Musing

My 7 Tips for Playing Well

I talk a lot about how to GM – mainly because GMing is the vast majority of what I do. But recently, I’ve been given the chance to play on the other side of the screen a bit, and it’s refreshed my perspective of how to be a good player.

GMs see good players every session we run (if we’re lucky – in which regard I am very) and as such we have a good view to give to the other side. This is the view as I see it.

Tip #1 – Be a Fan

Be a fan of your game, and your fellow players.

Just like when you watch your favourite TV show, you should be routing for the other characters. You should be excited when they win, and heart broken when they lose. You should be cheering them on, every step of the way. Now, just like in any TV show you watch, you may not agree with everything a beloved character does, you should always at least want to see what happens next.

And just like any fandom, you should feel the urge to tell the other players that you’re a fan of their characters. Tell them your favourite things they’ve done. Share the experience with them.

If you love their characters, they’ll likely love yours as well.

Tip #2 – Develop a Voice

Develop a voice for your character – not just how they sound, but how they respond.

Often people advise players to ask themselves “What would my character do?” I’m suggesting you ask yourself “How would my character do that?”

If you’re so inclined, come up with an accent to play as your character. Make sure you can keep it up, though! Otherwise, just think about how your character acts. Are they sheepish? Are they shy? Are they assertive? Are they full of jokes, or deadly serious?

And don’t just make this static. Always be open to fill in the edges. Maybe they’re normally pranksters, but take on a cold tone when dealing with blasphemers. Maybe they’re usually a hard case, but can crack a smile now and again with everyone else.

Whatever it is, this tip is about developing a voice, not having a voice already developed… The game is about who your characters are, and who they become. We should see them change.

Tip #3 – Don’t Begin with a Finished Backstory

I know how fun it is to write massive backstories for characters. Trust me. I’ve been there! But I don’t think it’s wise, or as fun, to start a campaign with a fully fleshed out backstory.

Begin your campaigns with a clear idea of your character, but leave the details up to development (as the above tip). Allow things to grow organically. Maybe you can work some of the events of the campaign into your backstory, to allow for more adventuring hooks!

By not beginning with a finished backstory, you allow your character to grow a little more naturally into the world. You might go to a tavern and decide that you’ve been there before. Hell, it might be where you had your first drink – and the kindly woman behind the bar? She’s your God Mother…

Of course, ask your GM about these sorts of things before you start out – but 9 times out of 10 I’d imagine they’d be thrilled for the added input. And any GMs out there that aren’t – well, you better have a damn good reason why not, otherwise we need to have a talk, you and I.

Also, feel free to improve on the spot. Do you know that your character’s family died in a fire? Are you looking at a burning building right now? Maybe this is giving you flash backs. Mention this to the GM, and everyone around the table can play it out a little…

Tip #4 – Build Connections

Look for opportunities to build connections – everywhere. Build connections between your character and the world, but most importantly your character and the other characters.

This tip feeds off the last one, but always look out for the chance to hook your character onto something another character does. Has a party member just buried an old companion? Why not comfort them and trade stories about your lost friends. Maybe you’ll find out you both knew the same person. Maybe you’re both carrying a missing piece of a puzzle.

Again, let your GM know what you’re doing. They should be willing to go along with these sorts of things. Which brings me to…

Tip #5 – Ask Leading Questions

Whenever you’ve got a good idea, ask your GM leading questions – but for the love of everyone around the table, please show your hand. Nothing is worse than the players trying to pull a fast one on the GM. The GM has enough to worry about – understanding the fictional position of the game world shouldn’t be one of them.

What this tip means is, if you have a cool idea, ask the GM if it’s possible, or how it could be done. Ask them if you can use the powdered sugar from the case of donuts to dust for finger prints. Ask them if Gnomes prefer gifts of gold or gems. Ask them what you know of Giant heroic myths.

By asking the GM these leading questions, you’re showing them what you find interesting and important. You’re giving the GM an indication that in this scene, at this moment, you want to express your agency. A good GM will see what is happening, and let you run with it.

Further, most GMs will have to stop and think. Hell, what DO Gnomes prefer? Sometimes they’ll make something up, and create a twist in your story. Other times, they might just throw the question back on you. What do you think? This is them telling you run with that agency!

Tip #6 – Relinquish the Spotlight

Just as it’s the GMs job to grant spotlight moments, so too is it the players’. If you notice someone around the table isn’t as engaged, then engage them in the story! Call on their character to aid you, or to ask them for their expertise. Allow them to show off their own character traits.

This comes back to building connections. You should always be looking for ways to make the other characters relevant to your character – and to give them time to shine when you do. This will make other players enjoy playing with you, and will also make your GM very happy. It can be hard to manage everyone at the table, so if the other players have their back, the GM’s job is much easier.

For example, say you’re playing a fighter with a military history. You notice some strange terrain features in a field. You know they look a little bit like fortifications, but you’re not sure. You could maybe ask your ranger friend if they’re naturally occurring. Or you could ask your rogue friend to scout them out. Once you find out they’re actually burial cairns, you could ask your cleric companion to which culture and religion they belong.

Say you’re a scholar, and you need some protection moving through a dungeon. Why not directly ask the fighter to take the lead? Tell them why they’re most suited to this task, and encourage the player to express themselves in how they bravely journey on first.

Try even making suggestions about possible links in the campaign. If you know your paladin friend is searching for an ancient mystical shield, and you see a shield on the wall of a far off tomb, shout out to them that maybe it’s the one! Then get out of the way, and let that player take over the spotlight for a few moments. They’ll be happy that you did.

Tip #7 – Take a Turn GMing

Every player should GM at least once. The very act of trying out the other side of the screen gives you so much perspective and appreciation for exactly what the GM does that it’s invaluable. You’ll be an infinitely better player for this one act than any other, because you’ll understand what the GM is doing, and be able to help them in little ways like wrangling the other players, or keeping track of HP, or whatever.

Tell your GM what you’re doing and why, and I guarantee they’ll help you in whatever way they can. GMs love making new GMs, and having a chance to sit back and play once in a while.

Play More Games!

And a final bonus thought for you… Play more games. All sorts of games. Play everything you can. You’ll learn lots (even if it’s just which games you like, and which you don’t).


Have fun out there!

What I Learned About Characters from Watching Marco Polo

My favourite thing about roleplaying is growing. I love finding something I'm not, building a character about it, and testing that personality out. It helps me in many ways: it broadens my repertoire for NPCs, it increases my real-world empathy for different view points, and it allows me to explore myself better. Am I actually the way I think I am? Am I different? What would I do, were I in a different situation? Were I a different person?

I believe every character a person makes is a little bit of them. Maybe just a tiny detail - but in some way, from heroes all the way through to villains - our characters reflect who we are.

I recently started watching Season 2 of Marco Polo, and the first two episodes begin with a pretty big bang. This bang inspired me to write an article. This article will have spoilers of a sort, but I'll keep the details out of it. The keen observer will be able to figure out what's happening, so if you care about that sort of thing, turn away now.

I'm also going to make random conjecture, and suggest possible endings to the show without having seen the end of the Season, so take everything I say about the show's events with a grain of salt.

I'll also be throwing around the term good a hell of a lot. By good, I don't mean the opposite of evil. I mean "well-rounded", "interesting", "engaging", "dramatic", "exciting"... Basically, I mean a character that you'd want to read about. You may hate who they are, but not how they're told, or the story they force into existence. By good, I am assuming that you want your roleplaying characters to exemplify the traits I mentioned above. If you don't, ignore everything I'm about to say...

Good Characters Have Motivations

Every good character I know has something they want. More to, they have a reason why they want that thing. This goal and reason together forms their motivation. A motivation is more than just a base want. It is everything that surrounds the want that makes the want interesting.

Let's look at two motivations from Marco Polo:

Kublai Khan wants to be a great ruler, but mainly he wants to be a great ruler so that he's considered better than Ghengis Khan, the greatest Mongolian ruler ever. Many people want to be the head-honcho in the series, but it is because of Kublai's obsession that he is so compelling.

Kaidu wants to be Khan to prove that the Mongol way is right. He believes that Ghengis Khan's original message of expansion has been deformed and broken by Kublai's reaching, and wants to, in his eyes, redeem the Mongols. He hates the weakness that he perceives comes from trying to be Emperor of all Mongolia and China.

Here we can see two very similar goals, yet vastly different motivations. Already, the keen GM should be thinking of future plots where these two characters could come to blows...

Good Characters Have Limits

Now, character motivations aren't anything new - we've had roleplaying games that have mechanised motivations for years now, and to very good effect. They work well, but I believe for true dramatic gaming, they need to be pushed. Motivations need to be tested, otherwise the game is just a script.

Does Kaidu kill Kublai to take the throne?

Without limits, of coarse he does. If he has the option, the means, or the chance, he must kill him. It would fulfill his motivation, and he'd win.

However, what makes the character's so compelling - and what can make your characters so compelling - is the limits that are placed on them, by themselves. The characters know what they can and cannot do to achieve their goals.

Kublai Khan has no qualms with killing Kaidu for threatening his throne... He'd even enjoy it, and has been hoping to cross blades with him for some time. However, he's limited by the law. He knows he can't turn down a challenge given within the law, so must accept to undergo an election of sorts. This chafes at him, because even though he has legitemacy, he lacks massively in diplomacy. Kublai, with the greater army, and the greater claim to the throne, fears for his position because his weaknesses can be exploited. This will lead him to compromises that he might not be happy about...

Kaidu has diplomacy. He also has the backing of the law (see above). He knows that Kublai's armies are meaningless if he fights him in an election. But that means he has to sway lots of other chieftains, many of whom are loyal to Kublai. This brings together a great scene, in Season 2 Episode 2. I won't spoil it, but from it we learn that Kaidu has a second manifestation of his core motivation - he believes acting like Ghengis is more important than being Khan. Whether this works out for him or not, is yet to be seen...

From these limits, we get tension. Characters must play to certain rules which dictate their actions and their methods of attaining their goals and achieving their motivations. The best limits are those that make their motivations harder to attain, which leads us to...

Good Characters Make Choices

The moment a character has to make the choice between their motivation and their limits. Does the character accept that their limits are there for a reason, or do they break past them and trust that the ends justify the means?

Kaidu, in the example above, chooses to stick to his limits. He'll figure out another way to achieve his motivation, even if he makes it harder for himself along the way. He's a man of honour or principals, regardless of the morality or righteousness of his motivation. He plays by the rules he's set himself. In old-school terms, he'd be Lawful.

Kublai, on the other hand, faced with several threats to his throne, chooses to dance around his limits. At first, he claims a certain act is unthinkable. Then, he knows he must do it. Then he is convinced against it... Just as we're certain he's turned the other cheek he... Well, I won't spoil this one either. However, the final scene of Season 2 Episode 2 is so perfectly on-point for interesting choices that I urge you to watch that episode, even if you don't care about the rest of the show.

The point is, Kublai isn't certain that his limits are set in stone. He's willing to listen to council, and to change and bend as a person to achieve his goals. Therefore, the drama becomes about what he will decide to do. What choices will he decide to make? He's what we'd call Chaotic.

The main point I'm trying to make, for GMs, is that the best moments of the show - and the best moments for your game if you care about personal and characterful drama - are when you give a player the chance to achieve their character's goals... But then you test their limits. Do they take the leap and risk who they are to become what they want? Or do they sacrifice their dreams to hold firm to their morals and inner voice?

THAT is what I've learned from watching Marco Polo...

What I Learned About Political Intrigue from Watching House of Cards

Political intrigue is one of my favourite genres. From the outside, it might look reserved and placid, but when you get into it, and get to know the characters, you realise just how tense, how brutal, and how damaging the smallest actions can be.

I recently began watching House of Cards for the first time, and by doing so my mind started ticking with ideas for roleplaying games (incidentally, this is my benchmark for whether a TV show is good, so add my stamp of approval to HoC). My main brainwaves came as a revelation on how 'attacking' can work in political intrigue, so below I've listed out a few examples of what I noticed.

Note: This post has some super-minor spoilers from Season 1, though I've left character names out of it and am replacing them with placeholders (let's say, Sam and Jean). I'm also obscuring the sequence of events and the specifics, so you should be fine if you haven't seen the show yet. Also note, I'm using Fate Core Skills for the skill/characteristic examples. Luckily, Fate is so broad it should be very easy to translate them into appropriate examples for your chosen system. However, if you are playing Fate, you could just as easily use all these instances to Create an Advantage.


Example 1

Sam sits down across from Jean in her house. Jean is framed by a beautiful and expensive couch, with walls surrounding them featuring their accomplishments.

Here, Jean could 'attack' Sam using Resources - her wealth, reach and prestige - to make Sam feel invalidated or out of his league. Sam would resist with Will to see if he is swayed by these trappings.

Example 2

Jean offers Sam a drink of very fine and aged Whiskey - an incredibly potent and sophisticated variety.

Here, Jean could be setting a passive obstacle for Sam to overcome, with Sam needing to test his Physique to not cough and splutter when he takes a sip. If he does, he'll show his unsophisticated palette! (Heaven forbid he do so!)

Example 3

After taking the sip, Sam wants to unhinge Jean by mentioning something they're ashamed of in their - or their parents' - past.

Here, Sam 'attacks' with Lore, attempting to remember dirt he learned long ago, or perhaps to flashback to some research he did before the meeting (in a manner similar to Blades in the Dark's fine Flashbacks). Jean resists with Will to prevent herself from being put out by this remark.

Example 4

Jean's partner walks into the room, and Sam decides to use this chance to cut the meeting short. He stands - and being a rather handsome and 'well made' individual - makes a subtle yet provocative twist of his waist to show his posterior to Jean.

This, believe it or not, is an attack! Sam attacks with Provoke, and Jean resists with either Will - to resist the temptation to sneak a glance - or Stealth - to sneak a glance without being noticed. Her choice. Either way, if she fails, then her partner will notice and become jealous - a vulnerable position to be in!

Conclusion

As you can see, in political intrigue games, the concept of an attack becomes a lot more free form - essentially, anything that gets your opponent, or any one for that matter, to start doing something differently counts.

I hope this list has been valuable and useful for GMs and players alike! If you have any more examples you'd like to share, especially from other media sources, please let me know in the comments section below.

What I Learned About RPGs from MCing a Wedding

Yesterday, Saturday December 6th, 2014, my best friends got married. They were both beautiful, and the wedding went off without a hitch... Which was surprising, considering I was both Best Man and Master of Ceremonies, so a lot of the screw-ups (which thankfully didn't occur) would have been on me!

The whole experience got me to thinking: planning and running a wedding is a lot like running an RPG as the GM. In fact, the two are so similar, that I wouldn't be surprised if that was why I was chosen for the role!

So here are a few tips for both MCing a wedding and for running a successful RPG session.
I swear to you I did better than this guy...
Tip #1 - Over-Plan, Under-Plot
When planning for the special day, I looked over several revisions of run sheets, spoke to everyone who may-or-may-not speak, collected together a series of items for the Groom in case of emergency, and ran through every situation in my head before it could surprise me. I also wrote a giant stack of palm cards with every step of the day marked out clearly.

Now, do you think the day went according to the plan? No way. Herding wedding guests is like trying to direct players - except you have about 10x as many, or perhaps even more! And yet, all this planning wasn't wasted.

Because I knew how the day was supposed to go and why back-to-front, I knew what I needed to change on the fly to get it back on track, or just as good. It also allowed me to be comfortable enough with the material that I could improvise when I needed to (which I did need to with several points).

For RPGs, I would recommend this sort of over planning, yet under plotting. Know who your characters are and what they want deeply (and why!), and then figure out how they're going to get their goals completed. Once you know this through and through, throwing a few players into the mix wont hurt so much. Your players will mess everything up, but your finely crafted NPCs will be able to reel with the punches and deliver some great dynamic game play!

Tip #2 - Get to know your guests and supporting cast
I spoke to everyone (or near everyone) on the Bridal Party, close family of the Bridal Party, and Church/Reception Staff before their roles were exposed to everyone else. I knew where their weaknesses were (Would they dance? Would they give a speech? Would they prefer to mingle early, or take a break from photos, etc?) 

This enabled me to know who I could rely on for what tasks, and to delegate out pieces of the evening. If I needed something for the Bride or Groom, I knew who to ask. If I needed to shuffle around some of the speeches, I knew who to talk to. If I needed to get the music changed, I had that covered.

Obviously I couldn't do everything at the Reception myself, and nor should I. The parents of the Bridal Party would want to help out on the newlyweds wedding, and I was more than happy to have their help! This delegation allowed me to focus more on the Bride and Groom, and also allowed the rest of the Bridal Party to feel more included, and to actively shape the happy night their children will remember for the rest of their lives, and that is truly special.

For RPGs, this advice boils down to: know your players, and know what they're good at. Do you have a player who is great at maths? Have them keep tabs of HP. Do you have a player who loves music and has a great ear? Have them run your playlists. Do you have a player who can bake? Have them bring some delicious treats for the rest of the players!

Keeping your players involved beyond just being characters enables them to build culture with the RPG group, beyond just in-game memories. You'll have your players talking about not just the two-headed Troll they slew, but also the sweet music going on in the background, and the delicious biscuits to go along side it! This sort of culture is, in my opinion, deeply important to RPG groups.

Hell, it's the reason the Bride and Groom are my best friends... I became close to them through my first campaign in Melbourne!

Tip #3 - It's ALL about the Bride and Groom
The single greatest piece of advice I received when planning for last night was that nothing matters beyond the Bride and Groom having a great time. Nothing. If they are happy, the wedding is going well, and in return they are happy, ad infinitum.

I made sure to keep my Bride and Groom stocked with drinks, food and anything else they could possibly need. I made them know that if they needed anything I hadn't offered, they could merely ask and I'd get it. (I also discovered a form of Wedding Sorcery - honestly, if you're ever on a Bridal Party, try going to the Reception Staff and asking for something for the Bride or Groom. They will drop what they're doing and run for it. I may have gone power-crazy.)

For your game, know that so long as they players are enjoying themselves, the game is going well. So what if you'd planned for a Dragon fight at this point - if they're having fun discussing court politics with the aging King, then damn well let them! However, if they're starting to nod off, have the Dragon come to them! Bring them the fun - don't make them find it.

Tip #4 - Be Sincere, Be Happy, Laugh When You Fall, and Help Up Everyone Else
My last tip is simple - don't take yourself or anyone else to seriously... At the Reception, I didn't write in jokes. I was nervous, and I just said what came to mind. I opened the night by standing like a dick in front of everyone chatting away. I thought, How will I get their attention? I picked up my fork and tapped it against the glass in front of me like I'd seen in the movies, and like I'd always wanted to do. Everyone shut up and looked and me, and I forgot what to say, so I said what came naturally to mind...

"I've always wanted to do that."

People laughed, I laughed, and I remembered everything I was supposed to do. I made myself a momentary prat, and then captured the audiences attention and empathy. We were all there to have a good time. They weren't there to listen to my verbosity - they wanted to see and toast and love the newlyweds.

Plus, the line became a running joke for the evening, bringing everything together. Whenever I needed attention, everyone looked over and laughed again, and it kept the tension broken. We could get on with the good stuff. During my speech, I spoke sincerely. I didn't shove in Buck's Night Humour as one cousin congratulated me on afterwards, but spoke from the heart, and matched how I felt. I hope I did them well.

And so my last time is this: Don't run your game like a TV Comedy Panel, trying to force entertainment on your players. They want to have fun along with you, not be entertained by you. They want to build their own fun out of a game session, and build it co-operatively. So let them. It will make your job easier, and make the sessions better! Just run a game as you'd tell a good story to a friend down at the pub. Your players will laugh in the right bits because you will. Your players will be tense in the right bits because you'll feel it. And they will laugh when you fall, and you'll laugh when they fall, but just as you should help them back up, so to will they.

Final Words
I love my RPG group. I really do. We are all the best of friends, and I feel comfortable around them in and out of game with anything. I've seen two of them fall in love, and two others get married now.

The game is nothing compared to the culture, and that's what I want to protect. We're an RPG Family. Thanks, M.O.R.T.E.




Co-GMing & One-Off GMs

First of all, let me say that it is nice to get back to posting. I've had a crazy few weeks what with starting a new job (having money is really nice) and Impossible Worlds being registered and the website built (more on this later). I've had plenty to talk about, and have half-written more than a few posts, but I haven't been able to take the time to sit down and get anything major out. So I changed that.

Co-GMing & One-Off GMs

Let me just preface this post by saying that, whilst this is an article about advice for GMs and RPG groups, it is also (like so many of my posts) an exploration into my own campaigns, explaining how I came to the advice I am giving as well as how I am employing it.

Having said that now, let me describe to you a little system I have cooked up for my up coming campaign Marienburg: Sold Down the River (for those of you who have been following me for a while, my RPG group, M.O.R.T.E. finally cemented down which campaign we will be playing). The system is based on the results of a difficult issue I was having a little while back wherein I had so many players that normal games were becoming impossible to run whilst maintaining the fun. It is also based on my love of getting new people to GM.

Put simply, during my campaign I will be having 2 fellow players act as Co-GMs to a small degree - they will be informed of the main NPCs, places and plots of a given session, and they will be tasked with running those facets as a normal GM should the party split up. This information will be shared week to week, based on what the party is doing, so it will be given in small, easily digestible chunks.

However, I have added some craziness to this original idea, and that craziness comes in 2 parts.

Crazy Part-A: Rotating Co-GMs

I have decided that the role of Co-GM will not be static in my campaign, and that players will have the option, week-to-week, of electing to be a Co-GM. At first I will choose my 2 Co-GMs as normal, and for the first session (probably first few) they will stay in the role. Then, I will open the job up to others.

It will work on a first-to-volunteer gets the job, sort of deal, with the first player to put their hand up getting to run it. However, there will be a few extra rules in place.
  1. One of the two Co-GMs assisting me has to have done the job before.
  2. A new Co-GM always takes precedent over one who has already Co-GMed (so even if they volunteer after, if they have never done the job before, they will bump to the front of the queue).
  3. A Co-GM Combo can be vetoed by me at any time (this is just to prevent two Combat-specialist Co-GMs from running together when I might need a Social-specialist Co-GM for a session).
Co-GMing will grant the player extra XP for helping me out, as well, so there is some incentive beyond just the fun to do it once in a while.

It is my hope with this system that A) the starting Co-GMs get a chance to be normal players every now and again, and that B) a player who would otherwise be terrified of committing completely to Co-GM would feel free to jump into the shoes at least once so they can test the waters. If they don't like it, fine, it is only for one night. But if they like it? Well, they can go onto Crazy Part-B!

Crazy Part-B: One-Off GMing

In addition to the rotating Co-GMs, I have decided to add in interlude games. Once every X weeks (I am yet to decide the exact amount, but it might be anything from 4 - 8) I will open the floor to a player who wants to run their own adventure. For this adventure alone, their character would be on the side-lines (not even featuring) and they would command the same authority as I would otherwise as a full GM.

Like all Sold Down the River adventures, their adventure would be planned as mission that could be completed in 1 session, and they would be accompanied by Co-GMs (one of which will always be myself).

I would sit as a Co-GM only to guide the proper GM - making sure that nothing happens which crosses any continuity in an irreparable way, and making sure that nothing gets out of hand for the GM. I would only actually take the reins on the request of the GM, and would for the most part just spectate and "play".

That being said, I (like any Co-GM) will be fully briefed on the adventure before hand, and will have a cheat sheet on the NPCs, places and plots taking place.

Much like the rotating Co-GMs, there are a few extra rules:
  1. One-Off GMs are "first-to-volunteer gets the job", with players who have never GMed in the campaign taking precedent.
  2. To be a One-Off GM a player must have already been a Co-GM.
  3. The One-Off GMs other Co-GM must have also already been a Co-GM.
  4. The potential One-Off GM must first pitch the adventure idea to me before being sworn in as a One-Off GM (this is merely to make sure the adventure idea fits the tone of the campaign / makes sense with the rest of the campaign / doesn't cross any boundaries with any of the players).
It is my hope with this system that I will get a chance to introduce every one of my players to GMing in some way. This system would work great for new GMs as it is an established campaign with established NPCs, places, plots, rules, and everything, meaning that all the new GM has to bring to the table is a willingness to try and a cool idea. It will also means I will have less to prep some weeks!

Have you ever had a Co-GM in one of your campaigns? Have you ever held a similar role for your GM? Have you ever wanted to GM but felt intimidated with the prospects of a new game with new rules standing in the way? Let me know what you think in the comments section!

Handling Large Parties - Part 3 - The Solutions

For my last two posts I have been discussion the issues involved with having a large player base. In Part 1, I discussed the maths behind having more players, and pointed out how exponentially time slips away when you have more players sticking around the table. In Part 2, I discussed the issues involved with having multiple conflicting player types at the table, and how those issues are exacerbated when large groups of players are involved.

For the final post in the series, Part 3, I will be discussing the four solutions that I eventually decided upon being feasible, and I will go into the Pros and Cons of each, and finally will reveal the solution that me and my players came to.

This, in fact, brings me to my first and biggest point.

Talk to Your Players

Whilst writing this series, and struggling with the issues, I decided that I would arrange a general meeting of my entire RPG group, spanning several campaigns. Most of the players had all played together in at least one of my campaigns, so everyone, bar the new blood, knew each other from an in-game perspective, as well as an out-of-game perspective.
It was a Round Table Discussion, but unlike you've ever seen before...
At this meeting, which I tried to make as informal, yet organised as possible, I expressed each of the following ideas/solutions, and then the group took it in turns to talk about each solution and why they liked/disliked each one. We then voted, myself included, and we came to a mutually agreeable solution. Not everyone was insanely happy with the solution we did come to, but at least everyone understood it, or was given the chance to understand it.

Anyway, onto the solutions.

The Solutions Themselves

Solution #1: The GMPC

Normally mention of a GMPC is cause for pitchforks to be grabbed and a lynch mob to be rallied - but this system is slightly different, and was actually originally given to me as a comment for [[Part 1]] of this series by another roleplayer in the community. The idea is that the GM informs one or more players in the campaign about several campaign secrets, and fills them in on lots of information, enough so that they can essentially run specific scenes throughout a session (or more, if needs be).
GMPC: In the party, yet knowing what's coming next...
Basically, they are a mini-GM, but they also have a character in the game that takes a back seat, but is there to guide the players. I like to think of this role as the First Mate to the GM as Captain of a ship. The GMPC acts as an intermediary between GM and players, and has the ability to run some of the players through a situation with little to no supervision form the GM.

This system allows the group to divide up during play (as groups of any size invariably and should do) and run a combat encounter, or a social encounter, whilst the GM is handling the main action. That way, those players involved in the side action aren't sat there bored out of their brains whilst the main action unfolds, and the GM doesn't have to break the entire session into 'turns'.

This system, though, does require an incredibly amount of communication and trust between GM and GMPC/s. The GMPC/s have to be subservient to the GM, otherwise continuity and cohesion issues will arise, and will result in a break down of the game. Furthermore, the GMPC/s have to be given enough authority and freedom that they themselves aren't hard done by (and they still have fun) and also so that those players who are running under them don't feel like they're getting a 'lesser' form of the game.

Solution #2: Run Multiple Games

Now, this one is kind of straight forward, and will be instantly dismissed by most groups (as it was with mine), but I felt it was important enough to mention, and as such will mention it here as well. It is always possible to divide a group into two different groups, and run two different games.
Two herds of cats can't be any harder to wrangle than one, surely?!
However, this system is wrought with problems off the bat. If the GM doesn't have time for two, there is no way it can happen. Even if the GM does, it will invariably mean that both campaigns are less involved than one would ever be, and that neither are filled with the same level of planning as one big game is.

Further, if you have a tight-knit group, and you divide it into two, then there can be some social awkwardness. Do people choose to play a campaign based on what it is, or who is in it? Do people still have time to hang out in the real world as much, or have as much to talk about when they're not sharing weekly forays into a fantasy world? (You wouldn't think these would be issues, but they are.)

But, then again, this system can work wonders for a group that can handle it. The GM gets to experiment with different games, and has the option of trialling something with one group, and rehashing it for another. The groups get a chance to trade interesting stories about their adventures, and compare campaigns. And so on.

Solution #3: The Players as Rivals

The third solution and the fourth are based on a similar premise that I will get out of the way now: both involve a single campaign with multiple groups running in it at the same time.
Gary Oak, you've destroyed the validity of the word "Rival"...
This option supposes that there are two rivalling groups that are contending for the same great prize, but are fundamentally unable to defeat each other. They cannot harm each other, only compete. This could be that they're all members of the same company, just different divisions (like L.A.P.D. vs F.B.I.) or they are being watched by some governing body that would be very unhappy were they to kill each other. Yet, there is still competition. Whoever solves an issue first gets the rewards, and then gets the fame/money/whatever.

This system requires a lot of out-of-game communication, as well as a lot of trust between GM and players, and players and other players. We don't want players to take the actions of rival characters to heart, and we don't want anyone feeling like one group is being favoured by the GM.

And yet, this could lead to a situation of friends talking on the weekend about how they've been going and bragging to each other in a rival-like way. It could breed a beautiful campaign. Or it could breed resentment.

Furthermore, it invariably means either each group plays only one in every two session, or the GM runs a second session a week... This might not work for some schedules.

Solution #4: The West Marches

If you're unfamiliar with The West Marches, please head on over to ars ludi and read through at least the first page describing it (there are 5 posts in total, and they're all good, but only the first is pertinent to understanding).
West Marches is approximately this awesome...
In brief, the idea is to have a pool of players, and to run two sessions per week. Players decide which session they're in, and can only choose one per week. Then, each week, each player is playing with a previously organised collection of players from the player pool.

This has the benefit of keeping up the social connections between all the players, as well as enforcing contact and "story swapping" between sessions. Players benefit from sharing information, and can do so with much greater ease. 

However, there is a much greater risk of segregation in this system. Bullying is possible (without people even realising it) and players who are naturally more inclined to one play style will consistently play with others of their same style, until such a time when dedicated factions have almost formed in the group. This can result in hurt feelings, etc, etc. It, again, requires the GM to put more time into the game due to more sessions.

But, then again, West Marches is so damn cool!

The Solution We Chose

In the end, after much debate and discussion and serious thought, me and my group came to the consensus that Solution #1 benefited us the most. We're a pretty close group, and there are many within I would trust to act in the GMPC roll. Further, we all have pretty hectic schedules, and we only reliably have one day a week to play, so the other options would be a stretch.
Yeap, Gandalf won.
However, in the end, the biggest deciding factor for me was that we're all friends, and playing RPGs together has made our group so close-knit and amazing that dividing ourselves up would be a massive blow. Sure, we'd still all be friends, but we wouldn't laugh and cry together as the blows fall.

WFRP, for us, will be a hard act to follow. But we certainly wont be following it by splitting up. Only by sticking together will we recreate the same sort of magic that lived in that campaign, and I really look forward to spreading that to our new players.

Sure, we've grown massive, and we threaten to continue to grow, but some of my players are ready for the next step into becoming GMs, and I feel that Solution #1 gives us the chance to both play together and to nurture new GM talents.

I hope my insights and solutions will be able to help you in a similar issue, or just to help you think about your own group in a new way.

Keep having fun, and we'll be getting back to our regular programming soon.

Handling Large Parties - Part 2 - Conflicting Player Types

Following on from my last post, I am now going to discuss differing player types, and how having lots of players can exacerbate player-type conflicts that may already exist. Get ready for lots of political jokes...

The Variables

For this study, I am going to be using a 2-axis scale, using the variables Loud vs Quiet and Solitary vs Social. Let me just define those for you now, and quickly outline the pros and cons of each.

Loud

The Loud end of the Loud vs Quiet axis is, obviously, for players who are louder at the table than others. This end is for players who tend to lead discussions and, by virtue of this, grow into leadership roles within the group.

Loud players are good for a party because they represent a rallying point for ideas, and they are often able to push Quiet players out of their bubbles, but they can be troublesome because they can overshadow a Quiet player. 

Furthermore, multiple Loud players leads to a Parliament Stagnation, a situation where multiple people are yelling about their view points, yet not actually listening to the other side so as to allow any chance for them to be dissuaded from their ideas.
With leaders like these, we can't be far off World Peace, right?!

Quiet

The Quiet end of the Loud vs Quiet axis is for players who tend to speak up less, and who are more happy to watch events unfold and react after the fact, instead of asserting their views early. This isn't to say that they never speak up, but they are rarely the ones to whip a group into shape before the shit hits the fan.

Quiet players are good for a party because they are usually more contemplative, quietly working on an issue, listening to the GM, and solving problems before presenting them to the group. Additionally, they are generally more accepting of leadership roles within the group, allowing for smooth movement. However, they can be troublesome in that they have a tendency to hold back useful feedback for the group and GM, meaning that they can become discontented, or cause others to become discontented during play because of their inaction.

Multiple Quiet players often leads to the Stalin Lack-of-Initiative, where in everyone is too afraid to say anything to break the silence, resulting in Loud players dominating play when they have no more right to than the Quiet players.
"It seems like we should attack the Orks from the south..."

Solitary

The Solitary end of the Solitary vs Social axis represents players who are happier playing their "own game", following side-quests and generally acting on their own during a session, instead of travelling or conferring with the party as a whole.

Solitary players are good because they can help the GM build suspense by revealing secrets to one character (but saying them aloud to the table), causing some players to squirm with the fun-frustration of In-Character vs Out-of-Character information. They also help explore extra parts of the world, and allow the other players to see sections that they otherwise wouldn't have under the main game. They can be difficult, however, due to the fact that time spent on Solitary players is obviously time spent on only one player, leaving everyone else twiddling their thumbs.

Multiple Solitary players leads to a Stooge Paradox, of everyone running in multiple directions, resulting in the side-quests getting more screen time collectively than the main quest. Naturally, this slows down play considerably with so many split parties that you may as well be running multiple games.
Not sure if photo of TV show or Player Characters...

Social

The Social end of the Solitary vs Social axis is for players who are happiest when discussing tactics and events with other players, and following along with the group's agenda, rather than any individual goals.

Social players are good because they get the main quest line rolling, and maintain group unity and direction. They can cause problems, however, because they tend to prefer discussion above action, leading to slower sessions.

Multiple Solitary players leads to a United Nations of Inactivity, where everyone discusses situations ad infinitum, and never actually accomplishes anything. This obviously has the downfall that nothing ends up getting done, in the end.
GMing for 9 people doesn't seem so bad when looking at this...

My Group

Now that I have outlined the variables, it's time to look at the main topic - my ridiculously sized group.

I have filled out my players on the axis listed above, and I received the following graph:
As you can see, due to the large amount of players, I have a pretty even split between the four variables. One would think this is a good idea, but one would be wrong. An even split is good when you have 4 players, because one can fit in each niche, but having more than 1 in each niche causes problems. 

Lets have a look at the specific interactions, shall we?

Multiple Loud players results in often the 3 loudest dominating discussions, with the other 5-6 quieter players either not saying anything or forming factions behind the 3 - this causing division within the group, as well as boredom for the unheard Quiet players. This also means that often very good ideas coming from the Social/Quiet players are never enforced, and the Social/Loud players tend to bring discussions to a stand still with neither side gaining ground or convincing each other. It is a debate where neither side is listening to the other...

Multiple Solitary players results in more than half of a games session being taken up by side-stuff, like Side-Quests and book keeping, etc. It also means that I literally cannot remember the last session where the party wasn't split at least 3 ways. This means either each group does not much in a session, or favourites are played, and that is never fun for anyone involved.

Now, neither camp would be a bad thing if there were only a few of them. An ideal group will have at least one person that fits into every corner of the graph, but the above does not represent ideal... Therefore, something needs to be fixed. And that's the topic for next time.

Play more games!!! NOW!

Handling Large Parties - Part 1 - The Math

This article, and the ones that come after it in this series, concern an issue I have been battling with for a while now, and it has recently come to light again in an ugly way. I have too many players. Specifically, I now have 11 players - 9 of which are in every game I run.

Many of you will have just choked on your coffee/spat at the screen/summoned the Great Devourer to do away for me for such flippant expression of "too many people like my game", but it is causing serious problems. The biggest of which is that some players aren't getting the chance to talk much at all during sessions, as they are drowned out by the conflagration of noise which is my player base, or they're being left with massive expanses of time whilst others are doing their thing. But, this is far from the only problem...

So, this is going to be a pretty technical post. I need to work the math out on this one so I can address it properly. Bear with me, and if you have ANY advice, please let me know (I'm dying here, man).

Also, please note that I am not complaining about my group!I do in fact love them all :) Just, these are the issues that a GM must deal with, and this is the best medium I have to get them out in the air!

It Takes Forever To Do Anything

First up is a simple one. The more players you have, the more time it takes to do everything in the game. This, at first, wouldn't seem like much of an issue, but lets break it down a little bit with some maths. We'll split an RPG session into 2 actions: Discussion and Combat.

I will be taking some liberties here. I am considering an "Average Group" to be 4 players and 1 GM, all of whom are friends who get along well. The times I am giving are very rough estimates, taken from play examples I have witnessed or run.

I am also classing an Average Game Session to be 3.5 hours long, as that is how long my games go for, and have always gone for. Honestly, I can't see a game going for any less having any content, but that's just me.

Discussion

Now, most RPGs have a level of Discussion - players need to plan out situations before they explore them. This is a good thing, as it gets the players thinking about the game and asking questions. Lets suggest that an average group needs to discuss things with the GM for 10 minutes first, and then gives 5 minutes to each player to work out their ideas (or more accurately, for everyone to chime in).

That means, with an Average Group, a Discussion about an event that the GM throws at the PCs will take 30 minutes. Therefore, the GM can safely give his players 7 things to worry about during an Average Game Session with no Combat involved, going from event to event.

Now, with a group of 9 consistent players, a Discussion lasts for approximately 55 minutes, allowing for 3 full events to occur before Combat is factored into the the mess. This is nearly a full third of an Average Game Session where nothing actually happens, beyond player discussion.

Combat

Combat takes even longer. Suggesting that the average turn per character is about 1.5 minutes (including planning, rolling, notation, etc), and that the Average Combat goes for 4 rounds, during which every character, including the enemies (for safe bet, I have made the enemies equal the players in number, to challenge everyone) gets one turn, then we have some startling numbers.

The Average Group takes 12 minutes per Round, and therefore 48 minutes per Combat. This means there is room for 4 full Combat scenes in an Average Game Session before Discussions are concerned.

With a group of 9 players, however, it takes 27 minutes per Round, and 108 minutes per Combat. This means that a GM can only run 1 full combat scene during an Average Game Session, before Discussions are concerned.

This also means that, with a group this size, it could arguably be 25+ minutes between PC actions. This means that a player has a LOT of time in which to get bored...

A Whole Session

If we combine Discussions and Combat to make for a fully rounded session, with at least 1 of each, we get the following numbers:

The Average Group can have 3 Combats and 2 Discussions (favouring Combat), or 3 Discussions and 2 Combats (favouring Discussions). Both situations leave for 6 minutes of downtime and wiggle room, which isn't much, but it means either 1 Combat or 1 Discussion can be planned as less important, and able to be cut if time isn't allowing.

However, a group of 9 players can have a maximum of 1 Discussion and 1 Combat. There is never a chance for more Combat, but they can drop the Combat in favour of 2 extra Discussions. Doing the former grants 47 minutes of downtime, which is a good amount to muck around in and have fun, and doing the latter grants 45 minutes.

Matching To A Campaign

Most Adventures are written following a 3 Act structure, which include at least 1 Discussion and a Combat in the 1st Act, 2 Discussions and a Combat in the 2nd Act, and a Combat in the 3rd Act, then an Average Group will take 1-2 sessions to complete an Adventure. A group of 9 players, however, would take 3+.

And if your Campaign is set up of 3 arcs of 3 Adventures each, then an Average Group will take 9-18 Sessions, and a group of 9 will take 27 at the smallest possible scale. If you're playing weekly, then this isn't too much of a problem, but what group in the history of groups has ever been able to avoid some kind of hiccups to their weekly games?

Conclusion

A group of 9 players, as opposed to an Average Group, will spend significantly longer doing anything, and a large amount of that time will be spent waiting for your turn to come around... This is a MAJOR issue.

Honestly, I don't see much in the way of a solution to this - there simply isn't another way to make time go slower, or speed a situation up at all. Perhaps I could work on something for players to do during another player's turn? Or collaborative character turns? I'm not really sure.

Next in this series will deal with Conflicting Player Types.

If you have any ideas, please tell me in the comments below. I'm sure I'm not the only one who is battling this or a similar issue, so you'd be helping a LOT of people! Cheers :)

Grand Concept Documents

I've always enjoyed the idea of a unified campaign - one where, before play starts, the GM and players both understand what the game is about, and the general flow of how it will work session-to-session. However, I have always relied on implied notions of what a campaign should be, which often leads to a situation where everyone is confused about what they're supposed to be doing.

Not any more.

I've come up with a very simple template document for GMs to fill out before players generate characters, that should help in guide the entire party towards its intended play-style.

Please note that this doesn't mean railroading, or forcing people to play a game other than how they want to - this is about getting a thematically consistent player base before play begins, so no one makes a wise-cracking Vampire Ninja for your Historical Rome game... This is about laying out some guidelines so that your players have somewhere to look for their character, instead of running head-first into a crowd with a crossbar, playing the first thing they hit.

Grand Concept Documents

As you should all know, I love showy titles, and this is no different. With the GCD, you will be presented with five points, each of which should be answered in no more than 2 sentences. I will outline and explain each one below. But please remember, these GCDs are made for the players eyes, so don't write spoilers in them!

I will go through and fill the GCD out for my current in-planning campaign, Marienburg: Sold Down the River, so you can get an idea of how it should be filled out.

Campaign Name

Here you want to give the campaign an evocative title. It should be something that instantly captivates and inspires a certain type of focus for the group. Think of it in terms of a TV show - Buffy the Vampire Slayer is obviously about a Vampire Slayer called Buffy, Supernatural is obviously about supernatural things.
That's not slaying, and you damn well know it...
I chose Marienburg: Sold Down the River for three reasons - firstly, it is the name of the source book which was originally written for Marienburg, so it is instantly relevant. Secondly, whilst I am using the 1st edition source book, the game is being run for 2nd edition players who have never known 1st edition, so it is a call back to the hobby's past. And thirdly, it instantly ingrains in the players' minds that the campaign is about the city of Marienburg, and about Money.

Campaign Tag-Line

Here you want to give the campaign a snappy sub-title - something that sums up the tone of the campaign, and gives it a nice ring. It should foreshadow the big events in the campaign, and constantly keep the players guessing as to its relevance, whilst simultaneously showing its head throughout. Think in terms of Star Trek, with "Space, the Final Frontier". Hearing that straight up tells us that the main characters are going to be going to new worlds and exploring what hasn't been explored before. We know the sorts of stories that will be told.
Or maybe it's about sweet dance moves?
I chose to go with "When everything is for sale, what is your Honour worth?". This perfectly foreshadows the tricky decisions that the players will have to make, and reinforces the cut-throat nature of Marienburg, and the campaign's focus on money. The players KNOW that at some point, they will have to make the choice between their integrity, and their next meal...

What Is The Campaign Question

As I have discussed before, I believe every campaign should have a Question that it answers - like a good Sci-Fi novel. This can be anything, but it should be something that you've never attempted to answer before hand. Consider Asimov's robots, bound by three laws which make them our slaves. What happens when a Robot breaks the rules? I can't really direct you in how you should choose this question - it just has to be something that you want to explore, and that your players want to explore.
My next campaign: What if Isaac Asimov was 8x the size of the Earth?!
For M:SDtR, I chose to go with the question: What if the PCs aren't heroes, just regular Joes trying to make it in the world? This question completely changes the regular flow of an RPG - instead of high adventure on the seas, or delving through dungeons for glittering gold, we have PCs taking the dirty "adventurer" jobs because that's all they can get, and they simply need to eat. PCs will be motivated by money, not from a power-gaming, +10 Sword getting point of view, but from a lust for a dry roof over their head, and a warm meal in their stomach.

Who Are The PCs

Here you should briefly explain what the general idea behind the party as a whole is. This doesn't mean, what classes, races, etc are available, but more the concept behind them. Consider Firefly, where the heroes aren't heroes as such, but Space Cowboy/Pirates. Simple enough. You can go into more detail, such as with Star Wars and say Rebel Heroes fighting the Evil Empire, each emphasising an aspect of the Hero's Journey Archetypes.
Maybe they are heroes... Big damn heroes.
I went with Vagabonds and Ne'er-Do-Wells who need a Fresh Start. Each character has a clear in: they pissed someone off and need to flee to Marienburg, or they've run up a list of debts and need a quick copper to settle them, or they're chasing adventure, running from a boring farmer's life. However, it doesn't restrict the party options - from this they could be anything from Rat Catchers, to Thugs, to Watchmen, to Smugglers. In fact, I hope they are all of these things - Marienburg would suit them nicely!

What Are They Doing

Finally, briefly describe what a typical session would be like. Don't go into plot points, but consider this the "TV Writers Guide" of your campaign, and you should reference this when planning. What are the PCs doing, and how are they starting it? The other points should basically write this for you, but it helps to outline it clearly so your players are on the same page as you. Consider the X-Files, each episode, the main characters Hear About Something Strange, Investigate, and Come to a Shaky Conclusion. In this, we know the formula for most episodes. The audience knows that they're going to get mostly investigation and intrigue - not much action.
Why?! It seems everything you come across is terrifying...
I went with Find a Contact, Get a Job, Do Something Underhanded, Get Paid. The players know that the campaign is likely going to be filled with the wrong sort of NPCs - everyone stabbing each other in the back, and trying to get backroom politics done which are so backroom that they're in the alley behind the building. There could be lots of combat, or there could be spying, or thuggery, or whatever. But they also know that their reputation will be very important - if people know you get the job done, they'll give you more jobs. If they know you're likely to stab them in the back, they'll send men to stab you first.

I hope this layout gives you and your players a much more consistent and even campaign! Let me know how it works out for you!

The GM Spectrum

Forgive any mistakes in this one, folks... I've fallen down with Nurgle's Rot recently and am a little off, so my powers of proof reading are sloppy at best. Maybe I can do another pass over it in a few days once I am feeling the light of Sigmar in me once again.

There are many different GMing styles out there, and attempting to catalogue them all would be pointless. Also, knowing how one GM goes about playing isn't all that helpful to others, in my opinion. No two GMs are the same, so what works for one style-wise simply wont work as well for another. Nor should it. I wouldn't expect Monet and Van Gough to be able to sit down and swap style guides, nor should anyone expect two GMs to do the same...

But what can be examined to great effect is the attitude with which we GM. These are moving targets, and can each be used by the same GM during the same campaign at different times to great effect. So now I present to you the GM Spectrum.

The GM Spectrum

The GM Spectrum is a five-portioned scale, including: Guardian, Guide, Referee, Challenger, and Antagonist. Each has their pros and cons, and certainly has situations where they should and should not be used. Lets take a closer look...


The Guardian GM

The Guardian GM is the GM who protects their players. This GM looks for ways to make the player's dreams come true through their characters and to prevent harm from befalling them along the way - this could take the guise of fudging dice rolls in the player's favour or planning out encounters so that they have quick and easy escape routes (or no challenge at all in truth).

All this isn't to say that this GM makes a railroad or a campaign that isn't fun - they will present the game as if it has the illusion of difficulty, but they will in fact be protecting their players along the way.


Pros

The pros of a Guardian GM are that everyone at the table is more likely to have a fun and relaxed time. Even though there may be the illusion of challenge, everyone under a Guardian GM should feel like their characters are the heroes and that they will almost certainly survive to fight another day.

This means that a Guardian GM makes their players feel safe and rewarded, and this opens up for a breezy and generally laid back, more heroic campaign.


Cons

On the other hand, players can often feel lead along and unchallenged. As with any game design, a lack of challenge will lead to a state of boredom instead of flow. This is problematic and may result in the rewards the player's get being meaningless.


When To Adopt

This attitude is best suited for cinematic moments during a campaign - moments where a lack of payoff would be anti-climactic and silly, such as the end of a massive story arch, or at the climax of a well thought out plan devised by the players.


When To Avoid

This attitude is best avoided when the players are entering a location they know to be dangerous, or are attempting something you've described as impossible or the stuff of legends. If it is so easy to climb to the top of Hero Mountain and slay the Legendary Dragon King, then why hasn't it been done before?!


The Guide GM

The Guide GM is the GM who wants the players to win, but wants them to earn it. This is the GM which will present a problem to the PCs and then will aid the players in solving it - they will make the solutions easy to find with a bit of digging and will always have an exit strategy up their sleeve in the event things are getting a little to dicey in game.

But the Guide has to come with something to guide the players through... They establish plenty of problems with often hidden solutions. The players till have to work, but the GM is on their side in the whole endeavour.


Pros

The pros of the Guide GM are mainly that it has some of the safety of the Guardian, but also has the risk. The PC could be harmed or even die, but only if the players make a grave mistake. This will make a more convincing illusion of risk (as there technically is a risk, however minimal) without making the situation seem overwhelming.


Cons

The cons are that this attitude is the closest to railroading - this attitude assumes that the GM is inherently biased in the players' favour, but is giving them situations where it seems like they aren't. If this illusion is shattered, there is no going back and the players will lose a lot of what makes this attitude worthwhile.


When To Adopt

This attitude is best suited for situations where the players should feel the stress, but should still succeed. This means the ultimate battles at the end of the campaign, or the moments when they are reaching for that legendary sword which has been long foretold to be in their hands. They can't really fail, otherwise the prophecy is wrong... But they should have to go through gruelling ordeals to get there, otherwise this GM is a Guardian.


When To Avoid

This attitude is best avoided when the players have done something decidedly uncharacteristic or un-heroic. Why Guide them when they are going shopping, or stealing from old ladies? If the cops catch them, so be it. Throw them in jail, lock away the key. Then start planning for a jail break session!


The Referee GM

The Referee GM is in the middle of the spectrum for a reason. This GM is impartial. They establish situations with problems and then present them to the players. The players either succeed or fail, and then the GM presents the resultant situation. Every success is met with another problem, and every failure is met with a chance of redemption.

But the key is that the GM has no say in which one prevails. That is all up to the mettle of the players.


Pros

The pros for this attitude are great - the players feel higher amounts of fiero when they succeed, as it was all on them, as well as feeling like the game world is truly being shaped by their efforts. These are strong emotions, but they come with some pretty big cons...


Cons

...which are that the players can often feel overwhelmed by a lack of a windfall for their characters - nothing ever seems to go 'right'. They succeed because they work damn hard for it, not because they are heroes. This can create a tiring and stressful game which can often feel more like work than play.

Furthermore, and this might just be me, but this attitude is less fun for the GM. They are passively creating situations and presenting them. By becoming engaged, they are working against the strengths of this section of the spectrum, and as such are some other form of GM. So for the great boons of this attitude, the GM needs to take a back seat.


When To Adopt

This attitude is best to implement mid-campaign; when it can go either way. This is the best attitude to use when deciding how the entire campaign will pan out afterwards - the PCs are all in their elements, and they are comfortable playing by this point, but even they can't see the light at the end of the tunnel yet.


When To Avoid

This attitude should be strictly avoided for two portions of the game - the beginning and the end. The beginning is often difficult for players, as they are unsure of their characters and will likely freeze up when presented with situations without any guidance or indication of what needs doing. Further, at the end they will have expectations and so will the GM, and going with this system will frustrate everyone, as it never turns out how anyone is hoping (as that is strictly the point).


The Challenger GM

The Challenger GM is one who views the game as a struggle between the PCs and their world. They establish lots of problems that need solving and keep lots of secrets hidden up their sleeves. When one problem is solved, it usually means another two have come to the fore.

This doesn't mean being a jerk, inventing new ways to screw over your players just when they think they've won, but more building up the tension so that when they finally break over the crest of success there is much fist pumping and cheers of accomplishment!


Pros

The pros are that this attitude creates perhaps the most fiero possible. It is a hard slog to the finish line, but the oranges set aside on the table beyond that white finish-line ribbon are divine... The players will feel great accomplishment, and the GM will feel great pride in seeing them win through.


Cons

That is, if the PCs get that far... The Challenger GM is in danger of making it to difficult. If it isn't difficult enough, then the players will feel like the whole thing was a push over. If it is to difficult, they will likely stop caring, as the game is more work than play at this point. This is a balance that must be found carefully.


When To Adopt

This attitude works best for situations when the PCs have embarked on something big, or have just begun a new story arc. Pile on the problems so they can work through them all and grow into the heroes they need to be for the climax.


When To Avoid

This attitude should be avoided nearing the end of an arc, however, for the players need a win. They will begin to get tired of the stress eventually and will want to play something else which is more rewarding. It is before they get to this tipping point that you should switch from Challenger to Guide or even Guardian (but make it seem like nothing has happened :P).


The Antagonist GM

The Antagonist GM is the final step on the spectrum and my personal pet peeve. It is the GM who sees the game as PCs vs GM. This may not seem different to the Challenger at first, but note that the Challenger is PCs vs The World and the Antagonist is PC vs GM.

In this attitude, the GM attempts to defeat the PCs by throwing everything that contextually makes sense to throw at them. Note though that this doesn't mean be a dick head and rocks-fall-everybody-dies, or set up situations where the PCs have no hope. (One billion dragons arrive. Roll for Initiative.) This means pulling all the stops and using the rules of the game as if you were another player but with an army of NPCs.

This can actually be used well, as in the instance of removing Plot Immunity (which I may write a post on) or to create tension.


Pros

If a player manages to survive an encounter such as this, then they will feel truly proud of themselves and it will forge a much tighter bond between the party.


Cons

On the other hand, this tighter bond within the party will also result in a lessening of the bond between players and GM. The GM will have their work cut out for them to return trust if it is broken, and some players can feel cheated if things go badly and their GM is usually further left on the spectrum.


When To Adopt

There are only two instances when I think this attitude is actually a good idea: the climax of a personal plot line (I.e. a PC is about to become a God and the other Gods all gang up to kill them), or at the end of a campaign (The PCs have just stormed the Evil King's fortress and it is on...)

My advice would be to tell your players that you are removing Plot Immunity or adopting the Antagonist GM attitude before you do it (preferably at the end of the session before you do) to give them some time to prepare. Explain to them why you want to do it as well (for tension reasons, not the plot line) and get them on board. If they sincerely don't want you to do it, or are shaky on the subject, best not to risk it.


When To Avoid

All other times. Seriously, this attitude is only fun for the players if it is used very sparingly and only when they've been warned. Nothing sours a gaming relationship more than this attitude used badly.


Conclusion

Each of these attitudes is useful to the GM, and each should be used at some point or another. I myself swing between Guide and Challenger most often, and am planning to pepper the end of Shadows Within Shadows with a bit of Antagonist, and the beginning of Into the Expanse with some Guardian.

Hopefully this outline will help you all prevent a GMing catastrophe!

The Standard Table Contract

Greetings all. I'm sorry I've neglected posting for a few weeks, but as always Qantm has gotten in the road. Between making games, QAing games, writing games and running games, I have little time left to talk about games, unfortunately. But the end of Qantm is in sight, and afterwards my work will shift me into a phase where blogging will be apart of it. So, YAY!

Anyway, onto the article.

The Standard Table Contract

Note that I’m using this title because it spells out STC or Standard Template Construct. I love STCs, so deal with it.

RPG group social contracts are a must, in my opinion – whether they are explicit and outlined before the group truly forms, or implied and enforced via peer review. They keep everyone at the table safe and happy, and let everyone know what they can and can’t do to protect the feelings of everyone around them.

As a GM, it is our job to enforce this contract when problems arise, but it is also the player’s duty to learn it verbatim and to follow it. Like any contract, breaking it should come with warnings first and actions later (so long as the breach is serious enough), but it is ultimately the GMs job to pull someone up when a breach has been made.

So what are the general rules that should be followed? I separate them into three categories: Away From Session, META, and In-Character. Each category likewise has a section for GMs and for Players, but it is a good idea for both sides to be aware of the other side's concerns as well.

Away From Session Clauses

The Away From Session clauses detail conduct that GMs and Player should adhere to between sessions regarding a game. This is usually only a problem when the RPG group is also a group of friends away from the table - but many of the rules should be followed regardless.
  • For GMs:
    • Never Expect Anything From Your Players; players have lives too and are often busy during them. Give them plenty of opportunities to send you extra information about their characters, their side-quest actions, or journal entries, or pictures they've drawn for your game. But never badger them for it. Sure, let them know that if they don't do anything regarding those sections outside of game nothing will happen inside of game, but that is their choice, not yours. They are allowed to play your game as much as they want or as little as they want.
    • Never Play Favourites With META Information; GMs often want to discuss in-game situations with others outside of a game, and they definitely should, as it will work through many problems. But a GM must never favourite one person and tell all problems to this player. They should spread their concerns amongst the group, or to a few people (usually the most experienced RPG players) so that they get a wide and unbiased account.
  • For Players:
    • Never Leave It To The Last Minute; everyone is late, sometimes, and this usually can't be helped. However, if you're going to be late, let your GM or a fellow player know so they can pass on the information. Let them know as soon as you're aware that you may be late. Often GMs like to work to a schedule to fit everything in, so waiting for a player can often throw this out. If they can go onto things that don't concern you first and catch you up later, that is better than nothing.
    • Always Respond; if your GM or another player asks you a question between sessions, or sends out an announcement, etc, make sure you respond (even if it is just a 'Like' on Facebook or a "Message received"). This will prevent confusion among your group members and they will be comfortable everyone is aware of whatever issue is being raised.

META Clauses

The META clauses detail conduct at the table that is not in-character information, such as dice rolls, META arguments and the like. These are some of the most important rules in the contract and should be followed to a T to prevent problems and to allow the game to run smoothly.
  • For GMs:
    • Always Say "Yes, but..."; I do not believe in the rule of "Yes" completely. Some things shouldn't be allowed by GMs, and for good reason. Often they simply make no sense and defy all world building that the designers, players and GMs have done. Often they break some other rule on this very contract. However, I do believe in the rule of "Yes, but...", where in if a player seriously wants to do something, the GM should work with them to find a way to make it possible.
    • Never Touch Another's Dice Or Sheets; this is a loose one, but some people are picky about it. Don't touch another person's dice or sheet unless you ask first. But, that's a general rule of life and really doesn't need to be stated again.
  • For Players:
    • Never Press A Question Of Canon; if something comes up which disagrees with your understanding of continuity, then raise it once with the GM. If the GM decides to handle it later or makes a judgement call - move on. Nothing grinds a game to a halt faster than a player and a GM arguing on matters of canon. GMs have a hell of a lot to think about during a session - they don't need to add conflict into the mix.
    • Roll Your Dice In The Open; roll your dice openly and with enough time for everyone who is looking/paying attention, to notice what you rolled. No one likes the player who rolls and picks up the dice so fast that no one at the table could read what they said.
    • No Tech/Pay Attention; if it isn't your turn, try to pay attention to what is happening anyway. Likely, the actions you will take in your turn will depend on what everyone else has done, and re-capping the last five minutes to a player because they were playing with their phone is a big annoyance to GMs and players alike. Put your phone in your pocket and play the tabletop game.
    • Think Before Your Turn; try to plan out what you're going to do during your turn before your turn comes around. Most groups will have enough players that anyone has more than enough time to plan their next action between turns, as well as enough players that if each takes an extra 5 minutes to do their turn, the game will grind to a halt.
    • Never Complain About Your Rolls; dice are random. Get used to it. That is the point of having dice in a roleplaying game - to add an element of chance. If they don't go your way, switch dice or perform your chosen luck ritual. Don't complain to the GM that you're not rolling well enough - you'll just sound like a child to everyone at the table.

In-Character Clauses

The In-Character clauses detail conduct at the table and in-character. They are usually things that do not cause lasting problems, but can disrupt play when they occur. Some groups may be fine with breaking these rules, but it is best to discuss them before you break them. Better safe than sorry.
  • For GMs:
    • Never Kill A Character Who Isn't Present; even if your group agrees that characters whose player's aren't present are with the party (but in the background), you can never kill, injure, harm, mutate, or affect a character whose player isn't there. Under extreme circumstances, you may contemplate it, but make sure to contact the player before hand and discuss it with them. A player should always have agency over their own death, so tread carefully.
    • Never Break Chekov's Gun; if you show a super-powerful sword to your players, you better let them swing it at some point. Give them every opportunity to get a hold of it. If they still fail to get it through some means, then that's fine - that is how the game works. But never create something which is completely out of their reach.
  • For Players:
    • Never Attack Another Player Without Warning; if two characters are arguing, make sure to talk out of game first about the possibility of inter-party combat. You should never attack, steal from, or harm another player without warning, as this breeds bad blood between players. If there is a good reason for it, however, talk to your GM first and get their approval. But it better be a good reason.
    • Never Steal Loot; if there is an item of loot which you really badly wanted, but another player received, do not steal it from that player. If it is something you desperately feel your character needs, talk to the GM and they can probably work something out for you. Once again, inter-party conflict at this level is a bad thing.
    • Always Fade-To-Black; if your character is getting into a situation which would make others uncomfortable to be there were it in real life - maybe you shouldn't bring it to the table. Fade to black and let the GM carry on with the rest of the story - your part is implied and doesn't need to be specified. Don't go on and on about it - just let it go. We all know what happened.

An Open Letter to the Internet, or, Why Fantasy is Important

When I tell people I play roleplaying games or that I am a Games Designer, people often look at me with that "Why don't you live in the real world" kind of look. I am made the outcast for doing something not considered real. At these points, I wonder what normal people talk about every day.

From asking those around me who are not into the niche things I do, the answer seems to be four main areas: politics, religion, work and sports. When I hear these things, I then think I should talk about them too, so that I am normal. Everyone always wants to fit in.

However, I find that when this occurs, problems arise. They always do. Politics and religion have always been considered the topics you shouldn't talk about at the dinner table, and for a very good reason. Whenever talking about these things, someone (myself included) will always say something inflammatory, and then it will escalate until everyone is unhappy. So both of them are off the cards.

Sports, I find, have the same effect. Most are happy to talk about it in a mutual respect sort of way, but someone will always come in who hates your team, or thinks something inflammatory about something you or someone else has said. Again, fights break out and someone ends up unhappy.

Work seems to be no different. Despite the fact I can't talk about it to normal people, due to the fact my work is weird and not in the real world, others tend to divert their talk about work into in-office politics, or teasing someone, or complaining about something. Generally, talk about work focuses on the negatives. Sometimes people talk about the good stuff, but it is usually everything bad about work that gets brought up. We don't want to do it. This thing is making it harder. We don't get paid enough. Etc. So, again, people focusing on being unhappy.

So when someone asks me why I don't live in the real world, I look at that "world" and see a whole lot of unhappiness.

That is why I don't live there.

That is why I live where if something isn't happy, you can change it. If you don't like how that thing looks in that game, make a new one. If you don't like this novel, pick up a different one. If you don't like your RPG character, create a new one and be someone you do like.

Sure, geeks argue about the finer points of their interests - more often than not, to be honest - but at least at the end of the day the majority of us can all shrug our shoulders and concede "Well, at least it isn't REAL". We can laugh at ourselves for getting heated over something that doesn't exist, and 9/10 times an argument about "Which race in 40k is the best" will result in the two parties sitting down and playing a game to find out, or having fun creating a new, third, BETTER race.

There are some geeks who take it too far, but they are the ones who have nothing BUT Fantasy. To them, the politics between the Empire and the Rebellion are real, and therefore not fun to argue about.

But the majority of us Fantasy lovers are not these people. We are those who have realised that the real world, in fact, sucks. That the reason we don't like talking about it is because obviously no one does, but everyone else is afraid to let go and be weird.

You can have your unhappiness, if you want. But I'd much prefer you come with me and enjoy the Fantasy. There is much to show you, and I'm sure you'll enjoy something.