Office Hours is a weekly rollplaying Q&A show hosted by Adam Koebel. Adam is an author/co-designed of the game Dungeon World, and the resident Dungeon Master for both Roll20.net and RollPlay. The complete playlist can be viewed on YouTube here, or via the Twitch VoD’s for subscribers.
Italic entries are questions regarding specific rule sets or “in-jokes”.
Combat, Notes, and The Hacking Dilemma
- How do you make combat more than just *roll dice, do damage*? How do you make it engaging and fun?
- What are the things that you have learned are important to keep track of in your GM notes?
- What should a GM consider first and foremost when wanting to add new mechanics to an existing game? And at what point does it become “too much”? What approaches can a GM take in that case?
Introducing games, Creating Fear, and Sharing Your Inspiration
- When introducing a new system to players, what do you start with?
- My players are keen for me to scare them! Do you have any success with horror in roleplaying games? What can I do to make my games feel scary as a GM?
- Do you think giving your PCs information about the material you use for inspiration is helpful in creating a narrative with your group?
Mental Manipulation, Missing Players, and Character Complexity
- What is an enjoyable and constructive way to handle mind manipulation or control powers in an RPG?
- How can I run a campaign where not everyone shows up every week?
- I’ve played a lot of RPGs, but I’ve noticed a lot of my characters end up just being “The Guy With The BLANK” or “The Person Who Does THING”. Do you have any tips to create characters with more complex histories and personalities?
The Apocalypse Engine, Fronts, and Rotating the GM
- Given your opinion that roleplaying games should be made to do one thing very well, how do you reconcile that with the Powered by the Apocalypse series and your own Dungeon World?
- How do I create and manage Fronts effectively in Dungeon World?
- Is there anything I should be careful of in a rotating GM game?
Decentralizing Power, Playing by The Rules, and Creating Adventures
- How can I give more narrative authority to my players while maintaining an overarching continuity in my campaign?
- How do we balance “using the rules” with “not using the rules enough”?
- What would be your tips/tricks for coming up with adventure ideas? What’s the best place to draw inspiration from?
Managing Complex NPC’s Stats, Compelling Antagonists, and Low Prep Tricks
- How can I keep track of NPC’s in a game with mechanically complex characters?
- How do we get players interested in the adversaries of our campaigns?
- What tips do you have for low-prep GMing? Some systems help more than others with NPC lists and such, but what general tricks and tools do you find yourself using the most, both for prep and at the table?
Bounty Quests, Rewarding Players, and Too Much Love
- How can I plan for more open-ended objectives for my players without just having to wing it? Particularly, “bounty hunter” style quests where the objective is clear, but the way isn’t.
- When handing out rewards for me campaigns, I tend to find I always regret having handed out too much or too little. How to I find the happy medium?
- In your own opinion, where should a GM draw the line in the amount of fondness actively shown towards their players.
Characters, Ending Conflict, and Better Scene Framing
- How would you go about incorporating more cinematic resolution mechanics into a game or system? Is it something that can be mechanised, or would that be defeating the purpose in the first place?
- In an “action scene” how would you decide there is enough narrative positioning to end a scene? Is it just a question of pacing and experience, or is there some mechanic you like to use?
- How do I get better at scene framing?
Spontaneous Narrative, Making a Game, and Ending Your Campaign
- When building a story, how much do you plan out your stories and how do you try to balance more spontaneous, shorter-term, stories inspired by players and their actions with longer-term, overarching stories that you built yourself?
- After getting the idea for Dungeon World, how did you “make it happen”? What were the steps to it becoming a real thing that people could buy and play?
- How do you end a campaign in a way that’s satisfying for everyone – especially one that’s been going on for a significant amount of time? Is it better to wrap things up neatly, or leave it more open-ended?
One Shots, Bad Behaviour, and Character Creation Influence
- How do you run a good one-shot game?
- What behaviours make a roleplayer “good” or “bad” and how can I recruit the best people for my Roll20 campaign?
- How much should you influence the characters your players make?
Feedback, Abandoning the System, and Challenging Your Players
- You always talk about how as a GM you should talk to your players and get to know what they want. But how do I get my players to open up more about their expectations and shortcomings with the game?
- When do I stop hacking and just pick a new game?
- Whether they’re planned or improvised, whether they’re mechanical or narrative, how do I create obstacles that are interesting enough for my players to want to overcome?
Distractions, PvP, and Replacement Characters
- How do you keep players attention on the game and not on outside distractions?
- How do you handle PvP?
- How do you deal with introducing new characters to a party after PC deaths in a way that feels smooth, doesn’t pull players out of the game’s narrative, and doesn’t bog down play?
The Fear, Complicated Results, and Characters in Positions of Authority
- How does an aspiring GM get past the initial barrier of fear and inexperience that is often inherent with running one’s very first game, and how can they utilize the experience best to grow as a GM?
- How can I use the advantage/threat, triumph/despair mechanics in Age of Rebellion to create interesting levels of success and failure, as well as other games with varying levels of success and failure?
- How do you handle games in which the PCs are in a position of significant authority? How do you keep that situation interesting?
Location, Cinematics, and Better Barfing
- How do you male locations more interesting?
- Something I’ve noticed you do is frame a lot of your descriptions of the world like a movie. What do you thing the advantages are? Would you recommend it to other GM’s?
- I want to get better at impromptu, evocative, genre-reinforcing language. I know that consuming a bunch of media of any genre is going to help you think in that genre, but even then, are there better or worse ways of consuming? Or are there other avenues I should be pursuing to get better as this sort of thing?
Learning, Public Speaking, and Culture Remixing
- I want to get into roleplaying games but where/how do I start?
- What advice do you have for a fledgling GM who wants to be better at taking their ideas and translating them to players on the fly?
- How can I borrow from other culture’s stories and myths without being too on the nose about them, and what story I’m using?
Switching Systems, PC Development, and Impossible Odds
- What is the best way to switch a game from a system that isn’t delivering on the player’s expectations to a new one? And is it worth trying to port the established fiction over?
- How do I better encourage my players to challenge their characters over a narrative arc?
- Can players be challenged in ways where success is either impossible or highly unlikely while remaining fair and fun for everyone? Is there a good way to use these sorts of unwinnable or extremely difficult situations, but not have it feel cheap for the players?
The Burning Episode
- How do you balance the “here’s what the game is about” urgency with the “let’s just explore the setting for a while” impulse? How tight/urgent does the situation need to be? Does it change with time? Are there russian stacking dolls of situations within situations?
- What are the specifics of running a Burning Wheel campaign with only one or two players?
- Burning wheel is a game driven by characters and their beliefs. How can I get a bunch of people who have never met each other to create a world and narrative together?
Building a Mystery, Goal Based Rewards, and The Big Canon Problem
- I’ve tried making a mystery story-line in my 5e campaign and my players really like it, but I’m worried that it could be too easy or too hard.
- Should XP be rewarded fairly or equally?
- Is there a good way to introduce players to big, established campaign settings, like the Forgotten Reals, or the Sixth World of Shadowrun?
Games for Kids, Switching It Up, and “You Meet in a Tavern”
- What sort of system should one use when beginning a game with children that haven’t played before?
- I recently introduced some friends to RPGs. Would it be more beneficial to continue with our Dungeon World campaign, or start doing R&D style short campaigns?
- How should I start a game? I hate “you start in a tavern”… Is there a good way to start without it seeming a bit meta-gamey?
Boring characters, “The Pro”, and Running Science Fiction
- How do I engage a character that I find to be uninteresting or flat in a way that is enjoyable for everyone involved?
- How do you deal with ever-increasing levels of complexity as PCs add to the same as they level up and gain strength? And do you have any advice on handling a self-confessed game theorist from thwarting the challenges I’m setting for the party, given this PC’s ever-increasing magic power curve?
- Do you have any tips on running Science Fiction games to keep the maintenance lower, or suggestions on particular games to try?
Action & Reaction, Multiple Groups, and Reincorporation
- How do you go about handling changing GM styles? What should I change to retain fun and keep my players interested and change then into active players?
- How do you manage multiple groups in a single campaign?
- What do you think of reincorporation as a GM technique? What are some tips and tricks to do it well?
Side Stories, Online vs AFK, and Facilitation
- How can we explore short-form narratives in an existing campaign world while sticking to the precepts of free will and action in an RPG? Additionally, how can this process foster new players joining our game?
- What’s the main difference in leading a game online, from leading a game at a table?
- [How do we do GM-less games?]
Stress Freedom, What Fun Is, and Ludonarrativity
- How do you make giving your players the freedom to wander around less stressful without having to spend hours and hours preparing?
- What makes a system fun and interesting to you, Adam?
- Looking from game to game, it appears that many of them use different types of systems to determine random results. How do I know what type of dice system most benefits the type of game I want to play?
Turning Adventure Into a Campaign, Action Repetition, and Player Duplicity
- [I’m feeling guilty about how badly I want to mutate my players’ characters into horrible monstrosities.]
- How to deal with a situation where one player does something like a knowledge check, or tracking check, and fails; but then all other players want to try too?
- How can one of my players be on the side of the bad guys and how do I handle that concerning the other players?
ESL Gaming, Warming Up, and Not Enough Play
- How do I GM for people whose first language isn’t English & how do I create an environment around the table that’s conductive to forming friendships?
- What can I do about myself and players being slow to get into the game at the beginning of sessions?
- What should I do when scheduling causes us to not play a campaign enough to fully enjoy it?
Turning a Game Concept Into a Playable Game. w/ Special Guest Andrew Gills
- A Discussion of RPG creation with Andrew Gills.
Thematic Content, GM Fatigue, and Balanced GM Choices
- In games that present themselves as being pure popcorn entertainment (D&D), how do I introduce thematic question to my players in ways that won’t make them roll their eyes?
- How can I deal with/avoid GM Fatigues?
- How do you handle situation where a player comes up with modifications to their weapons or other things which have specific balance rules set up around them, without being too unreasonable and saying the character just wouldn’t know how to do that?
Human Enemies, Post Climax, and Angling For Change
- Any tips on making fights with humanoids more compelling.
- How do you deal with continuing a campaign after a major story climax?
- How do I prompt the characters to change?
Incentivizing the Counter-Meta, Giving Your Setting Teeth, and GM LFG PST Ok Live Now
- What are some ways I can give my players incentive to act on the knowledge their characters have rather than the knowledge that they as players have.
- I want to give my runs more teeth, but I fear being too brutal.Should I exercise restraint or is there a way I can have a slightly meaner setting while still being fair and ensure my players have fun?
- How should I be handling looking for friends and players in LFG’s? How much time should I devote to the process? Do you have advice for those seeking groups to join, to help the process so we can move past assembling a group to actually playing the game with confidence that the group will endure?
Loners Tough and Cool, The Punitive Narrative, and Preparing to Playtest
- What do you do when a player doesn’t buy into the group’s goal, or wants to play the cool loner type and not engage with the rest of the players?
- [I have a player who is being an ass. Should I use the narrative to punish him?]
- My players are playtesting the game I’m making. How do I prepare my players and myself for a campaign where the rules may change on a week-by-week basis?
The Randolph Continuum, That Loving Feeling, and Vehicular Homicide
- From a GMing standpoint, what’s the deal with Randy?
- Am I wrong for getting bored with a campaign after I start running it? And how can I keep interest in a campaign after I’ve started to lose interest?
- How do you make vehicular combat fun and interesting?
Spicing Up the Repertoire, Learning What We Like, and Keeping the Pace
- [My friends don’t seem interested in trying different RPGs.I’m woried that it will be far from what they are expecting that they will not enjoy it.] do you have any hints on this matter?
- Hey, Adam, you often recommend trying a different game to get the experience you want. How do I find a game that works for me and my group?
- How do you properly pace game sessions to keep your players engaged and entertained, but not overwhelmed?
New Character Verisimilitude, Rewards for Non-Combat, and Engineering Bondage
- How should I deal with retconning PCs, especially with long-term campaigns where skills are slow to acquire and/or making a new character is a seriously big deal because of story flow?
- [How do I figure out what rewards (especially XP) to give players for defeating foes that aren’t quantified in the books?]
- When a character has an NPC that they care about in a romantic or familial way, is there and good way to make players feel the same bond?
Zoom Zoom, NPC Diversity, and ditching Your Friends
- [I want to use the Moves in a PbtA game to elide time, but am concerned that there are going to be issues with this mechanically.]
- How do I create interesting and diverse NPCs and how do I effectively portray them at the table?
- How do I downsize a roleplay group that is all primarily friends or am I better off GMing in a different group?
Time Sensitive Adventure, Love at the Table, and Theme Parties
- What are some good ways to handle time sensitive missions for players? How do you track the passing of time in a fair way? How do the actions of the player’s influence it’s passing?
- Is there room for love at the roleplaying table?
- How can I better incorporate themes in my running campaigns? Are these things that spark on play organically? How can I detect them and bring them to the spotlight? How can I introduce themes more consciously on my games?
Dungeon Jockey, Maps vs. Imagination, and Draw it Yourself
- Do you think using music and sound effects at the table would add to the experience? [Is finding these effects worth our time?]
- How do you maintain the balance between freedom of the mind and well-furnished mapping?
- [What are your thoughts on making the players map out the environment, rather than providing one yourself?]
Cascading Distractions, Fleshy, and Encouraging Fictional Thinking
- How do you deal with what you call “cascading distractions”?
- Asking you to talk about a technique I’ve seen you use in several games, in which you play NPC’s with incredible depth without taking anytihng away form the PC’s.
- How do you encourage fictional thinking in players who almost entirely on mechanical power and brute forcing everything bt just rolling whenever possible?
- How do I as a GM help create situations that put narrative pressure on my characters and help the players develop them in interesting ways?
- Is it possible to read and potentially DM published adventures AND play in the same adventures as run by other DMs? And if so, how do I do that?
- Is it possible to facilitate or engineer the generation of the same feelingsof those “random moments of glory” when a player makes a critical roll at the perfect moment beyond the provision of a perilous situation and, if not, what should a GM do to enhance the enjoyment of those moments?
Office Hours Live PAX South 2017
- How do you find that nice middle ground with prep?
- My “middle” tends to fall appart and feel dry.
- How do I balance my enemies?
- How do I deal with the GM’s desire to create, and the player’s desire to destroy?
- When do I police or punnish my player’s behaviour?
- [Something about pacing and Pathfinder]
- Hoes do I deal with ‘rapid progression’ when adding new players to an existing game?
- What are the cardinal wrong of being a player?
- How much do I need to playtest, what should the feedback cycle look like, and when do I stop iterating on an idea?
- How do you do horror in role-palying games?
- How should I handle investigation? Is it just a skill check? Do I ask what they’re looking for?
- Can I get some advice on incorporating the more social aspects into games?
Racism in RPGs, Love Mechanics, and Problems with Vociferousness
- Is it possible, in your mind, to play a game that has races with immutable or essential characteristics and not reproduce psychological or social structures of racism? Can you use racism as a structuring device in your world-building and role-playing without sliding into essentialism? Relatedly, how do you as a GM manage player racism at the table?
- Do you have any tips for dealing with romance (between PCs or a PC and an NPC) in RPGs?
- How do I deal with a player that tends to over-describe a situation, or re-describe what I’ve already laid out? It this my problem, the players’ problem, or a group problem? What angle should I approach this from?
Lackey, Toadie, Hireling, Goon, Hacking the Interpersonal, and Fated to Love You
- [How can I handle my players either starting in or achieving a position of power which allows them to send NPC’s in their place?]
- How would you go about implementing a character mechanic like Hx form Apocalypse World into a game that wasn’t designed for that, like 5th edition?
- In your RPG chat, you mentioned that you really liked Fate Accelerated, and I was wondering if you could elaborate on that a bit. As a fan of both Fate and Dungeon World, I’m curious about a game designers perspective.
Intriguing Developments, Pushing it Real Good, and Building the Unappreciated
- How do I craft intrigue, and how do I adopt these intrigues when the players react in unexpected ways?
- How do you know how far yo push and when to stop pushing a character, despite the player saying they’re okay with it?
- When I prepare a session, I always think of all these cool explanations for what is happening in a particular place… The players almost never find out the hidden story. What am I doing wrong? Do you have any tips?
Having an Episode, A Beautiful Death, and Backstory Backups
- How can I work around the long intervals between game sessions to create an engaging rollplaying experience, and how can I GM one-shots and other stories with more-or-less complete plot arcs within a limited amount of time such that session will be enjoyable?
- Am I in the wrong for wanting death to mean something? Or should I just bend to my players want and use death as an adventure hook?
- How do you resolve elements of the parties backstories without dragging out the game?
Why I Should Listen to You, My Campaign is Boring, and Twisting the Knife
- [Is it wrong to ignore advice given to me and create my own ideas and methods for solving problems, or would it be better for me to get all the advice I possibly could from someone with experience with problems similar to my own?]
- How do you make a campaign interesting that is based around a boring concept, like space trucking?
- What is the best way to “twist the knife” as you like to put it?
Memorable Interactions, Social Conflict Anxiety, and Mental Effect Saves
- What are some tips on creating memorable player character interactions between themselves, and between PCs and NPCs through a game?
- Social conflicts. How do you navigate through these while still playing the game, and letting the players explore nuanced discussions?
- Have you any advice on how to deal with players who become irrational and disruptive due to mental health problems, and only later realise they were not in control?
More Than a Sack of HP, Bad Habits, and Mutilation as Character Development
- What techniques do you employ while GMing to make enemies, locations or situations more varied and mechanically engaging than “big ol’ bag of hit points,” without being frustrating for players?
- How can I un-train my players of undesirable habits they pick up form other games, or is there anything I can do as a player to address bad GMing habits of my GMs?
- Any thoughts on Critical Tables to aid in the process of helping shape dynamic player characters?
The Czege Principle, Powerviolence, and Keeping the Wheel Turning
- [With a small group, is being both the GM and a PC a viable way to play? What problems might we encounter?]
- How do I respond to and challenge player violence in ways that aren’t just meeting force with force?
- I ‘m running my first campaign of Burning Wheel… our sessions still feel like they drag a bit How do I push things along so the pace of play feels more active?
Passing the Torch, Making Boring Garbage Fun to Watch, and Mentor the Dragon
- [What should I do about picking up and continuing with the previous DM’s established story.]
- I was hoping you could share some advice on growing and retaining viewers and ways to make the more crunchy parts of systems (e.g. combat) more interesting to watch for the spectators.
- A friend wants advice from a more experienced GM but struggles to take criticism. How do I help him recognise his mistakes without upsetting him? Essentially, how do I Office Hours?
Above and Beyond, A Change in Authority, and Too Much Love in the Club
- What things can I do, if I have extra energy left beyond minimally required prep to level a gaming session from “cool” to “still being talked about years later”?
- My question is about shifting GM authority over the course of a campaign.. How do you manage these sorts of shifts in authority in a campaign? Is abdicating as GM in favour of a more anarchic play environment ever a good idea?
- I am starting a D&D club at my school and a lot of people want to play. My question is how would you go about splitting up a large group of people, and how would you explain why you have to do so?
Making Magic, Divide and Conquer, and Speaking Through not For
- How to create a magic item building system, in which you would have to gather special ingredients to make the item? How to make it interesting and not as a cumbersome restraint?
- What do you think about splitting the party? Should it be done at all, or is there a right way to do it? What system most lends itself to a scattered party?
- I have a problem with speaking as NPC’s as a GM… I notice this is something you seem to excel at as a GM, do you have any advice on how to develop this skill?
Ye Mighty, All the Small Things, and The Puppetmaster’s Guide
- How can I encourage my PCs to see past “objective and reward” and really embrace and explore the homebrew world I’m created for them?
- What are some good ways to make different parts of the world your players travel feel different in order to avoid that bland sameness that tends to appear without GM intervention?
- Where does/should the GM draw the line between offering helpful advice to a player and literally playing their character for them?
Setting Expectations, Universally Rewarding, and Tasteful Accents
- How do I GM a game where my playgroup has significant differences in experience with a setting, leading hem wanting to explore really different and sometimes conflicting themes?
- What should XP be rewarded for and is there a method that can be applied to most games, for example as in Dungeon World where you award XP for a failed roll?
- How do I ensure that any accents or behaviours that I exhibit are respectful, while still being entertaining when intended.
Framing Scenes by the Throat, The Ties That Bind, and Avoiding the Back Seat
- Can you give advice on how to “aggressively” frame scenes between characters? … I’d like to hear if you have any further insight into how to bring together – almost adversarially – two or more characters to create dynamic situations to put in the hands of the players.
- One of my players finds bond resolution in Dungeon World kind of unintuitive, and I admit I think he’s got a point. How should a player know when to resolve an ambiguous bond, when to make new bonds, and what to make them of? How can I support my players and prompt them in using bonds?
- In switching from a GMing role to a player role, how can I come att fostering good play and storytelling from a different angle?
Instruction Jobs, Super Secret Stories, and Doing it for Money
- I want to get better as a DM for my friends because I’m still very new at it, what sort of tips would you have for learning a system, like Dark Heresy second edition and being able to teach it to others at the same time?
- Is the secret backstory a sacred trust between GM and player, or is it a tool in the GM’s toolkit, to be used openly at their whim? Or i it neither? Is it both? Upon whose shoulders does the burden of PC backstory secrecy fall?
- There is at least one GM on Roll20 who charges for their work by the session. Simply, what are your thoughts on a GM-as-a-service approach in comparison to the GM-as-a-player or GM-as-an-opponent approaches to play?
Surveillance Surprise, It’s Who You Know, and Problematic Favourites
- [One of my players asked me not to record our tabletop game. Another revealed that they’d been doing that very thing. The first player is deeply bothered but will continue to play. What can I do?]
- [How can I introduce characters that the PCs should know but that the player’s don’t?]
- [What should we do when we’re playing games that contain problematic handling of things like mental health, disability, race, and gender in their setting or mechanisms?]
Disability in Games, Love ’em and Leave ’em, Forcing Exploration and #Goals
Episode opens with a brief segment expanding on the previous episodes question on mental health, disability, race, and gender.
- [Do you have any advice about “pilot sessions” that limits time investment and disappointment when potential groups are non-starters?]
- How do I get my player to explore the world without having to say “you go here”?
- How could you make D&D 5e into a goal-based (as opposed to CR-based) reward structure.
Agency Remover, Free Range Organic Narratives, and If It Rolls We Can Kill It
- I’d like to know how you deal with mechanics and abilities that remove the player agency from the character. The players know it’s part of the game, but it still feels cheap to take control of their characters away from them. What is the best way to handle this?
- Which do you think is more rewarding, the destination (story) or the journey? (free range)?
- Should there be “unbeatable” obstacles in D&D? Having immortal characters in the background of my story, they should clearly be powerful being beyond the power of normal people. How should I even have these seemingly “all-powerful” NPCs running amok, granted as master puppeteers in the background?
Office Hours: Episode 57
Niche Correction, Crisis Climax Delinquent, and a Tale of Two Campaigns
Office Hours: Episode 58
Multiple Choice Challenge, Aspects of a GM, and The Forgotten MC