Kobold Press

The Lost GM Scrolls: Will Hindmarch on Clearly Stated Goals

Lost Scrolls

Will Hindmarch is a freelance developer, designer, and writer living in Chicago. Hindmarch has written or designed gaming material for Atlas Games, Fantasy Flight Games, and White Wolf Publishing, among others. He also works as a developer for Green Ronin Publishing on such games as the Dragon Age RPG.

Hindmarch and I first met five years ago at Shared Worlds, a teen creative writing and world-building camp that I co-founded with Jeff VanderMeer. Not only is Hindmarch a dynamic and inspiring teacher, he’s also one hell of a good GM. You can catch up with his most recent doings at his website.

Below, Hindmarch talks about game space, free will, and clearly stated goals.

Will Hindmarch: To get the most use out of whatever I’ve pre-written for a game session, I do one or both of two things: I state the goal outright and expect the players will devise a reason for their characters to get on board, because the players want to play (e.g., “The Duke has murdered and pillaged and must not get away with it. Go get him.”). I use the game world to define the play space, so that all roads lead toward the goal. The players’ free will is in choosing from options made available to them, with the understood flexibility that new options can be created on the fly to reflect and reward their own ingenuity. A GM should always be ready to offer the players two or three options to choose from, whether it’s magic items to equip or routes to the GM’s villain.

The play space is a situation in itself—it’s the proverbial sandbox—and if the players go outside the adventure’s play space (the dungeon, the island, the skyscraper, whatever), I throw Raymond Chandler’s two guys with guns at them, put the goal back where they can see it, and show them some obstacles they get to overcome on the way to it. Players, in my experience, love to overcome clear obstacles. Boredom and confusion are the two key threats to storytelling and play. Increasing the visibility of the goal dispels confusion, while revealing new challenges or battles dispels boredom.

One Reply to "The Lost GM Scrolls: Will Hindmarch on Clearly Stated Goals"

CET

July 13, 2012 at 1:49pm

Excellent advice.

The only thing I would add is: Have multiple goals. You don’t want too many, but I like having 2 (or rarely 3) goals at any given time and letting the PCs choose which to pursue. This goes a long way toward dispelling any sense of railroading, and it often provides a mechanism for developing the PCs as characters (is it more important to save your friend or get revenge on a hated adversary?). As long as the goals are closely related, I find the PCs can usually keep track of them and stay engaged. It can cause more prep work, but I get a lot of mileage out of asking the PCs what their plans are at the end of each session to keep from prepping material that won’t be used.