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Eliciting Reactions: Cart Meet Horse

So we’re having dinner and she says “When I GM, how do I inspire awe in the players? I want them to look at something and just go ‘wow!’” GMs ask many subspecies of this question. How do I make them love some character I made? How do I scare them? How do I make […]

Ben Robbins | January 12th, 2012 | | 6 comments

Bears Are Not (That) Scary

It’s the Halloween season, so we return to that old chestnut: fear. I’ve talked a little about scaring players before, or more accurately, getting players to be willing to let themselves be scared, but let’s talk about fear itself. Rumor has it there is nothing else to fear. There’s pretty much two breeds of fear: […]

Ben Robbins | October 21st, 2010 | | 5 comments

Try Something New: the Indie Exploration Kit

Tomorrow the new edition of D&D is coming out. At first it’s going to seem very different from what you’ve played before, and in some ways it will be, but in more ways it will be the same. Compared to Third Edition D&D it may be a brave new world, a revolution even, but both […]

Ben Robbins | June 5th, 2008 | | 3 comments

Yin & Yang of GMing

There are two conflicting urges in every GM, forces that boil like seething dragons twisting in the blood (and so on): 1) the urge to tell the players a story, impress them with your craft, be in control of the game 2) the urge to have the players do stuff, take control, be independent and […]

Ben Robbins | December 16th, 2007 | | 7 comments

Rolling for Roleplaying: the Virtual Roll

Player: “… and after enumerating the logistical problems, I finish up by explaining that if the King invades now, he’s just repeating the same mistakes that doomed Badon IV when he marched into these very lands two hundred years ago, a fatal error that brought his glorious reign to an ignominous end.” GM: “Ooooh nicely […]

Ben Robbins | August 29th, 2007 | | 12 comments

Burning Spotlight

Players want play time. Forget about treasure, XP, or hero points: the only reward that really counts is getting to play. Would you sit out a game to get more XP? Would you play for half as long if you could get twice as much treasure? Maybe if some trade of less game now = […]

Ben Robbins | July 8th, 2007 | | 5 comments

Left Hand and the Right Hand

So a Second AI, independent of the adversary AIs, could make a whole new species of better video games. Good. But it also tells us something about tabletop gaming, and that's that the GM is really wearing two hats, or to use a better metaphor, playing the game with two hands. With the left hand, […]

Ben Robbins | November 26th, 2006 | | 2 comments

Same Description, Same Rule

Rules should not surprise players. More specifically, if you describe a situation to the players and then describe the rules or modifiers that will apply because of the situation, the players should not go “whaaaa?” If they are surprised it’s either because you specified an odd mechanic (a will save to resist poison) or a […]

Ben Robbins | June 15th, 2006 | | 6 comments

Scaring Players: Creating the "oh sheet!" moment

There is one emotion that GMs down through the ages have struggled to elicit: fear. You've been there. The GM describes the terrible monster or ominous NPC, and the players know the GM _wants_ them to be afraid, but they just aren't gonna do it. They should be afraid, the thing is logically terrible, but […]

Ben Robbins | April 28th, 2006 | | 11 comments

NormalVision (part 4), Taking it Farther

First, NormalVision thus far: NormalVision (part 1) NormalVision (part 2), When Should I Use It? NormalVision (part 3), Preparing a Scene Now let’s look at a few ways to take it even farther. Making a Difference NormalVision characters are usually more witnesses than prime movers. They stare out across the deck of the ship in […]

Ben Robbins | January 19th, 2006 | | 7 comments

NormalVision (part 3), Preparing a Scene

So you've decided to include a NormalVision scene in your game. What do you need to know before you run it? First and foremost make sure you need to use NormalVision at all. Then decide what you intend the scene to reveal. All that was covered in part 2, so go read it! Players should […]

Ben Robbins | December 31st, 2005 |

NormalVision (part 2), When Should I Use It?

Once the genie is out of the bottle, it may seem like almost any situation is an opportunity for a NormalVision scene. After all, they're fun, right? Take a deep breath. Now stop and consider that for the NormalVision scene (and, er, any scene) to have a point, it has to have a point. Here […]

Ben Robbins | December 30th, 2005 |

NormalVision (part 1)

What's the difference between role-playing games and other mediums? The audience is the same as the actors. The players fill both roles. But for the players to face interesting challenges they are usually kept in the dark about more things than a passive audience needs to be. An audience at a movie can know who […]

Ben Robbins | December 25th, 2005 | , | 14 comments