Game mastering is like any other skill – the only way to really get better is with practice and exercise. To that end I like to keep sharp with several GM Exercises I’ve gotten on the web and made up myself. One of my favorite exercises is 5 random songs. Here’s how it works:
Open up your music player and select all of your music (excluding really long stuff like podcasts), Put it on random and then start listening. You have to take the next five songs and use them to create an adventure for your favorite game system. I generally use one song as an overall theme, one as a showdown, one as a villain, and two as set-pieces but you can use whatever format you like. The key is that you need to start thinking about how to weave different things together into a coherent whole. Oh, and no cheating – you can’t skip a song if you find it hard (though songs you hate can be skipped, if you have them on your machine for some reason).
To give you an example, here’s my latest exercise:
- Milktoast by Helmet
- Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix
- Nineteen by the Old 97’s
- Run to Black by David Newman (Serenity Soundtrack)
- At My Most Beautiful by R.E.M.
Looking over my list I think I’m going to use Shadowun for this one. We’ve got one song about lies and deception, one about killing a lover, one about young love, a tense orchestral piece, and one about pleasing a lover. Definitely something to work with here.
I’ll take Nineteen and At My Most Beautiful as my overall themes. This is going to be an extraction run focusing around two young lovers. Give the forbidden tinge I’m getting lets make one of them a corp girl and another one a lower class ork. Classic Romeo and Juliet. So far, so good. However, Milktoast is all about lies and I think that’s where we introduce the Johnson.
The Johnson is the girl’s father. He’s going to hire the runners to take out the ork, claiming that he’s been stalking his daughter. If the team gets moral he’ll just insist that they plant evidence instead. If the team gets lazy we get an unhappy ending and the ork dies/goes to prison. But if they’re good, and they investigate further, they’ll find out that the ork and the girl want to run away together. The ork will hire them to extract his girl instead. (This bit is inspired by Hey Joe, at least the killing part).
So now the PCs have to break into a corp and get the girl. We run this as a really tense scene to fit Fade to Black. Hopefully the team triumphs and we get a happy ending with the two lovers re-united.
And that’s my GMing exercise for the day. Give it a try and see if it helps. This method can really be helpful if you’re stuck for adventure ideas. Otherwise it’s just a fun little exercise.