bad guy alive yes/no” “did they learn the thing yes/no” even if they never went to the room, and then there’s still a payoff.

It’s a lot of work, and I’m not good at improvising as a DM :slight_smile:

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Palladium Books (makers of great RPG universes and awful RPG rules) used to do these things called “Hook, Line, Sinker” adventures. The basic idea was simple: you gave the GM a Hook (“The quiet rural town of St. Agnes is about to be occupied by a platoon of Coalition soldiers”), a Line (“There is a family that asks the PCs for help fleeing the town because their daughter has psionic powers that the Coalition soldiers will kill her for”) and Sinker (“The Coalition lieutenant leading the platoon is actually the biological mother of the psionic child, and her current ‘parents’ kidnapped her as a baby.”)

The idea was always to present enough information that you had an idea where the story was going to go, but huge swathes of freedom to pursue that story however the PCs wanted. Is the Coalition lieutenant a cruel woman? Or was she driven to extremes in her search? Or is she actually not Coalition but has defected along with her platoon because everyone in the platoon has lost family members and they’ve teamed up together? Or is the lieutenant there because she is hoping for a promotion and can’t risk anyone discovering that she had a “mutant” child? Etc… etc… etc…

When I’m making adventures these days, I try my best to follow the same idea (except for Star Trek Adventures, but we’ll come back to that). Just a Hook (something to lay the foundation), the Line (why do the PCs care? Why should they get involved?), and an exciting conclusion Sinker (maybe a twist, maybe a final villain, maybe a destination, maybe an opportunity for character growth, or whatever).

Star Trek Adventures is unusual in this sense because each “episode” is supposed to be structured like a mystery with the PCs at the core. As a result my usual improvisational style isn’t really a good fit… there need to be 4 or 5 major plot points in an arc that form a coherent story (The Federation has a ship stranded in the Romulan Neutral Zone… which is carrying sensitive Federation technology… but one of the crew is a Romulan spy… but the Romulans have come up with a sneaky plan to extract the spy… can the heroes discover the truth fast enough to prevent their escape!?). As a result I’ve been using pregen adventures for the most part. BUT I did recently ask all my PCs for an idea for their own character-centric episodes, and I’m going to use those as sparks to play more improv-style eps. Just short one-off arcs (Moshi, our Ferengi engineer, is going to be approached by an FCA Liquidator because her biological parents, whom she has never met, have passed away and left their considerable fortune to her… but maybe the FCA is lying… but maybe they’re not…)

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I’m quite an improvisational DM and don’t do much planning, but a good approach I’ve found is what’s recommended in Monster of the Week: answer the question of “what would happen if the PCs weren’t here?”


A recent plot in my long-running D&D campaign is that I’ve had an NPC rescue a child from some hags and take it to the party for protection. Main objective for the hags is to get the child back so they can complete their ritual and replace the other member of the coven.

Simplest resolution would have been the hags scrying on the child and coming to get her, but the party sorted out protection from scrying and other detection spells. Now the hags have to find her some other way, potentially tipping off the party about their plans.

Then the party decide to call one of the hags (as they’ve met her before) as they don’t yet know she’s involved and they want more information about hags. Now we’re back to the original plan.

But they manage to be cagey enough about what they want to have the hag offer them a deal for the information, thus resulting in her asking them to find the child for her. So now I’m left with the questions:

  • What are the hags doing while they wait?
  • How do they make sure the party follow through?
  • When do they run out of patience?
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My standard investigative model is pretty similar. Bad guy wants to achieve X [become immortal] by means Y [bathe in the blood of young women]. Means Y leaves trace Z [blood-drained young women] which the PCs will find. Then add complication.

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Of course, my other much less clever method is when the PCs are diligently completing a mission they’ve been set and I find a monster that looks cool and I throw it at them.

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Yeah. the problem with mysteries is that you need clues for the PCs to find and for the clues to all fit logically together in a web that the PCs can explore. It is very difficult to improvise this. It is easier if the clues are mostly gleaned through interacting with NPCs (that you can improvise) rather than physical clues.

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There was an occasion when my steampunk campaign got accused of being boring. So I added a Martian invasion.

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