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Tips for New GMs

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señormysterioso

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« on: (17:07:01/09-11-10) »
Hi, I'm interested in starting a shadowrun campaign with some people that are new to Shadowrun. I've never GM'd anything before, but am really interested in reading up on the game and creating a complex storyline. I've been reading modules, and play-by-post games for inspiration. I want to be able to have the game run fast and smooth, but some things seem a little complicated, like gunfire, demolitions, security systems, and the matrix. I also want SR to be more like a game and less like a story, giving the players more choices, tests, and detective work.
Does anyone have any tips for new GMs? ???

Critias

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« Reply #1 on: (17:13:31/09-11-10) »
I'd ease into it if you can.  Run some session that are meant to be "prequels," where maybe a character death or maiming or total rules cluster-fuck won't "carry over" into the rest of the game...practice sessions, pretty much, just to let everyone learn some of the basics.  Do 'em solo, if you can -- just hang out with the team hacker for a couple hours and go over the rules, try a milk run in the Matrix, and see if you both have a grasp on the basics -- to just get the whole group warmed up and on the same page.

If you guys find out you've got a glaring problem -- the Mage is missing a crucial skill to let him do his job, the combat guys are getting beat by NPC mooks routinely, the Hacker's not got an important program -- try to work it out in these one or two prequel type games, so everything will be running smoothly later.  Take the time to learn, like a preseason football game, before the "stakes" are real...especially since you're all new to Shadowrun!

Most importantly, don't kick yourself.  Don't stop gameplay to look things up, if you can help it.  If you're not sure what to do, pick a skill and an attribute that sound right, tell the player to roll some dice, and wing it.  Tell the player involved that's what you're doing, and ask them to remember (and to help YOU remember) what was going on, so you can look at the rules and figure it out later

Don't feel like puzzling over the chase rules?  Have the team driver roll Reaction + Piloting + Handling for the team's cool SUV, have the cops chasing them roll Reaction + Piloting + Handling for their squad car, and describe the cool chase scene.  Make it an extended test where the team needs to get ten total successes over the cops, or something...but don't stop the game to read over the rules, just sling some dice and describe a Lethal Weapon movie, and look it up after the game.

When something surprises you and you're not sure what rules to use, just pick an attribute, pick a skill, apply a modifier, and roll some dice.  Worry about finding the "right" rules later...keep the game moving, keep everyone having fun. 

It's play!  Not work!

Walks Through Walls

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« Reply #2 on: (20:27:10/09-11-10) »
I agree with Critias for the most part, but every GM has his own style so that is why the game is so much fun in my opinion.

I would read over the magic section, combat section, and matrix (if there will be a hacker) a couple of times even make notes if you think it will help you (even just for this see pg X)

I agree though don't get bogged down in the rules. Often there are several things going on, and if this is the case hand the player involved the book and say find me the rule on such and such it will be in this section (or the indexes in the back of the books are great) we'll get right back to that and then resolve something else while he takes the minute to look it up. He will learn more this way and everyone stays involved and it doesn't stop the action to find the rules.

If you can find one the GM screen has a lot of useful info on it that will help with common scenarios.

A good story always trumps small rules errors in a players mind from what I have seen. Read the section on how to GM near the back of the main book. Also be willing to admit when you made a mistake learn from it and if need be modify something so the player doesn't get hosed by a rule error.

When I start a new campaign especially with new players I have the first run then tell the players that if they want to make some changes to the character or even make a whole new one because the concept they had isn't going to be able to do what they want, but let them keep the loot and karma.

If you have more questions or if I can help you with something just let me know
"Walking through walls isn't tough..... if you know where the doors are."
"It's not being seen that is the trick."

Walks Through Walls

street.mage

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« Reply #3 on: (15:41:40/09-12-10) »
I've GMed D&D for several years, and recently started a SR game.  The replies so far are right on, in fact, most of the stuff I've read from people on these boards are extremely helpful.  One thing not mentioned (directly, at least as I recollect) is that you need to know your character's strengths and weaknesses. 

I'd do some pre-generated runs to get a few under your belt.

Kubz

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« Reply #4 on: (23:31:12/09-12-10) »
As a green DM, I was having similar problems as señormysterioso.  one piece of advice was that if everyone is new to the game, feel free to fudge things like dice rolls.  obviously you need to progress and learn, not just BS your way through SR or else your players wont take you seriously. 

i like walk through walls idea of doing a run where the characters arent set in stone but the karma and loot are still available.  thanx walk through walls!!

also, where would be an good place to post characters?  i love the art of character building
People are like slinkys.  They are a lot of fun to watch fall down stairs.

FastJack

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« Reply #5 on: (23:38:52/09-12-10) »
As a green DM, I was having similar problems as señormysterioso.  one piece of advice was that if everyone is new to the game, feel free to fudge things like dice rolls.  obviously you need to progress and learn, not just BS your way through SR or else your players wont take you seriously. 

i like walk through walls idea of doing a run where the characters arent set in stone but the karma and loot are still available.  thanx walk through walls!!

also, where would be an good place to post characters?  i love the art of character building
There isn't a place yet. Some have expressed and interest, however. I'd recommend either PM'ing JM Hardy to create a subforum, or create a new topic in a forum that seems appropriate.

Wayfinder

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« Reply #6 on: (23:44:32/09-13-10) »
The best advice I got is not try and make your players turn right because thats where you planned for them to go right. I always let them go left then left then left, and before they know it they are going right!

Walks Through Walls

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« Reply #7 on: (18:02:48/09-14-10) »
Very true Wayfinder. Besides that you never know what might come out of those left turns. Sometimes the best recurring NPCs or plot lines come along by accident.
"Walking through walls isn't tough..... if you know where the doors are."
"It's not being seen that is the trick."

Walks Through Walls

señormysterioso

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« Reply #8 on: (21:53:14/09-14-10) »
Three lefts, that's awesome. Thanks for all the advice. You all have lots of good ideas. I think I am gonna try and run a game that is a sort of intro into a bigger plot. I will go with the idea of letting players keep the loot and rebuild their characters, sounds good. I will probably use missions to get some practice. Maybe start with SRM3-02 Block War?

Stan

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« Reply #9 on: (00:27:06/09-15-10) »
I agree with the bulk of what folks have recommended.  Keep the action moving, brush up on the core rules for combat, skill resolution and such, and don't get bogged down with game mechanical details.

I do, however, want to recommend that you actually take a shot at creating those first runs for yourself.  Feel free to borrow big chunks of it from Missions and other published material if that makes things easy for you.  But I think that creating the runs yourself is good for two reasons.

1)  It's a skill you'll be drawing on for the whole of your GMing career, and it's never too soon to start.

2)  If you put the runs together yourself, this gives you the freedom to get the game rolling without having to master all the rules up front.  Not clear on how rigging works?  Then avoid drones and vehicle chases.  Still learning the ropes on the Matrix rules?  Then start the hacking off easy with simple nodes and low-stakes cybercombat.  The Missions material may assume that you possess more familiarity with all the various game mechanics than you can be expected to as a newbie.

Your mileage may vary, of course.  But that's the strategy I used when I first started GMing Shadowrun about a year ago, and it served me well.

Kubz

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« Reply #10 on: (13:38:54/09-15-10) »
Stan is right.  Doing your own game design allows you to avoid game aspects that you are still clueless about.  Also, I get a real sense of pride when I make up my own game that can go any which way.  good stuff. 
People are like slinkys.  They are a lot of fun to watch fall down stairs.

voydangel

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« Reply #11 on: (18:19:07/09-15-10) »
Critias, Walks through Walls and Stan all have wonderful advice. Heed them well.

I would like to touch on a few in depth details regarding adventure design, specifically as they relate to Stan's advice about making your own adventures at first. (These tips may not work for everyone, but they work for me, and I hope they help.)

1. Write up a rough outline of the adventure/story you want to tell. Think of it like a book with chapters, or even better - a movie with scenes.
Break up the outline into 3 parts. Beginning, Middle, and End. Or, to use SR parlance: The Setup, The Run, & The Aftermath.
Then, break each of those into scenes. For example:

The Setup
• Meet the Johnson.
• Talk to the contact that's in the know.
• Do some surveillance.

The Run
• Getting in.
• Accomplishing task 1.
• Task 2.
• Getting out.

The Aftermath
• Meet the Johnson again. Get paid.
• Tie up any (obvious) loose ends.
• Try to cover tracks/law low.

2. Think of a scene as a stand alone entity. This isn't a railroad. You don't want scenes that lead directly to the next one with no choices to be made by the players. But you do want them connected. Sometimes that is really easy, as the 4 items in "the run" section above are very cut and dry and linked together. But sometimes the run has a lot more to do with the setup section, as in the case of mystery style runs, where there is a lot more legwork and meetings and surveillance involved. Getting these scenes to tie in can be a little harder, but luckily they also tend to be a little more loose, so that makes it not too bad. For example, in "the run" in the above outline, "task 1" and "task 2" could be done in reverse order, so make sure you plan for that eventuality; keep them separate and independent.

3. Try to think of 2 different ways to introduce a scene to the players. A wonderful analogy for this item is the idea of drawing a map. We've all done it I'm sure. You draw up the forest with the elves in it, or the Ares Lab the players will be infiltrating, or the map of a region in a D&D game or some such. And in that map, you place the well, or the prototype weapon, or the evil warlords cave, respectively. Well, the problem with that is that now you have to figure out some way to get the players to the well (or the cave) so you can have your epic confrontation. You have to force them. Bad idea. Instead, try this: Plan the well encounter separate from its location. Make it a stand alone scene (a la #2) that is completely independent of location, obviously it needs to be in the forest, but where in the forest isn't all that important when you think about it. So... write up a small note (2 of them) about how exactly the scene could be introduced to the players, you want 2, in case one of them just plain wont work once the time comes.

4. ... and write up 3 (or 4) different ways for the scene to end. You need to make sure you have an idea where you want the scene to go. That's your first "exit strategy", plan it well. Then, for your second strategy, write up what happens if the players fail, or say no to the offer, or what have you. This is important because it helps you to think of ways to keep the players 'on track', with out forcing their hand, or railroading them. Don't try to make the outcome be the same for paths 1 and 2 though, you want them on a track, not on the track. And 3rd, stop for a second and take off your GM hat, forget about your story, and ignore all your plans. Then put on your Player hat, and look at the scene from their (pseudo-uninformed) perspective. What might they do in this situation? This is your #3 exit strategy. Sometimes there are 2 'player paths'. That's fine, write up a #4, but that's all. 4 is your limit.

5. When writing up a scene, keep it simple. By simple, what I mean is. You now have about 10 scenes for the run. Depending on how much time you have to plan, and how often you play, this can be daunting. So keep it simple. Don't plan out every single possibility or write up stats for every single NPC. Stay on target. Write up a short paragraph or list of ideas for the 6 senses (see below) to describe the scene itself. Have one or two sentences for NPS they are likely to run into. Have 3 or 4 sentences for the "major" NPCS, along with a few pertinent stats. And for anyone the team might actually fight, write up brief stat blocks of only the relevant combat stats for the person. Don't go overboard in your planning.

6. When writing up a scene, be descriptive. Use the 6 RPG senses. Sight, smell, touch, taste, sound and motion. The first 5 are self explanatory. Make sure to include at least 4 of them in your description of any place or person. The 6th is what makes a scene come alive. And remember: it's not "what is moving in the scene", it's "how is the scene moving?". When you look at any person or situation, there is a life to it. It's doing something. A person/crowd has intent, desire and a goal. A location/place/item has a feel, a purpose and a reason. If you clue the players in on what these things are, what the motion of the thing is, it will be real to them, rather than a static item/person.

7. When running a scene, don't be afraid to narrate. Don't over-control the characters, but don't be afraid to move a scene forward with actions that could be 'automatic'. Such as just after you describe a scene in a bar, you could say "after looking around the room, you spot your contact, sitting in the back booth. You access the bars menu and order a drink as you make your way past other bar-dwellers, getting bumped here and there by people as they cheer at the sports trids. You nod to your buddy as you sit across from him and as you begin small talk, your drink arrives via a cute dwarven barmaid." In this, you have taken control away from a player, but only in a small way, and in a way that adds to the description of the scene and moves the story forward. A good rule of thumb is to never 'assume actions' for a character that would involve a roll of the dice.

8. Plan your planning. Only assume that you will make it through about 4 scenes in an evening, 3 if you have short sessions. Only assume 5 if you have long sessions and/or they are very short scenes. And then, plan accordingly. There's no need to flesh out all the details of the final encounter of the run if you're just starting. Focus on whats going to happen next. AKA: plan in order, and try not to plan any further than one gaming session. A lot can happen in that one session, and you wouldn't want to have to go back and redesign 3 scenes that you pre-made because the PCs decided to do something you hadn't thought of last night during the bar scene.

9. Don't be afraid to leave a cliff hanger. You don't have to have every scene and every game night wrapped up in a nice tidy package with a bow at the end of the night. Don't be afraid to leave a scene a little open ended, and don't be afraid to end game night right before, right after, or even right in the middle of something big. AKA: it's ok to leave them begging for more.

I hope these tips help a little. Best wishes.
My tips for new GM's
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Walks Through Walls

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« Reply #12 on: (18:47:59/09-15-10) »
Voydangel has several good points, and one of them points out another problem with starting with the missions adventures. They are written for the Conventions mainly so they are written to be done in 4 hours. This is a good thing right! Well not necessarily because the way it does this is it railroads from one scene to the next for the most part. A good GM gets around this and lets the characters lead to the right point so they think they get there on their own, but why make your job harder when you are learning and starting out.

I also agree that I get a great sense of pride out of seeing my players enjoying the run I made up. Don't take it personally when they beat up your bad guys though. After all that is what they are there for ultimately is to be beaten.

The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to have fun yourself. If you don't your players won't
"Walking through walls isn't tough..... if you know where the doors are."
"It's not being seen that is the trick."

Walks Through Walls