tips for theatric GMing


Advice


Ok been GMing for some time now and had to take a break due to real life, but things are looking to clearing up and im getting the itch to GM again. The thing is ive always relied heavily on drawn out maps and grids and figures etc, and i had to sell most of that to friends who GM themselves for their groups because i couldnt use them.
Sooo now im venturing in to GM but now relying on theatric GMing and these people i will be GMing for are my friends so i have that passive drive to give them the best experience i can because they are awesome in taking what i give and making something more awesome with it.

So as someone who is not only a lil bit rusty as a GM but also going full blown into what my friend called "theatric GMing", im asking the board to give some advice on what yal deem as important aspects (or aka "key") to sucessful theatric GMing and what to back away and stay away from.
i appreciate it in advance, ty.


Things that I've found mostly GMing over twenty years in no particular order:

1. Soundtracks - music can be a great tool not only for combat but to help build scenes (e.g. royal feast, holy temple etc.)

2. Handouts/props - rather than describe a map they find or some document from the ambassador provide it to the group.

2. I certainly use voices and posture, gesture, using/miming small props (e.g. a cigar chomping half orc merc) quite a bit for NPCs of note. My groups seem to enjoy it but I am also mindful of not going that route for every single NPC and still mostly focusing on what the players want out of the interaction rather than just me taking up all the time being a bit silly.

3. Narrative, description - avoid detailing combats as you take 30 hp or deal 10 damage. Embellish with some narrative touches (e.g. you deliver a reeling blow to the ogre, the thief's scimiatar cuts deeply into your flank for 10 hp)

4. Depends on your group but any campaign really depends on motivating the PCs and giving them something to care about (e.g. their hometown, building a pirate fleet). If the players are just grinding their way through a dungeon with no real reason to save for gaining XP any drama is likely to fall flat because there are no stakes.

I'm sure there's others but have to get going.


Wyrd_Wik wrote:

Things that I've found mostly GMing over twenty years in no particular order:

1. Soundtracks - music can be a great tool not only for combat but to help build scenes (e.g. royal feast, holy temple etc.)

2. I certainly use voices and posture, gesture quite a bit for NPCs of note. My groups seem to enjoy it but I am also mindful of not going that route for every single NPC and still mostly focusing on what the players want out of the interaction rather than just me taking up all the time being a bit silly.

3. Narrative, description - avoid detailing combats as you take 30 hp or deal 10 damage. Embellish with some narrative touches (e.g. you deliver a reeling blow to the ogre, the thief's scimiatar cuts deeply into your flank for 10 hp)

4. Depends on your group but any campaign really depends on motivating the PCs and giving them something to care about (e.g. their hometown, building a pirate fleet). If the players are just grinding their way through a dungeon with no real reason to save for gaining XP any drama is likely to fall flat because there are no stakes.

I'm sure there's others but have to get going.

I find soundtracks to be very distracting overall. First of all there's the issue of setting them up, which detracts from gameplay; at their best they have a tendency to distance you emotionally from whatever's happening in the game. Life doesn't have a soundtrack, after all.

Life does, however, have sound effects. Soundscapes of, say, crickets and frogs and occasional nightbird noises can add to a "you-are-there" feel of a night encounter in a forest or swamp. Same for drippy cave noises for an underground/underdark campaign. Ocean waves help as well, if your encounter takes place near a beach or at sea. Background noises of human civilization are more likely to distract, though.


Wyrd_Wik wrote:

Things that I've found mostly GMing over twenty years in no particular order:

1. Soundtracks - music can be a great tool not only for combat but to help build scenes (e.g. royal feast, holy temple etc.)

2. Handouts/props - rather than describe a map they find or some document from the ambassador provide it to the group.

2. I certainly use voices and posture, gesture, using/miming small props (e.g. a cigar chomping half orc merc) quite a bit for NPCs of note. My groups seem to enjoy it but I am also mindful of not going that route for every single NPC and still mostly focusing on what the players want out of the interaction rather than just me taking up all the time being a bit silly.

3. Narrative, description - avoid detailing combats as you take 30 hp or deal 10 damage. Embellish with some narrative touches (e.g. you deliver a reeling blow to the ogre, the thief's scimiatar cuts deeply into your flank for 10 hp)

4. Depends on your group but any campaign really depends on motivating the PCs and giving them something to care about (e.g. their hometown, building a pirate fleet). If the players are just grinding their way through a dungeon with no real reason to save for gaining XP any drama is likely to fall flat because there are no stakes.

I'm sure there's others but have to get going.

One BIG thumbs up from this guy. This is all great stuff and I completely agree with soundtracks.

My DM has used some great soundtracks in our last 2 campaigns and it has really brought things to life.

One big suggestion is that if you have a recurring villain give him/her their own song that is special to them and them alone.

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Show, don't tell is frankly the biggest advice. You come into this 20x20 room and here's an ogre. Much better if you start by mentioning the smell of the room and the ogre [insert ogre description] is using someone body to paint the walls of the room, by smashing the victim against it while laughing.

Don't sweat it too much tho, usually if your players can tell you are putting in some efforts, they will happily engage with whatever you tell them.


For free 10 minute long music and ambience (crickets and stuff...) I use Tabletop Audio which has an audio player built in to the site. All their music/sound tracks are pretty awesome for fantasy, horror, war, even sci-fi, though all can fit multiple genres. They even take suggestions. I needed something feudal Japan for a home game, asked about it, and 2 weeks later the creator made Samurai HQ track.


Thank you so far for the suggestions and those are great suggestions imho for any type of GMing. Thank you.

One thing came to mind is feats and abilities for attacks of oppertunity kinda seem wasted from a purely theatrical view. I guess i gotta change up the whole "unless u call out im assuming ur taking a 10 on perception" and just go back to rolling perception each time a trap or baddy is trying to ambush or could i still do eh.

I guess my main issue is the mechanics. Distance, flanking, attacks of oppertunity, formations of pcs and enemies during combat, etc etc. Im so used to a grid map and be able to visually see and have my players operate from seeing everything visuallly (determing mechanics and etc) that going to theatrics, it seems somethings need to be handwaved, somethings are just better not taken (like investments in attack of opertunities maybe?).

I see alot of promise and possibilities in the whole theatric side that i wouldnt be able to do with maps and figures (enhancement in roleplaying is always a good thing), but its mechanics that ive gotten used to dealing and interacting with on a map that seems to baffle me a lil in how to operate without certain tools. And thats okay, it just means i gotta change up and learn a new way and i dont have a problem because it seems GMing is always a learning experience. I just looking for a "head start" i guess u could call it so that my players can get maximum fun outta the game.


Wyrd_wik pretty much covered the most important stuff - background music, props (those are least important in my opinion), voice acting and immersive descriptions.

Note voice acting can also play a role in descriptions. You can amplify the general feel using the right tone of voice. Heck you can even leave behind some rules and go all-out storytelling in some places if you get the voice and descriptions right (like a very dynamic tone for when something happens where you'd rather have people act fast, probably run away from something, build up tension and not rely on dice rolls to determin how the situation turns out)

Background sound is something to be careful with. Most often you'll want to avoid things with singing - game and movie soundtracks are the easiest thing to look in. You could also use to set tracks into lists for various themes and place links somewhere accessible so you only need a click or two to change between what mood you're playing in the background quickly. Plenty of work preparing that stuff I'm afraid before it will work perfectly. Goes easier with horror-based rpg systems where one can pretty much do with a single theme and just keep it going in the background..of course you can also run a creepy pathfinder campaign, but do consider what I wrote above with letting game rules to rest at times. Nothing breaks suspense like the feeling of "no threat here, just dice rolls"

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