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Pointers on planning / running my first (full) game


Advice


Ok so a few months ago I tried my hand a GMing but I failed horribly. Mostly because my players fought the story I was trying to tell but also because I tried to do too much I think. I stole the storyline off of FFXI which I altered names and such to fit the PF setting.I really don't have a mind for story telling but so far of our 5 person group the same guy runs 80% of our games and I want to let him play his Dwarven sword-and-board Fighter/Defender.

So here are the things I am hoping for.
1. Best way to start the campaign as far as points, starting level, etc.
2. A good campaign for a beginning GM. I know there are some good published story campaigns out there but I don't know where to begin with choosing one of those.
3. How much should I railroad and how much should I let them roam? I know many players hate being railroaded but some like the structure. How often can a GM fairly use "plot-device" to move the story along or just add a bit of flavor?
My last game the GM had a shrine with Frightful Presence (DC OBNOXIOUS) that did nothing (except scare away the Human Barb and Dwarf Fighter but not the Halfling Oracle or Gnome Summoner) it just represented the spread of evil in the land but the fighter got all pissy that no inanimate object has Frightful Presence.
4. Can I reasonably restrict classes, feats, or even whole books outside core content but still paizo made? I am talking about keeping the CRB, APG, UltMag, and UltCom but not the abilities and such released in the other paizo outlets.

Any and all advice is welcome.

Dark Archive

Hi, welcome to the art of Game Mastering. I will give ya some basic pointers here in response to the issues you listed.
1- As this is one of your first games, start at lvl 1. 20 points is a fine basic build, allow 2 traits from APG, if feeling generious give them a third from the campaign or make them pick one from the campaign.
2- If you want to run an adventure path, Serpent's Skull is a good basic AP I think, it is pretty straight forward. Some PFS modules are als a good start.
3- If your players take a left turn, take it with them. For example if they were supposed to go to Town x to meet person Y, but they go to forest Z instead, OH LOOK! Person Y is there fighting off some Orcs. Basicly just have the concepts fluid and adapt, the better you understand the adventure path, the easier it will be for you to change things as needed. As far as inanimate objects not having a frightful presence, ask him if he knows he is playing a game involving magic.
4- Restict all you want, all the books can get overwhelming with new feats spells ect. If you are only comfortable with the Core, then only use the Core. Players don't like it, they can GM.


1. I would use 20 point buy. As for starting level that depends on your group, and how well you know the rules. The better you know the rules, and the better the group knows the rules the higher you can start.

2. What level do you want to GM to?

3. That varies by group. I never really railroad players, not obviously anyway. :)
I normally give them a goal, and let them figure out how to solve/reach it. I do make sure it is within their ability to solve it.

4. You are the GM so you decide what is legal. Your players needs to respect the fact that you are a new GM, and not try to push new/more material in if you are not ready for it.


Thanks Nimon. Does 5 points at creation make that much difference? We keep playing 25 points and killing things way outside our level. Hell our Inquisitor at level 6 took out four Hill Giants (CR 7 each so I believe that supposed to be a CR 10 encounter) alone while we raised an army's supply train.


The ability to kill things is not just determined by ability points, but the player's tactics, and the GM's tactics. I do not see an inquisitor taking out 4 hill giants without some lucky dice rolls.

Those 5 points do allow for a bit more customisation though.


GO! Wall-of-text-ichu!:
I think the trickiest question here is #3. The other three are personal preference, mostly, but the issue of control and the illusion thereof is an issue that plagues many, many games. Often, GMs will feel like their players aren't interested in the adventure they're running, so they make railroads. The players will feel like there's no motivation for running through the adventure, so they do everything possible to get off the rails. Enter GM/player conflict. The problem usually creeps in when this happens:

1. GM thinks up or purchases great campaign
2. Player thinks up great character seperately
3. The game starts

It might look like this:

"Hi, I'm Red the Barbarian, and I want to fight monsters, explore the woods, and drool at Nordic lasses. My special ability is fighting on the back of a horse." "Oh, neat. That will be perfect since we're playing Curse of the Crimson Throne, which is an urban adventure."

Now, poor Red will never get to get to pursue any of his goals, nor will his cool trick ever be applicable. Obviously, this is an over-dramatization, but you get the idea, I hope.

The issue is in one of two places: between the first two steps, and in the order of the steps. If the players trust the GM, it is perfectly reasonable for a GM to say "I have a campaign that I think you would enjoy." The next step in that case is to fill the players in on at least the bare minimum of the campaign so that the player can make a character that fits with the plot. I can't tell you how often I see a great character playing in a game that has nothing to do with him. This especially applicable in an adventure path.

The other option is to rearrange the steps. If the players work up characters first, preferably with each other and the GM, so that all the characters are coherent, the GM can tailor an adventure or campaign to the character's goals and abilities. This style can require a little bit more effort from the GM up front, but can make for an extremely rewarding experience all around, since the player and characters will be doing exactly what they already told you they wanted. Plus, once you get some momentum, the adventures pretty much create themselves.

Since you're just starting to GM, I'd outright ask your players what they want. Heck, I always ask players what they want. Work with them to create a fun game that everyone is invested in. Another bonus of this approach is that, if/when the players get feisty, you can just remind them that they asked for it. And they can remind you that they changed their minds. But that's another can of worms.

Recommended reading: Gamemastering, by Brian Jamison

It's free, by the way.

Dark Archive

Hydra wrote:
Thanks Nimon. Does 5 points at creation make that much difference? We keep playing 25 points and killing things way outside our level. Hell our Inquisitor at level 6 took out four Hill Giants (CR 7 each so I believe that supposed to be a CR 10 encounter) alone while we raised an army's supply train.

I guess it depends on who you are playing with. The guy that complained about the inanimate object thing just tingles my spidy senses that he might be a bit of a munchkin that could milk that 5points for all its worth. What you could also do is have it 25 point buy, but no abiliy less than 9, no ability over 18 after racial. That might limit some cheese builds.


Hydra wrote:

Ok so a few months ago I tried my hand a GMing but I failed horribly. Mostly because my players fought the story I was trying to tell but also because I tried to do too much I think. I stole the storyline off of FFXI which I altered names and such to fit the PF setting.I really don't have a mind for story telling but so far of our 5 person group the same guy runs 80% of our games and I want to let him play his Dwarven sword-and-board Fighter/Defender.

So here are the things I am hoping for.
1. Best way to start the campaign as far as points, starting level, etc.
2. A good campaign for a beginning GM. I know there are some good published story campaigns out there but I don't know where to begin with choosing one of those.
3. How much should I railroad and how much should I let them roam? I know many players hate being railroaded but some like the structure. How often can a GM fairly use "plot-device" to move the story along or just add a bit of flavor?
My last game the GM had a shrine with Frightful Presence (DC OBNOXIOUS) that did nothing (except scare away the Human Barb and Dwarf Fighter but not the Halfling Oracle or Gnome Summoner) it just represented the spread of evil in the land but the fighter got all pissy that no inanimate object has Frightful Presence.
4. Can I reasonably restrict classes, feats, or even whole books outside core content but still paizo made? I am talking about keeping the CRB, APG, UltMag, and UltCom but not the abilities and such released in the other paizo outlets.

Any and all advice is welcome.

Hey there, welcome to GMing. ^_^ Firstly, a bit of advice - don't try to get everything perfect. You won't, even as an experienced GM, but especially your first time. As long as your players (including you) are having fun, you're doing your job. Now, on to the answers...

1. Start low level, no higher than 3, at 20 point buy. It's up to you really, but 20 is pretty standard (it's what PFS uses).

2. That depends on what kind of game you want to run. My first campaign was Shackled City, and it was great, but sadly that's not updated for PF. I would definitely recommend an AP over a custom game, though, because it takes a lot of the load off your shoulders. Which one is up to you, depending on what you like and what you want to run, but I would caution against Kingmaker or FMG's Way of the Wicked - both are awesome, don't get me wrong, but the former is much more open-ended than most games and will require to to kinda do more guiding than usual, and the latter is...a pretty big shift from standard too, being that you play the bad guys and have a shift not just in tone but also in the style of the game because of that (much more proactive, world is hostile to you, etc.).

3. Again, that depends on your tastes and those of your group - you know them better than we do, so you know more how much they enjoy. I would, however, point out that there's a difference between railroading and maintaining coherency - doing the latter will keep you more or less on track with the story of the campaign, while the former is the bad sort. The best way i can explain the difference, off the top of my head, is to ask yourself one question: "if I do X, am I playing with the group to create our story, or am I telling the group my story and it just happens to have their characters in it?" You want it to be collaborative, and to that end, you want to avoid telling people "you can't do that" or "you have to do that" as much as possible - if they do something that takes them wildly away from the path the campaign is heading, steer them back, but do it gently.

4. Yes, you can, but let your players know that before they begin making characters. Personally, I don't like to ban things based just on the source, so I would recommend working with the players if they really want something outside the main books, but plenty of people play with just those, or even just the CRB.

Star Voter 2013

I always try to start off with a BANG! Do something really exciting/strange/dangerous as soon as you begin.

I like starting at first level. It builds a real sense of character growth when they look back.

For ability scores, I houserule 20 pt buy for everyone, BUT a player can choose 15 pt buy and get a stat bump every 3rd level (instead of every 4th) or they can choose 25 pt buy and only get a stat bump every 5th level (instead of every 4th). It's pretty close to "sixes" in the long run, but it opens up some choices for concepts.

Pick an adventure that will be interesting for you. The GM needs to be having fun, too, and if he is then everyone else probably will, too.

That shrine sounds awesome. Respect to that GM. I might try that one day.

A well GM-ed game feels like a sandbox, but the players are actually going precisely where the GM wants them to. The key is always providing compelling motivations that appeal to all (or at least most) of the PCs. With each step just think 'Why would PC x go along with this? Why would PC y?" If most have a draw then they'll go. If it's just because you said so then they'll probably go "off-script."

That's all I've got right now. Good luck.

Lantern Lodge

For me, it all starts with a theme. I often think "This Idea!" and then start building in around it.

Textwall:

1. For the character's creation, give them a common thread to start from-- perhaps being from this area, or this village, or this Adventuring Company. That way, things aren't so disparate that you spend too much time trying to tie them together.

3. Find a starting point. Don't plan everything, because your players will likely not only go remarkably far away from where you intended (provided you intended a specific goal), but somehow not only accomplish the purpose in a roundabout way, but somehow make it worse/better in the process. Plan only for a general goal such as "Find out X is causing this", or "Reach X location".. Played any of the Morrowind/Oblivion/Skyrim titles? It's kind of like that. Just add 3-5 more people.

Think around your ideas. So you aren't only thinking "This is happening in X location", but try to think a step or two out, as well.
For instance: "The Lord of (location)" has gone mad (due to evil influence few noticed)"
-- Has anyone escaped to the nearby town?
-- What rumors have spread about it?

From there you can build a chain of events, without having to make it up out of nothing.

4. Restrict anything that doesn't make sense, or you don't feel comfortable about. Or allow them all one "Maybe" card. Let them spend it on something you're not sure about, but don't veto.

I'm sorry for skipping two, but-- well, isn't "Master of the Fallen Fortress" free and an introduction that can be tied into just about any AP or idea?


Ok so I've downloaded Master of the Fallen Fortress. I'm looking through other modules and I wonder. How many levels on average could each module give a party of 4 on fast progression?

I think I could reasonably tie some of these stories together to make a decent campaign.

Lantern Lodge

There's a rough estimation in the modules, I believe-- but that doesn't include any incidental xp you may award.


Hydra wrote:

Ok so I've downloaded Master of the Fallen Fortress. I'm looking through other modules and I wonder. How many levels on average could each module give a party of 4 on fast progression?

I think I could reasonably tie some of these stories together to make a decent campaign.

That varies by module.

Some modules link together to form what might be considered a mini-AP.

Crypt of the Everflame, Masks of the Living God, and City of Golden Death are 3 such modules. I think you start at level 1 and end at level 6 or 7.

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