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A month or two back, I bought the GURPS Basic Set with the hopes of GMing a campaign at my school. I'm fairly familiar with the rules and general concepts by now (GURPS is very well documented), but this would be my first actual experience with an RPG, either GMing or playing (though I did sit in on a D&D session once and I read Darths & Droids). My campaign concept is a science-fiction "free trader" scenario - it's fairly well-developed in my head, with plenty of room for me to make up adventures on all sorts of planets. (The first adventure would involve the PCs trapped in a starport, needing to raise 25,000 marks to pay for fuel and overdue docking fees. I think this would be a good general introduction to solving problems in role-playing.)

I know this question is quite open-ended and somewhat subjective, but how should I go about setting up the game? I.e., what should I do with the first few sessions, how can I get people interested, what supplies do I need (besides d6's and character sheets), what should I have prepared beforehand, are there any pitfalls new GMs commonly fall into?

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Please break this up, its too subjective and broad as it is. Smaller, more discrete questions will get better answers. –  anon186 Oct 29 '10 at 14:38

5 Answers 5

My advice to you is to start much smaller. Don't worry about setting up a campaign. Worry about setting up the first adventure. The best campaign will die if the first adventure isn't a lot of fun for everyone.

My other bit of advice is not to pitch a "free-trader" game that begins with the players being stuck on a planet without a working ship. "Free-trader" normally conjures up images of flying around space. You're also assuming that they are going to be interested in getting their ship back, but they have no attachment to it or anything else in the game yet.

If you want to start them with a damaged ship, that's cool. Start them off in their ship right after a sneak attack has disabled their jump/hyper/warp/go-fast drives. Give them a clear obstacle: some dudes are trying to kill us! Followed by a longer-term goal: we have to fix the ship!

And be sure to give them a place to go fix the ship: a planet nearby. Then you get to have the ship in dock, racking up fees and waiting for repairs. And then they can start looking for ways to earn that money.

It wouldn't hurt if their ship is totally sweet, too. Nobody is stressing about fixing up the interstellar version of a Ford Pinto, but the Millenium Falcon? YES!

My final piece of advice to a brand new GM: it's very easy to get in the situation where you've prepared something for the players to do, but they either don't know it or aren't that interested. And then you find yourself working on ways to make them go where you want them to go ("There aren't any other planets in range. There's only one city on the planet. There's only one spacebar. And there's one alien offering a paying job.")

Instead, this is how you should do your prep: at the end of each session, ask the players what they intend to do next. Whatever they tell you, prepare for that. If they don't want to repair the ship right away, don't waste your time pushing them in that direction. Maybe they want to explore the planet first. Maybe they want to establish a home base. Or take down the local corrupt officials. Or go hunting wamp-rats. Find out what that is, and prepare that stuff.

Make sure you let them know that it's their job to tell you, honestly, what they want to do as a group next, so you can run the game and everyone has fun.

p.s. When you prep that stuff, of course you're going to put stuff in there you find fun. You're a player and deserve to have fun too!

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Actually, I came up with a better plot. The PCs are all working for the same interstellar freight company, and when a new ship is commissioned, they get transferred onto it, and their first job is to transport a bunch of "stuff" (the dispatcher is oddly nonspecific about what it is) to Micrel. On the flight, they find out that it is something illegal (I'll figure out what later). They land, bust the conspiracy within the company, probably get shot at, and end up getting fired. THEN they're stuck at the spaceport because the company didn't pay for fuel before they fired them. –  LeafStorm Oct 30 '10 at 15:13
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Okay, that is a fine plot. But it's hard to GM plots. What if they find out the stuff is illegal and don't land where they're supposed to land? What if they don't want to bust the conspiracy, but want to be part of it, or worse--don't care if they work for evil doers? Then they won't be fired. And then they're not stuck at the spaceport! You'll be better off starting with "they've been tricked into transporting some illegal stuff", prepping some NPCs who have a stake in the stuff (either want to stop them, want to make sure they deliver, or want to steal it), and going from there. –  cr0m Oct 30 '10 at 22:49
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"Nobody is stressing about fixing up the interstellar version of a Ford Pinto, but the Millenium Falcon?" Have you never seen Star Wars? The Falcon IS an interstellar Pinto. –  Koveras Jun 30 at 20:45

Assuming your players will be even newer to RPGs than you, the most important advice I can give to you is don't worry about getting the rules "just right" - focus on keeping the story and action engaging.

Honestly, starting a new game system with players who are also new and embarking on a new story that I'm making up is my very favorite way to game-master. "We're all in this together - and together we will succeed or fail." No rules lawyers, no experienced-players-driving-all-the-choices, no in game pre-history between the characters. A blue sea and nothing but wind at your backs!

The only rule that matters is "are you having fun?" That applies to every player, and you, the GM.

As you settle in, and find that you've been playing something "wrong" you can either change it on the fly, or house-rule it (at least for this story arch.)

If you're thinking "Oh! If we do [xxx] this week, it will be SO COOL!" you're on the right track. My goal each week is: how can we make this so much fun that they will come back next week (and that means not schedule other things for that time slot in their busy lives.)

My number one concrete action suggestion: Ask people for player histories before they come to the first session (there are great posts about how to guide this.) During the very first session, if they don't provide a reason for their characters to know each other, tie those histories together with each-other or your game scenario in some way - give them a reason to role-play even before the action starts...

Good luck!

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Don't try to be too original at first. Stick with a situation you and your players are familiar with. I once turned up at a new club and was invited into a one-off Star Trek game. Our ship had engine trouble and arrived at an orbital spaceport to find it apparently abandoned. Turns out it was infested with 'Aliens' as in the film of that name. We had to get across the station to a shuttle on the other side. It instantly gave us a sense of place and a feeling of suspense. The combination of familiar setting (Star Trek) and familiar threat (the Aliens) but in a new combination was intriguing. We felt free to shoot stuff and blow it up however we liked. Loads of fun! There's a lot to be said for taking a good action movie and just transplanting it into your setting.

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That's a lot of ground to cover and you might get better responses if you break some of those sub-questions out into questions of their own. To answer random parts of your question that interest me at the moment,

  1. Start with action. Just like any type of media, if you start really slow with lots of explanation and setting intro and meaningless wandering into space-bars people will tune out. The first words out of your mouth don't have to be "an alien bursts through the door and tries to ram its ovipositor down your throat," but it wouldn't hurt anything if they were.

  2. Make NPCs memorable and give reasons for PCs to give a crap about them - not because "they are supposed to" because the GM or their background says they love them like a mother, but because they're a cool cat. In terms of props, I try to make pictures with names printed on them to clip to my screen for major NPCs - it reminds everyone when they're there, it avoids lengthy "how do you spell that" BS,' and it gives them a real look people can hang their mental hat on. (Google Image Search is your friend.)

  3. To help people become interested, be interesting. You can't make them be interested, though, and in the end if they're not there because they want to play the game then they need to move along. But in general, if you were to see the events and characters you are presenting on the silver screen - would it be an entertaining movie, or at least SyFy quality, or would it be some Russian snoozefest? (I still haven't forgiven Stalker.)

  4. Don't get hung up on the rules or some setting detail you need to look up. Just keep the game going, make it up, and look it up later if you feel you need to. (Never retcon. Fail forward.)

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@1, "It wouldn't hurt anything..." Well, it might hurt your throat a bit. –  RMorrisey Oct 29 '10 at 1:57

There is general advice and advice that specific to the Genre. Luckily because of the game Traveller there are a lot of excellent resources for you to use to get going with the type of campaign you describe.

First there is my how to build a Traveller Sandbox.

  1. Create up two subsectors side by side.
  2. Note all the high population planets.
  3. Write a short paragraph on each placing them in the context of your background (Empire, Federation, Free Space, etc)
  4. Find any high tech plants (the highest ones you rolled )
  5. Make notes on them.
  6. Find all class V and IV starports
  7. Make notes on them.
  8. Scan the remaining planets pick out 4 to 8 that grab your attention.
  9. Make notes on them.
  10. Look at your notes and come up with two to four "plots" that ties one or more locales together.
  11. For each of the planets you have notes make up four "patron" encounters for each. They should start as one sentence each and be self contained in respect to the major plots.
  12. Come up with 6 to 12 general patron encounters that can be placed anywhere in your subsectors. Make them flexible like (set in a seedy starport, etc)
  13. Make up a rumor chart with 10 to 20 items that feeds the players into what you prepared.
  14. Then use the NPC resources that were suggested to make a list of NPCs. Assign them to the various items you created above.
  15. Look at your notes and decided where recurring NPCs will occurs. (Captain of the subsector Revenue Patrol, Custom Offical, Badger the Broker, etc). Probably need 6 to 12 of them. Give them a paragraph description in addition to their stats.

This should take about four evenings of Prep for two sub sectors probably two to three evenings for a single subsector. Each subsequent subsector will be slightly less time to prepare as you can reuse elements.

After your first adventure (or before if you are going to railroad it) evaluate the players actions and decide if any sites will be needed for the next session. Prepare it like however you do your Fantasy RPG module.

Resources that you can purchases that will help you. Of all this I think Traveller Book 3, and GURPS Spaceships are the best bang for your buck. $13 for the two. Definitely get Book 3 as having a good random world generator makes this so much easier.

An Introduction to Traveller. (Despite the name this is systemless and your campaign is one of the ones focused on)

GURPS Space (includes the world generation system for GURPS and advice) GURPS Spaceships (beats even Traveller for flexibility and simplicity)

GURPS Traveller line (for 3rd edition but adaptable for 4th)

Traveller Book 3 (the cheapest option here for random world generation)

Traveller line of PDF on RPG Now Far Future Enterprises (Traveller Reprints and CDs of PDFs from the original author)

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Lots of good resources, thank you. And you did bring up an important point: I need to focus more on developing the space the players will be operating in. Right now, my strategy for world building is creating a timeline starting at 2018 and work my way to 2480 from there, but really I probably need to make up worlds the PCs will be operating on (I only have about three or four defined in the space they're working in) and fudge the timeline later. –  LeafStorm Oct 30 '10 at 15:17

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