Following up from the previous post, I wanted to share some of what I do to get my game going.
The first obstacle you have in front of you is starting. As you wait for everyone to arrive, chatter about all manners of topics take place. Normally this is great. RPGs are at heart social games, so you want your group to feel comfortable enough to converse out of game too. The best groups have chemistry amongst the players. But you have a problem. You want to start the game. You try to interject:
“So guys, let’s start –”
“…and then I landed a three-hit combo and won it with a sliver of life left!”
“Yeah, and the next game –”
“Guys, let’s start”
“Did you see the Lord of The Rings super-mega-HD-bleeding-eyes cut?”
If you interject too fiercely, you disrupt the chemistry. This can cause players to either try to keep chatting about the interrupted topic during the game, or just take that energy level down to a point where you’ve given yourself more work to do in picking it back up.
So what do you do?
My technique is to ask a question.
Questions rock. Proper questions open the conversation to something new. Questions easily refocus attention and can instantly get players head into gamespace. The right question ( or series of questions) can build character, supply you with hooks for future use and drive the game forward.
The question about questions you have now is: What questions to ask?
There’s a range, and what you ask depends mostly on how far from game-readiness the group is. The shape and function of the question though, is something that gets people thinking about the game. even better is to ask a question that forces a player to expound on what his character is thinking about the game world.
“What does <character name> think about this situation you guys are in?”
It’s simple, but the second you ask it, you are directing the thoughts of your players away from the distractions and towards your game. If players are recalcitrant, or at a loss (expect this the first time you do try the technique) gently guide them with follow-up questions. Don’t let players off with mono-syllabic answers. Build and fill in the gaps where you can.
“Joe, What does Thor think about the noble’s refusal to send aid?”
“He’s not happy about it.”
“Did he expect the noble to send aid?”
“Does he just not trust nobles?”
“Yeah, he doesn’t like them.”
“Why? Did something happen to him to cause that distrust?”
(thinking) “…maybe his family had some problems with them?”
“So maybe, say, a noble killed your brother for something frivolous?”
“Yes, he was mistaken for a poacher on the noble’s land.”
“What was the noble’s name?”
“Franz Ferdinand” (hehe)
“cool. ” (scribbles notes) “Jane, what does Illiana think of the noble’s refusal to help?”
Do you see what’s going on in this exchange? In order to answer your questions, the player must shift their attention on their character’s mindset. You build some detail of a character’s past, link it to the present ( The past is most important for stories in how it informs what the character does right now), and create hooks for later use. Franz Ferdinand or someone from his family could make an appearance in the future.
Once you’ve run everyone through this, you should be ready to go. You’ve seamlessly transitioned from out-of-game banter and thinking to in-game, in-game character thinking, and now the game is really ready to start.
If anyone already does this, or tries it out I would love to hear some other examples of this technique applied to other gametables besides mine.
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