I’m an unrepetant gamer, as I’m sure my log of game reviewswould show. One thing I’ve not talked about much is how many RPGs I’ve played, or more specifically run.
Over the years, I got better at DMing, but it wasn’t until I realized I could use storytelling tools that I really ramped up my game.
What They Want Is Key
This is huge. This is hours and hours of prep time removed. Ask your players what their characters want, then come up with a difficult way to obtain them. I’ve run games mostly ad hoc using the player’s goals as inspiration.
Specific goals are absolutely better than general ones, since knowing they want a specific weapon, treasure, or bit of information makes it much easier to determine who would have it, and how it’s being protected. But general goals are great for setting traps. If a player wants money, makes a taunting offer of the biggest pile they’ve ever seen, and let them get themselves into trouble.
Don’t Let Them Finish Too Soon
Some RPGs have a focus on combat, specifically fantasy games. But just like fantasy fiction, death doesn’t have to be the only end to a fight. Having additional, interesting, ways to end the fight can lead to further drama, and possibly get the player’s more entwined with the game thanks to their bruised egos.
Further, remember to make the characters work for their goals. Conflict is fun!
Your major antagonists should be almost as fleshed out personality wise as the characters. Know who wants what, why, and what resources they’ve got to go for it. And just like a Conflict Lock, when a fleshed antagonist meets driven players, you have drama in the making.
Don’t forget that an antagonist doesn’t need to be a bad guy. After all, Spock was a pretty cool dude.
Climax Is a Natural Thing
The big finish shouldn’t be jammed into a game. It should be the only possible conclusion at the end of a series of smaller conflicts between an antagonist and the players. When the players finally face the bad guy on their terms, the fight will be satisfying, regardless of how they beat them.
Sometimes You Must Edit
Every once in a while, a game comes to a screeching halt. Sometimes you’ve managed to corner the players and left them with no options. Other times, your careful encounter design wasn’t so careful. If it really is destroying the game, it’s time to pull a retcon and admit your mistake. Better to continue the game then watch it fall apart for all the wrong reasons.