Getting the Most out of PANRPG
All right, people, listen up. October is Play a New RPG Month. Hadn’t you heard? No? Well, that’s because it’s a new thing. The folks over at the Dice of Doom podcast started it as a result of their Great Gaming Experiment. What’s that, you ask? Oh, come on. If you aren’t following the Dice of Doom podcast, I can’t help you. Rupert, Paul, and Dwayne (and their guest hosts and contributors) are definitely Friends of the Angry DM, insofar as the Angry DM is capable of having friends. So, go, check out their site and their podcast.
Play a New RPG Month. Right. PANRPG. The idea is that, for one month, you put your regular campaign on hold and play something new. And, ideally, you let someone else take over the GM screen – someone who doesn’t normally do it. The GM learns the game, walks the players through character generation, and then runs about three sessions worth of adventure. Then you stop and go back to your normal game.
There’s a lot of reasons to participate in PANRPG Month. If you’ve been playing the same game for a long time, it can help break out of that rut. Even if you aren’t in a rut, you will be surprised to discover that your old game feels new and fresh after a month playing something else. It can very well stave off the eventual burnout that comes from playing the same game for long periods of time. Speaking of burnout, it’s a great way to give your regular GM some time off. Even if the GM isn’t feeling burnt out, time off always helps refresh the creative juices. Hell, I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been pretty much the designated GM for about twenty five years, give or take, and the last ten years or so have been devoted almost full time to various flavors of D&D. Any break I can get is a good thing.
But those aren’t the only reasons. They are good reasons, but they aren’t the only reasons. The best reason is that it makes everyone in the group a better gamer.
Apart from giving the GM a break, its healthy for a regular, long-time GM to get out from behind the screen. A GM needs to regularly experience the game from a player perspective in order to improve his own technique and to remember how to focus on his players. It is also always good for a GM to see how other GMs (even new GMs) handle the game. The player who steps up to GM, perhaps for the first time, also learns a great deal. I could probably write ten pages on the various skills in the standard GM’s toolbox: everything from narrative construction and pacing to system analysis and mastery to logistics and management to improvisation to tactical acumen to … whew. It’s a long list. GMing also builds confidence. In a perfect world, every player should GM at least once and every GM should play every game system he runs a few times. It makes everyone better at their chosen roles.
And a one-shot role-reversal just isn’t enough. A month long experience gives enough time to get past the initial shock of having the pH in your tank changed and to settle into the new role.
Why a new RPG?
It seems like you can get all of the benefits by sticking with the same game and just shuffling roles. Just let someone new take the GM helm, right? Wrong! Every game system and every setting focuses on different themes and solves problems in different ways, both narratively and mechanically. Every game has strengths and weaknesses.
A good GM is constantly looking for inspiration to make his game better. It can be inspiring rules or subsystems the GM can rip-off and cram into his current game. It can be an inspiring setting that offers new story ideas and possibilities. Or it can just be more nebulous. Inspiration can come from the feel of a game or the way its put together. GMs know the value of reading books, seeing movies, playing video games, and even just sitting around people-watching. Playing other RPGs is no different. It’s another source of great inspiration.
Playing a new game can help highlight problems you didn’t know you had AND offer solutions you might not have considered. Or it can help you make a good game better by offering a new idea for a house rule, a subsystem, a plot, an obstacle, or a way of building challenges. Or it can just make you look at things from a new angle and think about your game in ways you hadn’t before. Its like an Energy Drink for the creative mind.
Why a Whole Month?
A month (or four sessions) is a great length of time to experience an RPG. First of all, a month allows you to devote a session to character generation and learning the game. Because you want to experience as much of the game as possible, you don’t want to skimp on character generation and use pregens. That leaves you three sessions worth of game time. That could be just enough time to get your through a decent-length adventure or, if the GM really wants to go whole hog, it’s a good length of time for a homebrew adventure. Think about it: its divided into three nice acts. A trilogy: beginning, middle, and end.
Getting the Most Out of PANRPG
First of all, it’s time to start planning. Time is short. The first thing to do is figure out who is running the show for PANRPG. The current GM could do it, if no one steps up. But either way, that leaves a solid two-weeks to get ready and prepare for character generation and another week to get the first adventure ready. Once that decision is made, here’s my advice for getting the most out of PANRPG month.
#1 Visit the PANRPG Website
Check it out at http://playanewrpg.com/. There are forums and descriptions of different games you might want to try out. Start conversations on the forums. This is a great place to get advice. “Hey,” you might ask, “I’m planning to run Pathfinder for PANRPG. Can anyone suggest a good module that’ll fit the time frame?” Or, “I want to try WHFRP, but there is a lot of stuff. What’s the minimum I need to buy to run for four people?” Or, “Do I really need the ‘Our World’ book for Dresden Files?” Get into conversations, use others’ knowledge, and share your own!
#2 Don’t Get Married to a Month
The whole “month” bit is really about having four sessions. If you play every other week, make it two months so you get four sessions. Or increase your schedule as a special treat. Do everything you can to get at least three sessions in for PANRPG.
#3 If Your Players ‘Will Never Go For It,’ Take Your Ball and Go Home
Seriously. People can be surprisingly resistant to this. Don’t let them. If you broach the topic with your group and they grumble, groan, and stare at their shoes, tell them flat out that you’re taking October off from GMing. You need a vacation. Someone can step up and run something, or you can just take a vacation.
#4 If Your Players Still Won’t Go For It, You Can Run Something Else
Same story as above. You’re running something different for a month. They can either play that or they don’t get a game.
#5 First Session – Pregen, Rules, Chargen
The first session needs to accomplish two things. Introduce the basic rules and get characters generated. Figure out what the basic rules that need to be introduced are. Usually, they include action resolution (how do you roll dice to figure out how things work) and combat (how do you roll dice to make things dead). Sometimes, there’s a magic system that needs learning too. I’ve run a few “learn the game and make characters” sessions over the past year (I had my own Miniature Great Gaming Experiment), and this is how I did it. This advice is for the GM running PANRPG.
First, make some pregens. They don’t have to be fancy or anything. Just make a handful of characters. They can all be pretty close clones of one another to save time. This will help you, the GM, get the character generation system down so you can walk people through it. Bring those pregens to the game, hand them out, and run a short scene for the players. Let them resolve some actions, have a quick fight, throw a few spells, and see how the game and the characters are put together. This should take about two hours. Don’t sweat the story or the adventure. Just give scenarios, like tutorials at the beginning of a video game. “You need to find and defuse the bomb in the office building quickly!” “You get attacked by a combat tutorial!”
Then, move on to character generation with the remainder of the time. Make sure you photocopy things like stat and equipment tables, skill lists, spell lists, and whatever else you might need multiple copies of. Sharing one book among five people can be tricky.
#6 Level Up! Level Up! Level Up!
At the end of the first real session, the players should gain enough experience points to level up or gain advancements or whatever the hell passes for “getting better” in your game of choice. Same at the end of the second session. Don’t sweat real experience/advancement for PANRPG month. That way, you get to see how the game plays for three levels (or whatever) and get to fiddle with the advancement system. If you’re using shorter, pre-written modules, you might need to make some slight adjustments, but it shouldn’t break the game if you don’t. Of course, that depends on the game.
#7 If You’ve Never GMed Before, Stick With Modules
I’m going to be frank with you: if you’ve never run a game before, or only run games very occasionally, writing your own material is a huge step. Of course, this varies from system to system. But it’s a whole other level of GMing. For PANRPG, stick with pre-written modules. Hell, I’ve been a GM for a long time and I still prefer to stick with a module or pre-written adventure the first time I run a new system, just to see how the system is put together.
#8 Did I Mention the PANRPG Website?
Keep going back to the PANRPG website and posting about your experiences. Ask questions, talk about what you’re running, what works, and what doesn’t. Be a part of PANRPG. With any sort of luck, when November rolls around, the PANRPG forums will be a great place to look all year round for advice about starting new games and new systems or GMing for the first time. Even after PANRPG is over, be a part of that community. It could be a great thing.
#9 Stick it Out
If you’re GMing for the first time, you’re going to discover an important secret: running games is scary as hell. After running a one-shot for the first time, a player asked me “when do you start to feel comfortable doing this?” The answer I gave was “I’ll let you know when I start to feel comfortable.” Experienced GMs reading this know that that statement is only half exaggeration.
Even if you aren’t GMing for the first time, there are a lot of reasons why the game might not go well. Particularly if everyone is used to playing the same one game over and over. It takes time to shift to a new comfort level. So, if the first session bombs, that is no guarantee the second session will too. But the key is to see it through. Its only four sessions. Three sessions if you only count actual game play. You can get through it. At best, the game will get good and people will get more comfortable. At worst, returning to your regular game will feel even better.
#10 File the Game and the GM Away for Future Possibilities
If everything goes well and everyone has a good time, remember this game. It might be worth revisiting after your current campaign comes to a close (or the next time you need a month long break or if you just need a one shot game one night). Remember it. Add it to your library. If you, the PANRPG GM, discover the GMing bug has bitten you and you want to run more games, file that away too for after your current campaign closes (or GMing hiatuses or one-shots). Hell, if GMing was fun but the game sucked, dump the game but keep the potential GM.
However, I would advise you strongly against deciding to keep the PANRPG game going and losing the current campaign. Thing is, novelty can have a strong effect on people. It might be (especially if you’ve been going a long time with the same game system under the same GM) that it was fun because it was new and different. If you try to keep it going, you might find people start missing the old campaign once the novelty wears off. If you let the old campaign die, you may have a lost a lot of time and commitment. So, commit to the end of PANRPG. Go back to your old game. A month later, if people are missing the PANRPG game and you (the GM) really want to get back behind the screen, then it’s time to consider that possibility. Commit to the end of PANRPG. You can always change your mind later.
So, that’s my advice for PANRPG Month. I hope you have a great month of gaming and I hope you long-time GMs enjoy your month off from all the normal GMing crap. If you want to know more about PANRPG or the Great Gaming Experiment, check out the Dice of Doom podcast. Also, check out special Level Up episode of Roving Band of Misfits, wherein Rupert from Dice of Doom discusses PANRPG Month. And, of course, head on over to The PANRPG Month website and poke around.