Here is some advice I’ve put together as part of my draft of my upcoming game about gnolls. The game will have lots of great randomizing tools available to play with a minimum of preparation (if desired.)
So you are the GM. That mostly stands for “Game Master” but you could get clever and be the “Gnoll Master” or if you feel pretentious, “Gnash Muse.” What should you think about running this game differently than all the other role playing games out there? Here are some ideas to customize your style to get the most out of this game.
Be Lazy. Don’t work too hard at this. It is a game, it is play, and you get to play too. You are portraying the instinct of the great gnoll god, looking on in interest. You suspect that if you stop looking at these characters for a bit, they will not be real until you look at them again. You may as well enjoy the story they are telling.
You want the gnolls to do what they do. You don’t have an overall plan, a civilizing influence, a direction to prod them to take. Those are all unhelpful instincts if you indulge in them overmuch. No, here you want to provide them with situations. Those situations lead to others. They make decisions, and the world shifts because of it. You just keep the consequences and opportunities unfolding, and enjoy their ongoing efforts.
You want them to be happy. Well, it would be a dull game if they just lolled in the shade, grooming each other and taking care of basic needs. Their cosmic patron receives the spirits of dead gnolls, and they can lounge around your lair as long as they want before they rejoin the All. When they do, the ones with tales of adversity, stories of challenge and victory—those have something to be proud of. The ones that come out of the world having been safe and secure are boring, and sort of ashamed of themselves as they listen to the others. You feel bad for them. All gnolls should have great stories of challenge and adversity; that’s what sharpens them to become what they truly long to be on the inside. With no pressure, they never rise. So, you help them find those stressful pressures. It’s for their own good, really.
Let them win and let them lose. If they pull off an unexpected victory, let them have it! Who cares if it was luck, skill, spunk, or fate? Don’t sour their success. By the same reasoning, when they lose, let them lose! Who cares if it was luck, skill, spunk, or fate? Don’t redeem their defeats. If you start meddling in wins and losses, they come to resemble each other. Let experience guide and teach them.
This is about stories. Whether they win or lose, whether they have an easy time or a grueling hardship, whether they had goals or simply got through a scrape, here is the ultimate goal of your group—have a story at the end. Tell a story together that they might share with people a decade later. Work on making an experience that is so memorable and entertaining that it endures long after contemporary television shows or movies fade; let the story of these characters become a part of the story of the gamers who play them.