Crafting Series – Custom Screens

In a previous entry, the Thirdwalling crew examined the role of the Game Master Screen and the barrier it can pose to effective communication at the game table.  This week, we’ll take a look at the basic construction methods of building a custom screen for use in your game.  This screen is fairly basic, but we will discuss some options that the Thirdwalling staff has explored on other custom screens that could benefit you at the table as well!  Fair warning:  This is a picture-heavy article as it contains a picture-tutorial of construction.

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Game Master Tip #6 – Choosing a Space

Nearly as important as what you play is where you play.  As the gaming community has matured, it has left behind the days of attracting players to mom’s basement or the picnic table at the park.  Instead, the modern player wants to be comfortable and have all the amenities of home, like power outlets for their electronics, snacks and comfortable furnature.   It seems like every day technology is holding a stronger presence on the game table, making these comforts of home even more important.  So what should game masters consider when they’re choosing a space to host their game?

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Game Master Tip #5 – Getting them in the door!

Some severe health concerns and the arrival of my niece have delayed the Player Series yet again.  Please accept as tribute Game Master Tip #5 – Getting them in the door!

Any Game Master who’s ever experienced it – from a LARP to a MMO Raiding Group and every brand of tabletop in between – nothing kills a game faster than bickering and arguing between players.  But if you want to see a game die a slow, painful death?  Apathy is the way to do it. When the players (or even worse, the game master!) disengages from the game itself the sessions start a slow downward spiral until, if you’re lucky, it dies.  If you’re not lucky? Well, then it really takes a turn for the worse. What can a good Game Master do to keep his players engaged and his story engaging?  I was given a tip by a fellow Game Master several years back that I have always followed.  He said (and I’m paraphrasing): “First, you’ve got to get them in the door every week.”

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Game Master Tip – Keeping their attention.

Taking a break from the Player series to give the crew more time to test some of the software.  Let’s look at an important topic – keeping the player’s attention!

At its core, being a Game Master is not that different than managing a business meeting.  Sure, the goal is driving away the Goblin King instead of driving up business profits, but the premise is the same – the manager is giving a presentation to a team.  Like any team meeting, a gaming session can devolve into a caffeine-fueled chaos if they don’t have a clear direction.

Various studies over the years have shown that, on average, the attention span of an adult is somewhere around 5 minutes. ᅠThis means that after 5 minutes of inactivity, the average adult will likely wander away (at least mentally) and check out of the discussion – which is easy to see in the comments section of most YouTube videos. ᅠBut what can we do to keep our players’ heads in the game and their attention away from the Magic Draw Tourney at the next table?

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The Golden Rule Part 3 – Rule in the Players’ Favor

In the era that the Thirdwallers affectionately refer to as the Gygax Era, Dungeons and Dragons games were brutal.  A look at any of the old modules will show that these games were kill or be killed.  This idea has changed a bit – evolving into a better player experience for the most part.  There are still hold-outs to its teachings that demand respect.  Anyone that can enjoy a game geared so obviously against the player must have jewels the size of Roc eggs.

One lingering effect of this brutal era is a sense of “Us vs. Them” that seems to hang over every gaming session – the idea that the players are at odds against the game master.  In my own gaming sessions I’ve had players deliberately hide their plans from me until the last second, for fear that I would re-arrange my game to better oppose them and make a daring plan fall flat!  This mentality of hostility must be overcome for a successful game on both sides.  The first step toward that elimination is for game masters to rule in the player’s favor when rules disputes could go either way.

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The Golden Rule Part 2 – The Game Comes First

When a prominent aspect or focus of the game master’s story conflicts (directly or indirectly) with the core rules of the game trouble is on the horizon.  But what is a game master to do when they find their masterpiece at odds with the rules?

There are two schools of thought – and they are as polarized and hotly debated as everything else in our great hobby:

Some will say the rules trump the story and for the beginner game master, that is certainly a safe path to follow.  By shielding themselves behind the rules, an inexperienced game master can prevent a lengthy debate or hard feelings associated with perceived “favoritism” and get an early start on circumventing the “Us vs. GM” mentality in their players.  But it raises concerns of unnecessary “rules lawyering” stealing from the spirit of the story – and opens the door for heated debates over rules minutia.

There are others that say that the story trumps the system – a strategy that certainly appeals to the game master that’s spent months working on their campaign.  But this path is full of pitfalls – if the players don’t know what to expect from the system they will feel cheated and ill-prepared for your encounters.

The truth is, the real key to a happy campaign is not the system or the story – it’s the game!

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