Author: Darrell Hardy

Running a Con Game Like a Pro

Are you a Game Master for your RPG group? Good for you! You’re the backbone of the hobby! Are you thinking about running an RPG at a convention? That’s great too, but while GMing for your group of friends is one thing, running for a group of strangers you may never see again is something else entirely.

With that in mind, I’d like to share a few thoughts on what I think goes into running a good one-shot RPG session at a a game convention.

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Three Tips for New Game Masters

Darrell Hardy here! A while back, I had the privilege of speaking on a couple panels at the Fort Collins Comic Con. (Unofficial motto: “We’re bigger than you think!”)

The panels were all about running tabletop roleplaying games. Together with Bill Keyes, Sean Patrick Fannon, and Ross Watson, we answered questions from the surprisingly-large crowd about how to get started as a GM, how to keep your players happy, and how to keep a long-term campaign from catching fire, crashing through a line of school children, and plummeting into a pit of giant snakes far below.

We were thrilled at the number of new Game Masters in attendance. As Sean pointed out, the only way the hobby (and the industry) expands is by more people stepping up to the challenge of running RPGs; we can only have as many gaming groups as we have GMs. While the old guard can keep it going, new blood is what makes it grow.

Especially with the new GMs in mind, I’d like to share three recurring bits of advice from the panels:

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The Dice of Creation

Ever since discovering tabletop RPGs in junior high, I’ve been in awe of the amazing powers that dice can have, not only in determining the outcome of the story, but in the actual creation of the story’s world. I’m speaking here largely of random charts and their power to not only inspire, but to create reality on the fly.

In eighth grade, I created a solo dungeon-crawling game consisting of a sheet of graph paper, a fistful of dice, a pencil, and a half-dozen index cards with random charts on them. You enter the dungeon: roll to see if there’s a room or a hallway. If it’s a room, roll for number of exits and roll for contents. Is it is monster? Roll it. A trap? Roll it.

There was a system for combat and damage, of course, but the meat of the game was exploration. Only it wasn’t really exploration, it was creation. The world was created with every roll of the dice.

(During this time, one of my gaming friends made his own exceptionally-random system that perhaps took it a step too far. A classic line that lives to this day is, “You are attacked by a [clatter of dice] snake! It attacks you with its [clatter of dice] hooves!” That sort of old-school gonzo gaming would be a lot of fun today, but I was far too mature for it at the time.)

In college, I ran a year-long campaign of NightLife, which — since the players were running vampires and werewolves and other monsters with an insatiable appetite for disposable NPCs — inspired me to whip up another random table. With ten seconds and a single roll of a handful of dice, I could create a living, breathing person… at least, that person’s general appearance and personality. Before the players turned down that alley, that person didn’t exist — not even as a note on my Game Master’s idea pad. Most of them didn’t survive the encounter (“My, what big teeth you have — oh no!”), but some had such a spark of life that they went on to become allies and recurring NPCs — a spark of life given them, like Frankenstein’s lightning, by the dice.

As I’ve grown older and my gaming time more limited, I find myself using dice to create the world before the game rather than just on the fly. I made a number of charts myself: What’s that magic level? Roll it! The core theology? Roll it! What are the key imports, exports, and trade agreements? Roll, roll, roll!

While I might end up just writing about these worlds rather than actually playing in them, the thrill from eighth grade is still there: I’m creating worlds, people, and stories with nothing more than a pencil, a chart… and a handful of dice.

Get more dice here!

Get Darrell’s awesome Ghost Puncher eBooks here!

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Four Tips for Running RPGs for Kids

I love gaming with my kids. I especially love playing tabletop roleplaying games with them. Over the years, I’ve come up with a handful of tips that keep the game smooth and fun, even if your players are still in grade school. I’m posting them here, both as a public service to gamer parents, and as a reminder to myself: this, future-self, is how you have fun.

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Faking It – The Art of Game Master Improvisation

Game Masters need to be able to adapt quickly. When the players zig when you expect them to zag onto the trail you’ve painstakingly laid out before them, you need to be able to just go with it, rolling their detour into your game story like you’d planned for it all along.

Here are some quick tips for doing just that. (Old pros will probably nod and say to themselves, “Obviously that it how it should be done,” but new GMs will hopefully find some value here.)

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