How to run a game without really trying
Before I go any further, can I please thank Andrew Curtis, a regular player of my games, for the title of this article.
We were sat in my living room on Monday 25th of June, 2001, about to start a roleplaying session (set in the universe of Buffy and Angel) and we were discussing where the characters were going to go from here.
I said I had a few things designed when Andrew suddenly said, ‘whatever happens your games are usually wing and milk, anyway’. I looked at him quizzically.
‘What do you mean by wing and milk?’ I asked.
Andrew shrugged. ‘This game. You’ll wing it and milk it’.
We laughed. ‘Top line’, I said. ‘I’ll have to write an article on that’.
LESSON 1 – COMPLETELY IGNORE EVERYTHING I SAID
There are plenty of articles already that concern preparation, design, ideas and atmosphere. They detail advice on how to get a game together and how to run it. Because there are a few things to consider before running a game the articles detailed most things you can do and, therefore, were quite long. That, in turn, might mean a lot of work.
But what if you simply don’t have the time to spend designing and preparing a game? You might have a busy work or social schedule, might be running more than one session for more than one group and can’t afford the energy and effort. What if you don’t want to prepare in detail? Hey, you might be laid back or easy-going and think ‘the hell with it, we’ll just see how the game goes’.
If this is the case, then ignore the other articles. They won’t help you now. What you want to do is get down to it, get the game on and just let roleplaying nature take its course. Isn’t this lazy? Hell, yes!
This will mean les work in preparation – unfortunately, it will mean more work when the game is actually running.
LESSON 2 – YOU’LL NEED SOMEWHERE TO PLAY
The usual thing is to get yourself a location. Make sure you have a place where the game can take place and then insert the PC’s. But surely this means you have to design a location, a planet, a city?
Not really, no. Just take a location you know or have seen and just change it. If the players go to a busy shopping station then take your local shopping centre or mall and jazz it up. Escalators become anti-gravity tubes, computer game shops become speeder showrooms, and clothes shops become multi-species clothing specialists. People don’t walk about; they zip along on rolling conveyor walks, or fly about with personal anti-gravity chairs. What’s more, you don’t even have to take the effort to describe in detail what the place is like – tell your players what location you’re basing it on.
GM: ‘So, you know the shopping centre down the road?’
GM: ‘Well, this place looks like that, except where the escalators are there’s two discs which send people floating to the next floor. The roof is polarised glass to keep the sun’s rays at bay and every species you can imagine is walking about. People fly overhead with jet belts and anti-grav chairs and the noise is deafening.’
Is this cheating? Hell, yes! What’s more it gives the players an instant visual and they can even interact with it better if they know the location, too, because they’ll tell you exactly where they want to go. All you have to do is decide what changes (if any) have happened.
The same goes with a city. Take New York, slap a few starships overhead and roads between the buildings and what do you get? A city suited for gaming. Need a small town? Grab a town local to you and stick a crashed starship in the middle, remove the second stories of all the buildings and replace them with glass domes and there you go – instant location. All you have to do is ignore real world references.
Need a Planet? Pick terrain. Rocky, icy, sandy, windswept, green fields, mountainous – just define the land and you’ve pretty much defined the planet. Throw in a couple of weird creatures (six-armed apes, two-headed gazelles, that kind of thing) and job done.
LESSON 3 – INSTANT CHARACTERS
So, you’ve got the location, now for the people who will be there. I’m not even going to insult you GM’s out there by detailing how to do it, so I’ll just make it simple – what do you think character templates are for? Need an NPC who might need to make some rolls? Is he/she a smuggler? Take the template and there you go – instant stats. Need a bounty hunter? Same thing. Need a professional? Normal stats and then the extra dice for their profession – done.
That’s it. Unless you don’t have access to these details (which is highly unlikely, being a GM) then you’ll have to do that extra work.
But isn’t that cheating in character design? Hell, yes!
LESSON 4 – NAMES AND PLACES
It’s all well and good describing these places, but what are they called?
Look around you. Take an average household item and do either one of these things – pronounce it backwards, remove a couple of letters or say it wrong.
What’s the planet called? Well, right now I’m looking at a calendar, so I’m calling it Calend or Radnelac. Or I could have looked at stapler, and called it Stapeel or Relpats. Or I could have looked at a picture on my wall, and called it Pikchoor.
Doesn’t just need to be a planet. A city could be called Pikchoor. An alien could be called Pikchoor. A bar could be called Pikchoor’s Place. It’s all the same market.
Isn’t this cheating a little, not putting much thought into the creation? Hell, yes!
LESSON 5 – SO, WHAT HAPPENS IN THE GAME?
This is probably the only part of the game where you’ll have to do at least a little work but even then you can get away with limiting how long you take designing stuff. It’s a simple case of this – watch some telly, or a movie or listen to the radio, or read a book, or a magazine.
As in the ‘Ping! What A Great Idea’ article in this book you can refresh games by taking ideas and plot threads from popular media. But, in this case to minimise work, you actually take the story and re-create it in your setting. All you have to do is change a couple of the plot threads (like who it was who actually committed the murder, or stole the jewel, or whatever the program deals with) and just change it all for your game. Fair enough, the players may have seen the same program but when you do introduce that plot change they won’t be able to second-guess you. Word of warning, though; don’t re-create the program scene-for-scene, changing the New York Cop for a Security Bureau agent or a London taxi driver for Starship taxi pilot. That would be dull. All you need is the elements of the story.
Is this theft of other people’s ideas? Hell, yes! But you’re not making money out of it and it’s for personal not public use, so it’s legal. I think.
CONCLUSION – YOU LAZY, LAZY PEOPLE
Let’s face it – there’s not much to this article, is there? All I’ve done is make you all very lazy creators and GM’s, relaxing in front of the TV an hour before the game, looking at stuff in your room and twisting the words and thinking of someplace you’ve been to or know of and adding a couple of aliens. It’ll be game time soon but you’ll just take another sip of your drink, shrug, and say ‘I’m ready’.
How lazy of you.