One of the highlights of my visit at last weekend’s Toronto Fan Expo was the one hour panel I had the honour to share with RPG legends Ed Greenwood and Robin D. Laws. I bumped into Robin about 30 minutes before the talk and we checked the room assigned to us. It contained about 100 chairs but neither Robin nor I expected much of a turnout.
…that was us seriously underestimating the attraction of Ed, his stories and the general interest of people for tabletop RPGs. We ended up speaking to packed room of 100+ people. I was impressed!
I wasn’t too sure how things would go but Robin took the lead and proposed that we each introduce ourselves and shared something we had recently learned as a Game Master, given that even the most legendary GMs learned new things.
Thankfully, Robin asked me to go after him but before Ed…
“Hi, ummm, I’m, like, this RPG blogger with a French name you probably didn’t get and, umm, I write stuff and I was a DM for a real long time”
I may be exaggerating a bit here. It got better from there.
Robin started talking about how he learned that failure in RPGs had to be re-evaluated…
Chatty (Silently): Oh crap, he’s going to say what I was going to say… quick make his head explode with your Scanners powers!
Robin basically outlined that classic, meaningless RPG failures (TPKs, Dead ends, failed spot checks) should not tarnish the players expectations/ time investement in the game. Modern RPGs tend to emulate heroic genres and the GM should make sure that failures fit the kind seen in movies where the heroes get up, dusts themselves up and pick up where they left off.
Chatty (still silently): Phew…He can live, I can add more to what he just said.
I followed about my experiences with Mouseguard and how failures should rather be used as opportunities to make things more interesting, more complicated for players instead of closing doors.
Ed then shamelessly plugged Robin’s new book “Hamlet’s Hit Points”. He said that after making stuff up on the spot for so many years in his games, he was surprised to see that you could still plan emotional rises and falls in your games pretty much like studio creatives and executives do.
Ed: I met these 3 foot tall guys with cigars telling the writers: “No, the hero can’t start caressing the girl until scene 3, that’s when the audience will be hooked!”
I’m paraphrasing here people, I take no responsibility about nor will I even try to quote Ed on anything… ever.
Still, I think I’m going to have a look at that new book.
Robin: How dare you plug my newly published book, available at all fine locations where RPG books can be found!
We then started taking questions and it became obvious that Robin and Ed had fielded a tons of those before. What surprised me was that many, many of them were about GMs asking how to make players conform to some ideal they had internalized. Here’s a few I remember.
Question: How do I make this one player come out of his shell and start roleplaying?
Answer: He already roleplays by being there. Maybe he’ll come out of his shell but don’t stay stuck on a narrow definition of roleplaying. Players evolve but not necessarily where or how the GM expects.
Question: I have this guy who always have these crazy plans he wants to trigger at the end of combat, how do I rein him in?
Robin: There we are people, we have the question about “that guy!”
Answer: If you truly are at the end of a session, tell him to keep it in and that he can do it at the next session. If the player wants to do some crazy stuff like shooting a bazooka in a small room (true example from the room), just let him, at least once in a while, and have all the other PCs surf the explosion wave to safety. If it’s cool, make room for it.
Question: How do I convince a player to stop always playing the same kinds of character?
Answer: You don’t. You figure out a way to let them play one.
Ed: I like Cat Ninja Bard girls!
This exchange brought the philosophy all 3 of us shares to the forefront: Focus on delivering to players what they want, don’t force your perception of what is proper to them. Make it work so your motivations and theirs match but be the flexible one.
Question: How do you handle large groups in D&D?
Answers: Play older editions. Impose discipline and skip turns when not applied. Foster a new DM and split group in two, possibly playing in a shared world with PCs switching games.
Question: How do I make my players care about My NPCs/My Stories/My World
Answers: Make them care by creating relationships with NPCs, by being directly involved in the stories and by making them small owners of the world (keeps, inns, etc). Have them make difficult choices about them Foster world creation from the get go by having pre-campaign sessions where players create new NPCs and places and create ties between them and the elements they created.
Great stuff really.
Is the Hobby dying? Ask the kids…
Robin mentions on his journal that the fears of having the hobby die out to video games seem to be unfounded. Most of the room was filled with 20-somethings that seemed to be genuinely excited about D&D! I’ll take this anecdotal evidence and use it generously from now on!
All in all, I had a great time. I loved listening to Ed and Robin share their wisdom and I think I held my own and made a few interesting points myself. I also want to catch more of Ed telling stories, they guy is an awesome font of non-PC, R-Rated stories! I wanna hear more!
Looking forward to doing it again as I was re-invited for 2011.