SGM Staff Diary
Auspice last edited by
I’m going to try to post a sort of ‘staff diary’ (I almost called it a dev diary, but most of it will be about people management) here as things go along. Now I am far from the best or a great Staffer, but maybe lessons I'm learning (or reaffirming) along the way can help someone else. I’ve never actually run a game before (I’m lazy and indecisive; I usually flit off to a new idea before I finish one). And while I’m not RUNNING this, Paradox and I are a team. No one is really ‘above’ the other.
Which brings me to point one (warning, this gets long).
Trust your team
Paradox and I know each other well and in the development of SGM, we argued once. I don’t even remember what it was about. I just remember that it ended up being a long discussion and in the end, I agreed with his point.
But how often can we all say that for other Staffing teams we’ve been on? How often do we feel our fellow Staffers are working against us? Stepping on our toes? How often do we have disagreements (on an app, on a house rule, etc.) and it becomes just a big, angry mess?
Your workload may be a bit larger, but it’s worth it. I don’t mind working jobs. I don’t mind running plot. I don’t mind answering questions. I know Paradox has my back and I can trust him to make whatever decisions needed when I’m not around.
We also share the work. Almost daily we have at least a brief discussion of ‘If I handle X, can you handle Y?’ We have a massive (I think it’s up to 24 pages now) doc on GDrive that began as our ‘bible’ for the game and has remained a place to work out ideas and get one another’s input.
Be willing to be firm
I’ll be honest: I hate telling people they can’t play a character concept. Especially when it’s a reasonable one (‘I wanna play a runaway teenager who stumbles across the SGC and they let him join a team!’ <- not reasonable and also thankfully not an idea anyone has proposed!). Unfortunately, there may be a multitude of reasons for saying no.
Maybe there’s too many PCs who already fit that type (and we’re already struggling to provide enough for them to ‘do’). Maybe it just doesn’t work in theme (or won’t work ‘right now’.).
It sucks to say no and potentially lose a player, but every game is going to have a box (some of them bigger, some smaller) that people have to fit into. Ithir, for example, isn’t going to allow someone to come along and play a dwarf. It’s a game of elves. The dwarf might be a totally reasonable concept otherwise, but it just doesn’t work for the setting.
It’s one of the parts of staffing that sucks, but it has to be done. That leads me into…
It’s often a reflex to page someone off-channel to let them down. In my mind, it’s ‘I don’t want to risk embarrassing or upsetting this person in public.’ It’s not that I’m saying anything especially cruel, but as an anxious person I fall in that category of ‘I want to fail privately.’ (Not that I’m saying this is a failure.) But there are decided benefits to keeping it public.
Your players learn. They learn that these things aren’t allowed and they learn why they aren’t allowed. This is empowering for them. It gives them a better understanding of the game (maybe they were planning a PRP and learning that X isn’t allowed and why X isn’t allowed is helps them plan) and gives them a greater confidence in answering those questions from guests and new players.
I also recommend adding any decisions made to an FAQ. I know a few games out there have been doing this and I think it’s a fantastic idea (that I gleefully stole). One-offs, decisions made, etc.: put them somewhere findable.
Empower your players
I touched on this one a little above, but I wanted to expand on it. Often on a game, I’m never quite sure what I can do. Is it okay for me to say… Is it okay for me to assume…
There are a lot of ways to empower your players and I’m not going to cover them all (I couldn’t! I’m still discovering them myself), but I wanted to call out a very big one.
Let them handle things.
Now this might make sense on the surface, but it’s really a (overly) simplistic way of meaning give them the keys to handle things ICly that their PC could handle. If you’re running a PRP and notice that one character (in a military scenario) isn’t doing their IC job, tell their superior. The Lieutenant may have been too busy to notice the Corporal was fucking off. They may not know that what the Corporal is doing is out of line. Or, perhaps, they knew but were uncertain if it was okay to say something.
All it takes is a page. ‘You notice that Corporal Fuckup is fucking up.’ And leave it at that.
Then Corporal Fuckup isn’t being called out OOCly and Lieutenant now knows: Staff is OK with me handling minor disciplinary matters IC. Now, while my game isn’t full of troublemakers (phew!), there are a few (ICly so, not OOCly). And I have people who are in leadership roles that are embracing their place to ‘handle’ things.
However, I’ve still made it clear to everyone that if they don’t feel comfortable handling something, they are more than welcome to approach Staff and we will via NPC.
But what it comes down to is empowerment. Not just in scenarios like the above. Make sure your people know what they’re free to do. I personally feel this is a big reason ‘sandbox’ games succeed and more niche games don’t. People end up twiddling their thumbs too much of the time because they don’t know what they can or can’t do.
I had a few names for this part. ‘Be honest,’ ‘be willing to admit when you’re wrong,’ but it really came down to this: be human.
This is still just a game. You get to be a person and have fun, too. Which means you can be human. You can joke with your players. You can admit when you broke some code (happens to me often). But you should also admit to your own mistakes.
If something you’ve done has a negative impact on a player, apologize.
Invite feedback on the course of things (plot, overall story, etc.). If it’s not working and people aren’t having fun? They won’t always tell you in obvious ways (hi, super guilty of that myself!). But if you make it a dialogue, they’re more likely to do so.
‘Hey, what do you guys think of this storytelling style so far? Anything I can do that’d make it easier or more fun? Anything you hate?’
A lot of us in this community are little bundles of anxiety. And we’re almost all of us creatives. Creatives, generally, hate criticism. And so us little bundles of anxiety are afraid of upsetting someone. It means it’s all too common for people to suffer in silence on a game because ‘Well, I enjoy the story, but…’ ‘My friends are all there, but I just wish…’
Which brings me to one last thing: If someone comes to you with a concern, acknowledge it. Even if it’s something you can’t fix right then and there, you can make sure they feel heard and you can maybe even lay the groundwork for handling it if it becomes a full-blown problem.
Player A approaches you and says ‘Hey, Bob paged me with something that made me uncomfortable. I think he was joking and it hasn’t happened since, but it’s been bothering me.’
You could just reassure them it was definitely a joke and Bob’s been fine as far as you can tell!
Or... you could reassure them that you heard them, you’re sorry it made them uncomfortable, and you’ll be keeping an eye on things.
In addition to the above, you could post a general reminder to the game along the lines of: ‘Please keep in mind that not everyone has the same sense of humor you do.’
I do have one last bit: have fun.
Make sure you enjoy your own game. Have a PC. Be open and honest about what you involve them in (‘Hey, I see you’re running a plot and there’s still room: I’d love to go! If someone who can fill the role shows up, I’m happy to drop out.’), but be involved. You made the game for a reason and it wasn’t to lord your Staff power over people.
You’re a smart person, you can do it without being abusive about it. Enjoy the fuck out of your own creation: you deserve it.
Tempest last edited by
Auspice last edited by
I skimmed this, so all I took away from it was this.
You got it in the wrong order. It's actually:
Paradox last edited by
Don't be afraid to make mistakes
I've often encountered a presence of perfectionism, or the mindset of staff must always be right, often times to the point where it becomes confrontational. Iunno, for myself I'm actually walking into this situation embracing the mindset of screwing up. Because of this I'm not afraid to try new things or out of the box approaches in plots. If they don't work, that's ok. No one is going to lose a limb over it ... unless they rage punch their computer I suppose. But really, the fear of screwing up can sometimes push people into this box of refusing to admit when they are in fact wrong. I don't want to be that person.
Highlight the Good
I'm a professional educator, and one of the things we talk about is classroom management. Really, a MU isn't terribly different than a classroom. Lots of people with different backgrounds, different individualized goals but trying to coexist and cooperate. It's really an appropriate analogy. So I brought some of the pedagogy we use into the design of how we interact. Every week we highlight the positives we see from players. I think it's a good way to let people know we appreciate them and to show other players the sorts of things we're looking for. These range from behaviors on game to working with staff through issues or handling plots. If you see a behavior you like and want repeated, bring it to the forefront.
I don't think any of us like that unknown expectation. This ties in a bit to the first one, I try my best to make sure my expectations are clear; but I'm also going to make mistakes. If there's confusion on them, it may well be my fault. I'll own the mistake, clarify the expectation and roll on. But when everyone knows what we're trying to accomplish it makes things a lot smoother.
I'm still experimenting with this. One of the things I've been working towards mentally and now in execution is how to make plots meaningful and rolling. I kind of place my expected plot time to be around 2 hours. That's not a lot of time to get something in. So one of the things I'm doing is asking players to be very specific about their goals. A player who asks to 'look around' isn't being specific, they're fishing. If the player is having to fish then I'm not doing my job as a Storyteller. I want players to be focused in on something. If I haven't given them bait, I'm wanting them to guide me into something they're interested in doing...and I haven't done a great job of expressing that expectation yet; one of the things I've been drawing feedback from players on. But regardless, this is with #1; I'm screwing stuff up but having fun doing it and I think (based on talks) the players are having fun helping me work through things.
I run a plot, I ask for feedback, I use said feedback to adjust what I'm doing to run the next plot a little bit better, then get feedback... this is the cycle. The biggest challenge I'm finding is getting players to give feedback that isn't always positives. Believe me, I get a huge smile when they tell me how much they enjoyed something (and I like that a ton) but I can't improve on positives; sure I can do more of them and certainly plan that in, but I'd also like to address areas of deficiency. The feedback loop also works the other way, I try to give players direct ideas on things to pose about. What would be useful for me as a Storyteller to know regarding their character at that time. The challenge lies in that this is a bit different than we're all used to in some regards so breaking those habits may take some time, or restructuring.
Ask for what you want
If you don't ask for it, you won't get it. I tell players I'd like X Y and Z in their pose, I tell them I want a specific goal from them in their pose, I tell them to be specific about what they are investigating so I can give them a specific roll. All these took was simply asking for them. And the more I've asked, the more they've done it and it's entered a pretty good interaction relationship. I want poses every 15 minutes, I stick to that. One of my big goals right now is 6-8 GM poses per scene every 15 minutes (so 1.5-2 hour scenes). That doesn't provide for a lot of 'fluff' time, but rather we need to get to the meat of the plot; which requires us to be focused. All of it is circular I guess, and again, far from perfect but like I said in point #1, I'm ok with screwing up and making mistakes.