What we expect from you if you're running an RPG with us (it's not much, we promise!)
Playing games with strangers is a surprising experience. Running them is complicated and risky, so your players need your help and attention to bring them (and you) the best game possible. Here are our guidelines for the first five minutes of your session (or just before, if everyone arrives early).
Introduce yourself and welcome your players to your game! Ask your players to introduce themselves and how they'd prefer to be addressed. Exchanging pronouns, and adhering to them, is a basic respect we expect all attendees to enjoy within our walls. Don’t forget to ask them if they’ve played an RPG before, or this system! They might need your help to learn as you play.
Pitch this game. At a high-level, what’s it about? Blades in the Dark, for example, is a game about "a crew of daring scoundrels seeking their fortunes on the haunted streets of an industrial-fantasy city". One sentence lays out the whole conceit of rogues, ghosts and gaslight.
Explain what the players are trying to accomplish. Can someone win? Can everyone lose? Are we trying to tell a specific type of story? What can we expect to achieve if we all work together in pursuit of this goal?
Have a quick conversation about the tone of the game. What is the default? Are there different options for gameplay? (Serious vs. Gonzo, Action vs. Drama, etc.). Come to a consensus on what the group wants. Our Worldbuilder sessions, for example, require a tone of Believable Fantasy: That is to say a world of magic, monsters and mortal struggle, yet people have sensible (yet alien) names and act as if their lives truly mattered.
Explain what ideas might be explored during gameplay. Do they make anyone uncomfortable? Discuss what boundaries need to be set, if any. If you don't have any safety mechanisms for your game, similar to the X Card or Script Change, your players may find themselves trapped in an uncomfortable topic or distressing interaction. Give them the tools they need to redefine the game as something everyone at the table can enjoy in comfort.
Check that each player has an anonymous feedback form which they should hand in at the Registration Desk. Each form contains a space for them to record their most and least favourite things about your session, as a way to encourage you on your path to being an ever greater GM than you already are by being here. The forms go via our administration in order to insulate players and GMs from any social fall-out stemming from misgivings, misunderstandings or instinctive reactions to feedback on our personal hobbies, passions and techniques. We haven't had any such incidents yet, and we don't aim to.
Much of this was derived from the CATS (Concept, Aim, Tone, Subject Matter) framework by Patrick O’Leary. For more information on Safety Mechanisms, there’s an excellent webpage and PDF available from Big Bad Con.
If you have any ideas to improve this document, or any feedback at all, please let us know via either [email protected] or the feedback form at EttinCon.org/feedback.