General Tabletop Tips & Advice


#1

To kick things off in this here tabletop category, I thought it might be useful to have a general tips and advice thread, for budding DM’s and players alike. Got a quick question and don’t want to make an entire thread about it? Just looking for some insight or input into a problem with your campaign or a character you want to play? I’d like this to be a Good Place To Start :tm:!

Kicking this off with a problem of my own: I ran a Session 0 for my new campaign lately, and I’m giving my players a lot of freedom to shape and fill in the blanks for the areas of the world outside the campaigns purview. It’s difficult getting them to be creative here, though - and I think they interpret me not having a rigid concept of those areas of the world as them being not relevant, rather than something that is malleable. Outside of just giving narrative importance to the few changes they’ve made to highlight the stake I want to give them in the setting, is there ways I could convince them to be a little less concerned about colouring inside the lines when it comes to their characters backgrounds and past?


#2

I mean, the easy way to let them know it’s alright to do that stuff is to just straight up tell them, and encourage them, to do that stuff.

Like, make it clear that you want them to help shape the world. It’s not the most subtle or clever option, but if you want them to help determine locations, just asking them to help determine locations will most likely do the job.


#3

With the caveat that I’ve been in a lot more not-great groups than good groups, I think one of the keys to getting good interaction in this case is communication - talk to your group about your desires and see how that lines up with theirs. If they’re cautious, offer to work with them, and where possible encourage them to work with each other.

IMO the more open everyone is about expectations, the better this stuff tends to go.


#4

The advice given so far seems good, but also… some people just don’t WANT that. I’ve GMed for a decent variety of different people before, and some people just want to have a world laid out for them, and being asked to build it themselves makes them anxious. Keep in mind this possibility.


#5

My suggestion is to lead them to one of those places through what seems like a clear quest and then ask them to draw that space in.

“You’ve been hired to recover a stolen cart filled with a nearby village’s non-perishable stock of food, and you can already feel the cold snap of winter. Witnesses say that the cart was heading north, towards a settlement built into a distant canyon.”

And then, as you move across the map to the blank spaces, ask them questions and use the answers. “About a third of the way through, you find a place to rest. What’s it like? Is it an inn or just a natural grove?” Ask questions based on the character classes: If you have a Paladin or Cleric, ask if there are any religious sites on the way. Ask your Ranger or Druid what the natural predators are like int he area. Stuff like that!

Then when you get there, even if you have a big encounter planned, let them pen in the details. How many people live in the canyon? What sort of decorations do they use? What style of architecture is there? Never be afraid to say “You see something that terrifies you, what is it?”

That stuff will get them into the feeling that they’re truly mapping the world out!


#6

My friends and I have discussed getting a tabletop game going but haven’t committed to it yet. I’m going to keep an eye on here to glean info if we decide to get it off the ground. If anyone has any advice for newer players (especially since I feel like I’m going to be the GM by default) I’m all ears.


#7

It’s all about communication, talk to them and play with stuff back and forth, ask them questions about their backstory to fill stuff out.

Oh, your guy was a guard? in what town or city? what did that city/town mainly do like was it a fishing town, trading post, farming, etc. ?

as Six mentioned, some people like being part of your world rather than building it themselves, so be sure to involve everyone in the building part, so the people who are less excited to define things about the world can let the ones who do take the lead on that part while still feeling like their input matters.


#8

If you’re going with a system that has them, don’t be afraid to start out with prebuilt adventures - being a DM can be overwhelming at first.


#9

The best tip I can give is just do it. There is a high chance you’re gonna suck at first, but so do we all. Over time you’ll get better, as with everything else.

To get over that initial wall of fear and doubt, be open with the people you’re playing with. “Hey, this is my first time, be patient with me.” If they aren’t, they’re not worth playing with. The internet gives you access to an unlimited supply of people to play with. Never be afraid to bail on a group you’re not enjoying, and when you find the people you do enjoy, hold on to them!


#10

I mean, I’d recommend questioning the world in play. When folks move to a space ask clearcut questions as opposed to just asking them to describe things. “What’s the first shop you see?” “What it this area’s main export?” A lot of interactions in PbtA games are “What do you do?” and that gives folks a framework in which to work in. Also like, you can just confront them and say how you feel, being open and honest with the other players involved is really really helpful so you can set expectations of them and them of you.


#11

I just started running my own game recently with some friends and it’s been a challenge. I’m still trying to figure out how to balance between crafting an entire experience vs. building out a sandbox. I’ve tweeted at @austin.walker several times for advice (which I appreciate every time he’s given it!)

My first campaign was entirely scripted down to every single encounter. It was fun but rigid. The second campaign went in the entire opposite direction where I built and fleshed out a town with NPCs, gave the players a specific goal and allowed them to have at it. It was fun but it went wayyyy too long and when we finally finished (last night actually) I had to grab the wheel a bit.

Listening to FaTT, it gives me a lot of cool ideas for how I want to GM but it’s shocking how hard it is to put it into practice. Still learning, still figuring stuff out. My entire group are a bunch of babies to this whole thing so we’re learning together.


#12

There’s been a lot of good advice offered already, but I’d add that it’s not necessary to do all that much of the world building in session zero or one. Getting deep into player backgrounds at the start can be intimidating, especially for players that are new to tabletop gaming or the ruleset you’re running.


#13

That’s fair - though I should clarify what I’m giving them a pen here on is the setting outside of directly where the campaign is set. Homelands and neighbouring territories, and so on. A framework with which to fill in the details as to where their characters were from. That’s fair though - something I’ll address with people next session.

@Brin and @austin.walker - those are some good ideas. Would you do this through dialogue as well? As a lot of the world I want to let them add to isn’t somewhere they’ll directly visit right now (but is still heavily influential in terms of people’s culture, traditions and so on), I think talking to people would be a good opportunity to offer them these blank spots.


#14

That’s true - I know a few of my players are fairly new. I’m going to make it clear to them this is the kind of thing I’d like to build over time, rather than something they have to drop on me in a novella


#15

i started running a game of the sprawl with some friends in the new year, and it’s been a really amazing and rewarding experience so far!

one thing i found: i tried to throw a ton of questions their way right from the start, and i think it ended up being a little overwhelming. the most valuable lesson i learned once i started mc-ing is that it’s ok if people don’t figure things out right away. the way i see it, player characters start as super rough sketches, and each time you play that portrait gets a little more detailed. it’s definitely worth prompting your players with questions, but sometimes you have to be patient and give them space to figure those things out for themselves!


#16

Building a personal toolkit can be very useful. This can range from a list of random names and challenge numbers all the way to fully fleshed out characters and political relationship charts. The real key, though, is to know what you find interesting and what your group finds fun, and focus your attention there. If everyone is on the same page about what’s enjoyable, the rougher spots will be smoothed over a lot quicker.

I also recommend a system for letting people say if they’re not cool with something, a tool that allows them to skip past content that’s just not working for them on an emotional level. The X-card is something I’ve found useful for this, but it’s far from the only one available.

Beyond that, just listen to your players, accept that you’re going to make some goofs, and make sure that you’re having fun too. The person running the game is playing the game too, and they deserve to get satisfaction and enjoyment out of the experience.


#17

I’ve had to do a lot of this recently. The players I GM for started out very inexperienced. Some had never played and the only ones that had played had only played limited amounts of D&D 3.5 Edition or earlier. Part of the hardest thing with being a GM for new/inexperienced players is that you have to be the facilitator for your players. You have to meet them where they are, but you also have to encourage them to move closer to clearer and more creative and fun gameplay.

People above have said great points! I would absolutely agree that the keys to getting your players more comfortable, expressive, and creative are communication skills and probing questions. The issue with inexperienced players, though, is that most don’t have either of those skills developed very well. Your players may be able to express how they feel, but they may not be able to say definitively, “This would make the game better.” They can tell you how they’re feeling, though, and as you play, you can course correct and experiment. Don’t be afraid to fail in what you try. Giving players and yourself tangible experience goes a long way in communication and in gameplay.

Likewise for probing questions, your players need to know early on that there are no wrong answers to questions and that their answers can provide a lot of depth and context to the world. A lot of new players know the importance of these questions, and that can scare them. That’s where the difficulty comes in. You have to start with low quantity and low risk questions. Even the freshest players know that they can go buckwild and burn down a church without warning or something, but the GM and other players have to express to each other things like “What does that look like?” or “Does your character carry ?”

You need to show the players that whatever they add to the story is cool and good and that you’re glad to have them with you. For some people, it’s hard for them to answer questions like “Who is in this town?” or “What are the daily religious practices of your church?” because those have lasting, world-changing impacts, so start small if your players are having trouble nailing those down.

Most importantly, though, appreciate your players. Tell them when they do cool shit. Talk to them frequently and often about what they do. It makes a world of difference in player experience and in game quality.


#18

In regards to the session 0 player worldbuilding question, my go-to session 0 is always a game of Microscope. It lets you flesh out the broad strokes and history of your world but you’ll certainly never create it in such detail as to block you off from taking the story wherever (and whenever) you want. You could even alternate between using Microscope to flesh out the world and using your RPG system of choice to take deeper dives into moments in its history. So far I’ve declared that anything past where we jump in is essentially non-canon until proven otherwise.

You can also take this in interesting directions for more “Save The World” scale adventures, by having the players create a history spanning the realization of an enormous calamity then having them create a band of heroes who could stop it.


#19

I recently just ended a tabletop group for a various number of reasons. But one of them was because I asked them to fill in the black spaces and they really pushed back. You really have to find a group who wants that and make ahead of time. Dungeon World asks for a type of cooperative story telling that a lot of players who wants D&D just aren’t use and won’t like.

My story of this was asking “how does your village celebrate the coming of winter?” and it spiraled into a 30 minute conversation about whether or not it was okay to put someone on the spot like that. It was not…err a great environment for anybody. But I learned a ton and I’m still friends with all of the people who I played with.


#20

I’ve had the opposite problem with some systems, since I tend to run systems based on wargame settings. People get really paralyzed about contradicting the canon of those games with their characters and tend to flounder in chargen. Since they’re popular systems (especially Iron Kingdoms and Through the Breach, to a lesser extent), I thought I’d give out some advice for helping engage these players.

The biggest one I’ve found is availability. Be on hand as much as you can to assuage fears and answer questions about the setting. An advantage of these systems is that there’s usually a lot of cool stuff that can inspire players, but there’s fear about stepping on the toes of these intricate worlds. Be there to explain things that they think are cool and offer ideas on how to adapt those cool things into a viable character.