RPGs are fantastic avenues for social stimulus among a group of people. But sometimes, that can be difficult to achieve. It is my opinion that what amounts to an enjoyable gaming session is a unique chemistry within the group. Sometimes it takes a few gaming sessions to develop, at other times, the chemistry begins as soon as the GM and the players enact their first encounter of the game. When an RPG hits its stride for both the GM and the players is when good gaming group chemistry is accomplished (I will label this GGGC for short).
GGGC is a challenge for many, myself included. Some game masters have that je ne sais quoi that creates an enjoyable atmosphere for the players. It also must be said that players need to have a measure of this too. There are a few people out there, game masters and players alike, that have charisma, a natural affinity to bring people together and help create a fun game. This is few and far between. Personally, I can think of two people that have that charisma (and yes, they are gamers). RPGs, in my opinion, is interactive storytelling at its finest, with everybody at the gaming table contributing (ideally) to a great gaming experience.
GGGC can be maintained if both the GM and players are active particpants in the game session. This is a tricky balance. Every human being is different, we were all raised in different households, different families, even different cultures. Part of keeping the chemistry alive is having everyone (regardless of their background) come together on common ground and socially interact with each other, staying in character (when possible) and accomplishing some amazing story dynamics with their characters. This is easier said than done. For me, as a GM and a player, it is a personal challenge. Every game I struggle with this issue.
Paizo has made an effort to address keeping GGGC alive by giving advice to the Game Master in their book, Game Mastery Guide. Now please keep in mind that there are other publications out there that cover this is as well (For example. I believe Robin D. Laws wrote a book about addressing GGGC and the title escapes me at the moment). So if any blog readers have other publications in mind, please comment, make your voice heard. Actually, if any blog readers have any tips they'd like to share on keeping great chemistry in an RPG, please comment, not only will you be helping me, but you will be helping any readers of the blog! (Apologize for the digression)
Getting back to Paizo's Game Mastery Guide, the second chapter of the book, entitled Running a Game, has oodles of information for what a GM can do to help assist with providing GGGC in a game. The chapter examines styles of running the game, creating a atmosphere for your players, what type of adventure to run (relating to styles of running the game), and other things. There's a great section entitled, 'Don't Stymie the PCs.' In chapter 3, there is an interesting section that can prep a GM as to what type of personality a player may have at the gaming table (the book outlines 14, yes fourteen, types of player personalities you may run into when Gming a game!). I would recommend any GM to peruse this publication at the very least.
If you want even better advice on game mastering then you could go straight to the source, find a great GM and mine his/her brain for great suggestions on running a game. One great way to do this is sit in on an Iron GM competition. Iron GM challenges Game Masters to run an adventure with three random topics, at the end of the competition, the Gms are judged and the best of the best are given prizes. If these guys and gals are willing enough, you should talk to them for tips about running a game. Another alternative is to go to a gaming convention, be observant, ask questions, try and find a GM that is captivating his/her players at the gaming table, and after the gaming session is finished, see if you can get some good gaming advice.
To achieve the best GGGC, it takes two to tango, as the saying goes. I've briefly covered how a GM can get advice and tips to help with GGGC. However, the players are just as important in contributing to GGGC. Players need to have to team work, and they need to be observant when a GM gives them a chance to shine in moments of role-playing. I was playing a game and a GM presented me with an opportunity to role play and I completely blew it. It was one of our first gaming sessions and I was playing a gnome rogue. The GM set me up as a bookie for two other PCs in a failed gambling operation, and rather than taking this facet of the game and running with it as a role play opportunity, I froze, because I wasn't accustomed to the game and I think my ego got in the way. Not a good thing! Which brings us to another to another difficult concept for players.
As players (hell, and game masters too!) we need to remove our egos from the gaming session. Remember that this is an interactive experience! That means everybody at the table MUST contribute to the gaming experience. This is a team sport! We need to help each other out when we can. The antagonists are many in an RPG, and some do require actual team work to overcome them, whether it be physically or intellectually. We need to fight those selfish desires of wanting our character's needs addressed on a significant basis in a game. Be patient, share the story with our fellow players and the GM. We need to let our fellow players breathe, watch them grow into their character roles, encourage them to role play, commend them when they do role play. Be positive, play to our fellow players strengths! Don't focus on the negative. Unless, of course, a player is being a complete jerk, in that case, send them out to the firing squad! Just kidding.
Always be congnizant of any way that our role playing can actual enhance the storytelling of our fellow players. Look at my mistake, rather than contributing to role playing with a whole gambler angle with my fellow PCs, I just shut down, I didn't contribute! There is a fine line here too, we need to keep a balance and make sure we're not stealing our fellow PCs thunder all of the time! Share the story! We need to give our fellow players some slack, allow them to grow into the game with their character's experiences.
Getting back to the game masters and the egos, a GM keeping his ego in check is one of the hardest things to do in a game (at least for me anyway). Especially in a homebrew campaign where we spend hours on plots, NPCs, stat blocks and adventure hooks and in one session the players can destroy all that hard work or go in a completely different direction. It is frustrating! But the players are making the story, we provide the stimulus for action, and they take it where they want to go. It's not our story, even though a lot of times we think it is, but it's the players that give it life, they create the magic. And sometimes, let's be honest, the magic isn't what we thought it was going to be in the first place. We make a really great NPC that has an incredible backstory and what do the players do, completely ignore them or worse, kill them or rob them. Yes, as a GM, we need to prepare our hearts to be broken sometimes in the game. Remember, everybody's different, so our player's motivations on what they do in the game may surprise us. Just roll with the punches. Let the players breathe and feel our world, and be prepared for them to do something unusual. We can't dictate what our players do, even though at times we wish we could, but that ruins GGGC. As game masters we need to keep things fluid, let the players run amok, within reason. If the players make a dumb decision, well, they pay for it, that's part of our job.
Well, that's some of my thoughts on generating GGGC. If anybody reading these blogs would like to chyme in and give their input, it is most welcome (unless it's belligerent of course). Cheers folks!