“Edge of the World,” Session #9: Relaxed Session on The Enchanted Babe-Island of Valapalor
In case you’re just joining us, I’m running a campaign where the Pirates, Mythology, and Fantasy races blend, and I’m blogging about ad-lib techniques that work (and sometimes that don’t work) in the sessions. See whole campaign here.
What’s happening In-Game
This week, the party was entering a new scenario: Valapalor, the island of the catgirl priestesses (yow-wow), and sacred temple city of the goddess Luna.
They’re after a witch in disguise who’s going to use the city’s most sacred power to bring about the apocalypse (of course), but they also have to contend with the clergy’s anti-male prejudice and a divided interpretation of prophecies (one where they’re the promised saviors, one where their lives are forfeit for trespassing here) and they only have three days til the ceremony where the witch will make her move and where they’ll be sacrificed if they fail to gain Luna’s favor!
So, I had all kinds of twists, intrigues, and clever witch-tricks planned. Needless to say, we didn’t get to any of them, because the players were just feeling out this new scenario. It was rather nice because the session itself felt like an arrival on an enchanted island – the whole night was casual roleplay, ambling around looking for plot info, and meeting the major NPCs.
What’s happening in this post
Ever had a game night where you don’t want to get in your car and GM?
Now ever had a game night that was so relaxing you felt like you should be paying money for it? This week started out as the former, but turned into the latter – below, I outline some factors that helped bring that about.
Not feeling it tonight? Be honest with your group.
Pressure to perform. This is the GM’s worst enemy. If you’re like me, it’s easy to get worked up trying to bring your a-game constantly, to never look like you’re off guard, and for Pete’s sake to not take too long to rule on something or they’ll get bored.
If you’re stressing about this stuff, just tell the group, “I feel stressed about GMing tonight.” When I tried this for the first time it allowed me to take a breath, let me see the group as friends rather than an audience holding rotten tomatoes, chat for a bit, then start playing casually. It also got the group in the right mindset for exactly the kind of session I needed – just casual roleplay and worldbuilding.
“I don’t know where this will go, but I think it will be fun.”
Don’t be afraid to let them know when you’re experimenting with something new. In fact, not telling them is a mistake! Enlist them as allies as you figure out a new location/adventure/play style.
In our game, the party was discovering an all-new location which I wanted to be very plot-significant. It was a “palace intrigue” arena with many NPCs that might react differently according to what the players did. It would have lots of roleplay and twists I’d have to think up on the spot. I was nervous.
But with a good group, two things typically happen when you let them know you’re experimenting: one, they become extremely patient, and two, they get excited because they see an opportunity to contribute ideas to the new location. Sometimes you’re thinking “What if I don’t have enough notes about this place?” they’re thinking, “Cool! He doesn’t have very many notes about this place!”
Part of the group joined by skype because of driving distances. Haven’t tried this before. Found it to be super relaxing.
Getting together with friends is great (one of the best things about RPGing) but there’s something about lounging with a couple of friends, while more friends call in through a laptop, that’s very relaxing.
It may be because people are unconsciously listening harder. They’re less likely to talk over each other, and also less afraid of being talked over. The conversation is just more relaxed, and for a game that consists almost entirely in conversation, that’s HUGE.
Horsing around is better on Skype?
A bonus benefit is that your players can send gifs – and this is bigger than you might think.
Ever notice how hard it is to keep a group serious for long? There’s a natural rhythm – after a certain amount of serious play, one or more players are going to feel the urge to make a joke out of game, or at least talk about something non game-related. My theory is that players actually have a need for interruption. The trick is to let the interruptions happen without becoming disruptions.
I’ve tried many ways of doing this, but better, by far, has been having a group joker guy who sends out gifs related to whatever just happened. This satisfies the natural need for comic relief and interruption while keeping focus on the events of the game. It’s a little like how manga will break up more serious scenes with chibi interludes.
Related point: Phones are definitely allowed!
When players aren’t in the spotlight, they can feel less involved and get restless. This in turn can creates a chaotic atmosphere as people try to be heard. But when they’ve got a phone (or, you know, a drawing pad or whatever) they can keep themselves busy and listen to the rpg with one ear.
Heck, even if it’s Xbox – side activities can be great because they make your game more of a shared conversational experience than a game.
Don’t let fear make you overprep
This isn’t about amount of prep as much as it is about prepping the right things.
In adventures where the party is entering a new location or scenario, there’s no need to prep every detail – remember, your players will be excited to contribute details to a location they’re just arriving in. (Graph on that here).
Definitely prep imaginative descriptions, visions of what this place looks like, what kind of NPCs they meet right away. Give them plenty of stuff to react to with strong descriptions of how the place looks and feels, and you can probably let them take over. Focus on roleplay. Watch where they want to go with it. Have a basic vision for what might happen, and have some characters and scenes to throw in - but you save the in-depth prep for next week, once they’ve already shown you what they’re interested in.
Feel inhibited when acting your NPCs? Try this one little tip…
…just remind yourself: this is the hobby where it’s okay to hit on your bros.
So, they’re on an island o’ babes. The only males the priestesses have seen for years are the eunuch guards and the midget jester guy – and they racially look down on males of their own kind anyway. The senior clergy may have their doubts about the party, but the common accolytes are all very intrigued. Long story short I flirted with my players a lot this session – and it was all okay somehow, because I’m the GM!
A lot more could be written about just what happens when a GM speaks as an NPC, but suffice it to say that, even when it’s relaxed, GMing is theater. Players are okay with sillier/weirder stuff than would be appropriate in normal conversation. So remember that the next time you feel inhibited.
An rpg session takes a lot of time – more than most games. Gamers usually can’t stay 100% focused on a game for that long. So try making it more of a shared conversation experience than a game. Invite them to create with you. Side activities are allowed as long as they’re not distracting anyone else. Be open about what you’ve prepped and not prepped, instead of trying to look like you’ve got all the answers.