So, today I was catching up on some old email. I am, and have been for years, a subscriber to the Roleplaying Tips newletter from Johnn Four. Usually it contains at least some new nugget to use in a upcoming game, or something to file away in that GM folder of tricks. This issue I had lying around had as a main feature a piece by some guy called James and he wrote something which made me think. Take a look at this:
It is not the referee's job during a session to provideWhat about that? Do you agree?
excitement for his playing group. His job is to administer
the setting and resolve character actions. If the characters
are taking no action and are not interacting with the
setting, then the referee has literally nothing to do. The
players are wasting his time.
Often when I play RPGs, I'm the referee. That means that, potentially, I will more often than anyone else have "nothing to do". That sounds boring.
Now, I think many of you dear readers are well aware of the tenets of the so called "old ways". The games master is supposed to make rulings, present the players with meaningful choices and let the dice fall where they may. I can dig that. Well, I can dig that when I run fantasy, but I also dislike not having anything to do. I am there to play a game as well, after all. So, what to do, and why did I specifically mentioned running a fantasy game?
When I run a game of standard, or not so standard, fantasy I usually make shit up all the time. I once had a few NPCs have a totally unrelated fight in the background of a city while my players where debating what to do. Afterwards I got praise for that, since it made the game world feel real. Not everything revolved around the characters and their quest. That is where I think I can do the sandbox thing. I have enough experience to make up odd or mundane things for a fantasy setting. If the players are not entertaining me, I can entertain myself and maybe they follow along that path none of us knew existed.
Let's compare that with Call of Cthulhu. In CoC, there's usually a conspiracy or plot going on. Someone is going to grab an occult macguffin unless the players intervene, or someone is trying to summon some extra terrestial horror, and following some clues the characters might be able to figure that out and choose to stop them. Let's bring back that part about being bored.
In my last session of CoC, I was bored. I could try to steer the players back to the plot, basically railroading of some kind or another. That was never my intention. While it might be a slightly less dramatic way to end, a fizzle is an end as well. No, my problem was not that I needed to have my players go and actually talk to any of those named NPCs I had given them names and addresses to. No, they could do that or not, but if they did not they would miss some of the clues to the plot. I have ended scenarios before without players understanding things, so that was ok. What was not ok was that I wanted to throw in some things for the players do to, because I wanted something to do.
This is where I think I slightly disagree with Jim Raggi. I think the GM do need to think about providing excitement for his group of players. Not in order to "steer the game back" to whatever it is you usually steer them towards. No, I think you need to provide some excitement for your players when they are not providing any excitement for you! Otherwise you wont be getting any, and there was probably another individual in your life you could share some excitement with instead.
So, what do you do when you want to make a session wake up again? I love random encounter tables, and like I said I have enough experience in fantasy to be able to play with the troupes. When running a game in the US in 1929 I am lacking the troupes. Maybe what I need are random encounter tables? Or maybe I just do what Chandler is supposed to have done, have someone charge in with a gun and let's see what happens...