Last year I ran a vast variety of Gauntlet Hangouts games: 152 sessions with four quarterly campaigns (Mutant: Year Zero, Blades in the Dark, World Wide Wrestling, and Hearts of Wulin) and 33 arcs of 2 to 5 sessions. That included 23 games I'd never run before. Besides the rules, I learned something from each one. So I present these lessons, listed in relative chronological order, each with a link to a Session One video. You can also check out this complete playlist.
Mystery Academy: Starting with a shared PC trait can strengthen play. Players often approach online games with strong, independent ideas they want to get across in just a few sessions. Bonds and relationships connect characters, but the group can lack a focus. An initial premise (family members, victims of the same tragedy, weird kids sent away to a mysterious school) provides a central point of reflection. (https://bit.ly/2KGbSYA)
Unknown Armies: New editions don't destroy the old editions. Those still exist and you can return to them. Not everyone agrees about what makes a game awesome. There's every chance revisions will change or kill off what you loved. Remember you still have the game you love; go back to it or remix that yourself. (https://bit.ly/2v7jaKa)
Hearts of Wulin: Get your hacks to the table. (https://bit.ly/2V3m29A)
Gods of the Fall (Cypher Month): Having a high concept and a ton of cool ideas isn't enough. Striking weirdness isn't always a substitute for coherency. Some writers can manage that, but it's rare. (https://bit.ly/2DeZJUs)
Predation (Cypher Month): On the other hand, sometimes a high concept and a ton of cool ideas can be enough. The premise of semi-post-apocalyptic time-travelling adventures where you get a cyber-enhanced dinosaur forgives a lot of faults. (https://bit.ly/2KHdAsC)
Unmasked (Cypher Month): If a system isn't working for you but it has a cool setting, focus on the latter and ride it out. Spotlight the elements you do love and play with those. Know that someday you can come back and hack it. (https://bit.ly/2ICGsQq)
Coriolis: Mechanics aren't just about resolution, they affect story and tone. If the system doesn't support the kind of play you thought the game promised, you'll notice. Related to that: little mechanical choices can have big implications. (https://bit.ly/2UDfHlU)
The Crescent Empire (7th Sea): Sometimes games that other people love don't click with you. That's OK. It's awesome that they're getting something out of it that you aren't. If you've given the game a fair try, don't keep hitting your head against it. Look for a new direction. (https://bit.ly/2UDgweu)
Epyllion: When you go to run a PbtA, look hard at what basic moves *aren't* there. Consider how you plan to handle situations where those actions arise: reframe for another move, not allow, or take it as done in the fiction. (https://bit.ly/2V396k8)
Masks: A New Generation: It's easy to forget mechanics when you're running. Take time to assess after sessions what mechanics you skipped, compressed, or revised. Ask what they're doing and how they fit into the game. Sometimes you'll elide game elements because they don't fit with how you run. Be aware of what you're doing and communicate that to your players. If they've built characters for rules as written, don't penalize their PCs for that. (https://bit.ly/2GpATmT)
Band of Blades: Take time to assess complexity for online play. As you can see from this list, I run a ton of new games online. Usually I restrict myself to going through the rules and material a week to ten days before session one. Some games need more than that—and may require a serious rethinking of how to organize and handle information and play online. (https://bit.ly/2Uit85T)
Scum & Villainy: When a game brings you and your players surprising joy, revel in that. (https://bit.ly/2v9kuwl)
Prism: GMing diceless games isn't nearly as scary as I thought. (https://bit.ly/2v4ObP2)
Urban Shadows: Occasionally people tell you about mechanics they dislike in a game. Sometimes when you get to the table, you find out they've misunderstood. Bonus lesson: when you end up with just two players online, don't cancel. Two-player sessions in a character driven game can be intense (and exhausting). (https://bit.ly/2UizulL)
Crossroads Carnival: A great cheat is doing prep and research for different games set in the same context. For example if you're running a Trail of Cthulhu campaign set in mid-1930s California, use that as the backdrop for your session of a game about magical carnival folk in Dustbowl America. (https://bit.ly/2KJGhW9)
Zombie World: Sometimes PCs don't want to be redeemed and the best moment possible will be another PC shooting them in the face in the final scene. (https://bit.ly/2XhwjN6)
Bubblegumshoe: Yes, your mystery might be cool, but characters matter more. My favorite detective sessions have featured moving from one NPC to the next with breaks of the PCs digesting the interaction and dealing with their personal baggage. Don't sweat plot so much. (https://bit.ly/2GgQnbx)
The Witcher: Do due diligence when talking about a game and make sure you credit the creators correctly. When you goof that up, apologize immediately and make it as right as you can. (https://bit.ly/2GhEeD5)
Blackout: It can take time to figure out the play space of a game—don’t panic. Your players want to find that too; treat them like partners. (https://bit.ly/2GhEeD5)
City of Mist: Be careful running parallel campaigns of the same game. It seems like a smart way to reduce prep, but if you're already juggling a ton of campaigns, having two with significant story overlap can make your job harder. (https://bit.ly/2XnPBjX)
What new games did you run last year and what did you take away from them?
For the full backlog of Age of Ravens posts on Blogger see here.