The Saving Throw
Guides for Gamemasters Jan. 25, 2006
Some advice from one gamemaster to another.

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Diceless Adventures: Gamemastering
contributed by Nwash

This guide is part of a series, continued from Diceless Adventures: Planning.

   Having reviewed planning in the previous guide, this final guide on diceless adventures has some general, overall tips on actually running them. While these tips are applicable to gaming with dice as well, as usual, these are more important in diceless gaming. The following advice works best in conjunction with the advice on planning in the previous guide, but can help even an adventure that is relying upon the gamemaster's improvisational skills.

Good Roleplaying is a Shared Responsibility
   The best roleplayer in the world will do poorly if the gamemaster doesn't also roleplay anyone he or she is interacting with well. Try to make these NPCs as realistic as possible and work to interact with the player characters in a believable way. Additionally, as the gamemaster, you determine when they even have opportunities to truly roleplay. If you do your part, the good roleplayers in your group will usually rise to the challenge and do their part.

Pay Close Attention to the Players and Adjust the Pace
   This can be a difficult thing to do, especially in a well-planned adventure, but it is very important. Even the best roleplayers might do poorly if they are given no chance to get into character. Try to start your adventure with unimportant roleplaying opportunities that allow them to do so without penalizing them if they roleplay poorly at first. Remember that people's moods can't be controlled like a light switch; many players can't just jump into character at a moment's notice. This problem might even occur throughout the adventure; after a fight, the players may be less in-character for a bit.

Also, when gaming, one tends to gloss quickly over long boring time periods. Yes, the player characters may have had that fight a day ago, and they've certainly had a chance to calm down. However, you might have given the players themselves less than a minute. They might not be calmed from a tense battle or other situation even though their characters should be; their minds may be left in mode not well-suited for roleplaying. Try to give player enough time to transition from one mood to another, and you'll typically see better roleplaying as a result.

Avoiding Focusing Only on the Main Plot or the Plan
   The players will often give you opportunities to add ambience or side-stories to the plot, if you're paying attention to them. Make sure you're looking for these opportunities to present themselves. Not only can it add depth and ambience to your adventure, but it is simply critical for roleplaying itself. I've seen many lost opportunities by gamemasters focused only their planned storyline, and it can lead to problems other than just missed opportunities. For example, if you have a male player character suddenly flirting with some female NPC, it doesn't seem very natural for her to have no response at all to it. At least have the fortunate (or unfortunate, as the case may be) girl react to it, whether she's flattered and flirts back or just slaps the guy.

But better yet, either use the opportunity to expand the story or add ambience, or remember it and based a later story element off of it. Certainly, there are many other situations that create such opportunities, and a good gamemaster is always looking for them. It makes the story feel less linear and more realistic, and it draws the players further into the adventure and makes them more eager to come back for the next installment.

Always Remember that Breaks are an Option
   It's easy, as a gamemaster, to feel a compulsion to just continue on, even if the players are forcing you to improvise and have brought you well out of your planned story. If you're getting stumped and you're having a hard time keeping a quality adventure going, take a break and think it over for a while. It is usually better to retreat and regroup than to press on with lame or awkward improvisation. Your adventure as a whole will usually be better for it.

Don't Leave without Getting Feedback
   This is very important. While you can get some idea of how entertained your player were by watching them during the game, if you don't get feedback from them, then you're left guessing what was good and bad about the adventure. Ask them questions about it, especially about anyone you were personally worried about. This will help you improve as a gamemaster and create stories that will be more interesting and exciting to the players. This is, after all, a critical step in learning their tastes and preferences.

   When actually gamemastering a diceless adventure, remember that good roleplaying is a responsibility shared between the gamemaster and the players. Watch the players and how they are roleplaying, and adjust your pacing accordingly to allow them to get into character and change their moods as appropriate to the situation; don't expect them to necessarily keep up with a hurried pace. Keep your mind open to the opportunities for ambience and story expansion that arise, and when all else fails, remember that you can always take a break to think things over. Many times, it'll even be better that way. Finally, get feedback about your adventure rather than just making assumptions about the good, the bad, and the ugly.

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