member, 1813 posts
 "Hugs for the Hugs God!"
 - Warhammer Fluffy-K
Fri 14 May 2021
at 22:35
Any tips for running a freeform game?
I'm thinking about spinning up a superhero freeform game but I've never run a freeform game before. I am used to running very rigid rulesets like D&D etc. but I know that the freeform gang is HUUUGE on here so any tips & tricks for running a game sans rules would be greatly appreciated.
 member, 2268 posts
Fri 14 May 2021
at 22:51
Any tips for running a freeform game?
for me? Free form  still needs   some  rules  and  frame work. I developed  my own system , of sorts, and there  are  defined  ways  the characters  can  act.., load  out thread for   battels so they can't pull things out of thin air.

 Freeform should be  1st and foremost, RP. But if you want it to be a game, you need  some time of rules and  ways to get combat results and such.
 member, 394 posts
Sat 15 May 2021
at 00:33
Any tips for running a freeform game?
Like donsr said, I agree that there actually should be rules despite it being called freeform. My experience is that freeform generally just means that dice aren't going to determine the flow of events, the narrative comes first. So build a few systems that help with that narrative, plus in my experience a few systems help focus the players.

So if you're running a superheroes game. Have some rough stats. They'll only be for helping everyone be on the same page. Two supers clash? You know one has a strength 3 and the other a strength 4, so in the combat you can describe one of them having an edge, the weaker one will have to work around this power discrepancy. Have fun with it and try to break out of the D&D mindset, so instead of Wisdom, maybe you have Heroes Luck, so when you make GM fiat happen, luck is kinder to that person. (You'll notice a lot of this comes back to comparing one person to another.)

Build in a few systems, nothing that uses dice, but help move the game towards the one you envision? Want them to be heroic? Maybe tie gaining material rewards like new super suits or secret lairs to saving mass people. Now they have more than just a narrative motive to stop the sports arena from exploding. Maybe new powers can only be unlocked if they face a potentially life threatening danger, suddenly they have motivation to put their characters in jeopardy.

But mainly it's about the narrative. If you establish that Strong Man is the strongest person in the world, then no one ever beats him when it comes to strength unless some other factors influences the outcome. A consistent narrative will encourage the players to work within the universe you create. (Knowing they can't beat Strong Man in fair arm wrestling, they go and get an Empowered Mech augment to wear and supplement their own strength, or they sap his strength through a weakening ray, or find his kryptonite, etc)
 member, 2269 posts
Sat 15 May 2021
at 02:29
Any tips for running a freeform game?
we still have dice  rolls  for   important events  as  some battles ..i do most  of the dice  rolls off board, but have  players make  dice rolls and PM them   so the  game doesn't  lose flaovor with dice  rules in the IC threads.
 member, 7346 posts
 Gaming for over 40
 years, and counting!
Sat 15 May 2021
at 04:22
Any tips for running a freeform game?
The biggest thing I can think of, beyond what's already been said, is try to weed out 'must win' players.  These are the people who abuse freeform and figure that, since there aren't codified rules, they should be able to do whatever they envision their character doing.  Establish early on that YOU are the referee...if it doesn't fly with you, it doesn't fly.  Keep yourself open to ideas...if someone wants to do something that, on the surface, seems utterly implausible, let them make an argument for how they're going to do it.  Give them the option of doing really incredible stuff if they're willing to work for it.

But the thing that kills freeform games fastest (outside of the same kind of player/GM attrition that kills any other game) is when you have one or more players who've made up their minds that theirs is the biggest, baddest, bestest character in the game and they will always have some counter for anything bad that happens to them, they will always somehow be stronger than every enemy they face, they will somehow be impervious to harm...if you let players get away with that, it sucks the morale out of the rest of the players, because most freeform players are there to tell a good story, not to make sure they 'win' every time, and if someone else is cheapening the overall narrative, it makes those players start to question why they're even bothering to play a plausible character.

You might look at something the the Amber diceless system...players get X number of points, they get to 'bid' for what they want the various attributes to be, so that you wind up with various people who are 'the best' at various abilities.  That way, you don't have to worry about rolling dice (unless you want to, to add some degree of random variability to the game), but you have a clear basis for comparison, and you also encourage players to focus on their characters' may have a strong, smart, very charismatic character square off against a very strong, not so smart, somewhat charismatic character...and in a straight-up contest of strength, you (and probably they) have a clear idea who would win...but the smarter character may find ways to utilize intelligence instead of brawn and actually come out on top (like Batman using kryptonite to beat Superman).  That also lets you throw together NPCs with some clear indicator of how good they are so the PCs have to find a way to deal with them.

But freeform, even moreso than system-based games, in my experience, is reliant on player chemistry.  Finding people who can agree to muting their own ego for the benefit of the entire group's enjoyment of the game will make a freeform game a riveting experience for everyone involved.  Getting two or three people whose egos can't let them 'lose', especially to other PCs, will poison your game and can eventually kill it and leave its corpse on the pile of 'freeform horror stories' that people like to drag out when they complain about freeform games.
 member, 528 posts
Mon 17 May 2021
at 10:42
Any tips for running a freeform game?
Again, same tips as everyone else. On top of the normal social contract/conduct rules, you need something in place and active moderating to keep a cap on one-up-manship.

The main problem with freeform games, slightly more than other games, is it attracts particularly ego-centric players who demand the story engages with them instead of them actively engaging with the story. There's more preening and melodrama.

I drafted up a simple bidding system of "cards" for character attributes with ranked levels and a bank of auction points. So a player could supplement their cards with using up point, but their bank of points will deplete, to discourage them from trying to 'win' everything all the time. I haven't used it yet, but I've sworn off playing in fully free-form games. Diceless is better.

You also want to be very clear about the tone and themes of the game.

And you'll want to vet your players for their play style and interests.

I used to play in a couple of fantasy/period drama/intrigue games and they pretty much always devolve into moral posturing and high school level romance and rivalry. Very disappointing.

With super heroes, your main problem would be fights, and also players labouring too much on their character's tragic pasts or anti-heroism.
 member, 1685 posts
 Ocoee FL
 45 yrs of RPGs
Mon 17 May 2021
at 12:57
Any tips for running a freeform game?
Any tips for running a freeform game?

RUN it.

Don't just set up a sandbox and leave the rest to the players. As Tileira said, if you don't run things, a couple of players will hijack the story and run roughshod over the others with it's-all-about-me and I-always-win attitudes. This doesn't mean railroading anything, just be the firm hand on the tiller and make sure everyone has a chance to shine.
 subscriber, 3094 posts
 Member before Oct 2005
Mon 17 May 2021
at 19:28
Any tips for running a freeform game?
These are many great advice.  I run freeform games only and have for many moons.  The biggest thing is you do need some rules in place.  No Godmoding, Powergaming, metagaming etc.  I tell them to keep all skills and powers on a common level to keep these things down and 'weed out' those that try to take over because in freeform every one is an equal.  There are many forms of freeform so you have to decide what is right for you as the GM and these days coGMs help or moderators.  Have a plan in your head what you want the storylines to be about and do not diversify off them by much but let your players feel and play their characters.  One of my rules is no player with a bad or smart arse attitude allowed because it destroys the game for yourself and your players.

My No 1 piece of advice ... Care about your Players.  Allow for real life things to happen and it is your rules as to absence with no reason or contact either by PM, Rmail or even Discord.  You will find as in any game there are those that come in play then disappear leaving other players hanging that were interacting with that character.  Remember that the Character remains with the game and you can kill them off, get another player to pick up the abandoned character or work out a fade out of that character and you may have to play the character yourself to work around the loss.  The game is YOURs to run YOUR way and there are many many ways to run Freeform that has to be up to your final decision on what you want.

I do use a simple d20 dice roll in contests or battles when needed but mainly I let the players work out who is going to get the worst of a battle and let it be played out.  I have a rule that NO PLAYERs character can be killed off unless that player agrees to it.

Best of Luck
 member, 121 posts
Wed 19 May 2021
at 02:20
Any tips for running a freeform game?
I have and am running a board for freeform supers games.  Here's my opinions and observations, for what they are worth.

I disagree that freeform attracts a certain kind of player. I've had munchkns and thespians in my freeforms.  But I've also had them in my system oriented games.  The only type I have noticed that doesn't ever seem to RTJ are the rules lawyers.  Or perhaps they do apply but chuck their expectations once they see it's freeform.  I don't know.

I do agree wholeheartedly that you need to set expectations from the get go.  This is more important than in system oriented games.  In a system game (D&D, Paranoia, etc.) the system sets up the expectation.  You don't get that in a freeform game.  Just saying it's a supers game isn't enough. Is it X-Men or is it Watchmen?  Two very different styles of gaming.  Is it Spider Man or is it Superman?  Again, very different.  You need to make it clear from the get go where you expect the game to fall.  Four color.  Iron Age.  Slice of life.  What have you.

As far as power levels, if you're running a group, yeah they probably need to be consistent.   But if it's small group or solo, let 'em play Superman or Silver Surfer.  Again, make sure you've communicated things up front.

I stopped running large group super freeforms.  They don't work in my opinion.  Honestly, I don't think large groups of any kind work on PbP.  But freeform can especially get messy the more players there are, mostly for the reasons already stated in earlier posts.  I run solo sandboxes.  At most I would run a freeform game with three people in it.

Freeform lends itself well to making things up on the fly or improving an adventure.  If you don't feel comfortable riffing an adventure on the fly, you may want to rethink running freeform.  Might just be me, but I have found it much more difficult to keep a story on a preset flight plan in freeform.  Players tend to get a lot more creative when they don't have to worry about initiative or saving throws.  Expect all your plans to go south even faster than they would in a system game.

I use different methods to handle combat in my games.  It varies depending on the player.  But approaches I have tried:

     -Pure Narration.  Either I or the player will narrate what happens.

          Pros:  With the right player, this can work fantastically.  You'll know
                 you have a diamond when the player narrates their own character
                 stumbling or taking a hit.

          Cons:  The operative part of the Pro was "with the right player".  If the
                 player seems to be a munchkin, letting them go nuts is not
                 advisable.  They of course will destroy everyone with one mighty
                 blow.  All the time. Every time.  You get bored.  They get bored.

     -Single die roll.  Have the player roll a die.  The higher the number, the
      better the result.

          Pros:  Quick and easy.

          Cons:  Completely random.  Player's input into test results is limited.

     -Moving Target in a Range.  Set a scale, say 1 to 10. Within that scale, pick the
      target number you think reflects the difficulty.  Have the player pick a number,
      either at random or by rolling a die.  Then let the player modify that result
      within a small range.  The optimal result is that they tie the target number.
      The father away they are from the target number, either over or under, the less
      successful they are.

      Ex.  Bouncing Betty is trying to bounce off a wall and hit Underwear Man from behind.
      Bouncing Betty bounces.  It's in the name.  Underwear Man is busy snickering at a bus
      full of burning orphans.  On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being hardest, you set the target
      at 4.  Feels right to you at the time.  You tell Betty she has to roll a d10 and can
      adjust the number by 2, either upwards or downwards.  She rolls a 7.  She thinks
      it will be easy and adjust down by 2.  Final result 5.  Pretty close but not perfect
      You narrate the results.

          Pros:  Crunchy enough to satisfy most players.  Not something you have to
                 think a lot about ahead of time/easy to work on the fly.  Player
                 gets some input through the adjustment of their die result.

          Cons:  Can get confusing at times.  Works best when only used occasionally.
                 Otherwise, why not just use a system?

On a side note, not all my super games necessarily involve combat.  It can be done and with the right player can work beautifully.  But again..."with the right player".

Anyway.  That's probably more than you wanted to hear.  Sorry for the long post.  Best of luck with the game.