Recent revelations for me about Game Mastering

I tend to go with simple, clear character sheets for one-shots.
Frankly, I don’t bother to read or listen to other people’s game mastering advice all that often. I’ve been doing this for the better part of 25 years, and I have reason to think I’m pretty good at it. I should probably stop being so arrogant, though, since the last two months have provided me with some surprising revelations.

(They’re probably not revelations to a lot of readers, but they are for me, so it’s best if I write them down somewhere that I’m not going to lose them.)

1) I GM better when I stand the whole game. It keeps my energy up, it helps me project, it helps me hear everyone, and it helps me act. My biggest strength as a GM is roleplaying NPCs, and being able to act with my body as well as my voice plays into that. Not every game session is going to provide an opportunity to play Captain Jack Sparrow, but being able to inhabit that role physically as well as mentally really pushed last Friday’s Gargoyles game to a higher level.

Oh my gods, I enjoyed hamming it up as Jack SOOOO much! I got the distinct impression that the players were deliberately pushing me to dig deeper into the role, as well. I didn’t intend Jack’s story about being hired by Demona to steal the Atlantean Praying Gargoyle stature from Marie Laveau and Jean Lafitte to be a serious red herring of any sort, so I have to assume everyone just enjoyed watching me bullshit my way through Jack’s account of how young Don Diego de la Vega stopped him.

2) One-shots and convention games based around playing pre-existing or easily-recognizable characters work better than trying to make players suss out a homebrewed or original setting in just four hours. I totally get now why Shane Hensley has been running his DC vs. Marvel game at conventions rather than Deadlands or some other Savage Setting. My Fairy Tail and Zorro games at Chupacabracon IV worked better than The King is Dead (which worked and was fun, but not as much as the others) and the Gargoyles game was a blast.

Obviously, it helps when all the players are fans of a property and know the characters, but I think I can apply this lesson to Wine and Savages original settings and other Savage Settings. For future TKiD convention games, I’m going to need to make pre-gens who are simpler to digest (which is, admittedly, hard with that setting); perhaps characters who are more obviously Casanova, Hawkeye, Mozart, etc rather than trying to give examples of the depth and breadth of the secret societies. If I run Savage Rifts®, Rippers, or similar games in the future, then I’m going to want to make the pre-gens straightforward and interesting.

Speaking of which… Years and years ago when I wanted to get into comics, I thought up an iteration of the Seven Samurai plot that would have starred off-brand variations on the classic sword & sorcery heroes: Conan, Elric, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Jirel of Joiry, etc. I should run that as a convention game using the original characters and call it Seven Swords of Sorcery. Maybe I can get Shane to play in it; we usually wind up scheduled opposite each other at Chupa, but I doubt he’d be able to resist a set-up like that. Hmm...

3) A-frame paper minis are easier to custom make than tri-folds and stay in place better if you use a penny for a base (and what base is cheaper than one cent?). It’s also easier to see the illustrations on A-frames, so any loss in arguing who has what line of sight is more than made up for by being able to see who is where quicker. We didn’t actually use the Gargoyles minis that I made, but having them at the table seemed to help ground everybody. I think the players enjoyed having an action figure of their character even if it didn’t get used.

(There’s something really satisfying about making minis, something tactile and artistically-satisfying in a painting and drawing kind of way. I somehow accidentally figured out an even better system for making custom minis in Paint.NET when I made the Gargoyles minis – and I could probably drop a step from that to make things even simpler – so I’m feeling extra proud of those unused A-frames. I wonder if I should reduce the DPI on the images, though…)

Man, I keep telling myself that I’m going to run fewer games when I go to conventions, but I keep getting inspired to run more and more games! Dagnabbit!

My apologies for the blog going quiet for the last couple of weeks (especially those of you whom Tommy Brownell directed over here). I was writing some Savage Rifts® material, a Rippers scenario that’s under review for the Savage Worlds Explorer, and my one-sheet for the Buccaneer: Through Hell & High Water Kickstarter. Now I’ve got to get to work on a mystery/urban adventure for Savage Rifts®that should also see print in the Explorer; thankfully, Robin is co-writing that one.

Wendelyn Reischel’s Facebook post about the Gargoyles game drew a surprising amount of interest, so I’ll post my GM materials from that on the blog this week. It won’t be exactly what I used, because I realized late on Friday that there was a better way of handling things and I didn’t have time to fix it before the game. Another Facebook post by Wendy about adapting favorite cartoons to Savage Worlds got me thinking about another favorite property of mine, so expect a white shadow that moves unseen to fall across the blog next week.
Yes, I put Jack Sparrow in a Gargoyles adventure. Sue me.


  1. Great advice Sean! I've come to many of the same realizations -- especially about standing/projecting and pregens for one shots.

  2. It was fun to see Sparrow... i admit he is more your thing than mine ... but entertaining none the less.

    I think i needed to brush up more on my gargoyle lore ... i watched the show as a kid ... but the week got away from me for catching up on characters & their personalities.

    Hope i get to go to Chupa'18 to partucipate more in the community and broaden my gaming pallet.

    I think one offs with pregens are the best way for casual puck ups like we did Friday.

    It was fun and look forward to future gatherings ... Tomas

  3. Is there anywhere to download rules or minis?


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