Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Screen – Part 4: Have Nothing, Sell Everything!

Well, it’s been a while since the last post on this topic, or at all for that matter. Let’s see what I can cover…

Last post I said I’d touch on either convincing others to join your game, or the notes behind the first adventure. Turns out either topic isn’t really going to take up an entire article so let’s handle both.


First of all, the pitch is somewhat simpler in this instance than most for the following reasons:

Your pitching to your friends.
Your friends will likely enjoy the same things you do.
Your friends are roleplayers and are ALWAYS looking for a new game.

Regardless of these advantages there are some things that are good to have in your court.

A way that you can describe your story in a sentence. Two if you feel it absolutely necessary. In my case, I had the advantage of Cousin Daniel providing me with the humdinger of pitch lines. ‘It’s like Sergio Leone meets Jules Verne!’

An idea about your first adventure. Anyone can provide a concept but, if you were paying attention to the last articles, it helps to have an adventure or two in mind. As I say, I prefer to have three in mind and the first one fully worked up (or at least as worked up as I’m prepared to admit before I let the players loose on it). This gives you a practical reference for player inquiries such as “What characters should I play?” and “Can I have XYZ that does dicebuckets worth of damage?”

A lot of my reading involves story breakdown and formula. As such, I tend to look at my games in arcs, episodes and seasons. The first episode is the pilot and the pilot needs to sell the audience on the premise of your show without revealing your whole hand of ideas. The pilot also should allow your characters to do that which they do best, as well as shakedown their own character choices. But that’s their problem and not something we’ll talk about here. Back to the pitch.

Most gamers have a healthy knowledge of stereotype and genre, even if they can’t give you a definition of what either term means. So it’s useful if you have library of common literature you can fall back on for examples. In this case, Sergio Leone and Jules Verne is great for concept, but describing the series as Deadwood Meets Full Metal Alchemist evokes an imagery that serves a good foundation for furthing imaginings.

It should be pointed out that what you pitch and what the game ends up as can often be different things entirely. Depending on the suddeness of that change can make this easily acceptable or not. Sometimes this is your doing, other times it’s your players. Roleplaying is all about change though and is something you need to be ready to accept as the eventual cost of doing business. You are here to create a story with friends, not just read to them.

So anyway, pitch. Be prepared that your players, while sharing similar tastes, will have their own ideas of what’s cool and what’s not. Discuss what’s going to work for your game and what’s not. Don’t pitch all your ideas out at once though.

This is the final point to emphasize: Even if you have the map of your world and a flowchart of political structure and the basis for a new language and a bible of religous texts, all handwritten DO NOT drop this on your players. Give the broad concept and save the detail for answering questions. Questions are important, they are tentative feelers into not only how much thought you’ve given this game, but also as to how much room/involvement they are going to have in sharing this story. Sometimes holding things back allows players to discover it for themselves and contribute to your idea, even if you already know how it’s going to end.


Some explanation before I get into this: I had the adventure more or less written up. I don’t necessarily follow too much of structure and most adventure write-ups, in my case, differ in format, layout and information contained. For this game I had decided to follow the Lester Dent Pulp Formula, as opposed to a screenplay format or table layout. The adventure was ready and housed on the computer. The players were interested in participating. An evening had been put aside for character creation with the intention of starting the game in a fortnight’s time (Our schedules are somewhat packed!). Characters were created and it was still early in the evening which means the inevitable happens.

‘So let’s start playing!’

My notes are at home, I could probably improv the game with what I have in my head but I want the notes just in case. Besides I have about an hour to put this story out, shake the rules and characters down and leave it at a meaningful conclusion. I didn’t want to risk my A-Grade material on limited time so I’m forced to do that which all GM’s will be forced to do at some point in this position:

Fake it.

Knowing that combat can make or break the system, I knew it had to involve a bit of it to get players familiar with the rules. I also knew that it needed a setting that demonstrated the how and why of steampunk and its effect on the world. Finally it should be something so stereotypically western that players can get stuck into the type of world and how their characters move through it.

So a shootout in a small town seemed like the best way to go.

The contents of the adventure notes, very quickly typed on the phone as the ideas come are:

A gang family on the run.
Players are Marshals who are chasing them.
Held up in a small town with no law.
10 outlaws.
3 of them big characters (those I can be bothered recording statistics for)

A steampunk cannon that fires lengths of railroad track.

A pistol that shoots knives.

A pistol that shoots super-heated steam.

And that’s it.

Next article, how this adventure went and how much is written down versus how much is made up on the spot.


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