Friday was the first session in our new Infinite Worlds campaign, using the GURPS 4th edition rules. From my perspective it was a good evening well-spent. There were three major lessons that it turns out I needed reminding about.
Lesson 1: Go With It
Way back when, before we got into D&D 4th edition and even before we started butterflying our way between settings and systems, I used to GM our campaigns in a free-form and largely improvised style. These games represent, at least for me, a golden age of roleplaying within our group. The players were different (only one is still at the table) and so, for a long time, I had merely assumed that those days were past: the chemistry of the group, the game, the system was past. How wrong can you be?
Friday night I returned to something that I haven't done in a long, long time. I ditched the pre-written scenarios of other people, I shifted away from the restrictions (as I see it) of a butt-load of pre-planning, and instead I did what I do best - I improvised.
Now, don't get me wrong: I had a plot in mind, some outline notes to refer to, and several NPC names / notes to draw upon. I also didn't let anything constrain the movement of the story. As a consequence, I felt able to narrate each scene in detail and to create an atmosphere that, judging from the reactions of the players, worked. The big learning was that the long-lost and elusive feeling I was looking for arose from that sense of my rising creativity blending with the input from the players as they interact with me.
Lesson 2: Get To The Details
This is one of those comments that's so obvious that it needs to be made more obvious. Friday night I slowed down the narration and got to the details. We saw, felt, smelled, heard and even tasted the scenes, especially at the beginning of the story when the heroes were first exploring the world they had travelled to.
Those details created tension and interest, especially as the players tried to work out what was being described. Interpreting the clues from each scene, building them into a coherent picture, created a strong sense of mystery and reality.
Previous cursory descriptions in past games gave way to a more methodical yet relaxed and detailed approach, which in turn added to the atmosphere and moved us further away from the "where's the next fight" mentality of before.
Lesson 3: Let Them Do Their Stuff
Finally, I learned to let each character (and by extension each player) do their stuff. This means I let the samurai stealth around and, right at the end, swing his blade; it also meant we took time to let the psychic gumshoe use his retro-cognition, and allow the ex-military cop taxi driver investigate and shoot off his digital camera.
Each player got to use the hero in the way that fits their concept, with only minimal effort on my part to make space for it to happen. A set of strange ruins with skeletal remains prompted a flashback in time for one hero; the threat of discovery and attendant risk involved in dodging flying AI scout craft was enough to please a second character; letting the samurai get his sword out was the icing on the cake for the last player.
All In All...
My gaming and GMing came right back to basics: letting it flow from the imagination without restriction, taking the time to narrate the scenes in detail, and making sure the players get what they signed up for.
You are probably reading this thinking, "Duh!" But then, maybe it's easy to forget the basics. I certainly did. For far too long.
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