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Running an Adventure with a Guest Star

Posted By Martin Ralya On August 30, 2011 @ 6:00 am In GMing Advice | 6 Comments

My friend Darren is in town this week, and as he doesn’t get many chances to game and loves Star Trek, having him play in our upcoming Saturday night session is a win-win no-brainer.

I’m not an expert at running games that feature a guest star, but I’ve been on both sides of the screen for them and I have learned a few things. Here are the five things I’m keeping in mind:

Make the guest star the STAR

This tip applies equally well to new players joining the group for the long term, and to some extent to shy players: The guest’s session should focus on them. All of the other players get spotlight sessions throughout the campaign, but this episode will be Darren’s chance to shine.

I’m not worried about this in his case, but making someone the star also prevents them from “turtling” and forces them — in a good way — to drive the session.

Ask your guest what they want to see and do

I gave Darren a quick rundown on the basic series premise for our Trek game, as well as the last two episodes, and asked him what if there was anything he’d always wanted to do in a Trek game — play an Andorian, fly a Borg cube, go podracing…wait, that last one doesn’t sound quite right.

Asking your players what they want to see in the game is always a good idea, and guest players shouldn’t be an exception.

Teach the rules during play

Nothing makes a guest spot sound less fun than saying, “Here, read these four core rulebooks before you play.” I have a great group (including the Stew’s own Don Mappin — one of the designers of the CODA Trek RPG), and we’ll just teach Darren as we go.

Offer a choice between a pregenerated PC and creating a PC

If your guest doesn’t want to create a PC, don’t make them. Instead, ask for some input and give them a kickass pregen to play.

On the flipside, if they’re excited about creating a PC, let them. Restrict choices that would hurt the game, but generally allow whatever sounds like fun. (That’s much easier in a game like Trek, where things tend to “reset” after every session.)

Showcase the game

This is a variation on leading with the cool stuff: If your game is about giant robots, have giant robots in the session, rather than running an adventure set at a cocktail party — even if cocktail party diplomacy is what you had planned, or what best fits the story.

Use a flashback or another technique that allows you to step out of the storyline if you have to, but put whatever makes your game awesome on full display.

What’s missing?

I’m sure there are other things I should be keeping in mind, but I don’t have enough experience at this to know what they are — what’s my list missing?

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.




6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "Running an Adventure with a Guest Star"

#1 Comment By Noumenon On August 30, 2011 @ 6:25 am

Can I ask what Darren asked to see or do in the session, and what you used to showcase the Trek game?

#2 Comment By Razjah On August 30, 2011 @ 6:50 am

Step 0: Are you comfortable running the game with this many people? I love running games with 4-5 players. I loath running a game with 7 players.

Make sure that the group is okay with the additional member. In many rpgs that features tactical combat adding another player could greatly increase the combat time, slowing the pace to a crawl.

#3 Comment By Martin Ralya On August 30, 2011 @ 12:58 pm

@Noumenon – The game is this coming Saturday, so I can’t share the first part (one of my players is also a gnome, and another reads the site) and I haven’t written the second part. ;-)

@Razjah – That’s an excellent addition to the list, Razjah!

#4 Comment By Tsenn On August 30, 2011 @ 6:48 pm

Perhaps ask if the guest star is happy to die or otherwise be taken out of play at the end, or if they’d like their character to potentially remain available for another spot later in the series? And make sure they at least know what dice to roll.

#5 Comment By black campbell On August 30, 2011 @ 9:55 pm

the episodic nature of Trek makes the guest shot idea work well. You can make them a major player in the “episode” and have them go on their way at the end — that visiting scientist with the project that gets out of hand, the admiral come in to crap all over the ship’s operations, the misunderstood native alien dude.

#6 Comment By amazingrando On August 30, 2011 @ 10:16 pm

I once asked a good friend of my group to serve as a guest star. I had him play an established NPC, with a twist. I gave him a wrong detail to the character so he would play it slightly different than what my players usually expected.

As the night’s mystery was revealed, it seemed that the culprit was a shapechanger. This put all eyes on the guest star (even the guest star didn’t know if he was the villain).

As things started to come to a boil interrogating the guest star NPC, two of the PCs were alone. That’s when one of my regular players revealed themselves as the shapeshifter, catching that PC and the Players completely off guard!


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