GM Tokk – Lore Dump
I haven’t done one of these before, but I might want to start doing this more often. What is this, you might ask? GM Tokk will be where I give my thoughts about a Pathfinder session I ran recently. Maybe there was something I learned or could give a tip to others who might find themselves in a similar situation. It could be helpful to someone. It could not be. It could end up being coffee-infused babble. *Shrug*
If a post says GM Tokk, consider it a SPOILER to any of my players who might read this. I may reveal storyline aspects (either personal or from the Rise of the Runelords campaign itself), so if you are one of my players (and you know who you are) or are playing Rise of the Runelords and don’t want things spoiled, you should probably stop reading now.
Last night I ran Rise of the Runelords Episode 57, cleverly entitled Tales Beyond Time. Typically, when we get together, we play a four-hour session. But due to scheduling, last night’s session ended up being about half of that. In the prior session, one of the players was missing, and I had planned some storyline connective tissue for them. So when I had been planning last night’s session, I was going to start with the missing player, plug in the storyline content that they had missed, then have them rejoin the party and continue on from there.
I had also originally planned to use last night’s session to fill in some backstory on the BBEG. One of the problems I have with Rise of the Runelords adventure path is that unless your players really dig right from the beginning (and they honestly had no reason to do so), they have no idea who is “pulling the strings” until about 3/4 of the way through the campaign. Even then, they will have minimal contact with him until they come face-to-face with him in the finale. Your BBEG is supposed to feel like a significant threat, and the players should feel pressure to stop him. There are consequences to failure.
We had a running joke at our table. I mean, we’re playing “Rise of the Runelords.” That tells everyone that there’s a Runelord out there, and he or she is looking to Rise. Not precisely the foreshadowing you want for your villain. What the Hell is a runelord? At what point should my character know about said runelord and why they should stop their rise?
I had to do some heavy lifting to start hinting at that threat. I introduced the Runelord’s champion and tried to make them feel dangerous. But as far as the Runelord himself, the books give all sorts of backstories to flesh him out. But there’s no way that the players would ever find out about most of it. Not unless there was someone who could share that information. Someone with insider knowledge about a person who lived ten thousand years ago. In context, ten thousand years ago, humans just started using stone tools and travelled in nomadic tribes. What do we know about the leader of the largest nomadic tribe in 8000 BC?
So, lore dump.
While lore dump sessions happen (even the professionals like Critical Role have them), I don’t like reading to my players for an evening. It’s hard to keep them engaged unless the material is solid. I want them rolling dice and for it to mean something. I planned an encounter, but we didn’t get to it before time ran out. We might have gotten to it if I had been watching the clock closer, but I fell into the groove of pacing as if it were a regular session.
The upside of ending where we did, means we’ll start with an interesting encounter next session, but everyone was disappointed when we packed up for the evening. Had it been a regular session, we would have had the encounter, and the players could have actually engaged with the game. It was the perfect storm of “too much lore” and “not enough time.”
- If you have chunks of lore that you want to narrate, script it. If you are so comfortable with it that you can let it fly conversationally, do so. Otherwise, write it up and edit it. Get it tight. Pass along what the players need to know with a splash of flavour to keep it interesting. As a GM, there’s nothing worse than stumbling through your point-form notes and watching your players disconnect so severely that they either reach for their phones or fall asleep at the table, one eye at a time.
- Keep an eye on your pacing, especially when you’re on the clock. If running a shorter session than usual, be mindful of the time. Your “muscle memory” will trip up your pacing because you feel you have more time when you don’t. Either check the time more often or keep your phone with the clock facing you to constantly remind you where you’re at. Things may have to move faster than you’re generally comfortable with, and there’s a thin line between moving things along and rushing through them.
How do you play out your own lore if you’re a GM? Do you use the “show, don’t tell” philosophy, and if so, how? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks, and Happy Gaming!