Seize the GM
Seize the GM
Episode 130: How to Research for your Game
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Main Topic

So you are going to be running a game. All GM’s do this but what is the first thing you do once you have pitched the basic idea to your players? Maybe you even start this before your pitch to the players, but regardless you need to start working on the setting for the game in more detail. But how? Research is how you do it. It might not sound fun but we are going to try to help and make it more fun. 

So the first thing you need to do is look at the game system you are running. Some systems have the lore and such already baked in. Others let you do more of your own work for them. SO where do you go to find out info for the game idea you have. Well if you took inspiration from something look at the story or the show. Look at what inspired that story or show, or maybe what came after it. 

Another way to tease out what you need to begin researching is to start from brainstorming. Just write out your ideas for the game setting – themes, locations, events – completely brain dump them onto paper. Once you have that out of your head, start to connect the dots or group the ideas you have had. This is where you’ll find holes or concentrations! Both of these mean you get to research. This is an important step because otherwise you can get completely blocked and paralyzed – when you have a direction and know what you are trying to figure out, you can write through or at least around the block. The other important part of this stage is to specifically make a note of what you don’t know! If you realize there is a research project in this phase, make it apparent either as a written note, a color indicator, or something else and keep brainstorming. If you try to research everything that may need an answer before you finish making your web of ideas, you will not finish and will be lost in the minutia of questionable provenance. 

This guidance or direction keeps you from ending up on an endless or undirected rabbit hole of research – think about it like the way a Theme can keep the overall story of sessions on track. You use this as a way to make more efficient use of your time – If you see you have a concentration of items that are revolving around a region or concept that is distinctly Spanish or Moorish, you can start historical research into the Almohad Empire and the Iberian peninsula easily. If you want aliens, but don’t have any concepts for them in your braindump, you start by researching aliens through various sources like Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials or the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Aliens section.  

Don’t restrict yourself either – use all the resources at your disposal. Books are great, and check out our GM Library series to see the sorts of books we think a good GM may have, but so are comic books. So are classic television series and pulp serials – this is a story being told so look at narrative inspirations as your research corpus. While wikipedia is not a reliable academic resource, it is a source of citations and external link rabbit holes that can provide even better ways to find inspiration. 

Those GM Library entries are: Episode 7, Episode 25, Episode 53, Episode 98, and Episode 114.

Stat Blocks

Zendead

Sovage

The feel of the jack fades into nothing. Once the network connection is finalized and readied you dive in. Not long after you start the dive in to find the information you need you see it. The imagery is striking, part human and part dragon and it screams toward you. Just when you think it is going to slam into you the being pulls up short. The hot wet breath is so real. And the closeness makes all the details jump out to you. 

“What do you need in this place?” The harsh gravelly voice asks.

“What all beings need from it. Information.” is the reply. There is almost seem like rote responses. 

“But what have you brought me?”

“This” And you hold up the stored data.

“That will do. That will do.”

Then he places a hand on your shoulder and in the blink of an eye you are in a massive library node. While you know it isn’t all the information you know if you need more he will bring it to you. 

“If you need anything while here please just call my name.” he rumbles out.

“Ok, but what is your name?”

“Sovage, at your service.”

How to Use Sovage in Game:

Sovage makes a great library assistant as well as a head Librarian as well as a search engine for online digging up of information. 

Guard-a-Manger

Archivist Zorath’s Monocle

Curiosities make the best gifts, don’t they? What would be more amusing than this strangely designed monocle? A bit of a steampunk ethos about it, whether that be ahead or behind of when you find it, the monocle catches your eye because of the intricate connection points that hold the lens. 

If you manage to research the slightly recessed compartment with the extending scroll, you can find that this monocle belonged to the Archivist Zorath. Zorath may be gone some three hundred years, but her tendency to look askance at dolts and simpletons has entered the common parlance. The slight glint on the metal of the Monocle seems unusual, but it is the product of a time long past. Or yet to come. 

When trying on the Monocle, you are surprised at how well it fits and so easily. It is one that seems to help with your reading almost immediately, even though you’ve never been blessed enough by the fates to need their lenses. It is only when you attach the Monocle’s chain and safely fasten it from falling that you realize the true treasure you’ve found. 

The Monocle identifies everything it can within its scope of vision. An endless stream of knowledge, facts, factoids, and data overwhelm you as you realize how much you don’t know about even the room around you. Zorath’s legend makes more sense now, with this unending ability to research what they found in real time … answers to the questions that could be found in Zorath’s library. The headache follows soon after, the pounding pain you are certain came from the Monocle’s use. 

How many times can you use this boon? What will it reveal to you? Did you really want to know which aliens made those pyramids?  

How to Use Archivist Zorath’s Monocle in Game:

Either in Sci-Fi or Fantasy, the Monocle’s let’s you reveal things to your players. It provides a way to jumpstart any investigation games or manage the exposition in a manageable way. The overwhelming headaches are the counterbalance to the power of knowledge, and should limit the Player’s usage but they best hope that the Mass Bibliotecha Militum never get hold of this tool. 

Lexicon

Examen noun ex·​a·​men | \ ig-ˈzā-mən  \

Definition of examen

1: EXAMINATION

2: a critical study

History and Etymology for examen

Latin, tongue of a balance, examination, from exigere

First Known Use of examen

1502, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Look-up Popularity

Top 11% of words

Closing remarks 

Zendead – Mine is a two parter because there are two that go together. They are the two volumes of the Atlas Obscura. If you want cool things that are great locations or McGuffins for a game these guys are full of them. Volume one and Volume two are a great resource for cool and strange things in your worlds. While they are technically two different editions of the same book you should get them both. They are really cool.

Guard-a-MangerDictionary of Cultural Literacy. Billed as the essential compilation of the cultural knowledge every American should have, the book gives you a jump start at researching or learning cultural trends, ideas, and influences. An incomparable shorthand to understand references in your own creative processes. 

Joules Crash Course  Youtube Channel with information about a zillion different subjects.  

Music is courtesy of Sim on Twitter you can find him at @TheSimulacrae

Find us

 

Author Pages with all of our contact info

Zendead 

Joules 

Guard-a-manger

And Thanks to Merriam-Webster  and Online Etymology Dictionary for our Lexicon segment

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