To be honest, I thought I had talked about surprise extensively on the blog. It appears though that I have never actually dedicated a post specifically to it. I was going to attach a link to that post here if I had. But I have not so I am going to explain, in short, what I mean when I want a game to surprise me. I generally always run my games but I want to be surprised in games, just as much as my players do. So how do I expect that to happen?
A player wants to be surprised in a game. Be it something that their character does that changes a game or a twist in the plot they love surprises. Well, so do I but how do I get my surprises? Many people think that being the Games Master (GM) means you need to know everything that is happening in the game. You are meant to know the plot, what is behind all the doors and what is actually happening.
Well, I am here to tell you that I do not design that way. I used too but now I design in a way that will provide me with as many surprises as the players get. When I sit down to design I consider where the players are and what they have done to this point. If I want to investigate anything myself I start with that and try to work how the players to become involved. More often than not though the players are far too interesting and I will just design around what they are doing. I design using a flowchart. Inside the bubbles of the flowchart, I put interesting scenes and locations and the arrows from that segment mark my best guess on what players may do.
This style of design is fraught with disaster though. The players will often not do what you expect and surprise you! Now I love this when it happens because it surprises me! I also tend to use non-crunchy systems that allow me to redesign on the fly. Many games will tell you that the way forward is to gently guide the players back to the prepared material. I say to hell with that! Pursue the players’ path and see where it takes you. With a flowchart design, you can just add to it with the choice taken. Cypher system is excellent for this style of gaming.
Also, don’t shy away from putting in unexplored areas. Sometimes my flowchart has a blank spot that I allow the players to fill in. For example, I might have that they travel through the Necromancer’s portal and it just points at a blank bubble. When they get there I ask what they see and work from that point with the game. They may see an army of skeletons or a treasure room or something else cool. Whatever appears it is going to surprise me and give the players the ability to shape the story as much as I do.
Finally, I also use story path cards. These add a mechanic that allows the players to interrupt the story to add interesting additions. I really suggest you check out my review of these and get a hold of some if you can. If you want to take a good look at this style of running a game there are a couple of games that can help. Take a look at Dungeon World if you want a PG version of this style of gaming or Apocalypse World if you don’t mind a bit of swearing in your text! Keep rolling…