Tales from the Gazebo – Progressive Games: GM Planning, Part 2


Progressive Games: GM Planning, Part 2
By Cape Rust

The Prog game can really shake things up for a gaming group if done right and done well. The foundation of that success lies on the shoulders of the players, but the GM/GMs are the ones who make the Prog game inhabitable. The first GM builds the first floor of the house of cards that we call a Prog game. While this might seem like an overwhelming responsibility, it can be a fun and rewarding experience.

At this point you should have reviewed your players’ character sheets and determined what type of game they really want based on the types of characters they have made and by listening to table talk. This is the point where the Prog game starts to take the path that most game development should take. As the GM you have to ask that laundry list of question, questions like: how much magic will there be in the world, what types of magic, what world or type of world will the game take place in. Those are the types of questions that have to be answered.

The setting is a tough issue, not because there are not thousands of them out there, but because of the lasting ramifications it might have on the following GMs’ games. Switching settings in-game really isn’t that hard, especially if you are in a fantasy world. Thanks to the RPG gods for magic! The biggest setting issues are whether you go with a homebrew or published setting. There is a lot of value in a homebrew settings, but published settings offer a certain amount of commonality that can really help with game success.

Let’s quickly look at both options. The biggest advantage to the homebrew type of setting is the complete freedom you have as a GM to do whatever you want. But with this freedom comes great responsibility. When I say responsibility, I’m talking about developing the politics, customs, and weather patterns and of course the big time sink, developing a map for your world or setting. While many of you might value these freedoms, to me they just cause problems. I like tweaking existing settings or using those settings as written. It saves me time and leaves plenty of established materials for the next GM to use. I don’t have to develop a pantheon and there are normally some great plot hooks included.

No matter what direction you go, remember that someone else will eventually have to fall in on running the game in that setting.  I find that it is best to limit the scope of the first game to a city, country, or continent. By doing this you don’t box the following GMs into your setting or having to develop some extraordinary reason why the characters are suddenly on a different planet.  By using a small part of an established setting, you provide plenty of setting that many people might already know about and avoid that boxing-in I mentioned. If the next GM isn’t a fan of that setting, they can move the game to a different continent or country and little is lost in the transition.

If gods, elder or otherwise, are involved (and they often are) determining the pantheon is a big deal. This issue is normally decided way before this part of the planning process, but if it hasn’t, socialize it and find a pantheon that you as a GM will enjoy. This is a case where you can pick a few that you as a GM like and ask the players which of those they would prefer.  That way you don’t have to use the trump card and you still get to use a pantheon you like.  To save ties, I default back to using an established pantheon or you can do what one of the guys in my gaming group does, he just says any established pantheon is fair game.  If religion isn’t a big deal in your world then no worries, but if it is and it normally is then choose carefully. My buddies’ method might seem lazy, but it ends up being a nice catch-all.

Once all of that is figured out I recommend establishing a few major sites that the game will focus on. This way you can associate some plot hooks with those locations and can start fleshing them out. I’m not saying you should name every person and building in a town , but it is important to have some idea of where things will go. This might seem like common sense, but for many it isn’t.  This is the time when, if you are running a homebrew setting, you should develop a primer for the setting so that each of your players knows a little bit about the setting and they have that “everyman understanding” that most folks of the realm would have. This will help to avoid lots of meta-game thinking during the course of this adventure.

After you have done the hundreds of things you need to do as a GM to get a game started, you need to develop a really good opening session that will hook the players. One of the guys from my old gaming group in Key West called me a few weeks ago asking for some advice for the first session of a game he was getting ready to run. He let me know what the plot was and gave me a general idea of what he wanted to happen, then we discussed different options for almost an hour. I loved that he did this, not because he called me, but because he was willing to reach out to other people to get fresh or different ideas. I realized that this is really something I should be doing as well. Being willing to reach out like this is a win, win, win situation and I recommend that we all do this. It is a good chance to reconnect with old friends and who doesn’t like talking games, right?

As with most articles, I have just scratched the surface on this one, but I do hope that it has stimulated you to ask a few questions of your own and made you think about some factors you might have overlooked. Next week we will start dealing with the person who is the second GM and all of the X factors they have to deal with. If you go first, please remember that others have to follow in your footsteps and that your character will be one of those people. Plan your game by factoring in the future and fun and you should have no problems.

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