Suggestions for New GM and New Players?

Hi,

So, we’ve all thumbed through the book and we’re totally in. I’m the hopeful GM and am just starting out to understand BitD with the goal of making it an amazing experience for all of us. We’ll be a party of 5 + GM with a few brand new RPG players. I’m nervous about my role as GM and doing a good job improvising along with my players. If you were me, just starting out and about to attempt to digest the BitD book, what would you do? Also, do you have favorite game add-ons that make it a smoother or more fun experience?

https://www.reddit.com/r/bladesinthedark/search/?q=advice%20for%20new%20GM&restrict_sr=1&sr_nsfw=

Also a search on this very website with “new GM” will give a few answers

Guys, as a newcomer, can I make a suggestion?

There is so few posts and activity here, would it be that bad to answer people’s questions directly instead of telling them to do a search. I completely understand if it’s a busy board and you’re getting flooded with posts on the same topic.

Maybe we could be a bit more welcoming to new folks?

Thank you

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I just started playing Scum and Villainy with a group of 4 players this summer. We’re about 4 sessions in as of this weekend. The system is really fun, and the 5 of us are having a blast. I’ve been playing rpg’s on and off for a very long time, mostly D&D, but I don’t have a lot of experience as GM. So I decided to take on the rules a little bit at a time. It’s really built up my confidence and we’re all learning the system together.

The first thing I did was send my players to the SRD page on this site. I asked them to consider what Playbook they liked, but told them to keep their backstory to only one sentence. (This turned out to be genius, as they have used Flashbacks to help them on the job while simultaneously fleshing out their characters past!)

The book says that you can ignore (or simplify) some of the rules and still have a workable game. I took this to heart and structured our first session as a kind of “one-shot” where we only dealt with part of the rules. Each session after that has been structured to incorporate more parts of the system and build up as we go.

To start I wanted to get used to the basic dice mechanic and conflict resolution. For this, the first session was loosely based on the Firedrake starting position. The PCs had to break out of prison (actually a prison transport ship taking them to Isotropa), steal an emergency escape pod, and get away. I said they were not a crew yet, so we ignored all of the crew related stuff and ship creation rules, but I gave them 1 gambit so they’d have that. (“It’s kinda like a Benny in Savage Worlds!”) We just used the rules that applied to running a Job (Action rolls, Stress, Harm, Position & Effect, and Resistance). We didn’t even try flashbacks or fortune rolls or progress clocks in that first session. It was fun and fast paced and by the end the PCs were floating outside the wreckage of the prison ship (yes, they managed to sabotage and destroy it on their way out!).

Next session, (who would’ve guessed…?) there just happened to be a small undefined derelict spaceship, the Blue Ocean (I was going to call it the Tabula Rasa, but that was just too on-the-nose) floating in a nearby asteroid field. It was inhabited by a hostile alien tentacle beast that needed to be dealt with, and the ship was theirs! For that fight I replaced their Gambit, and we added Flashbacks, a Progress Clock, Engagement & Fortune Rolls and a Devils Bargain or two. We were starting to get the hang of it. “Fiction first”, and all that.

In Session 3 I had them encounter local pirates who witnessed their daring escape and the taking of the as yet undefined derelict. The pirates were impressed enough to help them dock and “refit” the Blue Ocean in exchange for a bunch of debt and a little “favor” (their first real Job!). Now I let them decide what kind of ship they wanted. We did Ship & Crew Creation, XP, Downtime Activities, and the rest.

This way we’ve been able to absorb the rules in chunks so it hasn’t been too overwhelming. I’m still studying the details of the rules – and I’ve done a couple of retcons or retractions at the start of a night just to clarify a bad call or rule misinterpretation from the previous session – but in general I think we have a pretty good handle on things now. It’s not really a rules-light system, but it’s also not nearly as massive as D&D or Savage worlds, or (god forbid) Traveler (LOL).

There are a few old habits we are still working on breaking:

  • Collecting and hoarding weapons and equipment like loot on a character sheet, “'cause we might need them someday”. No need to do this, unless it’s an exceptional item, since Loadout has you covered and Flashbacks are your best friend in a pinch.
  • Focusing on choosing the best Action to roll before roll-playing the fiction (fiction first… fiction first…).
  • Me telling the players what Action to roll instead of asking them. (“OK, you tell me how you think they can kill that tentacle monster with Sway…”)
  • Over-planning a job and debating contingencies, including excessive unnecessary information gathering.
  • Rolling for EVERYTHING. I have to keep stopping myself from calling for an action roll when there is nothing actually at stake in the player’s action - like wanting to discover basic information or overcome a minor obstacle in free play. (“Sure, you can do that - here’s what happens” is so freeing…)
  • Forgetting to use Flashbacks or Resistance in the face of a fast-paced encounter.
  • Not using the rules to add to the dice pool or change Position or Effect in the heat of battle.

I’m sure there’s more, I hope you get the picture.

Watch some actual plays. Here are two of my favorites:
Haunted City
Persephone

One last thing to mention. Don’t bother looking for “adventure modules” for FitD settings. They don’t really exist. I know, I looked, because I thought “how can we run a game without a pre-written adventure!?!”. But this system wouldn’t work with a pre-made adventure. It’s made to encourage the players to build the plot and tell the story by taking action. This can’t be pre-planned. Just envision a situation in your world and let your players decide what to do. You never know, they may single-handedly blow up a Hegemony prison ship and make their escape in a way you would have never considered!

When it comes to what to read, the most important “parts” (it is almost the entire book) are “The Basics” to “Doskvol” (except “Changing the Game” and all playbooks & crews each specific abilities, since the latter two will be handed on their playing sheets).

I highly recommand closely reading “Doskvol” section - the established lore in BitD is scarce yet evokating, and a great method to understand the spirit of the game and how it plays. Additionally, it will save a lot of effort since you will have a picture of the city in your mind to improvise on and assests to reuse. Additionally, if you have the time, also read each playbook and crew’s mchanics since it is always good as a GM to grasp their players’ close friends.

When creating PCs, empathise on establishing connections to the Doskvol, the people in it, what they did before becoming scoundrels and why: friends & enemies from the past, where they lived and where they work and how Doskvol was (and is) cruel to them. The players shouldn’t write entire backstories, only have few sentences in their mind -it will help them and you breathe life to the game, especially during free play and downtime, and rest will be discovered in play.

For crew creatiom, pay close attention to the enemies and allies they create when choosing upgrades, favorite contact and the faction controlling their hunting grounds - ask the players why those factions the dislike/like the crew (great way to describe past scores and the history of the crew) and establish their attitude. This will serve as your backbone for enemies and upcoming scores and conflicts - in my first game I was under strain in the first sessions since I haven’t focused enough on this part.

When preparing for the first playong session, I highly recommand using “The War in Crow’s Foot” starting situation because it is simple, effective and fits for all crew types. If you want to create a situation of your own, don’t create shadows wars between the two main factions which the PCs don’t know of: I find public, loud conflicts between the two main factions the best, especially if the crew can benefits from them; leave the shadow wars to the third faction.

During play, I believe the best advice for GMs is “play to find out”. Don’t think how you want the situation to end; instead think what each NPC wants and let the rolls to decide.
My advice for players is “play your PCs like you’re driving a stolen car” - take risks, “you live the game and die it” like Ahab said, don’t be afraid to let your PC die, get caught, or suffer great misfortune if it will lead to an interesting story.

Between sessions, I like to create project clocks for factions who I think may intervene and fill them. Based on them, I write news, rumors and jobs which spread across Doskvol and possible opportunities that derive from them for the crew, which are presented to the PCs by relevant NPCs, espcially the crew’s contact (nothing more than the frame of the score - where, who, what. Don’t detail it very closely and if you fancy write only one challange or event that may happen in the score; improvise the rest). Another splendid way to never run off material for next session is to offer players devils bargains which involves factions getting angered, NPCs seeking revenge, etc.

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Hello and Welcome, @that_rabbit
:wave: :rat:

Both previous comments were pretty good, so give them a good read, and I will try to build on top on what was said.

First, about being a GM, try not to stress yourself too much about it. Remember that RPG is a group activity, so not everything falls onto you. Create an open channel where you and your players can provide feedback to each other freely. Each group is different, so every “GMing” should be different. Worry not about following the written rules too strictly or loosely, do what is fun for the whole group.

That being out of the way, let’s talk about Forged in the Dark (FitD, the Blades system) and Powered By The Apocalypse (PbtA, FitD is heavily based on some PbtA concepts) games in general.

If you ever played a more “traditional”, “on rails” RPG, where the GM has control over most of the story, your biggest shock is how “carefree” PbtA is on the story structure. As @OpenAbyss mentioned, you “play to find out” as the player’s action and input have a heavier impact on the narrative than first meets the eye. I don’t know if you ever played a “cooperative story” game, like a group writes a story together, one person writing a line followed by the next, but PbtA has this general feeling. As a GM, you control the NPCs, not the story. You shouldn’t decide on what happens in the main storyline and what doesn’t.

This might feel a little overwhelming at first. There’s comfort and safety in having a structured plan, such as the map of a D&D Dungeon where you have all the layout written down. In PbtA, you are exchanging this for the excitement of exploring the unknown. What will the players do when confronted? Will the lurk escape from the prison? Will their deal with the enemy gang work out, or will it end in a bloodrain? “Play to find out”.

The last questions might have sounded as a tv show, the famous “find out in the next episode” trope. That’s because FitD (and PbtA) focus to emulate a “television narrative”, focusing in important events and skipping over less relevant ones with the “jump straight into action” ideology. I’ve read lots and lots of posts about people that dislike the system because of this and few other reasons. If you play a few sessions and have the same feeling… that’s completely fine. Different groups have different preferences, this system might not appeal for you but another one might! So don’t get down because of this.

About GMing Blades in particular, I would say the most important part of the whole book is the “Running the Game”, specially the “GM Actions” and “GM Best Practices”. It’s a simple and straightforward, but at the same time it’s so dense because all the game mechanics run around these concepts. I always give them one quick read before a session to keep the right mindset. Knowing Doskvol and the Rules is important, but its extra important to know how to apply them.

When running a session, I don’t like to have anything planned. When you have a plan, you try to enforce your players into it, which goes against the “play to find out” ideology. However, having no plan doesn’t mean having no preparation. For me, I like having a Pin Interest gallery with images of of the city of Doskvol, it’s sewers, docks, ghosts and similar, so I have a strong mental image of the scenery, as well as music. For other stuff, I recommend reading this post: https://community.bladesinthedark.com/t/gm-preparation-before-a-session/423/9.

Of course, going full improvisation is scary, so go with small steps as @Hosidax_Hosidax said. My first session was actually somewhat planned. I started with the War in Crow’s Foot and it was basically “Bazso Baz hired you to steal some stuff from the Red Sashes and it’s a good opportunity to start, even if you don’t like working from him.” I had the warehouse planned like a dungeon, where the guards where, if there were any traps, other obstacles as locks and so on. And it worked out pretty neatly, since it gave my players a “breather” to focus on learning the basic mechanics of the system.

One thing that I want to emphasize, is that while the story is “”“player driven”"", that doesn’t mean you do nothing. It’s nice that the players can do whatever they want, but it gets boring after a while IF they don’t have any challenges on the way. Here comes what @OpenAbyss was talking about knowing their enemies and allies, and the between sessions. When roleplaying as a rival gang, roleplay as their enemy. They took your turf? Attack them! They have a new drug which is getting really successful? I bet you would love to have their profits. But don’t exaggerate! While challenge is interesting, it must make sense within the story. If a NPC just betray the Players without reason, it will feel forced and ruin the mood.

I’ve been talking quite a lot with @Stollentroll17, that also started to GM recently, so I will ping them in hopes they can to add something about their own experience. It might be worthwhile to check the post we’ve been discussing, https://community.bladesinthedark.com/t/compel-action-roll-required/2620, since I write a lot of about asking questions to the players in order to build your story.

Another thing I would recommend is watching / listening a few sessions of John Harper GMing. You can find a podcast here: https://community.bladesinthedark.com/t/the-bloodletters-podcast/882, but here are also videos on youtube. Keep in mind that he uses older versions of the rulebooks.

As a final note, reading the DW Guide (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8_Fz4m5hcoiTXpTbklDOF9iUHc/view?resourcekey=0-xI_68aH1lllySOdEovKvPQ) is a nice touch, personally speaking. While it’s about Dungeon World, a PbtA system “based” on D&D, it gives a lot of tips and explanations on PtbA GMing in general.

I hope this helps and you have fun with your group!

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These are great comments! Thank you all so much, even tho I’m not the OP it has been very helpful.

Wow! I am blown away by the supportive and creative BitD community. :star_struck: You guys have been so helpful and have really amplified my excitement for this game. Thanks to your input and advice, I feel increasingly confident that our group is going to have a great time. I have a few weeks to prepare so I better get back to reading about Doskvol!