by Garrett Thomas, Founder of The Gamemaster’s Stash
What most players want out of a good RPG is to be immersed in a new and exciting world, be it Wild West, Deep Space or your typical Fantasy world. There are a few things that a GM (Game Master) can do to create a world that their players can get caught up in. These tips can be used across many different systems because they don’t rely on game mechanics to work.
In Game Tricks
- NPC’s- Populate your game world with NPCs (Non-Player Characters) that have goals and fears that don’t have anything to do with the PCs (Player Characters). In the real-world people you meet on the street aren’t focused on you all the time. This makes the world appear to not revolve around the PCs and gives the illusion that the world they are in was there before their characters got there and will continue to be there after they are gone.
- Enemies- Just because your PCs are first level (Or whatever the equivalent for games that don’t use levels) doesn’t mean that all enemies will also be that level. I’m not saying make your players face enemies that will definitely kill them, but make sure they know that there are bigger fish out there. One way to accomplish this is the trope of fighting the minions and leveling up before you get to the boss. This however isn’t the only way, have your players come across the remnants of a battle or have a higher level enemy attack them and be chased off by friendly NPCs after the players realize that they can’t win.
- Exploration- Your game world shouldn’t be similar to Super Mario with just one direction of travel and everything else is backdrop that cannot be interacted with. Instead when your players divert from the path you wish them to take don’t force them back. Let them explore, this makes the game world feel big and real. In the real-world if you see something in the distance and get an itch to go see what it is you can, the game world you create should work on the same concept.
Out of Game Tricks
- Distractions- No matter what you do distractions at the table will happen but trying to mitigate how disruptive these are is key. Simple things like no surfing the web or checking Facebook on your phone while at the table are a given. Having snacks at the table is also a given but if you plan on having a meal while you game its best to stop playing while everyone eats and can discuss what has been happening without interfering with play. If your players know there will be a break or breaks where they can talk about things they will be less inclined to do it while you play and drop the immersion.
- Talking in Character- This doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be a voice actor or try to give their character a distinct voice or accent. What this does mean is that while talking or describing what a character is doing it should be done in first person. “I try to shoot the ogre in the knee.” Instead of “Alexa the Huntress tries to shoot the ogre in the knee.” When all the players and GM do this, it takes them into the world instead of seeming like you are watching other people perform the movements. This also makes the conversations in game feel more natural.
- Ambiance- The physical environment where you play is important as well. It would be perfect if you could play your cyberpunk game in a room filled with neon and circuits or your fantasy game while in a dungeon with swords and monster heads on the wall. That however is out of the question for most of us instead we have to make up for it in other ways. A good way is to have a soundtrack on hand that has music that fits your setting and hints at the emotion you want the players to feel. High tempo music for the chase scene and calming music for when they are relaxing in the local tavern. Ambiance also includes props, now props can easily be done on a budget with a little extra time or you can buy some. But when your players finally steal the set or keys (Traditional or Key Card) from their guards or find an ancient artifact that holds great power. Being able to hand your players what they have worked so hard to get and let them hold it in their hands brings the game world out of just their imagination and lets them interact with it with more than just one sense.
Using these tips can really help your game world feel alive and real. This will make players more invested in the game and can sometimes be the difference between people finding other things to do and coming back to play again. There are other tricks, but these are a great foundation to creating a thriving gaming environment.