For my birthday last year, I got given a copy of the Tao of Bill Murray by Gavin Edwards. It’s a great book filled with a lot of stories and short anecdotes about people meeting Bill Murray, compiled from lots of different sources, and basically spanning most of his career. It’s a really great read.
The book is broken down into to main sections. The first is a list of ten guiding principles of the Tao of Bill Murray, and the second section is a synopsis of Bill’s film work in chronological order, more focussed on the Bill stories that occurred during filming.
It occurred to me that the ten principles of the Tao (or the Ten Bill Commandments as I like to think of them) offer some great advice to people playing or running games, so I’m going to boil down the principles outlined in there and how I’d apply them to the hobby.
The First Principle: Objects are opportunities
I think this is a pretty easy one to come up with in game terms. Flesh out your stories and games with red herrings, with plot hooks tied to objects, and with cool fun stuff in general. Have a fun magic item hidden in a treasure hoard, even if it’s nothing too special. Now have a contact see the item and recognise it. Add more story. Sideplot sideplot sideplot.
Even if the object only lasts a couple of sessions, if that thing can get brought up by someone telling a cool roleplay story, it’s worth it. “This one time, the party found a magic hat that kept the rain off like an invisible umbrella. Then I’m wearing it in town one day and a passing wizard says…” etc etc.
The Second Principle: Surprise is golden. Randomness is lobster
OK, so maybe this could be tied into that odd item I mentioned just now, or maybe it has the potential to derail a game session, but random fun adds plenty to game sessions.
If we’re not talking about the Half-Orc cleric of the god of love (“Why you run from Grod? Grod just want give you big hug!”), maybe we’re talking about the cursed 1d2 damage dagger that bonds to a host and is now forever the first weapon drawn without fail (with potential for abuse – door stop to slow a chasing mob down at every door, can’t be disarmed, ‘did I mention I have infinite throwing knives now?’).
(And yes, those are both stories from games played at my old gaming society at university.)
The Third Principle: Invite yourself to the party
Get involved! Go to the market and engage with NPCs to make a scene more of an event than ‘I go buy Full Plate in the market’.
Tell the rest of the party how you got the gnarly scar on your face, don’t be afraid to show off that cool combo of combat abilities you worked out, don’t always let the ‘face’ do all the talking (but maybe let them do most of it?).
The Fourth Principle: Make sure everyone else is invited to the party
Join the new player on their errands. Help them out. Join the wizard scouring the marketplace even if your characters don’t get on. Especially if they don’t get on.
If you’re not progressing the main story or a sideplot, help someone else out with their own.
Make the game fun for everyone, as much as possible, as often as possible. Play in every scene that makes sense, but don’t hog the spotlight. Offer pointers after sessions about when you liked how others were playing, and don’t just criticise with ‘I wouldn’t have done that’. If you must, suggest alternatives the player might not have thought about in the moment, that would incorporate well with their play style in the future.
The Fifth Principle: Music makes the people come together
OK, this might be the hardest one to pull off but bear with me.
If you’re playing in a cool Legend of the Five Rings game but feel something is lacking, find some cool music on Youtube or Spotify and suggest it get played in the background whilst you play. If we’re being less literal, maybe organise getting together for sushi before the game, or after, or instead of pizza during play, or at another time altogether. Jump into the culture to make your play experience deeper.
The Sixth Principle: Drop coin on the world
This is a hobby that can be expensive – if you want to keep up to date with all the different books and games and settings anyway.
Thing is, if you really enjoy a particular game, spend your money on it. Don’t just grab the free torrent online.
And don’t forget to do you research. If you play a big brand game and like some of the design, maybe look around at what the designers have done since, or before. If you’re really enjoying your FATE game but want something different, scour the internet for different flavours and rules tweaks, see what else is out there.
The Seventh Principle: Be persistent, be persistent, be persistent
Have goals. Follow them.
Know your character backstory, and know when a bad decision is what will drive the game forward better than a good one. Or when a painful decision will help out. Or when it will have consequences.
Your character might be driven by vengeance until he finds out his enemy is really his dad, and then that the party’s cleric is actually his twin sister that he never knew existed, which is totally going to make that kiss they shared a while back awkward, right?
(Ba-dum, tish, screenwipe.)
The Eighth Principle: Know your pleasures and their parameters
Know when to call it quits on a dud of a game. We’ve all played in them, but you know when you aren’t gelling with the rest of the group or you’re having issues making the pre-written module fun for everyone. So when you know, work it out.
Alternatively, know when you’ve had too much of a good thing. An eight-hour marathon megadungeon is a great idea, but only when you know you can handle it. If you’re all set up and ready to go, but then you have a hard week or one of your players does, you know when that eight-hour session is a good or a bad idea.
The Ninth Principle: Your spirit will follow your body
The above being said, if you think you might benefit from an epic session when you’ve had a hard week, go for it. If you’re physically able but maybe mentally drained, as the saying goes, “a change is as good as a rest”. And what’s more different to a hard day in the office than running around a dungeon throwing fireballs at Beholders?
The book made a point of Bill acting way before he thought about what he was doing, so by all means, act before you think top hard about a decision. If you’re invested in a character, maybe don’t leap to your death, but at least you can jump into these decisions headlong easier.
The Tenth Principle: While the earth spins, make yourself useful
Know when to show up to play, know who’s bringing snacks, know who can do what in-game and out to make the whole thing more fun.
Help prevent GM burnout. If you can help stop it happening, do. If you can offer to take over to prevent it or to switch up and run a game in place to help avoid the onset, do. Be the person that volunteers to help do these things, or know that if its not your strength to point it out to the group to find an alternative.
Be the best gamer you can be.