Content of the article: "The advice some people will hate more than anything in the world and some people will find saves their game and lets them find a “forever group”"
Biggest disclaimer. Huge disclaimer. Please read this, please. I know this won't work for everyone but I'll be damned if it wasn't the single greatest thing I ever did for my game so I'm going to share it anyway.
A requirement at my table is that at some point during the year, you DM a one shot in the system.
And that's the TLDR, I'll add more details below.
First off, I always recommend starting any group off with a series of one shots rather than a full campaign. It allows for a graceful ending point if needed and lets you get a feel for players that is sometimes missing in session zero. Personally, after I have decided on a group and ran a couple of one shots with them I then do a re-do of session zero where we reiterate table goals, sometimes adjusting if things were different than we imagined. I introduce the long term campaign pitch with a stipulation: I expect all players to DM a one shot within the year. It can be at any time, and as short as they want but it must be in the same system we are using.
Benefits I have noticed since implementing this have honestly been more wild than I could have possibly imagined:
- My players show a greater willingness to make interesting and in character decisions, even if they're not necessarily the mechanically "best" option.
- There is little to no argument when I make a judgement call in our normal campaign now
- Players are better at passing the spotlight around to their fellows
- There is a complete lack of "that guy" syndrome. (we never had a full "that guy" but everyone usually has their moments, not anymore)
- Players show an increased willingness to "play along" with hooks
- There is no metagaming (almost to a fault! I have to reassure them that some things aren't metagaming and instead just basic logic for their characters)
- failures are treated as an exciting part of the game and not a negative consequence
- Way better understanding of rules and way increased preparation when it came to abilities/spells.
And honestly by far the biggest has been for me. I thought it would just be a nice break from GMing now and again (and it was… until I get antsy wanting to be back in the GM seat) but honestly being reminded what it's like as a player seriously changed how I GM. Some of the things I felt personally helped me were:
- A reminder of how boring it can get when someone has a solo scene
- How frustrating experiencing a "GM's baby" NPC is
- What actions actually feel like railroading and conversely, plenty of things that really don't.
- (for me) How different my emotions were with open rolls vs. hidden ones. I always thought that hidden rolls added tension, but tbh I just found them frustrating and boring waiting around, even if it was only sometimes. I know not a lot of people agree with me on this, but because of the experience I switched to 100% open rolls.
- A reminder of how hard it was to decide what to do or where to go when you're not the one who made the world.
- Complete eye-opener about the murderhobo temptation and subsequent addition of action "treats" every session to give players something fun to do
- Jesus, clues really are hard to find no matter how obvious they seem when you're making them from the GM side.
- How OK I was hearing "no"
- How sometimes OOC explanations helped me be more immersed, not less.
In summation, I can't recommend requiring players to try the other side of the screen enough. It literally changed the whole feel of my game for the better and anecdotally we've now been going for 3 years at one game/week, I'm marrying one of them and the rest are coming to the wedding so… you could say it worked out. (Yes, there will be a joint bachelor/bachelorette party game that I am GMing)
Before I go I will answer two points I'm pretty sure will come up:
Isn't this unfair to players with social anxiety/a super busy schedule/(insert reason here)?
-Yes, kind of, but I'm not a GM business who has to make my game accessible to anyone who wants to play. I'm allowed to have certain restrictions. I let everyone know in session zero what the expectation is and I offer everyone as much assistance from me as they want throughout a whole year to prepare. While I've never had a player say they couldn't do it I did have a player express concern at being able the GM because of anxiety and we simply worked together to prepare for their session and they did a great job. It's possible someone else may need even more help than that and I'd be willing to give it, but if someone was truly unable to GM after a full year and all the assistance I could offer there would probably be a conversation about not being a good fit for the group.
What if someone says they can do it in session zero and then won't for whatever reason?
-Again, I've never had a player do this. If it did happen it would be a one on one conversation to figure out why and if there was anything I could do to help. If life got really rough unexpectedly maybe they get some additional time. If they were too anxious maybe we co-DM. If they knowingly lied in session zero and simply hoped I would forget it would be a much more serious conversation and quite frankly I don't know what I would say, but it would likely require either a significant apology and change in attitude from them or removal from the group.
So there's my "not advice for everyone but still the best advice I've got" explanation!
- I Am A Failure of A DM.
- Opinions on talking out of character (“table talk”)
- How much of an issue is metagaming? (First time DM)
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