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Gaming Thursday: GMshare 1

April 30, 2015

While I began my adventures into RPGs as a GM (some 30ish-odd years ago), I’ve actually spent much more time as a player than behind the screen. And while I consider myself a pretty able player, I’d say my skill as a GM is fair, at best.   GMing is a whole other ball of wax and I truly admire those fabulous GMs I have been privileged to play under over the years. My recent forays into being a DM/GM has taught me a lot and given me the chance to grow as a GM, and I’d like to share what has worked for me and what may be useful in your own campaigns.

Starting with something I call the ” One Pagers”.

” One Pagers” takes the literary idea of In Media Res and applies it in a tweaked way to tabletop RPGs. The WEG D6 version of Star Wars used this to an extent, with each adventure beginning with a script for players to read aloud that got the adventure rolling. What I chose to do here, however, is more specific to each player/character and involves individual reading(s).

The essence of the “One Pager” is simple: a personalized story of about one page (hence the name…) for each character, done up in theme appropriate style and paper, written in the first person, detailing the last few weeks or month, bringing the characters to the point where the game begins. This includes their activities, observations, mood, thoughts, interactions – everything that you might find to set a scene in a novel.

You may already notice that this can be tricky, as I indicated “mood and thoughts” – it’s almost taboo in RPG circles to speak for a character as a DM, and this indeed could viewed as a transgression. Carefully reading the backstories (and knowing the players helps too), however, helps you to craft something that should be in line with their intentions for the character and avoid that pitfall. Additionally, as these pages come before any action around the table you’re not taking full agency from the player in the moment, and they can easily (and will) twist what’s on the page to fit into their character concept.

By writing the page to bring every character up to a single point in time and place – thus bringing the true moment of In Media Res starting – allows you to not only start the game on an engaging point, but the first event can cement the player/character interest, investing it with gravitas and importance to them.

I first used the “One Pagers” when I had finally managed to get my Bloodstone Campaign off the ground (I say finally as the Bloodstone saga is a 1e series of D&D modules that I had had several aborted attempts to run over the years; we began the campaign using the 3e rules). The campaign started with well seasoned 16th level adventurers under the conceit that they didn’t necessarily know each other – they were each powerful adventurers in their own right who would, after a series of down-on-their-luck-type things, would end up uniting together to take on and save the Realms from a most powerful foe. The players responded nicely with long backstories and interesting character development.

While the module had its own method for bringing the characters together, I wanted there to be a powerful tie in for each character to take on the quest that was presented to them by the most unlikely of sources. Something that would make it personal. And thus the “One Pagers” was born. They worked their intended magic beautifully (and almost not beautifully*), bringing all the players and characters to the table engaged and ready to go, excited.

As we continued the campaign, I continued to create new Pages every time we returned from taking a break between modules.   Being able to weave in the most recent events, the most recent concerns of the characters, and even giving voice to the different ways each characters view what’s going on, was powerful and got everyone re-invested quickly. Plus, it’s a nice feeling when the DM creates something just for you and your character.

Using “One Pagers” is something I’m likely to bring to most of my games from now on. It brings on and supports the RP, group cohesion, and shortens the awkward phase where everyone’s feeling out the tone of the campaign while developing their characters. Give it a shot, and please let me know how it works for you!

Postscript:  I’ve attached the One Pagers I created for that Bloodstone game here:  One Pagers Example.  It was many many moons ago and I’d like to think I’d write them better today…

* Not so beautifully as the beginning was nearly undermined by the first encounter of the adventure that turned into an epically slow and grindy affair, nearly sucking all the life out of the room. It didn’t help that the players were figuring out their high level characters without the benefit of 15 levels of continuous play, but it also quickly highlighted the ways that 3e didn’t work very well at high levels… That the campaign got flowing well soon thereafter I strongly attribute to the impact of the “One Pagers”.

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