I’m feeling nostalgic today. So I’m going to tell you a story.
Every GM who plays for a decent amount of time gets it eventually– the perfect game. You might not realize it till it’s over. You might not even realize it for weeks, or months…sometimes years. But it’s the gaming session that your friends talk about over and over and over again; it’s the one that they recount to each other even though they’ve all heard about it and might even have been there for it. It’s elusive; you might only get a handful of them in your entire gaming career, in fact. But the excitement and memories and (let’s admit it, shall we?) the pure adrenaline high of running an incredible game session is I think part of what keeps us GMs coming back to the table over and over again. It’s the carrot we all dangle in front of ourselves that keeps up until 2AM the morning of game day, tweaking stat blocks and writing read-aloud text.
I was lucky enough… no, that’s not accurate for how I feel on this topic. I was blessed enough to game for three straight years with a group that helped me run my “Perfect Game”. In fact, they were such a fantastic gamers that they increased the number of Perfect Games I’ve been involved in, and the vast majority of my Perfect Games were with this group. Sometime in the first few sessions, the group named themselves Fortune’s Children after the goddess Olidammara (3.0 rules at this point) rather spontaneously. It stuck, and the game has been called that ever since.
I think the Perfect Game ratio was so high for Fortune’s Children because of a lot of factors. The players and myself were all cast members of Scarborough Renaissance Festival at the time, and part of the rehearsal process is serious, in-depth training in improvisational theatre. Because of this, all of the players were seriously skilled at the in-character bits of time, so much that many sessions went by with nary a die rolled, but the plot and characters progressing just as if combat or skill encounters had been played out. Fortune’s Children was something of a “perfect storm” of a gaming group, but I think other GMs can utilize this concept in a simple way: give your PCs something to do besides just hit things, crawl through dungeons and loot the bodies. MMOs do that well enough; it’s the bits in between that make RPGs the social medium that they are.
When hunting your Perfect Game, it’s up to you as GM to set the stage for it, to give the players AND the PCs the tools to get involved and invested. Before play begins (or even by email if you’re mid-campaign already… it’s never too late!), ask your players about their favorite movies and then ask them specifically about what scenes in those movies they love. This can give you a good idea about what kinds of emotions and situations really resonate with your players, Then you as GM can build encounters, places or plotlines that use the same themes and scenarios to invoke those reactions in your players. Be careful of outright copying, though; it’s far better to file the serial nubers off and do it your own way than blatantly re-create a movie scene point by point.
Another thing Fortune’s Children was really, REALLY good at was teamwork. The “group first” theme suffused everything they did. The players helped each other come level-up time to find combos of spells and actions that worked well together for the benefit of the whole party. They really had the whole 4E philosophy down long before 4E was a glimmer in WotC’s eye. As a GM, you can encourage team play in a supremely simple way: tell them you want them to work together as a team. I know of many gaming groups who have a strange fear of working together outside the gaming table because they fear it will be seen as metagaming. Let’s be honest–picking skills, powers, and items based around the capabilities of the entire party IS indeed metagaming. I, for one, don’t care a whit; some of the absolutely best times I had at the table with Fortune’s Children was when the PCs would formulate a plan amongst themselves without telling me about it and then put that plan into action. As each step of the plan unfolded, you could see them getting more and more excited, and even if the plan didn’t come to full fruition the fun was enhanced significantly by everybody working together.
To put it in a very simple way–encouraging the PCs to work together tightly makes the PCs pay attention to everything that is going on, even when it’s not their turn or affecting their character. If everybody has worked together to formulate in which everybody has a part to play, they’re going to pay VERY close attention as the pieces of that plan fall into place…or don’t fall into place. Either way, your players are invested in everything that goes on around their characters, and that is never anything but a good thing.
What ways have you hunted and stalked your Perfect Game? What’s your Perfect Game story? Let me know, I’d love to hear it.