Burn Everything Gaming

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Pitching Games: Narrowing down to the good stuff

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After the emotions of ending a campaign wind down, a new excitement starts to bubble up in all of us. The great question that has an endless array of possible wonderful answers: What are we going to play next?

For some groups, the answer is decided before you even get to this point. You are dedicated to a single system, or someone bought a new system that everyone is excited about, or the next GM has been trying to get the party killed for weeks so that they can start the game they want to run.

Why Pitch More Than One?

My personal approach is to try and narrow the list of possibilities down to 3 games and sell each of them to the players. This gives them a chance to pick which one they like best, but it also gives you a chance to hear their reasoning for each option, which is very useful when planning a future campaign.

Pitching 3 games comes naturally to me, but I think after a bit of inner searching I can explain why I do it this way. First of all, I am a GM of free will. I favor choice and options over other elements in the games I run. It is a reaction from my lack of choice in games growing up, I think, as well as the delight I get when the players surprise me with something new and exciting.

Also I have a very hard time narrowing down games that I want to play. If I could GM as a career, I would probably run 2 campaigns that met biweekly and then have a different random one shot every weekend for the variety. There are so many great games, so many setting choices within each game, and so much unexplored territory in the imagination that I wish I could keep delving into.

The Power of Three

I specifically use 3 different games because I can almost always narrow down everything I want to play down to that many choices. It gives me enough room for variety so that each choice is distinct. It is also a small enough number that players can easily compare and contrast them to one another.

With only one option, there would not be any choice involved. With just 2 choices, you can only contrast where they are complete opposites. If you offer 4 or more choices, then you are very likely to have your players pick different favorites without having much of a majority on any one choice. Thus, 3 is the magic number.

Starting With Setting

In order to get down to three options from 30+, I personally start by categorizing games into different settings. So all the medieval fantasies go on one list, all the space opera’s go on another, and so on. Since I am personally most interested in setting, this does a lot of work right off the bat for me.

Generally I can take a list of all the games in a similar setting and decide which one I am most in the mood to play. This could mean comparing systems (do I want to run DnD or Dragon Age?) or editions (4th or 5th?) or consider how long it has been since I played a setting. Sometimes I have to split the category up more to get a better idea, such as splitting the medieval fantasies into dungeon crawls and political campaigns, or dividing the space operas into space ship games or sci fi earth games.

This also will give me a couple of games that end up in their own category, such as with a game about time travel or a single kung-fu anime setting. I will usually do a brief comparison between these and see if there are any I obviously want to run over others. Otherwise I let them stand as is.

Feeling the Feels

At this point I should have eliminated at least half of the games by choosing which settings had more game options than others. If any setting list has more than 2 games in it, I really need to go through again and narrow down which system I want to represent the story I want to tell in that setting.

This gives me a good internal segue into the next category, which is contrasting settings so I can figure out which kind of story I am more in the mood to tell. If I have a medieval fantasy that makes for a legitimately great dungeon delve campaign but I have a modern fantasy that makes for a great political campaign, I try to decide which story I am more interested in.

You will probably be surprised at how different your list is at this stage than it would have been a few months ago, even with the same 30 games. Humans are constantly changing, and yet we still crave those things that are new and surprising. Pretty soon you will end up with some very interesting stories.

Consider the Players

At this stage, you probably have just 5 or six games. Now is the time to consider the players that are going to play the game. This could mean specific people that are eager to game with you again or a target audience that you are hoping to recruit at your next gaming event.

Now some of you may be thinking that the players need to be involved every step of the way, since the game is for them too right? No. Please, no. I understand where that thought comes from. It is great that you think of people first and do not want to exclude anyone or make anyone miserable. Still no. I beg of you, do not do that for your own sake.

You really want to avoid carrying a game through just because players will like it or because you think that a game is popular enough that it will be easier to get people to join in on your game. If a game like that makes it to this stage, then that is wonderful and you should be excited to run that game! But if it would have been eliminated at an earlier stage, then it has no business being in your final 10 choices.

As a GM, you are generating adventures for the players to enjoy. Yes, a good party with a bad GM is better than a bad party with a good GM. But settling will not make you happy, and an unhappy GM will ALWAYS hold a party back from their full potential. This is a social game, and you as the GM are the starting point for the mood. A good game starts with you.

Stepping Off the Soap Box

Sorry for going off there a bit. My past trauma probably doesn’t even apply to most of you. Let’s just carry on then, shall we?

So as I said, take your players into consideration to narrow the list down from 5-6 games to a simple 3. Give them options that are different. Try not to have all the same options as the same system. Try to have a variety of feels to them. Make sure there is a range in difficulty for the players.

The more variety you have between each of the three games, the more fuel you will have to push each pitch to them and get them excited for your options. And if any game option has been shot down by your players before, take that in to consideration here too. Hopefully you will be able to narrow the list down to 3 options.

Making the Pitches

Hopefully at this stage you have 3 games that you are excited to run. Now make a pitch for each. The pitch should be a paragraph, no more than 5 sentences each. You want anyone reading to understand what you are pitching with one quick read through. And you want them to be excited about the game.

I like to give a title to each of my games and then write about 4 sentences each, personally. Try to sell the story and setting in the first two sentences. Then tell what the players will be doing and what mechanics the game runs on with the last 2.

I try to list them in order from light to heavy rather than try to figure out which ones I want to sell more. Traditionally one slot sells better than the others, but I won’t tell you which in this post. J

So, for example, I recently ended up with something like this:

Avatar: FATE Bender

Every journey has a beginning, and every story is worth telling. The game should feel a lot like the shows, run in episodes with quirky characters, heart-warming moments, and simple but fun story arcs. The party of young people will then travel the world, learning and growing as they try to restore the balance and harmony between each of the four nations. Based on both TV series and the comics that started with Avatar: the Last Airbender, this game uses a custom FATE setting that includes world building rules for the players to participate in.

Timestresses

Yes, this is a time travel game where changes in the past affect the future (hopefully for the better) based on every time-travel game/show/movie most of us grew up on. This game wrestles less with the morality of changing things and more about how to go about making changes for the best possible future. Players will be time traveling through portals to alter events, collect goodies, and make the best reality possible without destroying it all (hopefully). The mechanics are a FATE Core hack with some easy-to-learn extras for how changes in time affect the different ages.

A Path of Shadows and Smiles

This is a samurai game that is not your typical hack and slash game. It focuses on samurai as the nobles they were: keeping face in political courts, serving the lords above them without compromising their honor, and keeping the peasants safe from bandits and oni demons. Players will start out with almost no political power and push their way to the top of the imperial status chain. It can run with L5R or Tian Xia mechanics.

Final Thoughts

While I do like to have a very clear picture of what I am pitching, I do tell the players that I am open to trying a game with a different system if they want to try something new or maybe something they are more comfortable with. I’ve never had anyone take me up on the offer, but I always make it.

I have also never struck out at this type of pitch. There is always at least one game that everyone gets excited about. I have had people really want one element of one game in the other game (kung fu masters that raise dragons). I try to incorporate that into the game if it is wanted badly enough, though it does not always turn out for the best. J

And of course, sometimes new games come out that everyone really wants to try, such as SotM that I hear will be kickstarting early next year. Try not to get offended when everyone wants to play a new game that you didn’t pitch, especially when you are of the same mindset.

Once a game is chosen, dedicate everything you have to building the campaign you sold. If you discover to late that you really wanted to run the other game, put it on hold for the next time and try not to change the game so that you are really running that story instead of the one you sold.

Please share with us how you go about working on pitches for campaigns. Do you only pitch one at a time? Do you have a list for players to choose from? Are you 2 years into a campaign that you are planning to never ever stop running? Let us know!

~Joshua

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Author: Burn Everything Gaming

Website that mostly produces Actual Play Podcast as well as game reviews and other musings on the topic. Hope you enjoy.

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