I've DMed DnD before, but I'm wanting to get a game of In A Wicked Age started up, which is much less crunchy than our 4e oriented group is used to. What advice would you have for someone trying to introduce this style of game to a set of players more used to DnD? What advice would help a GM who's similarly never gotten a chance to play or GM story games himself?


I'm running IaWA every other Sunday right now. During the phase where your friends are picking their characters from the oracle elements, if you can get away with it -- based on the oracles that you've drawn, consider not choosing any NPCs to stat up. If the player-characters are compelling enough, they don't need you to have NPCs with their own Best Interests. So you'll still role-play everyone they encounter, but you don't need to be pushing the story at all. That allows you to consider scene-framing more intently.

Who's going to be in this scene? Where? How does that cause their friction-bearing elements to escalate conflict?

Also, make sure that when your players are stating the best interests of their characters, that they refer to other PCs (or your statted-out NPCs if you're having some). Things like "burn the town to the ground" sound at first like good conflicty best interests but in play are weak. "Leave Burna-Buriash (a PC) at the bottom of the well" or "Marry Exmirlae (another PC) under the full moon" work better. Help them to generate satisfying best interests.

I haven't been a regular DM of D&D since AD&D 1E, so I can't really help with specifics, but those are things you should remember about running IaWA. Thinking about that perspective, I guess: Make sure they know how to get on the owe list. Make sure they understand that failure is fun. Make sure that they know they may well never play this character again, so don't sweat what happens.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Solid advice! It's cool you guys are playing it that often. \$\endgroup\$ – kesher Aug 24 '10 at 14:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you got anything to say on the question of group size with IaWA? The one time I ran it (and man, I have really got to try that again), I think things suffered a bit for having five or six players instead of, say, three or four. \$\endgroup\$ – Matt Sheridan Sep 10 '10 at 18:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Matt, I've only run for two to four players. Three and four work better than two. I certainly wouldn't turn a fifth away, but I'm sure that (like most games) it gets hard to manage things and give everyone appropriate levels of attention with too many. \$\endgroup\$ – clweeks Sep 13 '10 at 13:29

It's just a game. Don't make a big deal about it. Don't regale the merits of indie games. Don't point out all the differences between D&D and your indie game. For godsake, don't talk about game theory.

It's an awesome game. Presumably you think this indie game is awesome, or you wouldn't introduce it to your friends. Be enthusiastic without being annoying. Enthusiasm is contagious.

It's a new game. Because your players don't know the rules, they will be out of their comfort zone. Do some things to make them more comfortable:

  1. Know the rules. Cold.
  2. If there's any complicated procedures for play (especially chargen or conflicts), make a cheat sheat for each player to reference.
  3. Don't overwhelm them with a huge info dump. Give them an overview, and promise them that you'll explain rules as they come up.

It's a game of In a Wicked Age. Here are some suggestions specific to this indie game:

  1. Put your own gaming baggage away. Don't assume you know how to be a GM. Read the rules and follow them exactly as written.
  2. Draw out a relationship map on a big piece of paper. Take notes on it and encourage them to write on it, too.
  3. Explain that the conflict resolution is "negotiation with a stick" (do this or I will do that). Don't let players get bogged down in negotiation if it doesn't look like everyone at the table is having fun while they do it. Set some time limits, after which the default "stick" result happens.
  4. If people can't come up with ideas for characters or scenes, ask them if they want help from the group. D&D players are often used to being creative solo and not under group pressure. Make it clear that this is a more collaborative exercise and it's totally cool to work together.
  5. If you need to, remind players that it might be fun to see a PC turn out to be the bad guy, or to see some of the PCs go down in awful flames. Losing can be a blast.

I am overgeneralizing here, but D&D games tend to have the GM provide the plot and the players react to it. Games like IAWA require that at least some of the plots and conflicts originate from the characters themselves. Make sure the players recognize that going in so they are prepared to participate in this way. It can be a difficult shift of mindset for some people.


Everything Jere said is absolutely correct.

Also, you've chosen a good game to get your feet wet: Vincent Baker focuses on concrete GM advice. Try and follow it closely; make note of the places where he says to do stuff that isn't the way you're used to doing it, and do those things the way the book recommends.

If you can find some actual play discussions for the game you're trying, those are also very helpful.


While Adam has the same general advice I'd give, and I'm not familiar with IaWA itself, there are a few things I've not seen yet in others' answers.

  1. you might be having a blast with it, and almost everyone else... but people's gaming styles differ.
    • Many indies will in fact put off some players just by the very nature of the mechanics.
    • Others will be put off by the subject matter, or the need for collaboration.
    • Don't argue with them about it. Validate their feelings about it instead. Let them know it's OK to not like a particular game or mechanic
    • It's good form to ask them to give it a few sessions (4-5) to gel. Sometimes familiarity breeds comfort instead of contempt.
  2. Many of the indie games rely upon a reasonable level of PVP action. Not combat, but just player triggering the other player's character's disads.
    • this is extremely hard for some traditional gamers to cope with due to the traditional focus on party needs.
    • this can be particularly hard when the players didn't get told about that effect in advance; suddenly one chap realizing "Hey, we both get more bennies when I trigger your Sneezing Fits disad... let's make it spring in the hills!" can be a friendship injury.
  3. Most indie games give disads BIG teeth.
    • Many Traditionalist players are used to getting away with disads they don't play; many indies provide rewards for so doing
    • Slowly transition to such player-triggering, rather than expecting them to do them right off.
  4. Give the players think time. They will need more of it at first. (Adam hints at this...) There's a lot more player task in most indies, especially with scene setting.
    • When players are not ready for a new scene, stretch. Get a beverage, or take a restroom break.
    • Encourage kibbutzing about scene setting.
    • If a player says, outside of game, "Wouldn't it be cool if ..." make note, and remind them at session.

Good Luck. My current group is transitioning to John Wick's Blood & Honor... so far, 3/4 are having fun, and the 4th is not certain how to cope with narrative authority... So I've been making the same transition recently.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm curious about the first two bullet points under number one. Won't all games put some players off due to the mechanics or subject? \$\endgroup\$ – clweeks Sep 14 '10 at 14:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've found it more common with indie games. Plus, with the indies, it's more likely that the players will reject the game over them than the more mainstream games. \$\endgroup\$ – aramis Sep 14 '10 at 16:14

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