MOD How to make and run a RPG (New Gamemasters START HERE!)

Discussion in 'Role Playing Forum' started by Saintheart, May 22, 2008.

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  1. Saintheart Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2000
    star 6
    “For I am your God!” – How to create and run an RPG on these boards.

    Welcome, new gamemaster! Beneath you will find a good deal of very useful advice on how best to start and run your roleplaying games in these forums. It is the accumulated wisdom of nearly 10 years’ worth of roleplaying and gamemastering on these forums, and guidance as to what works and what doesn’t. Read, be mindful, but above all, be inspired.

    Also, regardless of anything else you read in these posts, you are required to read and abide by the RPF Rules.

    If you're completely new to these forums, it is probably a good idea to go take a look over the New Player FAQ before proceeding further, since much of what follows assumes that you're aware of what's in that FAQ.

    This post is divided up into the following sections:

    • Can’t I do it all my way?

    • What to post in the first post

    • How to make an idea into a RPG

    • What type of RPG am I running?

    • English as she is spoke

    • Fleet and Infantry RPGs.

    • Some advice from Dad

    • Why we don't play in your RPGs

    • Maturity - The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

    • Points of etiquette for GMs

    • When the Dreaded DRL attacks






    Can’t I do it all my way?
    Some new game masters may believe they don’t really need to follow any guidelines for creating or running an RPG. Perhaps their experience on other roleplaying forums has taught them that, or even their experiences playing in other RPGs on this forum. And some GMs might ask: “Why should I take any of your advice on how to set up my game? Isn’t it all my choice?”

    There are two answers to that question: the moderators’ policy, and practical considerations.

    The moderators’ policy
    The policy the moderating team enforces is as follows: unless your roleplaying game has a coherent story, an enforceable set of rules, and a half-decent Character Sheet for people to fill out, it will be stopped by a moderator locking the thread, and you’ll have to talk to that moderator to get it unlocked.

    Neither Penguinator-176 or DarthXan318 make any apologies for this. The RPF has come to enjoy a fairly high standard of roleplaying games from its community, and hard experience has shown that a game which does not have these three elements is unlikely either to enjoy a large player base or continue for a lengthy period of time, thus causing considerable frustration and wasted time for both its players and its GM. As such the moderators will intervene to halt RPGs that don’t meet the minimum standards for a playable RPG. You don't need moderator approval to start a RPG, though obviously the moderators are happy to cast an eye over a proposed RPG and give an opinion about whether it meets the standard, or indeed any other questions a new player or GM might have.

    Practical considerations
    The minimum standard set by the moderators is actually relatively easy to meet. However, just because an RPG meets minimum requirements doesn’t mean it’s going to attract players or have a long, enjoyable life. Your game will have a much higher chance of success if you follow the guidelines set out below in creating and running it.

    The fact is good games on the RPF prosper because their GMs know how to start up, maintain, and update them. Because of this, these games either attract a large group of players, which is good, or a dedicated group of players, which is better. Bad games on the RPF do not prosper because their GMs either do not know how to start a game properly, or if they do, fail to run that game properly. Hard experience has taught us that if the game is poorly made or poorly maintained, it usually fails – regardless of whether the gamemaster is new or has been around the forums for years.

    The advice contained in this thread is provided to help you learn to create and run RPGs successfully. Even so, the most experienced GMs on the forum know that RPGing is as much an art as it is a science, and this thread is by no means meant to be the first and last word on the subject. There are other threads on the Role Playing Resource forum which go into vastly more detail than is practical here – and, when in doubt, ask more experienced forum members!

    What to Post in the First Post
    Many of you are well aware of how difficult it is to get into a new game and stay interested in it with very little information to go on. Many of you have seen absolutely no information in a post other than a character sheet and request for you to join that game. Many of you end up requesting for more information and you either do not receive it or receive too little. Well hopefully this post can cut down on those RPGs and influence new game masters to properly put up a first post for their game. There are three things to put into the first post: the Game Background, the Rules, and the Character Sheet.

    Game Background

    This is the most essential part of the game. A game can not exist without a background story to inform the players of what the game is about and what is expected of the players when they join. Every game needs a background story in order to survive the all time game killer, ignore. So when you create your game, be sure to have a brief but detailed paragraph or two of what the game is about.
    • Good Example: The notorious art and jewel thief—Erik Visputin—has stolen the Nexu Eye, the largest and most prized and priceless gemstone throughout the entire galaxy. The outraged Luthus Valk, owner of the Nexu Eye, wants the precious stone back and has placed a large reward for its return as well as an irresistible bounty for Visputin’s head—literally. Days turn into months and the notorious thief strikes again, this time stealing the Pink Sandpanther from the wealthy businessman—Artemis Thane. As a long time friend and benefactor of the Jedi Order, the Council has agreed to send their own to help Artemis Thane regain his lost property.

    Interested? Good. That is how the background story should be - informative, original, and interesting. This is not what you want to post:
    • Bad Example:The Old Republic is under attack! The Jedi are all but destroyed and the last two must struggle to save their order and the Old Republic from the evil Sith!

    This example is slightly informative, but it isn't interesting or very original. Who are the evil Sith this time? What Jedi have survived? Why are the Sith attacking again and how bad has the war gone for the Old Republic? None of these questions have been answered and so most players interested will either request for more information or just ignore the game altogether.

    The Rules

    Every game needs a set of rules from the game master. It lets players know what they can and can’t do in the game and it also instructs players on what to do about signing up or other such important things. If you want a player to do something specific in order to join, place the rules at the very top of the post and BRIGHTLY COLORIZE and BOLD or CAPITALIZE the specific rules you want them to notice. It also helps making these rules the first ones, then followed by the generic rules and TOS warning.
    • Good Example:

      3: No Godmoding, violators will be removed from the game.
      4: Follow TOS rules.
      5: Have fun.

    • Bad Example:

      1: No Godmoding.
      2: Follow TOS rules.
      3: PM character sheet.
      4: Have fun.

    Now wasn't that bolded, red and capitalized ruling eye-catching compared to the bad example? This helps you save time and frustration and it helps new players to notice what you expect from them.

    The Character Sheet

    Every game needs a character sheet so that players can create the character they want. Some character sheets are ungodly simple and others are so damn complicated you can get a headache from just filling it out. As the game master you want to balance the character sheet somewhere in between the simple and complicated. Make it too complicated and you may not get players at all. Making a simple sheet is not all bad, especially for games like IBoP where you don’t want the character to have any history yet. But they are not that good for games that require characters with history and detail.
    • Simple Example:


    • Complicated Example:

      ---Skin Color:
      ---Hair Color:
      ---Eye Color:
      ---Other Attributes:
      ---Other Details:
      ---Hyperdrive Class:
      ---Sublight Speed:
      ---Max Cargo (kg):
      ---Interior Description:
      ---Other Details:
      The Force
      -----Handle Description(s):
      ---Force Abilities:
      ---Force Weakness:
      ---Other Force Object(s):
      ---Personal History:
      ---Military History:
      ---Traumatic Experiences:

    Additional Information

    Some games require additional information. Such information can range from a list of available established characters one can play, to a list of characters needed to be played, to a Force-point system to balance Force-using characters in a game or just to inform players of a bounty or how many ships a faction has at its disposal. Such information should remain brief so that it doesn’t chase away players. The more they have to read the bigger the chore it becomes and we all know Star Wars fans are lazy.

    If you need to explain something in more detail, reserve that for the Second and Third Posts.

    A Word on Presentation

    Finally -- and it's a subject we'll come back to later on -- you should take a step back and ask yourself how readable your first post is to a potential player. At the very least this should mean the elimination of glaring spelling and grammatical errors from your startup post -- before you put it onto the RPF. Now, a lot of people ask: why should a GM should take so much time to polish up, spell-check, and grammar-check the first (and second, third, or fourth, or hundreth) post when four or five games a day launch without this polish?

    The answer is simple: you are trying to get people to play a text-based game of make believe with you. Not bothering to take care of your posting is essentially telling your potential players that you aren't really that concerned with presentation values. This is a problem because a GM offers an experience to his players. Standards -- particularly in the realm of presentation -- serve as benchmarks, indicators of potential levels of quality for prospective players. Organization and neatness demonstrate dedication and the willingness to expend extra effort to go a little farther. Holding yourself to a high standard is how you improve.

    In the case of RPGs, poor spelling and grammar are usually taken as indicators of someone who either doesn't know or doesn't care enough to improve. Most players on these boards are not looking for perfection in spelling or grammar -- but frequent errors detract from the experience, and if you, as a GM, don't offer an engaging experience, a player has no real obligation to stick around. To put it very bluntly: if your regard for your potential players is so low that you can't even be bothered to come up with an interesting, readable first post, then why should those players believe your conduct in the game will be any different? Why should they take the time to join up in the first place?

    By contrast, a well-thought-out, well-written introduction post is a powerful ally to the new GM. Older players will take a second look; perhaps even join up on the strength of your apparent professionalism. Newer players will quickly understand what your game is about and will also jump in. And your reputation, as a GM who thinks about what he's doing, and as a GM who can be trusted to provide an engaging RPG experience, will ensure your future games get played too.

    How to make an idea into a RPG

    What you need to know from this section comes down to one thing: an idea for a RPG is not a RPG. If you understand this principle and apply it, you are already halfway towards having a great RPG. Now, I’m not trying to discourage ideas; one thing that new game masters have in spades is creativity. I’ve seen many, many fine ideas for RPGs started by new players -- some completely off the wall. In other words, games I would have loved to play.

    So why do so many of these games fail? Well, it’s because of what I said: an idea for a RPG is not a RPG. There’s a big difference between the idea of an RPG about the Apollo 11 Moon Landing and actually building an RPG around that idea which people will want to play. When you get an idea for an RPG, you can’t just throw it onto the boards and expect people to sign up in droves. You need to ask some important questions about your idea, such as the following:

    • How well-known is the subject matter, or how big is my potential audience? (You might watch Harry the Space Spider cartoons religiously, but if you’re only one of 500 people in the United States who are fans of the show, you probably won’t get much of a response if you start up an RPG about Harry’s adventures. This is particularly an issue if you're thinking about starting up a non-Star Wars RPG based on an anime cartoon series; large as the anime fandom is, such RPGs don't seem to do terribly well out here -- principally because the audience doesn't seem to be very large.)

    • Do I know the subject matter well enough to run an RPG about it? (Because if you don’t you can be guaranteed your players will expose your ignorance, which impacts on your credibility as their GM. There is a difference between casually reading the “Legacy of the Force” comic series and setting up an RPG about it – some background research may well be warranted before you jump in. Remember, the GM is basically God in his or her chosen universe – of course, nobody expects you to be a deity, but if you're running a "Legacy of the Force" RPG you’d better know more about the era than just the fact that Cade Skywalker is a descendant of Luke Skywalker.)

    • Has the subject matter been done to death already? (This is a major gripe for some older players. We’ve seen a lot of “Jedi vs. Sith” RPGs, usually set around the time of Knights of the Old Republic, or in the universe of the “Legacy of the Force” comics. This is not to say you can’t start an RPG about these subjects, but you might at least think about whether there’s something new you can put into it. The easiest way to answer this question for yourself is to take a look through a few pages of the forums and the subjects that other GMs chose for their games.)

    • What sort of things will my players be doing in the game? (Most players do like a good variety of things for their characters to do. Being part of the Mandalorian Death Commando Space Squad might sound cool, but if said squad’s only activities are to leave their drop ship, blow up a building, return to their drop ship, and go to sleep, don’t expect a sophisticated or large crowd of players. And don’t expect them to play in your RPG very long.)

    • Can I create an interesting story using this idea? (The Sandbox RPG – done wrong – is the prime example of this. “Hi, let’s roleplay in the time of KOTOR” is not an RPG because it has no story. Most successful RPGs have a plot of some kind. It’s not just four or five characters wandering around the sandbox day in and day out - your players can always load up "The Sims" if they want that. You’re trying to create something more.)

    • Am I just trying to play a computer game in a text-based format? (If so, you should really just stick to the computer game. For example, we see a lot of “Knights of the Old Republic”-based RPGs set up here where the GMs seem to want to recreate the game experience in text format. It usually doesn’t work -- because the computer game has a complex plot, years of development and exhaustive playtesting, while typically the RPG has none of those things. Not to mention that a text-based RPG demands a lot more patience and imagination than a computer game with gorgeous visuals does.)

    • Am I trying to run a game, or play a game? (You can be a player or the GM - but not a player and the GM. It doesn't work. Don't do it. To be fair, I see why people might think it's a good idea. You want to have some control over the game's plot - and what better way to do that than to play a character that is essentially in charge, such as Head of the Jedi/Sith/Empire/etc ? But here's the thing: we all have a vested interest in having our characters do well, and the entire point of being a GM is to advance the story and to be a fair arbiter between players. A better idea is to make NPCs to build your plot around instead. You'll generally have less of a vested interest in furthering the interests of a NPC than the character for whom you lovingly wrote a two-page biography. Of course, you shouldn't create super-powerful NPCs that reduce your players to spectators, but that's something else entirely.)

    In short, if you want to run a successful, entertaining game, you need more than just a concept. You need an actual game.

    What type of RPG am I running?
    There are four common types of RPG that show up again and again on the RPF. These are:

    • The Sandbox RPG

    • The Mission Impossible RPG

    • The Risk RPG

    • The Fan Fiction RPG

    Most likely your game will fit into one of these four broad types. There’s nothing wrong with any of them – it’s just that each “type” of game has different things to think about when you’re starting and running it.

    The Sandbox RPG

    This is one of the most popular forms of RPG on the forums. This type of RPG is named for the word “sandbox” because a sandbox is a kids’ environment where they can let their imaginations run wild, and create castles from the sand.

    The Sandbox RPG typically involves setting an RPG in a particular time period (for example, the Old Republic around the time of the events of “Knights of the Old Republic”) with little in the way of an established plot for players to follow. Effectively, this leaves the players to make up the story as they go, based on their particular characters’ needs and desires.

    On the upside, this is a very easy form of RPG to set up – evidenced by the fact that most first-time GMs do so. In theory you are able to participate more fully as a player and as GM, in a more cooperative role. Also, if you have creative players, the RPG can often be taken in directions very different to those you originally had in mind; you can often be surprised by what people want to do. This type of RPG, run well and with a good bunch of players, is hugely enjoyable, especially sandboxes which take canon characters like Luke Skywalker or Han Solo in wholly different directions than the movies or books would dictate.

    On the downside, most of the time things don’t work out like that – evidenced by the fact that many sandbox RPGs run by first-time GMs fail within about a hundred posts or so. This is because running a sandbox looks easier than it really is. You often get a group of players who aren’t willing to look after themselves, or aren’t willing to create their own storylines – and not without justification; you’re the GM, you’re the host of the party, and a good host typically looks after his guests. Another big problem for the GM with a sandbox RPG is organization – if you have eight players, in eight different parts of the galaxy, as GM you wind up having to write eight separate updates – one for each character. That’s like running eight RPGs at the same time. On the other hand, if you’ve got the time to maintain such an RPG, it is a satisfying type to run.

    The Mission Impossible RPG

    This type of RPG is less common than sandbox RPGs. It is named for the “Mission Impossible” series of movies and TV shows, where a team of individuals are usually given the job of infiltrating a facility, or accomplishing some goal, with each having particular roles to play.

    The Mission Impossible RPG usually involves putting the players’ characters together in a team (or teams) and having them work towards some finite goal: infiltrate Jabba’s Palace; steal a Jedi Holocron; assassinate the Supreme Chancellor; whatever. The ‘infantry squadron’ RPG is basically the Mission Impossible RPG with several missions strung together in a row. Characters typically work together fairly closely, and towards their goal.

    On the upside, the job of organization is easier for the GM in terms of maintaining the RPG. Since all the players are in one location, you can write updates which apply to more than one person at a time. In addition, it’s usually easier to control the situation, since the players typically will have limited resources and aren’t flying around the galaxy blowing up Star Destroyers as they go.

    On the downside, this type of RPG needs more preparation by the GM since you have to keep up a decent overarching story to ensure people are still interested and involved from one mission to the next (and, needless to say, interesting missions with interesting obstacles to overcome are a must). This probably means more work than if you just set characters loose in the universe – but on the other hand, these games seem to attract dedicated players and GMs, and seem to finish out with a greater success rate than sandbox RPGs.

    The Risk RPG

    This type of RPG is fairly uncommon. It is named for the board game “Risk”, which involves the taking of global territories using quantifiable concepts like armies, tanks, and what have you.

    The Risk RPG, from one point of view, only marginally fits in the description of “role playing game”, since it is much more about players amassing things like wealth, or territory, or rank, than about playing the ins and outs of a character. This type of RPG is welcome here, but is typically marked by a significant number of rules governing what armies or weapons a player has at his disposal at any one time.

    On the upside, if you like this sort of thing, it’s very satisfying: the world is quantifiable, and these games tend to attract like-minded individuals who enjoy number-crunching and tactical strategy at a large scale. From one point of view the role playing experience is as good as, if not better than, the standard RPG experience because it truly is you who decides what things or armies to buy and deploy next. One can think of it as a sandbox RPG with some mathematical rules powering it, which helps you as a GM not to favour people: if a character needs X to take Alderaan and doesn’t have X, you can remorselessly say that Alderaan is not taken, even if it is your best friend who’s playing the character.

    On the downside, of course, it’s hugely complex to run and requires meticulous attention to detail. Additionally, you usually won’t get long in-character reflections or posts; they’ll be much more restricted to the ins and outs of what vessel is moving to which planet and suchlike. This type of RPG is best reserved for those who like this kind of game; it appeals to a certain “niche” in these forums, but don’t expect a massive crowd of players to join up.

    The Fan Fiction RPG

    This type of RPG is also pretty rare in the RPF. In point of fact, it usually evolves out of a Sandbox RPG. It is named for the concept of “fan fiction” – that is, stories which are told by fans of a franchise like Star Wars which have no official blessing and which often involve characters and plots independent of the established universe in which the story is set.

    A fan fiction RPG might be seen as the opposite of, or at least at the other end of the scale from, the Risk RPG. In Fan Fiction RPGs, the players (typically a small but dedicated group) take both their characters and the idea of telling a story in their RPG quite seriously, with the result that the average length of posts is much longer than the average Sandbox or Mission Impossible RPG. These can be seen as a little intimidating to join, since those that do exist typically have a long history with thousands (if not tens of thousands) of posts behind them.

    I’m not going to offer specific comments about running these RPGs, since they tend to evolve out of other types of RPG. This is just so you know it when you see it. ;)

    English As She Is Spoke use the old witticism. I'd like to use this little opportunity for rantage as a means for expounding the benefits of actually spelling properly and constructing complex sentences. If you’ve read the “new players start here” thread, you’ll know our views on the subject. (And if you haven’t read it, why not?) In any case, the importance of proper English usage bears repeating.

    Over the last decade, a decade that has seen the rise of cyberspace, of SMS messaging, mobile phones and IM programmes, all of which can be utilised for instantaneous communication across borders and oceans, a curious new cant amongst the technology savvy has occurred. The lovechild of laziness and illiteracy, this global threat remains nameless, so I shall call it "Internetese".

    Internetese features, among other things, a distinct lack of capitalisation. You or I would write "I think that this new game is really quite good". A cybercitizen whose mode of speech is Internetese would write "lol d00d, dis new game is rilly l337! it pwnz!".

    Now I realise that most people on the RPF aren't going to use "1337" or "d00d" in actual roleplaying. But all too often I see "u", and "rilly" (you shouldn't be using "really" anyway, but I'll explain that in a bit), along with offenders such as sentences that don't begin with a capital letter. If you are not confident in your ability to spell, please run your roleplays through some form of spellchecker. Microsoft Word can also amend your grammar, to a certain degree.

    Let's assume that you have typed out a grammatically sound post that contains minimal errors in spelling. Now, is your post refreshing and stimulating from a linguistic point of view? Has your inner auteur thrown a terminological rainbow over your post?

    Did you see that last sentence? It's an allegory. I could've said "use big words", but instead I spiced it up with the bollocks we writers call rhetorical devices. A metaphor is when you say something is something ("he was a boiling kettle of rage"), a simile is when you say something is like something (similar to a metaphor; "he was like a boiling kettle of rage"). A more comprehensive list is available on the Net.

    Rhetorical devices can turn a drab, uninspiring RP into an interesting one that stokes the fires of imagination. I mean, with the help of these little devices, you can turn a post where nothing actually happens into a deep, pondersome and intellectual romp through your character's mind. Sprinkle them on your RP whenever you feel like it, but using them to excess can just make you sound pretentious and full of hot air.

    I could write far more, but that would simply bore you all. I'll sign off with a reminder that all writers of fiction (including gamemasters!) must heed:

    Good writing does not make up for vapid, lifeless and one dimensional characters and situations!

    Fleet and Infantry RPGs
    The following is help for specific RPG types, that I always see not doing so well. But they fail usually not at the fault of the GM, or the players, but at the way the type of RPG is set up.

    Infantry Squadron RPGs

    I made an Infantry Squadron type RPG a long time ago, and it failed in the first mission. I also played in one recently that also failed early in the first mission. It seems that the reasons for them failing are the same.

    But I'll start with what went right, up to where it went wrong. First of all, there was never any trouble of getting enough players. Just the right amount of people joined. This shows that the problem does not come from the willingness of the players to play in that RPG type, but that the problem will show itself afterwards. Then, after people join, the game starts, and everyone is still there. No one has dropped out before it started. Then, a briefing is held for the squadron's first mission. After getting to where the mission will take place, the setting is given, a few posts are done, then the RPG dies.

    What happened?

    Well, in this RPG type, it seems that the GM is like someone who holds the leash of the players, and pulls them along. This gives the players minimal choices on how to play the game. The gameplay is too linear, without any side choices. Also, right before it dies, the posts will look something like this:

    IC: Private Arran

    Private Arran loaded a new clip on his E-11 blaster rifle, and switched off the safety. He took aim at one of the Scout Troopers on the ridge across from them, awaiting the order to fire.

    In the game, that is pretty much exactly what everyone else is doing too. Not very interesting when everyone posts the same thing. When that happens, you don't really care what anyone else is doing. Then everything depends on the GM, who is most likely the captain of the squadron. There isn't any player interaction there, and that is where is fails.

    In Fighter Squadron RPGs, with the same brief and start mission plot, it always tends to work out better. But why would it if it is practically the same as an infantry squadron RPG? I'll tell you why. It’s because in Fighter Squadron RPGs, before and after missions, there is more player interaction allowed, as it would be in real life. This allows the player to explore their character's personality, and other character's personalities. Then, the GM might make a fork in the road, where the players have to choose between going on the mission, or helping one of the players who might have gotten captured. That would seem the most obvious choice, but if the mission were not completed, then they would lose everything. The squadron would have to split, giving each player the choice of what to do. Choices are what makes RPGs fun. With many paths for a payer to follow or not follow, they can fall into a difficult situation, or take one that avoids it. An RPG shouldn't always be about the battle, but about avoiding the battle too.

    To sum it up, if you want to make a successful Infantry Squadron RPG, you need to start with some player interaction, and not go directly into the mission. And then, you can't just brief the mission and go. You need to give the players different paths to choose from, all leading to different results.

    Fleet-Based RPGs

    Most fleet-based RPGs are fun while they last, but die pretty quickly. They are usually a type of Risk RPG (see above for details.) They are usually structured in some sort of tournament between the players. If you want a short and plotless RPG that may or may not be fun, then that’s ok. But if you want a longer, more complex RPG that gives your players more choices, then I have some advice.

    In most fleet-based RPGs, the characters never even matter. All they do is command the ships to do things. But the characters are really what makes an RPG interesting. You should have it so that the players' characters actually get to do something. The best way to do this is not always have it being battle after battle. But how would you integrate some non-battle roleplayng? Here's how.

    You give the fighting a reason. Instead of you fighting to win, you should have it so you fight to win something that can help you later. Or, you can have it so that sometimes to be most effective, you keep the battle from starting, or avoiding being part of it. Once again, this is all about choices. When a player can choose what they want to do, they have more fun. Placing them against someone else to battle it out might be fun, but it really is not interesting. This leaves more room for their characters to have an effect over what goes on, not just the character's fleet.

    So basically, if you want to have a successful, long lasting fleet based RPG, you should not have it center on battles, but have the battles just another path to choose out of everything.

    And there is also the technical aspect of fleet-based RPGs. The ships. What you should do when posting the ships and their prices for a player to buy for their fleet, keep in mind that ships are built for different purposes. The only reason to buy an SSD instead of twenty VSDs should be different abiities that the ships have. VSDs should be more effective against something, that the SSD isn't effective against. Battles should not depend on firepower alone. If you are successful in this, then there will be more tactical choices for the players to make, so that the best Roleplayer would win a battle, not necessarily the one with the best fleet.



    Some advice from Dad
    When I got my first car, my father’s advice was: no matter how shiny and new the car looks, look after it – because if you don’t, you’re going to wind up with a shiny, new car that’s dead and can’t go anywhere.

    In the RPF, this advice translates as follows: you can’t just start a game. You have to run it as well for it to succeed. Many new GMs miss this. Consequently, the RPF has pages and pages of threads with only three or four posts in them. These are car bodies left by the side of the road because of faulty components or a failure to check the oil or water.

    So let’s talk about five basic things you must remember when you’ve actually got your RPG/your car started and it’s setting out for its journey down the information superhighway.

    Basic thing No. 1: Don’t overextend yourself.
    Or don’t load your car down with too many passengers, as Dad would say. It’s a rush when you get a positive response to your game; it’s always nice to feel popular. In some games – particularly those set in well-known franchises like “Legacy of the Force”, or “The Matrix” – it’s not unknown for a huge number of people to ask you for permission to join in. And, for the new (or new-ish) GM it’s a major temptation to take on every person who asks you for permission.

    Our advice is, don’t give into that temptation. Fantastic as a massive player base is, you’re still the host in this party. You have to take care of all these people. If you’ve got twenty people playing, that’s twenty different updates you might have to write at once. A veteran of these boards once wrote that the maximum number of players a GM can properly handle at once is 10, and it’s not a bad rule to follow. I’ve personally been on the receiving end of a good twenty, twenty-five people in one RPG, and it’s horrendous to manage and cater for. Most – if not all – RPGs collapse under the weight of such a number, and those that don’t typically suffer a loss in quality, which eventually leads to players deserting the game. Neither outcome is good for your self-esteem at the best of times. The happiness I have for a GM who attracts a large number of players to his RPG is matched only by the depths of despair when that brilliant game concept collapses as the GM abandons the game due to being overwhelmed.

    And don’t assume that having a co-GM solves player number problems. A co-GM is appointed to allow for more in-depth interaction between a small number of players in one of your factions—not as a panacea to a massive player base problem. A co-GM is your partner in running the game, not your understudy. Do not leave the overall management of the game to a co-GM – that is not their function. Also, your co-GMs ultimately will still be looking to you for guidance – and if the co-GM decides to leave (as is his right) you’re still left holding the can. Ultimately, responsibility for running the RPG comes down to you.

    So don’t be afraid to set a cap on the number of players you’ll have in the game. You don’t have to set it in the opening post; you’re perfectly within your rights at some later stage to say you’re not taking any more players. One good idea is to set up a waiting list, and as one player leaves the game, invite the next one on the wait list to come in. That way you can manage player numbers and replace dropouts as you go. Don’t overextend yourself.

    Basic Thing No. 2: Have a plan for where you’re going.
    Or as Dad would say, check the road map first and follow it. Make sure you have some sort of plan, even if it's vague, for where you want your RPG to go. Most players can sense when a GM is just treading water and doesn’t have anywhere to take his story. Such players often abandon the RPG for that very reason.

    Is it your plan for the Yuuzhan Vong to invade? For Emperor Palpatine's clone to re-emerge from hiding? You don’t have to lay everything out in minute detail (firstly, because players will inevitably mess with that plan, and secondly, you’re writing an RPG, not fan fiction) but you should at least have a broad idea of what's to happen in the game beyond the initial battle or confrontation into which you’re launching the players.

    But why plan, I hear you ask? Well, aside from anything else, planning gives you two things: confidence and enjoyment.

    It gives you confidence because you'll have a clear idea where the story is going next, what opponent the characters will be meeting around the corner, and what rewards (good or bad) that will apply to their behaviour. And at this point we should talk briefly about improvisation. One very common, and very mistaken, belief that's held by new GMs is that you can improvise better without a plan. It's actually the reverse: a plan gives you the freedom to improvise since you know where things are generally headed and can eventually move events back in the direction you need them to take; you can easily navigate the back roads of a suburb if you know generally where the major roads are and where the freeway is.

    Having a plan gives you enjoyment since, for the GM, a large proportion of the creative spark in a RPG comes from the planning process (not to mention some vicarious pleasure as you set up a series of tough enemies for the players to meet and overcome). Again, it is a false assumption to think improvisation makes this job easier or more enjoyable; it's actually rather taxing to try and make things up on the fly and keep it consistent with what's happened before. A GM who is just improvising, deliberately ignoring the benefits of planning, is easily marked as lazy to his players -- and denies himself some of the biggest pleasures of his part in the RPG - because, before the game starts, or even while it's running, there are endless possibilities, and much time and enjoyment that can be taken in trying to anticipate what your players will do.

    If as a GM you find yourself improvising the whole RPG, it might well be what you're really wanting to do is play your game, not run it (See the "How to make an idea into a RPG" section above). It's understandable because, as the GM, you hold all the cards. You invariably know what's going to happen, and sometimes it can leave you with a lack of excitement. One solution is to focus on your players -- because you don't know what they're going to do, and ultimately, as a GM your focus needs to be on them in any event. Alternatively, if you really want to play, say, a Clone Wars RPG, don't set up a game -- seriously consider asking someone else entirely to set up and run the game for you, or work within an existing RPG in the same universe.

    There is one other benefit to planning for the new GM: it will eventually pay its rewards in older and experienced players gravitating to your RPGs. If forced to make a choice, most experienced players would much rather take a chance on a new GM's well-planned, well-thought-out RPG than a shoddy, unplanned one from a persistently bad GM, no matter how long he's been registered. There's something about the posts of a GM who has planned out what he's doing after thinking carefully about it: a sense of balance, of calm, that older players pick up on, and like to see from an untested GM. In short, the best way to offset inexperience is by preparation in most fields of life -- including this one.

    As a wise man once said, “The only people who plan to fail are those who fail to plan.”

    Basic Thing No. 3: You are both friend and foe.
    As my Dad would say, make sure everyone’s wearing their seat belts. As GM, you are the final authority in an RPG, subject only to the TOS or moderator intervention. If you’ve got a rule that there’s to be no godmoding, and someone is godmoding – enforce your rule. That goes particularly for interactions between players.

    There are also three important tips to keep in mind here: negative consequences, character sheets, and obstacles.

    Firstly, don’t be afraid to give players negative consequences for their actions. The real world – and your fictional universe – isn’t touchy-feely happiness all the time. Bad things do happen to good people. If Darth Grand Slam does something really stupid, and you feel his Force abilities won’t save his butt, act on it, even if you do have to say “OOC: Sorry, dude” before you cut the guy’s hand off. ;)

    Secondly, give proper consideration to the Character Sheets of potential players. Approval of a CS by the GM should never just be a rubber stamp. For example, if SuperJedi99999 has said that his character has the power to walk through walls, and the main goal of your RPG is to penetrate a durasteel bunker containing two billion Corusca gems, then SuperJedi99999 has a very real capability to affect (at best) or screw up (at worst) your game. You have the right to veto any aspect of a character as you see fit; you might be the players' host, but they are, after all, your guests.

    Thirdly and finally, don't be afraid to set some serious, even hard, obstacles for your players' characters to overcome. Without obstacles, what are the characters doing other than ruminating on themselves and the cosmos? Overcoming obstacles is a part of every good RPG; after all, that's what all great stories are about - characters, their goals, and overcoming (or failing to overcome) the obstacles between them and their goals. Incidentally, this is the main reason the rule against auto-hitting exists -- because games where a GM lets it happen become boring (at least) very quickly. Remember: if there is no chance of failure for characters, no risk, no danger, then there usually is no excitement, either.

    That is not to say you should constantly and consciously aim for the outright destruction of all your players (called in RPG parlance a 'Total Party Kill'). But neither should the players be assured of success all the time. Indeed, this ties in with the need for planning: if you have contingency plans for the characters succeeding and failing to blow up that shield reactor, you're more likely to throw them into the situation without unconsciously favouring one outcome over another.) Remember, the GM provides the entire universe to the players; therefore at all times s/he is truly both the players’ greatest friend and their most implacable enemy.

    Basic Thing No. 4: Make sure every player gets at least one "spotlight moment".
    Or as Dad would say, make sure everyone's getting the breeze from the AC and the radio isn't too loud. Your players are all characters in your RPG, and it makes it a much more pleasurable experience for them if you try and work in at least one "spotlight moment" for each. A "spotlight moment" is where you provide an opportunity for a player to take the spotlight -- to use that special skill their character has, or explore some part of their bio or background. It's important because it shows you care about their characters past the "Approved!" PM which allows them entry into the game -- it shows you're actually taking notice of their individual quirks and abilities.

    It's important to be equal with every player in this respect. A really nasty thing to do is have a group of "favourite" players who you play up to simply because they post more than anyone else; it really alienates the other players, who may only be posting irregularly because they've got a really busy class load this month. They are people too; they joined your RPG, too. So do the right thing. Give everyone at least one spotlight moment in the course of the RPG.

    Basic Thing No. 5: Update your RPG as consistently as possible.
    That is, keep your eye on the road and don’t jump out of a moving car. Don’t leave people hanging out for a response from the GM for weeks on end – especially if you’ve demanded frequent posting from players in the first post of your game. If you have to be away, tell the players -- preferably ahead of time.

    And for the love of Peewee Herman, please don’t just disappear off the boards without telling the group you’re winding up the game. Especially if you’ve come up with a great concept, taken player submissions, and then decide to bail out before the game starts. Ask any older player on these boards what "Titanomachy" was, and you’ll understand -- from the howls of frustrated despair in reply -- why that advice is there. Avoid such things; fulfill your promises to post, and do so as frequently as reasonably possible.

    So there you are. May your journey go well. Try and keep it under 55, okay?

    Why we don’t play in your RPG's

    Strange title?
    Not really.

    As I hang around the boards, I have noticed a slew of new RPG's that have come into play. Normally, I would LOVE it, and happily jump at the chance of being offered so many games to play. But as I read some of them, my enthusiasm wanes a bit.


    There are several reasons why experienced players ignore or quickly lose interest in games. Of course, those that just don’t appeal to them are not the ones I’m talking about. I’m talking about the warning signs that some of us will see, and make us instantly shy away from a game. I present these warning signs to all.

    Things that make us as players cringe:

    TOO MUCH INFORMATION in opening post.

    Okay, we've all seen it. You click on the rpg to read the first post...and ten pages of text suddenly hits you in the face.


    Makes most beginner players take off and run for the hills. Others will be interested in playing, but it will take them awhile before they chime in. I know a good GM wants to give his players as much info as they need, in order to play their game. Nothing wrong with that. You just don’t need to feed it to them all at once. Break up massive posts to smaller ones. Something to get their interest at first, and THEN start with the particular rules that you are using. Info is GREAT. Just don’t dump it in their faces all at once. You will scare folks away. And PLEASE, organize it so that it makes some sense. IF your players have to scan several times in order to find out important information...they will lose interest. If they must PM you their sheet…then you better STATE that the first few lines of your game, not buried somewhere in the center of the document.

    On the other hand, TOO LITTLE information is just as bad, if not worse.

    "HI..the Sith are attacking... Join my game."

    Duh. When are the Sith NOT attacking? But really, we need to know more than that. What are you looking for? Sith players? Jedi? Both? Can other folks non force related play? Give us a timeframe. A character info sheet would be nice too.

    And by the the Spelling, and your use of markups. If Players cant read it, they wont play. AND NO, it is NOT cute for you 2 do n00b speak either! PWND!

    And speaking of Sith and Jedi:

    BAD, downright stupid, or NO plot. (Movie scenarios anyone?)

    What do I mean?
    Well, I don’t know HOW many times I have read...either the Jedi are attacking the Sith..or the Sith the Jedi..or the Rebels vs the Empire..etc. We already KNOW that. Or even better...CLONE WARS. Okay, we all know that these folks are fighting. But I don’t want to play the movie version of this battle. Why bother? If I have to act out the same exact thing that I saw on the screen, or read in the books, I’m not role-playing. I’m quoting scenes.

    During the BIG epic battles between the groups, there were plenty of small ones going on as well. Between smaller groups of folks. Their roles were no less important. I don’t want to HAVE to play Luminara, or Yoda, or some other classic Jedi. I want to play some other unknown character who had to fight and live and die, just as all the others; at least my character is my own. Not me trying to remember how they acted in the movies and books. And Guess What? RPG's are not all just one big continuous BATTLE SCENE. If that's what you want, go fight in the Lightsaber Duelling thread. Many of us actually LIKE plots, where the characters get a chance to run other smaller storylines in the middle of the big battle scenes. Why play in a game, where I can’t do anything BUT die? Plain fighting is not roleplaying either.

    Sliding into this slot, is the games that can’t start, until we have these specific player types filled first. *GROAN* Okay...let’s see...Yoda...Luke Skywalker...etc... Folks get interested and start to join. But if you have trouble filling the slots, then your game suddenly comes to a standstill, while waiting for others to join, and your game dies before it has began. K eeping players in Limbo is NOT a good thing.

    OKAY. Let’s move on.

    So, let’s just say you did the first few things great. Or we're willing to take a chance. You get players to join in, and your game starts off on its merry way. Let’s see if we can keep it going. Running a game is hard. Definitely suggest you have played in a few, before you start running your own. But once your game has taken off, you want to keep it going.


    This goes for players and GM's alike. Nothing ticks me off worse, than to set up a page of information, what a character sees, hears, and other game info, then have them respond with:

    "I go thru door."

    These are the people who usually die quickly, when something slaps them against the head. A GM can't post a good interaction with players, unless the players give them something to work from. The same goes for the players. Is your character having any thoughts? D o they even bother to look around them? If they are in a party, they could speak to others, couldn’t they? If you can’t be bothered to post more than one line, then why are you playing? You sure aren’t role-playing. Get out of the computer game mode.

    And GM'S. If you can only update once a week…fine. TELL your players that. Then they will know what to expect, and not feel like they are being ignored.

    On the other hand, if Real Life issues DO cause you to end your game, then do the Players who took the time out to PLAY your game, the courtesy of TELLING THEM YOU ARE CLOSING THE GAME. DO NOT let your players hang out there, without a word, letting the game die a slow death. Because every time you do that, makes it less likely that those same players will EVER attempt to play ANY other game that you may start up again.

    And Please GM's. I see you post in other games. If you can play in other games, but don’t bother to even RUN yours, I am likely to walk away, and not come back. Also, I don’t wanna hear..."SORRY..I haven’t posted much, But I’ve been player this KILLER game on my computer, and it just took up all my time." Gee....thanks.

    Also GM's, if you have Co-GM's in your game, make sure they are doing their jobs. If they don’t, then it is up to YOU as the main GM to take up the slack.

    Avoid these pitfalls, and you should have an enjoyable game, with players who will more than likely come back to play again.
    Maturity - The Pot Calling the Kettle Black
    To some of the newer Role Players of the forum, MATURITY! Yes, I'm well aware that it tends to be a hard concept to grasp at times, and though sometimes it is very elusive, maturity it essential to your impact on other Role Players. I was once a new member to this board, having no idea what I was doing, and I definitely lacked maturity. I insulted other players in the RPF, needlessly wasted posts on several different boards, and paid no heed to any of the help offered by my fellow friends in the RPF.

    This reason, and this reason alone, is why so many people have no impact, and are rarely acknowledged in their service to the boards. For example, you may be the most wonderful player on the boards, you may make intellectual posts, and know exactly what your doing, but if you display disrespect towards the other Role Players while playing Out Of Character, where does that leave you? It leaves you with a great post that nobody bothers to take the time to read. Why? Because it's a natural human instinct to assume the worst from something that's already bad. This is even more so the case for GMs and the roleplaying games they set up.

    Only now, after four years of dedicated RPing, have I managed to draw my respect level out for the deep triple negatives, and slowly into the positive end of the scale. And of course, Maturity is the underlying theme in each of the other sections of this post and those on how to play RPGs. It's only natural to assume that someone with a crisp, neat post, and flawless spelling knows what they're doing when it comes to Role Playing. So I urge you younglings to take heed to this message: Be mature in your posts, and both the Modhammer and the Saintmod shall smile upon you!
    Points of etiquette for GM's
    When you are happily running your game, and some non-player just jumps in with something, I suggest that you handle it with as much tact as possible. It is so easy, to send out a long list of reasons of why the person should not have done what they did, but ask yourself this first...

    Is it really NECESSARY to blast it to everyone in the entire game thread?

    What if the person is really just some excited new player, who just really wanted to join it? To get blasted publicly, is enough to send some new players running, never to venture into the world of RPG'ing again. Don’t assume everyone who bursts into your game actually has a clue on the right and wrong way of doing things.

    For first offenders, I tend to PM the player directly, and tell them CALMLY what it was they did wrong. I offer suggestions on how they can correctly the problem in question. And in game, if it is necessary, I simply post that the previous post was voided out. And continue posting for the game. It lets the game run smoothly, without too many interruptions. The new person is corrected, without feeling like an idiot, for something they simply didn’t know, and with any luck, is encouraged to try again. With a little guidance, they could come to be a good player.

    Now, we all know that this is not always the case. Sometimes we get those players who just DON’T quite know HOW TO TAKE A HINT. If you have a player, after sending multiple PM's to, asking them not to do certain things, and they continue, or turn hostile to both you and the game, then it is time to both respond to them in the game. AND, it is time to possibly ask the Mod for assistance as well. But the important part is to NOT let them ruin the game, both for yourself, and your players. Don’t be afraid to ask a Moderator for help. That is what they are there

    And players, let the GM handle the errant post. Don’t jump in, and blast the poor player-to-be. Unless you are giving helpful comments, let the GM handle it. If the post involves your character, then send them a PM, and direct them towards the GM.
    Even if you know the person is doing it on purpose, blasting them just gives them
    more ammo.

    Just remember that first impressions count. You never know if that is a potential new player out there. Not burning them on their first mistake, might be the first step in turning them into a great player to be. And we would be nothing, without new players.
    When the Dreaded DRL ATTACKS!

    This is a modification of similar comments by the author in another thread. But it bears saying once more.

    We all know this horrible creature. DRL…also known as Darth Real Life, invades your RPG, posting can become as difficult as a raging wampa. And of course, Real life must always take precedence over whatever games you might be running. The problem becomes even more acute if you are the GM of the RPG, and not just a player.

    But there is a right way, and a wrong way to deal with them in the Role Playing area. There are some ways to soften the blow, when Darth RL comes your way. If other people take the time and effort to play in your games, or as a player, you are involving others, the least you can do, is let them know you must go.

    THIS IS ESPECIALLY TRUE IF YOU’RE THE GM. Try to find someone who you trust to take over your game, if you foresee a lengthy time away from the boards. If not, then try to write your posts in such a way, that you don’t leave your players hanging for weeks on end, waiting for a response. A broad post, with multiple options, gives them something to work with, while they wait. This is especially true if you’re in the middle of a battle or conflict of some type. Long drags within the storyline are a natural DEATH SENTENCE to a game. If your players have to wait a month, between each action, don’t be surprised if when you DO post, you get few responses. You lose the flow of the game, and players become disinterested.

    Also, don’t assume that you can ONLY work on a post, online. Heck, use a text program. Sometimes I write notes in a *gasp* notebook, and then when I get time, input them. Ideas can be done away from the computer, so that when you do get a few moments of precious time to be online, you can immediately begin to work, instead of trying to do it all in one shot. Do what works best for you. At least that way, you are free from interruptions and other distractions, when writing your posts.

    Most games can get away with posting updates once a week, except when major actions within the game are happening. If you plan a game to be more active or slower, then let your players know what they are getting into. Everyone has DRL looming close by, but if you plan and adjust your posts, then your players wont feel abandoned, and the game your in won’t suffer a slow, agonizing death.

    Until the next thought...



    Don’t take it all too seriously.

    Go and read the “Pretendy Fun Time Games” section on the New Player FAQ in the forum. Right now, if you haven't done so already.



    The threads we cite in this section are stored in the Role Playing Resource Forum, which is the RPF's main "behind the scenes" discussion area.

    A great deal of useful advice can also be found in the Useful Resources section of the New Player FAQ on these boards as well.

    If you're looking for guidance on the art of creating games, a very good place to stop by is the Game Designer's Guild, where you'll find a great deal of discussion about how best to start and run your RPGs.

    Another resource is our thread on General etiquette on roleplaying and creating RPGs. Much of what's in this FAQ is duplicated there, but for space reasons not everything is within.

    Many thanks to Rayson, CmdrMitthrawnuruodo, Ktala, DarthXan318, RDG, and LightWarden. Their comments were horribly cut to pieces to create this post. :D/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>/>
    Last edited by Ramza, Mar 2, 2013
  2. greyjedi125 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 29, 2002
    star 5
    =D= =D==D= Bravisimo!! Excellent article your Saintness!!

    I hope this is widely read by both new and established GM's. ( Makes several revisions for himself ). Even veteran GMs as myself need a refresher course now and again, and new GMs are sure to avoid some unsavory pitfalls. Thanks for this wonderful piece of exposition.
  3. MASTER2 Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Aug 19, 2007
    star 1
    Thank you! This will really help me in the future!
  4. jedi_killeroak Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 16, 2005
    star 4
    Yes, I second that Saintheart, that was very informitive and a good way to bring in some better RPGs into the forums. Thanks again for the info.
  5. Bulldog54 Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    May 21, 2007
    star 1
    As someone who fazed in and out of RPG's in previous years, I appreciate this, and hope I can escape certain mistakes that you mentioned in the future!!! Thanks for this post
  6. chanbill5390 Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Jul 12, 2007
    star 4
    Thorough, I like it very much. It will help me greatly should I attempt another rpg.
  7. Jedi Gunny Yahtzee Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    May 20, 2008
    star 9
    This will definitely help my first attempt at an RPG.
  8. Sith-I-5 Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Aug 14, 2002
    star 6
    Incredibly informative, thank you.

    I was able to mentally point to games that I have played and think, "Okay, so that was a Sandbox; and this one is a FanFiction RPG".

    I was also able to see where I may have gone wrong on my attempts to run games.
  9. witchdoctor187 Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Aug 14, 2007
    star 2
    Hey i just want to thank you for posting this. a little late i know, but i read it thinking that it would be informative to me on how to better run an RP, considering some of mine in the past have failed due to Real Life or lack of players.

    i was also thinking of making a new RPG but figured that i should read this first. and i kept me from making mistakes in the future that i would have made if i had not read this.

    So again thank you. =D=:D
  10. Saintheart Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2000
    star 6
    Slight rejigging of some sections of the FAQ to better emphasise the need for people's concepts for games to be given practical thought. Move along. Move along. :D
  11. Supernova_I Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Sep 7, 2008
    star 1
    Thanks! This will really help me make my first RPG!
  12. Saintheart Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Dec 16, 2000
    star 6
    Added a Resources section with links to the Game Designer's Guild and a couple of threads. And added a pretty picture. :D

    Other quick news: these FAQs are very shortly to be replicated in the Non-Star-Wars Role Playing Forum for ease of convenience.
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