Improvisation. No matter how much preparation you do before a game, even the best GMs are still caught off guard. Developing the skills to improvise and adapt to the adventure at hand almost seems mystical, but it is not. This is something that I wanted to write about as many new GMs have never realized how needed this skill is especially with Fudge.
Improvising is the art of adapting your story around the sudden and/or unexpected actions of your PCs or questions that you had not planned for. The reason I call it an art is because some of the best GMs I know have made a game awesome and I did not know they improvised until the end.
Characters (and their players) are thee must unpredictable element in RPGs. You take players from different walks of life, put them at the table, and then tell them that they can do whatever they want with their characters, you are guaranteed a surprising development!
What do you do when this happens? How do you develop skills to cut the players off before they can surprise you? Well, you cannot keep them from surprising you, but there is a few things you can do to help make sure that when you are surprised, you can do it without fail.
1. Know your setting like the back of your hand. There is nothing like playing a setting and all of a sudden they ask you a question in a section you just gleaned over because they would never ask about that. Know your setting! Read the books of your world so you can answer anything they throw at you. The majority of improvisation will come from the wealth of knowledge you store up in your head.
Try to keep flipping through the books to a minimum as that will make the players doubt your ability to GM a game. I mean, how much trust would you put in to a GM who has to look at the rules every other question?
2. Flesh your story out. Know your story as well as you know your setting. This ties in to the above point. Be sure that you know the story and so when the players decide to go a different route to the objective then you had planned, you know the area and the story well enough to guide them back to the objective or give them a brand new route.
An example of my failure to plan ahead was a vault that I had sealed up and hid the key in the corner of a guard's office. What I did not take in to consideration was that a player that joined at the last minute decided to play a gaseous cloud. He simply squeezed through the keyhole and unlocked the door from the other side. My secret vault became useless because I did not think far enough ahead to plan for that. What makes me feel even dumber is that I knew ahead of time that this would have been one of his character possibilities.
3. Practice! No matter how much planning you do and even if you follow this article to the letter, the player is still going to surprise you with a move you did not expect. Just go with it and make up an answer or plan a new way of doing it. There is nothing like good practice in the field to give you the confidence and the experience to grow as a GM.
For this article I want to do a shout out to my good friend and fellow GMer Wolf “SirWolf” Bergenheim, A master of making-it-up-as-you-go. He was my first introduction to a true fudge game and after three awesome (and epic) sessions, I asked him his secret and he simply said, “Oh, I just make it up as I go.”
Good luck on your sessions and do not be afraid to fudge it!