Welcome once again to opposites month here at TPK. As I mentioned last week, I want to go into some of my other game ideas that I would like to do either in addition to my current game or after it ends. I’ll be discussing why I want to make this particular game and what sort of game it will be. Of course between planning my wedding and starting a PhD program in September, I’m not entirely sure when I will have time to do any of this. But it is good to have goals so without further ado: other games!
Welcome to Opposites Month here at TPK. In August, Jim and I will be switching roles: posting in each others timeslots, filling out each others wikis, and taking on topics that our counterpart usually covers. As such, today I’ll be discussing some of the things I would like to do as I gain more experience, as my game grows, and as I start new games.
If psychological warfare is about really getting to your players and their characters and putting them on edge, the best way to do that is to understand them. Not only will having a deeper understanding of the player characters help you cultivate your players engagement with the game, but it’ll make things more fun for you as you watch both PCs and players grow. So for my final post of psychological warfare month, I want to talk about listening, analysis, and prediction.
When it comes to GMing, I’m a magician at heart. I love the reveal, that moment when the curtain is pulled back and the whole adventure snaps into focus for the players and it isn’t what they thought it was. The twist, when the villain’s hooded henchman puts a bullet in his back and smashes the reliquary they were chasing because they hold the keys to an ancient Prussian war machine hidden beneath the castle. If horror is about hiding something under a sheet and daring them to pull it off, adventure is about whipping off that sheet to gasps. Better yet is when they’ve figured it all out but don’t trust it, waiting for that last piece of evidence that confirms their theory and let’s them go “Aha! I knew it!” Everyone wins. But getting there can take a bit (or a lot) of misdirection and this is the month to talk about it.
In the Thirty-Six Stratagems, an ancient Chinese essay illustrating stratagems used in politics, war, and civil service, the 32nd is the Empty Fort Strategy. This was employed several times throughout Chinese history but today we will focus on the general Zhuge Liang and his use of the stratagem during the Three Kingdoms period.
I think part of the reason I regard GMing as one part psychological warfare is because I started GMing horror first, not adventure or fantasy which is what I typically run now. Running a horror game is a whole other can of worms, because it isn’t enough that players have fun, they want to be scared. They don’t want to be genuinely afraid, but to get the rush of faux-fear for which a friend of mine coined the term “Delicious scary.” Scaring people is tricky, because everyone’s different, and has different desires and tolerances when it comes to fear. Still, there are some universal conditions you can manage that will make GMing horror a lot easier.
Welcome to a special Friday edition of History Hooks. Today we will be bridging last month’s improv topic to this month’s psychological warfare with a look at Confederate General John Bankhead Magruder, a.k.a. Prince John, and his bit of theatre during the Peninsular Campaign of the American Civil War.
I often joke that GMing is one part world-building, one part storytelling, and one part psychological warfare. Hence why July is psychological warfare month, also known as messing with your players for fun and profit. But before I can talk about how to play head games with people to get them more engaged in the game and heighten tension, I need to talk about how this jives with treating people with respect. This isn’t a month about messing about with your players’ triggers or exploiting their vulnerabilities, it’s about managing the game in a way that heightens tension and engagement. With that in mind, let’s talk about psychological warfare and limits.
It’s my last post for improv month, and I want to talk about the truth of improvisation while GMing. It’s an ambiguous term. Some of it is about incorporating good ideas from improv theatre into the game, which is awesome. But mostly it’s a guide on how to bullshit well. That’s often what we’re doing when we get caught off guard, were too busy to prepare for a session, or when the players go in a direction we weren’t expecting at all. We’re improvising sure, but we’re also bullshitting. So today I want to talk about bullshit, some of its important principles, and the key rule when it comes to doing it at the gaming table.
The worry I hear most often about GMing is “I can’t make things up when I need to.” It’s right there ahead of “Doesn’t GMing make me some kind of super-nerd?” (Yes it does). When someone blindsides you with a question or no one’s picking up any hooks, it can get tough. Players interest can start to fade, or more likely, they take an interest in something that you never in a million years thought they would, so you didn’t prepare for that. There’s a fear of choking in those moments that seems to inhabit our skin, cold and wet under the muscles, a fear that saps our confidence and can make us rethink our decision to step behind the screen. Fear not. Through creativity and determination you will conquer it. Today I want to share three ways that I conquer this, make a thing up, and keep the game moving.