Hamming it up: Immersion and passion

Ok Dear Readers! Today I’m going to continue meditating on the concept of immersion and how we get there. As stated previously, I am a firm believer that the point of an RPG is immersion. Whether it is with your friends or running a game on your Xbox, the goal is to be immersed—to be “there” as opposed to being here.

In a prior blog post, I talked about the emergent story as an essential element of the immersive process. By adhering to the rules (even the boring ones) and allowing the players’ agency to take the reins of the game session, you and your players will have an experience like no other. But what about the Gamemaster? Is he just a robot applying rules as written?

Absolutely not, Dear Readers! Absolutely not!

I submit to you that you GMs out there should not only have a passion for GMing, but a passion in presenting it to their players. Have some passion for the world, the adventure location, or the module you are running; and then show that passion! Ham it up a bit. Shed any sense of shame and don’t be embarrassed to use a goofy voice or two when running NPCs (if that’s your thing). Don’t worry about what the players may think about a villain’s plot, drive that plot! Go into some detail about some aspect of the world the players are adventuring in: whether it is a dungeon, a room, a trapped treasure chest, give it a bit more description. If you are as engaged as they are trying to be, you will create a feedback loop and, suddenly, two or three hours will go by and you will wonder what the hell happened. Where was I? Where did I go?

You were in the shared delusion that GMs conjure up when gaming with their fellow gamers, that’s where.

The perfect ham sandwich is grilled, with American cheese and a tomato slice or two…maybe include a scrambled egg for those mornings where you enjoyed one too many adult beverages the night before! (I don’t know why I am sharing this with you…someone should take the internet away from me!
I will be doing a video review of this very soon. Stay tuned!

In Jobe Bittman’s Book of Antithesis, this idea is compared to invoking a demon or spirit for an NPC, and invoking your world is like astral travel to another plane of existence. Focus your mind and have passion for that place you want to take your players. Does this mean you need to be Matt Mercer and become a thespian voice actor at your game table for the amusement of your players? Hell no! You are not an entertainer. You are a game master who is bringing a world to life for the collective experience of your players. If you don’t do voices, don’t worry about it. Describe the voice! Describe the actions of the villains, NPCs, etc. But do it with passion!

Ham it up. Describe combat, don’t just say “you hit.” Matthew Finch calls this The Way of the Ming Vase. I think this is harder to master than most GM skills. Basically, you should be describing what you can in the middle of the chaos of combat. You shouldn’t be afraid to start a chain of events that leads to the Ming Vase being shattered by the chaos of combat. Throw in some random craziness that forces players to react to you. Matt Finch recommends doing this on a natural 1 or a natural 20. I think in OSR-styled games where those rolls don’t always translate to extra damage, that is some good advice. I know in LotFP, a “natural 20” is just an auto-hit with no bonus damage.

Boring! I know I definitely need to work on this a bit more…I will be incorporating more of this moving forward in my campaigns.

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Hamming it up isn’t just limited to combat. Show the world to them, do not tell them what they see. Have them ask questions. This is similar to Matt Finch’s Way of the Moose Head: Don’t have them roll for a search check. Describe what is in the room, corridor, etc., and have them ask questions to find the stuff. This can build tension in a game where fear and horror are what are expected. It can build mystery for the players. Regardless of genre, it encourages the players to interact with the world you are presenting.

Hamming it up just doesn’t stop there. I think showing players your homebrew world—rather than telling them—goes a long way to help with immersion. If you have a unique religion, nation, or culture, show them that culture. This will inevitably have your players asking additional questions about your world, which in turn will give you an opportunity to present another piece of information to them without the dreaded lore dump.

I submit to you Lordmatteus’ Law: A Gm’s 100-page lore book about his or her homebrew world is to a player as a player’s 15-page backstory about their character is to the GM.

No one cares.

The reality is, no one cares; so, don’t do it. Have the passion to write the 15, 20, or 100 pages of lore for your world, but keep it tucked away for reference. Show it to the players when they are ready, but only show it in snippets. Refer to it as a matter of fact and let the players discover the deeper lore through exploration. To do otherwise is to provide your players with a snooze fest.

In my Lamentations of Elemental Evil Campaign, I created a couple of campaign documents to place the Temple and Hommlet (and the Lamentations of the Flame Princess modules I am incorporating) in my currently nameless homebrew world. It is my default setting which has a monotheistic religion at odds with “powers” that seek to influence the world. I’m not going to bore you with the details, but I have a folder on my desktop that has tons of lore—cultural, religious, and historical—for my world. I did not include any of it, other than snippets, in the campaign documents I provided the players. Why? Because including all this stuff in my homebrew world was for my enjoyment. I was not going to cram it down the throat of a bunch of players who did not know me and just wanted to play LotFP and the Temple of Elemental Evil.

However, something interesting happened. Some have become a bit curious…others have been asking some questions. Nothing profound yet…but it is certainly starting to happen. Whether they take a deep dive into what I have set up, is completely up to them. However, the cultural and religious strife that is present in Hommlet has made the campaign very interesting for them, and the group is starting to have to make some choices about who they are allied with and why.

At the end of the day, all that homebrew lore stuff that I have written is there for my reference to make an NPC come to life, to provide some context for something the players are experiencing, or just to provide some cool adventure hooks. There has been no lore dump. Just snippets…So GM with passion! Ham it up, Dear Readers! Ham it up!

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