Thinking About Running a Tabletop Game…

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Part 1 of 1, by Jay Watamaniuk

The last time I ran an actual tabletop game myself I was in university I think. I held the reigns for about three session while the regular GM took a break. Recently, two stellar GMs (one being the fellow with lots to say on Respecting the Character) in my circle of gaming friends, finished up their games creating a void of tabletop adventuring. I play in but one game at the moment run by a groovy fellow named Scott (founding member of iVardensphere) in which I created a fine character. I am used to being a player in two or three tabletop games at a time so things seemed a little lacking.

Last year, I made the switch from Community Manager to joining the design team on Mass Effect 2 as a writer. I have a whole lot to learn about writing for BioWare games, and even more to learn about writing, but I thought one way to get my creative brain going was to try and run a game myself for some of my friends. I began to think about what sort of game I would want to run. Some big questions need to be addressed before I sit down with some sweet graph paper:

1. What is the tone of the game? Serious, silly, something in between?
2. Main theme and setting? Superhero, Sci-fi, fantasy, steam punk, horror, western or a mix of something?
3. Rule set? A tough one. I am not much of a rules guy, and I know that the GM should have a good grasp of how it all works. From D&D to Fudge rules and everything in-between.
4. Players? Both number and who exactly. I have a large gaming group to call upon and certain people play in certain ways. What mix would I want considering I am a new GM.
5. Length of game? I suspect I will elect for a 3-6 episode game to get some experience before committing to a full campaign.

Some of the questions are easier to answer for me. I know that in a game I run it will range from deadly serious to super-goofy. I know the players will insist on it, and so I should count on just that. My friend, Jackie ran a Ravenloft game that was, of course, very serious but people are people and the characters found humor here and there along the way as real people often do even in very bleak circumstances.

Main theme? Tough one. I keep coming back to a Cthulhu-type investigation theme but something isn’t quite right about it. More thought required. I love horror games ) but I know running a game based in horror has its own problems as you cannot sustain that tense, on the edge feeling over the long haul. Fear is a thing to be handled very carefully and I have seen GMs get frustrated because the players were not into a scary, atmosphere walk in the Horrorville when they wanted a Buffyesque episode of hi-jinks and witty banter.

Ruleset? I like the FATE. rules but they are also somewhat without foundation that can lead to players feeling ineffective. I don’t think I want to run something as tightly controlled as D&D or Shadowrun but something in-between. I am unsure about trying out a new rule set but I just might. I had heard Unknown Armies was a good one…but trying out an unfamiliar rule set seems like a bad idea if I’m new to this GM thing…

Players? A tough one. I have a lot of gaming friends but each will bring a certain energy and personality to the game. I would need to think of who would compliment a new GM. I want to keep the player number small in order to help me address each player personally. In my new job, I am getting used to thinking of a plot or character concept and watching it evolve through feedback into something else; similar but different. I can see how that applies directly to running a game. The game must have focus, but it also must allow for evolving on the fly according to the players.

Length of game? Yup, 3-6 with maybe the idea of hitting about 4. Enough time to establish some characters but also short enough in case of catastrophic failure I need only weather the shame for a short time.

How did you get going on a new tabletop? How did you decide on setting and rule set? What basic questions am I missing that need answering?