The grizzled electrician takes the corner a little too tight as he enters the parking lot of 32nd National Bank, the under-carriage of his old, light blue, service van chipping the curb just slightly further up than the last time he was here. He squares the front of his baby blue beater with the “handicapped” parking space directly across from the main door. Flicking his Pall Mall out of the driver’s side window, his hand moves toward the gearshift….
Just as the cigarette lands on the blacktop, exploding with a tiny, incendiary flourish, the van takes off. Like a confused rocket, it shoots off in reverse, speeding toward the large, glass, double doors of the bank. One patron, Mr. Giordano, looks up from counting his “Vegas” money just in time to see the bright orange “How’s My Driving?” sticker as it crashes through the glass and steel. The powder blue wrecking ball turns the bank’s sleek, professional, (and streak-free if you ask the janitor), entryway into an eruption of twisted and mangled door frame accompanied by a barrage of shattered glass, death, and sky blue destruction.
The bank manager, Mrs. Pikney, steps out of her office and takes in the scene. She gingerly steps over Mrs. Baumgartner, being careful not to ruin her shoes, and hurries over to “Ol’ Frankie”, ecstatic that he’s “finally showed up to replace that light fixture. And…where is the janitor?”
So that’s not how that really goes down…
“Ol’ Frankie” pulls in, parks, goes to the back of his van, grabs his tool belt and the few tools that he knows he will need, and a couple “just in case” rather than bringing all of them. He then, goes inside, fixes the light and leaves. Everybody’s happy, and no bloodshed.
By now, you’re probably asking “What does all of this have to do with GMing?”
All Gms have what’s called the proverbial “GM toolbox.” The amount of tools you have in your toolbox directly correlates with how long you’ve been practicing the craft and how much research you do. These tools include everything that you know about running a game, designing a game,world building, adventure generation, story-telling, and anything else that comes in handy at the game table. This list also includes gaming ideas that you haven’t tried yet, story and/or villain concepts, variant mechanics, gimmicks, etc.
While these things are all wonderful additions to your gaming repertoire, they must be used sparingly! You will not need everything in your “GM toolbox” every session. This is why you need a “GM toolbelt.” This is the group of tools that you need to bring to the table to get through the session that you have planned and a few “just in case” tools because your players will always surprise you. If you want to put a gimmick or a new concept in your game, just make sure that it doesn’t ruin the concept that your players have of their game.
There must be some form of continuity in your game and some measure of player comfort around the game table in order for players to be able to appreciate a new concept or gimmick that you bring in. Too many gimmicks, or constantly changing mechanics can make a game feel very disjointed to some players. You should try to establish some constants in your game. The lullaby of familiarity only elevates the level of impact that a skillfully executed surprise mechanic or gimmick can bring to the table. However, the opposite can also be true. If every time you sit down to prepare for the next session, you’re planning on using “this new gimmick,” you can create a situation where the players are constantly on their heels and uncomfortable with the game as a whole.
You’re saying, “This is totally gonna blow their mind!”
They’re saying, “I hope we run into an old man at the inn. Maybe he’ll give us a map, and we’ll head out for a dungeon crawl.” or “Hopefully the King needs us to rescue the Princess again'”
A GM who constantly tries to cram new concepts or mechanics into a game, regardless of story or setting continuity, runs the risk of destroying the foundations of his game just as effectively as “Ol’ Frankie” and his sky blue van.
In the next few posts, I will be discussing some of the tools that you can find in a good GM’s toolbelt. Some of these will be old concepts with a new face, but I may throw in a few of my own tricks.
But, for today, I’ll leave you with this advice: (worth every penny you paid for it)
Approach your sessions with a toolbelt full of things that allow you to get the job done in the most efficient manner. While creativity, novel ideas, and new gaming concepts are what make this great hobby as diverse and entertaining as it is, overuse can break the flow of any game and ruin the experience for your players. Remember, it’s their game too!
So, don’t ruin Mrs. Pikney’s shoes, and don’t get in the way of old Italian men doing whatever it is they do with “Vegas” money.
-The NonD. GM