Gamemaster’s Guidepost: Learning From Your Mistakes

As a gamemaster you will inevitably make mistakes running your game. It’s just going to happen. Accept it now and be prepared to fix them. But how?

  • Create a strong, but flexible base for your campaign. This way you can change it when you need to and still have a sturdy foundation. What do I mean by this? Basically, break down the elements you want to go into the campaign and pick the one you are sure is going to be something you and your players are interested in. Build everything off of that.
  • Be open with your players and ask them bluntly if something isn’t working for them. Be blunt with yourself – if you feel something isn’t working talk with your players. Communication is key for roleplaying games and I’ve seen campaigns die fast when the communication line between GMs and players was not open and operational.
  • If something isn’t working change it. If you feel you must explain it in-game, do it. Otherwise, just change it. Sometimes this requires you to scrap the campaign as it is. If you do, see what you can salvage and then move on. It sucks to lose time on a project, but it sucks more if the project is doing nothing but giving you a headache.
  • Revise. Revise. Revise. As you run the game you will inevitably find things to make the game better. Sometimes this is in the form of game-mechanical material, sometimes its in the back story. Whatever it is, revise it when you must and don’t be afraid to change things.
  • Notes. Always, always, always take notes. Like revision, note-taking is important. It’s so important I wrote a blog post about it (which I wrote about a few best practices).

Picking Over the Bones

I recently had such a problem. I created a very detailed campaign – Halcyon – that I ran for six sessions with my B-Team and none for my C-Team. I missed up. Badly. I wanted to steer the campaign (which was about psi and using the Action framework) into a post-apocalyptic zombie showdown. The problem? I really wanted to run a post-apocalyptic game and not a modern day technothriller with psi powers. See the problem? It took me six weeks to see it, but hindsight is 20/20 or in this case 20/10. Basically, I didn’t follow one of my own rules and kept trying to make it work even though it was never going to go like I was hoping. Not with the set-up/base I had for it.

What sort of mistakes have you learned from? How did you change your campaign, game, etc. in response? Did you change your game at all or did you just let it slide? How did your players respond to your change or lack thereof?

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  1. Looking back at Halcyon, well, the post-apocalypse fungus-zombie thriller probably wasn’t the best idea, especially with little to no build-up to it. Maybe at some point it would work great in some other game, but as you pointed out, it didn’t quite mesh well with the genres you were playing with. However, you worked quickly once you realized that issue and corrected it. That’s far better than just trying to push it through and force the genre switch.

    Now, I would still love to revisit Halcyon one of these days. Murph was fun to play and you definitely had something there that I wanted to know more about. Then again, playing a screwed-up telepath with identity issues and a love of conspiracy theories makes roleplaying proper interpersonal relationships from the past an interesting issue in and of itself. I’m still uncertain who exactly that woman was to Murph.

    • It was a terrible idea. This is why I need my co-GMs. They usually tell me I’m about to do something stupid – if I’m listening anyways. Halcyon needs something and I’m not sure what it is. There is a missing ingredient and until I discover it, it’s likely to stay in my Vault.

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