CREATING THE GAME

CREATING A CHARACTER IS A COLLABORATION
(say that 2 times real fast)

     Unless the GM really has no care in the world about what the PC is introducing, he/she should always have a hand in the creation of a player character.  If the GM does not care about the backstory, it means that PC might not live long.  If he does not care about the skills chosen, the GM will soon find the game hard to play, unprepared for the mismatched and unbalanced group.  A GM should be on hand for the preliminary creation process.  This includes:  The statistics, the skills, the advantages and disadvantages, and the backstory.  The specifics of the character can be left later, but the GM must be there before the Player gets his/her hopes up.  The GM can also lend a hand to give the player the option to flesh out the backstory.  The more detailed the better.  The GM should also have all the players together to make their characters stats unless it is important that they not know each other.  The procedure for character creation is different for every Player.  Slashers differ than Role Players—amateurs differ than experienced players.  I offer my technique below.

 THE NAME AND THE LOOK:
     I just stare at the page and think of the setting.  I think of an actor or a look I want to try.  Sometimes I will just get an actor I would like my Character to look like.  Actors posting became very popular in my groups.  I started it off only from a GM point of view.  I assigned actors to the NPC but never forced the PC to assign them a star.  I kept mine to good actors and not A-listers.  When I reach Pathfinder, I eventually did ask the PCs to chose looks.  Of course, the inexperienced players chose actors they enjoyed other than actors that really fit.  Actors should always fit and then the GM should ask, “Would this actor ever play this role.”  I know it may not make sense as an argument, but I never liked choosing big actors for small roles because you know they would never do that.  In Pathfinder, which I considered a TV show, I gave the players lots of room for the actor choices.  One still chose to go with a drawing, which was fine.  There was never a problem with finding pictures.  PCs should stick with good actors and not huge ones.  So no Stallones, Schwarzeneggers, Cruises or Gibsons.  Instead, try actors people really like but don’t often carry films.  After being in several games where PCs have chosen actors, I have noticed repetition which include:  Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Michael Ironside, Steve Buscemi, Winona Ryder, Rutger Hauer, Michael Beihn, Sam Neil and Linda Hamilton.  After I have a look, I usually have a name to.  When I created a character with Buscemi, the name jumped to me, “Frank Finlay.”  Many Players don’t assign a name until the character is complete.  I am the other way around.

 THE PITCH:
     Usually, when I have the look and name, down, I start on a personality…and pitch.  A pitch is where you expect the character will go.  His/her personality starts to form and the Player starts getting good idea where the statistics and skills are going to be.

 STATISTICS:
 Rolling for statistics in my eyes are never a good idea.  It forces the player down a path that he/she might not wish to traverse.  If a statistic is really low for a class the player wishes to chose, the GM should raise the statistic to a good level.  If a cleric in the group has a higher strength then the fighter, the GM should considering rising the fighter.  That’s why I recommend a statistic pool a’la GURPS or FUZION.  It assures everyone is equal in their stats and that the players can disperse them anyway they see fit.  I have never agreed to the D&D old-fashioned roll-for-your-stats rule and have not implemented it since I gave up on the game more than 8 years ago.  If a GM still chooses to endorse it, then he should at least give the PC the option to re-roll low numbers.  Like give them three free re-rolls to change any numbers given.  That is the only good alternate I can give.  I would still go for the pool.
 
Fargo:  "I shoot the window and I dive through!!" 
GM:  "Okay...bulletproof glass, the shots ricochet, as do you."

 PROS AND CONS:

     They work to add character personality more than additional skills.  They apply to advantages, disadvantages, perks, disabilities, and super-powers.  However, then can radically alter a game if the GM is not aware of their ramifications.   Be weary of major advantages like contacts with major corporations or massive amounts of money.  The same goes for disadvantages as well.  I once made a character that was epileptic.  The GM should feel free to void any pros or cons that don’t work for the game.  Common pros include anything that improves skills or statistics.  Another common choice is money.

 BACKSTORY:

     Backstory is very important and the more detailed the better.  However, a GM must give the players an idea of what to expect.  If their characters have a high chance of dying, then the players should be made aware of that, less they make a character with a five page backstory only to have the PC killed off in the first session.  You probably won’t see that player again.  Also, a GM must know that the better the setting, the better the character.  The PC should find ways to connect important events in his/her character history with events in the GM’s setting and not invent their own.  The more the character fits in the story, the more role-playing that character will get.  Some players like making universal characters that be plucked out and placed in any game with the same rule system.  I have never subscribed to this and have never let players bring in characters from other games.  They must invent PCs for my game alone.  What they do after that with their PC is their choice.  But a PC with no connection with my setting will not get a lot of role-playing.  I have noticed that the characters disposition comes from completing a detailed backstory, and not vice-versa.  Some games really encourage detailed back-stories. R. Talsorian Games products come to mind and even when I don’t use their system rules, I often still use a modified version of their backstory creation.

 BACKSTORY NPC’S:
 Another great idea that is often overused.  A player will create a NPC in their past with the hopes that the GM will include them in the game somehow.  However a player must be prepared for one eventuality:  The GM will play the NPC differently than you expect.  The fear is that the NPC will be mutated into the mirror opposite.  Unfortunately folks, this is a freedom the GM has.  God knows what that NPC has been doing in the years since the PC last saw that person.  There some leaps the GM should not take, like changing characters sexuality or turning priests into psychos.  Mild alterations are more than welcome to the GM but not always to the player.  NPCs should be fleshed out as well as they can be if the GM plans on incorporating them into the game.  However, the chance increases that the NPC will behave against the PC’s wishes.  This alienates the Player almost to the point if the GM were taking control of the PC directly.  It annoys the Player, especially if the NPC behaves completely opposite to be expected.  Make the transition make sense.  Write it down.  Follow a path the NPC walked in the absence of the PC.   All too often the GM mattes his own character plate over that of a player’s Backstory NPC.  Don’t.  Use the NPC, but don’t mutate him/her into a complete opposite with no rhyme or reason for the change.
 Be cautious of “lost loves”.  Mutating “lost loves “ into something against what the Player expects will create the largest resentment in the Player.  I am not sure what is it about them, but lost love NPCs stand on real fragile ground.  Don’t put too much weight into them or the whole structure will collapse.  Making the love into a mirror opposite will almost always backfire.  I often steer clear of using them unless I can do it in a way that won’t alienate the player.  Often enough, I just kill them off.  Nothing gets a player obsessed with a bad guy like killing off that NPC.

     Carron’s PC was once a separatist for a suppressed government in Pathfinder.  She left the group before it got destroyed.  Soon after, her best friend, Jeff,  from that organization took over a space flight she was one.  It was intentional as he was still a terrorist and wished the PC to rejoin the movement.
     Doug’s best friend was an engineer.  After Derrick’s 45-year absence, Derrick became depressed.  He lost his wife a few years before Doug’s return (at the beginning of the game).  However, he has become a little unstable.  For one thing, he is 75 years old.  He is an inspector and ended up actually causing accidents during his inspections.
     It was easy to get the Pathfinder crew to go to Storren.  Charles was from there and had a good friend there.  Since Charles flew the ship, when he got a distress signal from him, Charles simply changed course without telling anyone.

 BAD GUYS AND GOOD GUYS:
     On paper, good guys and bad guys seem very distinct and very obvious.  However, PCs often interpret actions differently.  A good guy that is too good is often suspected of hiding something.  Villains being too evil are a little fake.  Give them some motivation to be more believable.  If the villains and allies are rooted in the PC’s past, then no problems.  The PC just fills in the blanks.  If the NPC was evil, then it will be really hard to break that mold.  It is quite fun for PCs seeing what looks like a bad NPC only to find them to be friend of another PC, and that PC is the first defend.  Changing a good guy into a bad guy is tricky since PCs are rooted in their ways

 Carron’s ultimate enemy in her PC’s backstory was a dark figure played by Michael Ironside called “The Cleaner”.  He pops up in a picture after a month role-playing and Carron was not sure how this man who killed her PCs parents factored into the story.  She hated this NPC with boiled blood.  What she soon learned was that this NPC was a hired gun for a larger organization and has grown dissatisfied with their bureaucracy.  Amazingly enough, he has also grown soft.  He used the rage of vengeance to occupy his thoughts on a hit, but soon, after finally enacting revenge, finds himself incapable of doing the job.  He contacts Carron’s PC and offers help in bringing down the true opponent.  How horrific would this be?  Carron must swallow her own personal hatred for this man because he contains vital information that could help bring down their true opponents.  In the end, Carron wouldn’t get her chance to personally kill Cleaner.  He gives his life to save the PCs.  It was the better story even though Carron probably would have been happier if he was a simple bad guy she could kill and be happy.
 
Richter, Hour 1:  "I think we should take him out." 
Richter, Hour 2:  "Guys, I want him dead...I want him on a platter." 
Richter, Hour 3:  "ARRGH!! I'm going to kill him. GRRRR!! Kill!!" 
Richter, Hour 4:  "AAAHH!!!  MMM!!! GRRR!!! ARRRGHH!!! MMEEE KILLL!!! AARRRGGH!!!

BE AWARE!

     A GM must be conscious of his surroundings…and the PCs are the greatest feature.  A GM creates the game for the PCs and not for himself.  Entertainment arises from seeing the game blossom and develop.  The moment the PCs become secondary is the moment the game starts to fall apart.  However, the GM must be aware of the PCs attitudes.  Most often enough, a game will fall apart and the GM won’t exactly know why.  It is a good idea to ask the players at the end of every session how they liked it.  What did they not like and what they thought should be repeated in the future.  The GM is free to develop new ideas and new approaches to adventures and then ask how they worked out.  The PCs may enjoy it but may never want to do that type of adventure again.  Also, if running an episodic game, at the end of every season, run a summary.  Go through every episode, recap what happens and get players opinions.  Maybe even request reviews and ratings from one to five stars or how much they enjoyed the episode.
     As for each session, the GM must read players expressions on how much they liked the newest game twist. One common misconception is when the PCs are frustrated the PCs are not.  Often enough frustration flows through the PC to the player.  If something is not working, perhaps the GM should make a new approach.  This is common especially when the group is faced with a puzzle that no one can even come close to solving.  The GM is stubborn about handing the answer to them but still gets frustrated when the game grinds to a halt.  Should the GM hand the answer to them…no.  But the GM should lead the smartest character to the solution first or the ones with the best intelligence.
     Sometimes it is not puzzles; sometimes the GM is not explaining a situation right.  He/She tries and tries but the PCs just don’t get it.  This falls back to stubbornness from the GMs part.  The GM can be insistent and not extrapolate in the details, convinced the initial description is enough.  The GM must make the leap of logic than sometimes what makes sense for them does not make sense for the group.  Sometimes the PC thinks they understand and go off on a tangent that totally confounds the GM.  Perhaps it is better for the GM to stop and go, “I think you have confused the situation.”  Remember, often enough characters can be technically smarter than the players playing them.  You can have a Character with an IQ of 180 played by someone who has a very decent 130.  It is no crime and is often welcome for the GM to go to the player with the highest PC IQ and just tell them something their character can figure out.
     This is clearly the most overlooked fact about the GM / ability of the Player, unused brains.  The GM doesn’t have a higher IQ; he/she just knows more about the setting so can vain intelligence.  The GM must be able to pass that knowledge unto the players since their characters would know more about the setting than the players…unless, of course, it is a fish-out-of-water story.

     Derrick hasn’t refereed much.  One day, he played with Ivan and myself in a mecha game.  We found ourselves in a monstrous underground cavern.  The walls crept up for many stories.  We reached a dead end.  Thinking that perhaps the rock face was possibly not made of rock, I threw a stone up into the air to one of the far walls.
     This is how Derrick’s description was heard.  He passes his finger into the air.  He made a little buzzing sound, followed by a “ping”.  The finger dropped to the table, with two more “pings” and then another buzz.  This was it.  Derrick refused to offer more explanation than that.  He simply repeated the same description:  “Buzzzz” “Ping”…”Ping” “Ping”… “Buzzzz.”  An hour passed, Ivan trying to figure it out.  In truth, what transpired was that the rock vanished behind a holographic rock face, struck a wall behind it, dropped to the ground and rolled out from behind the holographic image to my PCs feet.  If only Derrick had told us this, it could have saved and hour of my life I still want back.
     I have also been guilty of doing that but I refuse to take sole responsibility for that.  I gave the PCs in Pathfinder a letter addressed from a friend in Charle’s PC’s past.  Hidden in the message were brackets with numbers:  (120N), (45MIN), (35SEC), (65E), (52MIN), (15SEC).  These were planetary coordinates.  Arrrrgh!!!  It took two hours--TWO HOURS--for the group to find the hidden message in that file.  Carron points out right away about the strange words and numbers in "()" in the file but Craig shrugs and says, "Oh it's probably nothing." and I privately slap myself in the head and everyone else wonders what to do next when the answer was right in front of them.  They knew there was something in the message but couldn't figure it out.  I was pretty stubborn about pointing these numbers out.  Finally...When Carron finally brought it up a second time, Craig realized his mistake and confirmed Carron’s thoughts.
    "But you said it wasn't important."  Carron said.
    "What the hell do I know?  I'm an idiot"  Craig retorted.

BAD IDEA, GOOD GAME?

     It is possible for a GM to create a cool concept but have it fail in session.  It is possible for the game to completely seem stupid on paper but it blossoms into months of gaming.  Sometimes the best games start with virtually no planning and last for years.  Others are meticulous in preparation, only to last a session.  Like successful movies, it is unclear which games will work and which won’t.  Like the many blockbusters out of Hollywood, some games with massive hype can start with a roar that teeter out of existence from lack on interest as one by one, the players leave.
     It all comes down to chemistry.  A GM role-playing to a group of his/her close friends will often create a game with the potential of lasting a long time while games with many foreign players might patter out after one session.  It depends on the classes of players playing at the type of game the GM is running.  The 1st session is like a pilot episode.  It does not need to be fantastic but be interesting enough to gauge the player’s interest.  There should be a least a small victory in the first session.  But it’s not usually for several sessions before the first chinks in the armor of the game expose themselves.  Games that offer total freedom often are welcome to experienced role players but even they can get bored if nothing happens for several sessions.
     My biggest complaint is when the game group breaks up into several smaller groups.  This is often part of the game in design.  This is a game facet that the GM can often avoid.  Some GMs however, don’t consider this a problem.  I do.  I have a severe problem when the GM takes a player out of the session and role-plays with that one for too long.  This commonly happens and even I do it…my problem is with length.  If you take a player from group, be quick and don’t spend a whole session.  Don’t alienate the group for one player.  Ten minutes is pushing it.  Avoid game battles since they can take hours.  Other players can often believe they are wasting their time.  If the group does split up and it’s important for the one side to not know of the other’s actions, then make it fast.
     Keep the split ups quick, no more than thirty minutes, and keep battles small.  The battles must also account for the time.  Too often thirty minutes extends to 3 hours to finish the battle and the GM goes to the other group for once again, only thirty minutes.  Not exactly fair is it?  Keep an egg timer going.  No matter what…stop at that time and go to the group.  If you can’t finish the fight in thirty minutes, don’t start the fight in the first place.  The group is MEANT to be together.  Keeping them apart for sessions on end devalues the point of having a group in the first place.  If the PCs don’t get along and split, this is partly the fault of the GM.  Get them back together.  The game is meant for them to play together, not apart.
     Also, make sure that the story is developing for everyone, not just one player.   If the game suddenly feels one-sided, soon fewer players will show up for the sessions.  Some Players have secrecy complexes.  They don’t like revealing stuff told to them in private by the GM.  The game may get very confusing if only one player knows what is going on.  If the one player is holding back important information, the GM should find ways for others to learn as well.  This is not a self-centered aspect of the Player, it might only be a character trait.  Or not…
     A GM must understand player motivations and incorporate them into the game.  Why would a PC engage in action he/she would never do only because it was necessary for the game?  The same goes for the group.  Players are, for lack of a better word, selfish.  They only think of themselves…either the good of the PC or the good of the group.  Very few groups engage in encounters because it was “the right thing to do.”  The larger the group, the more self-absorbed they are.  They concern themselves only with their progress.  You don’t often see PCs working for a charity.  Unless the GM incorporates a motivation rooted in the PCs past, they seldom go off on adventure without the desire of personal gain.  Nothing shocks a GM more at the beginning of the game than to drop an adventure on the group’s lap only to have them shrug off and ignore it.  Make the players motivated other than the fact that it is expected of them.  It’s a fear of the GM to hear from a Player, “Let’s do it because its what the GM wants us to do.”  A good game is like a good movie—you get separated from reality and for brief moments, you forget you are even in a game.  A good sign for the GM is to watch the player’s faces.  During action scenes, check to see if there are tapping their legs in anticipation.  If it s a descriptive or moody scene, see if the Player’s eyes are closed.

     I have mentioned the incident with Ivan’s game where Derrick and myself were split for over three months of gaming.  He developed a story and I just basically lived the game and did nothing.  The game ended without myself even knowing what the last three months were about.  For Terminals, I admit the game concept was slightly flawed…not because the pitch was flawed, but because the game is honestly one of the hardest to GM.  This game involved Players created their own universe separate from the other PCs and have them plucked from their world to ours, and meeting the other PCs.  It was a great concept that many Players adored.  However, the game was executed poorly.  For one, I had an improper mix of player classes (also mentioned before).  But I also admit the game should have given more freedom to the players.  I was unprepared for what some of the PCs were willing to do to beat the enemy.  I should have gone with the flow.  But perhaps the game gave them too much freedom.  They all had powerful mechs.  They group flew around in a massive spacecraft and even stumbled on an even larger one that could fold to different parts of the Universe.
     In the end, the game fell because of PC conflicts.  The game was rooted in them intentionally but I believe too many developed and never resolved.  Terminals was a great idea but it didn't work with that group.  I believe the concept to be valid and may work with others.  Ships of the Line was another good idea but for me, it was overkill.  I had successfully created a very choreographed interactive novel with Derrick because I knew him too well, but S.O.L went even further.  The first two sessions were almost 30 pages of story and descriptions.  I also played with a player I was not experienced with and could not anticipate the clash the two players would encounter with each other.  I never created a game that choreographed again.  I learned my lesson—an important one to learn.
     Now Daniel the GM was different.  The players didn’t always get along.  The adventure rolled by as swiftly and as surely as the hundred years war.  Many sessions would pass with very little happening…however, the game just worked.  Every time we turned as corner, something new would happen.  The GM had a great improvisational skill and even though the mission lay before us took six months of role-playing; I could not even begin to talk about all the little plots that happened.  This was due to the skill of the GM.  Now with Martin’s game, the keys were the players.  We just got along so well; we sank into our characters and just played off each other.  I don’t even remember a story even developing in the few sessions we engaged I, but I enjoyed it so much.
 
Carpenter:   “You know if I had to analy rape someone, I think I  would  not be the one being made fun of..” 
GM:  “That's right, “big dog.””

N.P.C.’s -- The why’s and the when’s

     Now I am not referring to villains (that comes later).  I am referring to those NPCs that seem to pop up, join the group, stay a while—sometimes forever—offer something, and once and a while dish out information surprisingly important to the flow of the game.  There are three traits on NPCs.  They can occupy any combination of these traits:

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA:
     The NPC will often reveal information the Player either don’t know about the situation or have forgotten.  As always, the NPC is never wrong and seldom offers bad advice.  More often than not, the NPC shockingly know the right path…of course the GM might be aware and throw in the odd red herring or two.

THE GM’s CHARACTER:
     A common trait or GMs that double as Players in the off time is to incorporate one of their own.  This is honestly a good thing as it offers the GM the chance to infuse the other traits of NPCs.  GM Characters are often more independent, are more fleshed out, and sometimes can have their motivations, like a real PC.  However, the GM must not make the mistake of making the NPC an equal of the PC.  The NPC is never that important.

THE FILLER:
     Sometimes the group just cannot cover the spectrum of skills required to good playing.  Especially in D&D groups where suddenly, someone notices there is no magic user or on a spacecraft missing an engineer.  Some NPCs are there only to donate the few extra skills needed to handle needs not covered by PCs.
     There are those NPCs that enter only briefly.  These are simple game plot NPCs and are usually there for a specific purpose and then leave but the regular NPCs can sometimes be as important as PCs, just as long as they are not more important.  NPC should not monopolize the game.  Also, don’t have too many of them.  Spending half a battle dealing with NPC is not a good idea.

     Pathfinder’s spacecraft carried a crew of eight but only had four PCs.  The remaining were:  Brooklyn Taylor, Jessica Quaice, Finland Boothe and Willas Bryce.  Brooklyn was obscure in her role as the Tug operator.  She basically filled the missing technical side and became the assistant to the engineer when necessary.  She also controlled the ships auxiliary functions.  I utilized her more for backup skills that didn’t fit in other roles like computer programming.  Jessica was the NPC gunwoman.  She was my good guy in gunfights.  She was often the only good NPC with a gun.  She also was the pilot before Charles' joined the group.  She later was delegated to navigation and flew the backup spacecraft when Charles was occupied.  I kept her after Charles joined the group because I was hoping perhaps developing an eventual relationship between her and Charles’ PC.  Boothe and Bryce were much more refined as personas.  Boothe was the engineer.  He contained vital skills and proved very popular.  His skills covered the spectrum and he could repair anything.  Bryce was the doctor, also very important.  No PC was willing to spend that many points as I did for Bryce’s medical skills.  Bryce eventually became the most fleshed out NPC in the group.  I even attempted an experimental adventure and made him the center of an episode and the PCs played off of him instead of vice-versa.  Now that breaks my rule but I still wanted to try it.  The point here is that I hardly ever utilized two NPCs at a time.  All four were never in a gunfight together.  After three years of role-playing, the PCs considered the NPC crew members as much of the family as the other Player characters.
 
Marlee:  "I saw this on a show once..." 
Berlin:  "How did they deal with it." 
Marlee:  "Well, they "beamed" out." 
Berlin:  "That doesn't exactly help US!"

USING OTHER SOURCES
(You know, ripping off)

     What?  You think you don’t do it?  You do.  You think your idea is original?  Its not.  You think they won’t find out?  You pray.  Simple as that.  Few GMs are successful novel writers.  Maybe they were, but it’s doubtful you have a game idea worthy of a $100 million summer movie event.  It could be eventually…with a little work and some college courses.  However, I wage to guess that almost all the games ever played in role-playing have something ripped off of another source.  Few are totally original.  Hell, most movies aren’t either.  You probably were inspired by a movie, a game, a TV episode you watched.  Maybe the group has seen it as well and looks forward to your translation.  Maybe you ripped it off so much you pray they haven’t.  Here is they key:  Make sure.  For one, don’t rip off a $200 million dollar blockbuster.  The larger the group, the harder it will be to disguise.  Modify it just enough that is bears resemblance but there is still a lot of originality.  If they have not heard of it at all, then just file of the serial numbers and enjoy yourself.
     If you wish to introduce a new weapon lifted from previous source or a spacecraft you don’t believe anyone will recognize, draw it.  Do you have the skill?  Try.  Just draw the weapon.  Give the illusion it’s original.  However some great pictures exist if you know where to look for them.  They are unique to themselves, not connected to any publishes material.  Photos for cars exist everywhere; the same goes for famous weapons, both past and present.  Probably the most ripped off is futuristic technology, namely spacecraft, robots and cool guns.  Mecha are simple because so many Anime influence each other a lot just look the same.  Surfing the net will reveal thousands of mech pictures, many most players won’t recognize.  I have also noticed that most players in a mech game won’t care if the design is lifted from another source…just as long as the design fits in the game.  As for spacecraft, avoid using any from movies unless the movie is an unknown.  Luckily there is a solution on the net as before, this time in the form of hundred of space painting from artists from around the world.  Search for names like Jim Burns, Ron Cobb, and Chris Foss for some truly original looking and totally unique ship designs.
     It’s OK to lift ideas for specific adventures, but try to avoid ripping the whole game off a source and trying to conceal the fact from the players.  It may really tick them off when they find out.

 WHAT CAN YOU RIP OFF:
    Stories:  Stories are hard.  This is the worst situation for a GM if he is caught.  More than any other type of plagiarism.  Ripping off a plot shows a lot of weakness.
    Technology:  Lifting designs like weapons, vehicles, and spacecraft are just fine and even recommended to improve the visual feel of a game.  However, don’t rip off the obvious.  Stay away from signature devices like light sabers and Green Destiny Swords.  There are tones of photos online that a GM can use that are not only hard to identify, but even totally unattached to any major source.  So go ahead and use those guns you lifted from Timecop (not a huge blockbuster), but don’t use Aliens (unless its Alien-FUZION of course).
    Actor Photos:  Totally free.  I mean where else are you going to get good photos for actors.  Just avoid any notable peripherals that may throw the illusion.  You want Leonard Nimoy for a role in your game…sure…just don’t show a picture of him with pointed ears.
    Concepts:  Concepts are the most lifted.  A movie or book has a good idea; a GM takes that and develops the idea into something new.  Most of the time, the players join because the concept is familiar.

     My first refereed game in a science fiction setting was a complete and total rip-off of the movie Outland.  I admit it.  I still lifted material later but did it more and more gradually.  Pathfinder was almost 50% unoriginal material, but I mixed it nicely so the taste didn’t seem too abrasive to the group.  I used hundreds of space pictures from my extensive collection of space art from around the world.  The concept of the game itself was influenced and was openly declared a tribute to the great dark SF of the types of Alien, Outland, and Pitch Black.  Some adventures were very much ripped off, some very subtle…some not so much.  I can admit that one of the most famous adventures I did was based on an Anime called Green Legend Ran.  All I borrowed was this cool concept of massive boat shaped vessels cruising across a desert that responded like water while traveling through it.  I even took plot points of the movie Explorers for an adventure once.  I learned that mixing original with unoriginal was the key.  From Explorers, I lifted bits of the spacecraft, and the attempted alien takeover of the craft.  Everything else was original.

ENCOURAGING CHOREOGPRAHY

     Step back and just look at the game being played.  See how a battle would look in life.  Is it just two guys in a room, standing erect, firing shot after shot.  Does someone simply dodge by bobbing their head left and right or do they roll over a tables and fire backward a’la John Woo?  Game fights can get increasingly monotonous and even boring if its simply dice rolling.  The GM should make the first step.  Make sure that a battle area is explained in complete detail.  Draw it, position people, place props—Make objects deformable; make thing breakable.  Offer barriers and block line of sights with dangerous hazards.  This sets the scene and offers a mood sometimes better than any music score can.  A skillful combination can change a comical gunfight in Naked Gun with the climactic scene in LA confidential.  Encourage the PC with experience points to choreograph the action the scene they best they can.  A good way is to incorporate the critical success.  If the GM is endorsing the critical success rule, reward a good role by a good move.  Don’t just say, “okay he is dead instantly.”  Reward the PC with an acrobatic or a gunshot that would make Wo Ping proud.  In a car chase, throw in some obstacles, pedestrians, animals, casual traffic or incidental accidents.  A gunfight – Offer obstacles, flammable items, and bystanders.  Action scenes need to be unique and fit into the setting at hand.

     I love rewarding critical successes with interesting maneuvers.  One time, Charles jumped off a car before it exploded, soared through the air, shot through the window of another car, took out the bad guy driver, and landed in the passenger seat.  Over the top?  Yeah.  What’s your point?
 
Gabriel:  “He controls the Horizontal and the Vertical.” 
Rio: “We would be in the Outer Limits for the bad pun of the week.”

VILLIANS

     Here is the big problem though with GMs:  Never taunt the PCs by dangling the bad guy over and over again without the opportunity to fight.  And if they do, give them a chance for victory.  If not, it can prove very frustrating for the PCs to engage in a fight they have no hoper in winning.  And if they do win, nothing pisses a player off than bringing that villain back again and again.  The Players need victories.  So never include just one villain.  Always toss in a couple subordinates.  Take one down once and a while.  Make it personal.  The GM should create a handful of villains routed in the past of the Player Characters.  There is no need, then, to create antagonistic feelings for them since they already exists.  In fact, greater rifts will occur in the old enemies rather than introducing new ones, often no matter how evil the new NPC is.  Players love to encounter NPCs from their past and they follow through with a deep-seated passion, more so if the NPCs are age-old villains.  New villains, especially big ones, have to be full thought out characters to be effective.  They need all their abilities written down with all applicable skills at hand.  The biggest villain does not need to be the richest or the strongest, but the one the PC/s feel the greatest rage over.  That villain should be left for a massive climax and unless a very good point is given, should never come back.  It totally sucks the life and reason out of the game.  The PC/s direct themselves to one purpose when a master villain they are obsessed over presents himself or herself.  Never achieving the goal of conquering this foe makes the PC/s doubt the reason for playing.
 Shifting loyalties can be tricky.  A new villain presented at the beginning of the game than turns around to be later, an ally, is a concept easier to swallow than a GM might think.  However, turning loyalties to an old PC rooted enemy into an ally is very difficult.  PCs can be obtuse that way—incapable often enough of letting the villain a chance to be a good, or at the very least, not to evil.  Even allies out of necessarily (fighting a common enemy) can sometimes be hard, that final concept is much easier to swallow.  Just watch for a sudden turn by the PCs unless they are convinced the Enemy has righted his wrongs.
     A big stop sign springs up, however, to the mirror opposite of what I just mentioned.  Turning Old PC friends into enemies or anything other than what the PC had conceived is a sure fire route to aggravation.  Simply put, the NPCs the Players have created to be their friends are often, as close to their heart as the PCs themselves.  Turning a high school best friend into the arch-villain, can be tricky, and may backfire to the GM as the PC constantly insists that this path would have never been an option in the NPCs life.
     It is always a good idea to have a villain unless the specifics of the game prohibit it.  However, even though it is encouraged to create allies in the PCs past, avoid asking them to create villains unless you plan on using them.  They offer a lot of opportunities that shouldn’t go to waste.
     Finally, to quote the great M. Night Shyamalan’s masterpiece Unbreakable, there are two types of villains, the ones that defeat the hero with his fists and the greater enemy, that uses his mind.  The same applies here.  Now, even though the master foe should be last to go down, often enough the main underling, the commanding foot solider, is the greatest victory the PC/s can achieve.  Make it big and make it glorious.  Suspend the moment, and make sure everyone knows how great this victory was.

 Conestoga is perfect example of using villains.  For a game with a solitary player, it contained no fewer that six PC created NPC allies and more than four PC created villains.  On top of that, I added more than six enemies myself on top of those.  A total of almost thirty NPCs came and went during the course of the two-month game, some more important than others. The biggest opponent of the game was Jagheel Adagio.  He was the main villain for Derrick’s PC even though there were opponents of higher rank above him.  He presented the greatest victory for the PC but also his greatest disappointed.  Jagheel and the PC had a respect for each other because of a sense of honor both possessed.  The other villains were truly evil but Jagheel was more logical, more like just a soldier on the other side passionate about his values.  Other villains included a massive thug…the beast, known as Sole Giros who became this monstrosity that was actually dealt with AFTER Jagheel was killed.  Another was the main commander, who was killed when the Mothership detonated at the climax.  My six villains were the main villains.  Derrick’s NPCs, villain or not, all had to band together to deal with them.  Since the enemy NPCs created by the PCs were not inheritably and totally evil, I was able to get away with that.  However, the two-hour battle/ordeal between Jagheel and Derrick’s PC was a battle of wits and morals as well as strength.  Making a villain the PC wants t bring down but not necessarily kill is a hard balance to achieve and Conestoga succeeded.

KNOW YOUR GM / KNOW YOUT PLAYERS
AND MAKING THE GAME CLEAR

     I would venture to guess that perhaps 5% of all game players actually follow all the rules, use only officially approved character classes, and permit only sensible balanced items in their campaigns.  Check that…maybe 2%.  I could have mentioned this above with the reasons why games collapse but this is rooted in the creation of the game itself.  When the GM creates his game, he must outline in detail what is he is looking for in characters and he must be aware of what is being created.  If a PC being created just doesn’t work, the GM must know that ahead of time less the game falls apart later
 
Williams:  "Sorry, I am being an ass..." 
     <Silence> 
Brown:  "Hear that?  ...   That's the sound of noooobody disagreeing with you..."