Let me lay the scene…
Welcome readers to my last (for the moment) article about Starfinder. After today, my next 6 articles will focus on Pathfinder and fantasy settings. As much fun as blasters and technological trickery is, my heart always bounces back and forth between wanting to cut someone in half with a flaming sword or turning them into a rabbit, as well as hopping into a speeder and racing through the neon-streaked lights of lower Neon City, AG670. After 6 articles on Starfinder, I will move on to 6 articles as a Pathfinder.
Today is all about asking how you’re going to run The Day. The real world stuff. Are you going to feed your players? Because they’ll be hungry. And are you going to sit outside, in the nice sun (Australia’s isn’t, trust me)? If it’s indoors are we in the dank basement downstairs, or a nicely lit room up by the patio and sunshine? Don’t worry, necromancers are still cool even if they’re near to sunlight.
What are we all sitting on, too? Some places have a nice big table with chairs, and that’s standard. Some groups play on the couch, while the GM works at the coffee table. Maybe it’s a shorter session on a picnic blanket. Where are players meant to roll their dice? Is the table the only thing that counts?
There are many variables, so I’m going to give you my checklist for a game day that I use before a group shows up. You can use it as a guideline, or steal the whole thing.
First – does everyone have their character sheet, dice, pen, and paper? Lots of paper, especially the spellcasters. And the druid/mechanic, because the only way to really run your better half/animal companion is with its own sheet entirely. As the GM, I like to have a spare character sheet for EVERY player, because that way you’ve literally got everyone covered. This also includes character sheet bookkeeping, like “Has everyone leveled up since the last session?” Nothing stops a session’s beginning more than players catching up on levels, so a reminder via chat/text is ideal.
Second – which house/room are you using? I can’t host at my own place, for example, because it’s not my house. If it were, we’d play outside. If I’m at a mates place I ask where they’ve run previous sessions, and usually use the same setup, unless it’s hideously cold for example and there are warmer rooms elsewhere. And do note: If you’re playing outside CHECK YOUR FURNITURE. My first Starfinder session had to be paused just before lunch to get the redback spiders off everyone’s chairs. I thought the chairs had been in more recent use, but it was oversight all the same.
Third – food. What is everyone eating? I feel it’s fine to say the default is “everyone chip in for pizza”, as it’s the unsung diet of roleplayers everywhere. Some players may offer to cook, in which case everyone should say thanks and chip in what they can to help cover costs. What about table munchies? You might want the potato chips and soda deal, but you’ll get plenty of sugar crash ideas later in the session (ideal for barbarians). Or you might want the healthier veggies and dip, with water. Be aware of what your group wants to eat, and respond in kind.
For fun, at the same Starfinder game where we had a real-life spider encounter, we also had a “death cake.” A delicious chocolate cake, but the only way to get a slice was to kill something in-game. It’s a cool way to make combat more fun, and give the players something else to aim for. (The problem was we forgot it until three quarters through the session!)
Fourth – Are YOU ready? As the GM you’ve got the story of your session in mind, but are all your NPC sheets ready, and do you have the Bestiarys required, and ready to go? What about pieces of dialogue you wanna say, cutscenes?
One of the things that I really focus on at this point is creatures in combat that I haven’t used before. Take the basilisk for example. It’s a Fortitude save to not be turned to stone, but your players have options to reduce the chance of being caught in its gaze attack. They can look away/not at its eyes, or close their own eyes entirely. Both methods provide a miss chance for hitting the basilisk though because the PCs aren’t looking directly at it. Once I knew the options available to my players, I made sure to tell them what they could do when we got to the basilisk encounter in session. I drew up a box with “divert eyes” and “close eyes entirely”, as well as “ignore it”, and the percentage dice they had to roll as well. That way they could decide how they would attack every turn, and roll the d% at the same time as their attack dice roll. That way we had all the info we needed to run combat smoothly, after the initial 5 minutes explaining how it was going to work.
Fifth – and this is most important because it’s last, but have fun. Your story is a cool idea, your players want to enjoy the session and escape to either fantasy or science fiction land, and being able to smash skulls in with a warhammer, or use a fangblade on a stunned marooned one, is one of the most fun coolest things I can think of. Yes, the rules exist to help make things consistent, but there are definitely times when the rules don’t function how you’d like, or your players come up with something really cool and outside whatever the rules provide. In that case, it’s always better to reward the player by giving them a chance to succed, and thinking up an appropriate roll and a DC for them to achieve.
As an example to finish on, I had two barbarians up a tree fighting a ranger with favored enemy Human. The barbarians were a half-orc and human, so natura,lly they wanted it dead asap. Having both climbed the tree, and having disarmed the ranger’s sword when he rolled a 1, the barbarians decided it made perfect sense to grab one leg each and jump, wedging the ranger on his own branch. I barely thought about it before saying “Roll a Dexterity check and just don’t get 1s, I guess.” They both passed, grabbed a leg and jumped. At this po,int I said the ranger had to roll a Fort save not to rip in half, which he failed, so the following round our sorcerer simply found 2 barbarians lying on the ground, one with a ranger’s leg and the other with a ranger’s leg with the rest of the ranger attached. “He fell,” they joked, and it was a lot of fun.
Join me next time when I reveal the secret to being the best GM you can… (hint: it rhymes with smen and smaper)