Today’s post comes from Lauren M. Roy, author of Night Owls.
I discovered roleplaying games in college. My boyfriend’s group welcomed me in, let me borrow a pile of sourcebooks, and invited me to roll up a character. I fell immediately in love with it – you got to play in in fantasy worlds, exploring your choices and their consequences, sometimes changing the world as you know it. It wasn’t long before the GM itch struck, making me want to run a game of my own.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was learning a lot about writing and story structure while putting my friends’ characters through hell once or twice a week.
Know your characters.
Spend some time before the first session getting to know your cast: what motivates them, what they hope to accomplish. With RPGs, you often figure out a bit about your characters’ backstories while you create them. Sometimes those quirks that seem unrelated to the plot come into play in interesting ways later on.
It’s also important to know their limits and their lines – what’s their weak spot? What lines won’t they cross? What could get them to cross those lines?
If you need to get your characters from point A to point B, “because the GM said so” doesn’t cut it as a reason. Say you have someone deathly afraid of spiders. They’re not going to go into the lair of the Giant Evil Spider Queen willingly, but simply saying “no” to all their attempts at doing oh god anything else can make the players feel like they’re being forced into a situation. It works much the same when you’re the one controlling all the characters.
Only, instead of your players feeling cheated, it’s your readers.
Remember those limits and lines? If you need to get a character to take an action they’d normally balk at, you can play with those. You’re probably not going to convince that character to start a spider farm, but you can get them to a point where they feel like going into the Evil Spider Queen’s lair makes sense for them in that moment. It might be the best of a bad set of options, but the choice is theirs.
Learn how to think around corners.
When you give your players the choice of three doors to open, someone’s going to suggest blowing a hole in the wall. As a GM, you have to decide quickly what effect that has on the story, and adapt on the fly.
It’s a little like playing chess against yourself: here are the options I’ve laid out for the characters. If I were playing these guys in a game, what other solutions would I be proposing? Do any of them make better sense for the characters? Do they present a more dramatic option? Something that’s flat-out cooler? Go with it.
Have an endgame in mind…
I’m a hybrid of pantser and plotter, and thinking about it, that probably comes from my GMing style. I knew where I wanted the story to end up, but I could only plan so many sessions ahead. Go too far, and the characters were guaranteed to do something that’d alter the outline.
Still, knowing where you’re headed helps you keep on track. When I planned each week’s game, I’d revisit what the players were up to when we left off, what they’d learned so far, what they were heading for next to move the plot along. At the end of an evening, I’d jot down notes: what happened? What extra info did I dole out, what did I decide to save for another night? What should I keep in mind for next time?
That’s how I start out when I sit down to write now, too. It keeps me on track.
…but be ready to tweak it.
Players will have brilliant ideas you didn’t see coming. They’ll get a critical hit against the villain you had bigger plans for. My brain’ll do the same, throwing in those last-minute what-ifs, snippets of conversations I’d like people to have, an ulterior motive I didn’t realize someone had when I first started the story.
If it sounds plausible and interesting, I give it a shot.
My outlines, such as they are, aren’t set in stone. Neither is my endgame, necessarily, though that usually stays fairly close to the way I first picture it. The consequences might change, or the state the characters are in when they get there, but if I’ve been checking in along the way, I’ve hopefully steered – but not shoved! – them toward where I need them to be.
(Oh, and that college boyfriend? Reader, I married him.)
About the Book:
Night Owls book store is the one spot on campus open late enough to help out even the most practiced slacker. The employees’ penchant for fighting the evil creatures of the night is just a perk.
Valerie McTeague’s business model is simple: provide the students of Edgewood College with a late-night study haven and stay as far away from the underworld conflicts of her vampire brethren as possible. She’s lived that life, and the price she paid was far too high to ever want to return.
Elly Garrett hasn’t known any life except that of fighting the supernatural werewolf-like beings known as Creeps or Jackals. But she always had her mentor and foster father by her side—until he gave his life protecting a book that the Creeps desperately want to get their hands on.
When the book gets stashed at Night Owls for safe keeping, those Val holds nearest and dearest are put in mortal peril. Now Val and Elly will have to team up, along with a mismatched crew of humans, vampires, and lesbian succubi, to stop the Jackals from getting their claws on the book and unleashing unnamed horrors.
ACE publishing is generously donating a copy of Night Owls to give to one (1) lucky commenter. To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter form AND leave a comment at the end of this post naming your favorite game to play with friends (role playing, cards, board game… any!) The giveaway is open during the time specified on the Rafflecopter form. Winner chosen at random from all eligible entries. This contest is open to US mailing addresses only, where not prohibited by law. Open to participants, 18 years or older, who are legally allowed to participate in such a contest as allowed by their local laws. All federal, state, local, and municipal laws and regulations apply. Void where prohibited. No purchase necessary. By participating in the contest, participants agree to be bound by the decisions of the contest sponsor. Prize will be delivered by the publisher. I am not responsible for items lost in the mail. By entering this giveaway, participants agree to abide by these terms.
Please email me at twimom227 (at) gmail (dot) com if you have problems with the rafflecopter form.