GAMES MASTERS


THE THREE-STAGE PROCESS

Stage 1 the Monty Haul Campaign
    The novice GM is frequently so worried about keeping his players happy with the game that other methods of accomplishing this end do not occur to him.  Instead, he takes the most obvious route of supplying tones of treasure and items, score of magic, and easy ways to advance in levels and skills to hold the players’ interest.  The new GM has not realized that the main attraction of Role Playing is not necessarily the collection of gold and goodies for relatively minor accomplishments.  If a GM exhibits these properties, don’t fret.  Most of the best GM’s started off like this.
 
Miranden:  "We don't have the money for horses." 
Leopold:  "Just acquire a couple of asses..." 
Indivian:  "Ohhhh...Gnomish prostitutes..." 
<Dead Silence...>

Stage 2:  Letter of the Law bunch.
     This step begins with the realization that the campaign has gotten out of hand.  The characters can buy and sell most kingdoms or corporations before breakfast.  They can walk up to Odin, kick him in the shins and get away with it.  They have killed off all their enemies, all the demons, and big nasty boss mechs.  If they are into AD&D…then they have moved onto deities.  The GM reasons, “I must be doing this all wrong.”  There quickly ensues a sudden 180-degree change of course to strict adherence to the rules.  They regard the written word as a set of holy laws, and death to the infidel.  Fortunately, this Stage is relatively short-lived and ends quite abruptly, either with all the players quitting in disgust or with the DM losing his cool at the countless times he’s consulted tables made die rolls.  This latter stage is frequently achieved amiss loud profane screams of frustration and anger, usually accompanied by endless sheets of paper sent flying through the air like so many weird rectangular butterflies.
 
Calli:  "I worship my god, Guido." 
Claren:  "Guido?  What?  Is your god Italian?" 
Mika:  "I didn't know there were Italian gods in Forgotten Realms." 
Claren:  "Badda Bing Badda Boom, FIREBALL!!"

Stage 3:  Normal
 This is by far the most common style and is the easiest to referee.  It is a blend of the official rules, the GM’s unofficial rules, and basic, run of the mill, common sense.  While this method will usually not be seen in tournament play, it is the form most frequently found in the average neighborhood get togethers.  Since it doesn’t require constant reference to the many tables, it permits smoothness and speed of play, as well as allowing the GM insert his own results, if he were so inclined.
     A GM using the Normal method still needs a solid grounding in the actual rules of the game, but he is no longer bound by the inflexible results of the die.  Provided the altered results do not unbalance the campaign, and are more consistent with its goals, he can feel free to reward or punish the characters’ actions without making a die roll.  He must still remember that no one appreciates a GM that plays favorites, is inconsistent, or who makes decisions without regard to balance or merit (see later for details).
 
GM (to Elric and Miranden -- scouts>:  "Oh, my God, you notice the sun rising in the East and setting in the West." 
Leopold:  "And these are supposed to be our scouts..." 
Indivian:  "Where did we hire these people?!"


PROPERTIES OF GAME MASTERS

 …TO PLAYER’S LIVES
     EXECUTIONERS
     We hate this guys, don’t we players.  It is one thing to be fair.  It’s another for a GM to willingly attack his PCs.  Most GMs who plan a short game can sometimes become executioners, killing off their Players willingly and wantingly.  I personally have never agreed with that.  Fairness works better.  Now if a PC is killed fast in a game through the rolls of combat, the argument can always be made, “it was in the rolls.”  However, the GM should never press the finger of god upon a PC and kill him outright, story be damned.  The are only a few exceptions where these character death’s are warranted:
     a) The Player wishes to start anew with a new PC.
     b) The Player plans on leaving the gaming group.
     c) The Player and GM have a previous knowledge of the fate of the PC when the game begins.
    Otherwise, these GMs lifespan remains short unless they move from this very short phase.

    Combine with…  Any type of player group and game type … they don’t last long though.

    Craig created two characters for the blossoming Pathfinder game.  These characters were created simultaneously as the setting was being fleshed out.  At first, it’s was just him and me.  We put out an announcement and soon found five more players to flesh out the crew of the Vanderov.  Soon, over a period of time, having two characters proved useless.  The Captain  character, Heather, was prominent.  The security chief, Bjorn, proved less useful in lie of other characters.  Sure, he could donate, but even Craig understood that it reduced the role playing of both characters as well as robbing other PCs of playtime.  After two years, Craig and I agreed that Bjorn would go at a good time.  However, soon after, Craig revealed he, himself, was moving.  I didn’t wish to kill them both off.  So Bjorn took a round for the group in a great season cliffhanger and Heather left to find herself, leaving an opening for a return.

    MASACHISTS
 I will admit falling into this category for the bulk of my role-playing career.  Instead of trying the kill the characters, the GM simply wants to completely torture the players, bringing them as close to death as possible, but never killing them.  I must admit this property is common with GMs.  They, all, at one point, try this out.  This is most common with long games or smaller groups.  Characters become more and more important in these classes of games.  The GM wishes the PC to live but will make that PC fight with blood every step of the way.  The only time Masochists will consider killing a PC is only at the end of a game.  The mentality with masochists is that the Players must have the fear of death coursing through the veins at every minute to enjoy the game to its full extent.

    Combine with… Mostly with Slasher players since most Role Players don’t require fear of death to motivate them.  However it is not uncommon.  Masochists often create the “Never-Ending Story” and the “Continuing Adventures” but not often with an “Interactive Novel” because usually they have more detailed stories and often don’t have scenes where the player’s lives are in danger.
 
Max:  "It isn't important." 
Gabriel:  "Can we make that decision?” 
Max:  "Well there is a possibility that flight from Alpha Centaur might get hijacked." 
Group:  "ISN'T THAT IMPORTANT?"

    HUMANITARIANS
    More common that you might think, Humanitarians are usually masochists that just stop bothering with trying to keep the players scared.  This is also common with starting Game Masters.  Some players find this trait annoying as it removes much of the joy of playing.  If playing with an executioner can be compared to an old Sierra Computer Game, than Humanitarians are born from a Lucasarts game.  There is no fear of death, so don’t bother saving every minute.  This gives Role Players the opportunity to develop little eccentricities of their character, ripe with the knowledge that it won’t be in vain when their character takes a round to the head at the end of the session.  I have never had a problem with Humanitarians as long as the story created it interesting and dynamic, something to offset the lack of challenging fights.  Humanitarians are most common in smaller groups (three or less players) or with long, intricate game stories.  A Humanitarian may still occasionally throw fear into a PC.  Its difficult with a fantasy game…however, in the plethora of Mecha games out there, its easy (see my experience below).

    Combine with… Interactive novels mostly.  Where the GM creates an intricate story, where the player’s lives are paramount.  This is only fun for pure Role Players since Slashers don’t enjoy a game where they don’t look down death at every turn.

     The great thing about mecha games is that the Human pilot could survive but could lose several mechs over the course of the game.  Derrick Role played a very interesting character in my Conestoga game.  He was the first to try the game…he was also the only player.  (It’s his game where I got all the dialogue in the Conestoga Game section)  Obviously, his death was never at hand.  However, he did go through three mechs.  When he first clashed with his primary opponent, Jagheel Adaigo, they seemed evenly matched.  Then Rolaan (the PC name) strikes down Jagheel’s brother.  Jagheel activates his Z-Max system (an Mekton term referring to kind of nitro boost) and assaults Rolaan’s mech.  Derrick had little chance and his mech was sliced across the waist.  Derrick survived of course.  He lost his second Mek crashing it at close to Mach speed across an ocean.  His third lasted the rest of the game, even taking down his opponent at the finale.

     (THE RARE AND OFTEN NEVER SEEN) NEUTRAL GM
    The True Neutral GM might seem common but they are as rare and as hard to recognize as a True Neutral Character in AD&D.  These GMs usually can improvise the whole game and create whole side adventures that last months on a whim.  They follow the rules fairly strictly.  NPCs are slim.  The GM is there to create a universe for the players to voyage around in.

    Combine with… Neutral GM creates continuing adventure mostly.  Player often love these GMs because they know their victories are fair but also it can get annoy since most Player do appreciate some leniency.  Honestly, I have never seen this type of GM but friends tell me they exist.
 
Max:  "Don't bother running, we'll never make it." 
Heather:  "Fine you stay here and accept that...We're running."

 …TO THE GAME UNIVERSE
     NEVER-ENDING STORY
     Nothing says frustration when a game begins with a story without a climax.  The GM starts with a story—something to tempt the players—and the game moves forward without seemingly finishing this story.  Oh sure, there may be off quests and side stories, but the primary arc that begins never resolves.  It meanders and weaves through the setting, the PCs settle into their lives, but even when main bad guys are killed, they somehow always survive.  Like a soap opera, it seems the main villains are always out of the grasp of the players.  These games can last for years.  A good GM can keep the interest high.  However, eventually, the PCs will get restless.  The big difference between this type and the Interactive Novel game is that the PCs may seem to have more control over their characters but they seem as far away from a resolution to the grand story as the day they started.  Fantasy games are the most common of this type.

    Combine with… Any type of Players but Slashers like tangible victories and are usually the first demographic to exhibit frustration over the lack of a big climax.  Any type of GM tackles this story since, often enough; the PCs are not as intricate to the story as the other classes of games.  As for the Game Masters, I have noticed more inexperience GMs use these types of games.  More skilled GMs give tangible victories and the game transforms from Never-Ending Story to an Interactive Novel.

     I never tackled this idea.  Pathfinder started with broken episodes (Below) and turned into an interactive novel.  I like victories.  The ending may still be far but the PCs at least feel as though they are moving in a solid direction.  I have played in Never-Ending Game before.  The GM was an old friend, Ivan, and Derrick and I played together.  This game lasted almost a year and a half, broken into two major parts.  The first was moderately successful—I had successfully struck down the man who killed my PC’s girlfriend.  However, at the start of Part 2, he miraculously resurrected.  Boy was I pissed.  I soon lost interest in the game.  It seemed I kept missing all the important facts being held from me by the other player (more on this later).  My PC left and started his life again, basically giving up on the plot of the game.  For three months of Role Playing, my character did NOTHING.  It reached a climax and ended…but to this day, I still don’t know what that RPG was about nor what Derrick’s part of the adventure was about, as our character split to find out own paths…little did I know I had no path.

    CONTINUING ADVENTURES…
     A very common style for Science-Fiction gaming.  This game doesn’t tempt PCs with a beginning arc, but like the Never-Ending Story, there is no real end.  The game continues until the Players or GM decides they have had enough.  Good fantasy games are like this, as a group of wanderers seek fortune and reputation.  For Sci-Fi games, common with spacecraft adventures, the Players either (as independent) wander from planet to planet or (if part of an organization), get mission assignments on a regular basis.  GMs with a bit of flare may even have an opening theme score to match it up as some form of interactive television show.  If this type of game is done well, it showcases the best a GM can be.  Really good ones can create new episodes on whim.  A knight walks to a bartender by chance and hears about some legend the GM improvises on hand and the Knight tells the group.  The group decides to take a break from body guarding the king and trumpet off to the forest for glory.  GMs whom lack the experience or improvisation skills who tackle this type of game don’t last long, as anytime the players stray of the beaten path; they hit a wall of dead ends and plot strings that don’t go anywhere.  This is the most common game where the Player introduces his/her own character that he/she created totally separate from the game being introduced.  The PC histories are usually not important to the main setting and path of the game.

    Combine with… Mostly Role Players although Slashers might find enjoyment if the GM tosses in the odd random encounter.  Humanitarians often don’t try this type of game unless they are in a mecha game.

     Terminals was my first real attempt to create an episodic game, ripe with theme music.  It succeeded for a while but the game didn’t last more than eight months.  Most of the Role Players were too used to sitting in a Never-ending adventure without set goals for each adventure.  If I had to do it over again, I would give the game a more open-ended feel and rely less on presenting the game as a Television show.  Being with mecha, I was able to throw some fear into the players but there was one problem (unlike PCs as part of a military organization), how do you replace a mecha for a character from a different Universe.  At the seventh adventure, I came up with the first incident.  Derrick controlled a wonderful PC named Kael’No, an egocentrical warmonger with a god-complex to boot (a great character but, as you will read later, caused problems).  His mecha was a wonderful design of a supreme overlord machine powered by a miniature black hole.  I was aware of the danger of his mech exploding considering the power plant.  So when a PC fired on him (long story), Derrick’s mech, instead of incinerating itself and everything for 500 km, simply imploded and vanished.  Derrick ejected of course.  What happened?  Basically, his mech created a wormhole from the tremendous explosion and his mech vanished through it to another dimension.  At the same moment, Derrick’s mech from another Universe (that wasn’t destroyed) was sucked back through it…along with the pilot.  If the group had troubles with the ego of one Kael’No…now there were two of them.  Derrick controlled one or the other and I controlled the one he wasn’t using.  I was fully prepared to kill one when the time came.  Alas, the game ended before that happened.
 
Bjorn:  "What do you have?" 
Rio:  "Axe, you?" 
Bjorn:  "Pipe...What do they have?" 
Rio:  "Machine Guns." 
Bjorn:  "Good.  Let's get 'em."

    INTERACTIVE NOVEL.
    A very rare and very had game to do right; the Interactive Novel often results in failure.  It all relies on the GM.  The “Novel” often can be replaced by “Movie.”  This game is usually designed to be shorter that the long campaigns.  Some run as long as 3 or 4 months while others only last a few game sessions.  These GMs create a story with a definite middle and ending.  Sure, the game may not follow the standard three-act structure of a screenplay, but the GM still attempts to give the idea that this game has a purpose.  Players too used to having total freedom to do anything they want at anytime often hate these games that seem very tight and confining.  Bad GMs usually force the Players down paths that seem illogical from their perspectives.  Straying off the planned path often results in total disaster.  The trick is knowing the PCs so well, the GM can anticipate and find out ways for the PCs to follow the proper game path of their OWN choice and not one laid obviously in front of them by the GM.  In every Interactive Novel game, the GM will always have a say in the creation of the PC in some way.  Usually making sure the personality fits or doesn’t contain traits that would fracture the game.  Most Players don’t mind this as long as their basic pitch of a character still pulls through.  If it doesn’t, the GM must either, alter the game to fit the new PC, or plan a new game with the new template.  Don’t put a PC into a game like this unless you are sure the PC won’t destroy the setting or do something terrible stupid in character.  Bad GMs often consider this game and the story more important than the PCS, running it like their own personal “Choose your own adventure” Novel where the Players input very or little creative input and the GM goes on from there.  Most amateur GM’s that start these types of games will do this at least once.  In fact, most Players will claim this type of game to be their least favorite.  However, some will admit, if done right (and rarely they are) they enjoyed themselves more than they could have imagined.  These GMS are most likely to employ music, encourage choreography, and plan detailed scenes (see below).  Players beware.  If a novice GM tries this game type out, you might be cautious since these GMs have the highest probability to take over your character at a critical moment.  Most GM playing Interactive Novels start getting paranoid that the PC will start messing with their vision.  These Stanley Kubrick wannabees start an idea but basically can’t improvise so they start forcing the players down their path.  Be weary.
 
Rio:  "Yeah, just lock in that psychosis."

    Combine with… Role Players mostly.  Avoid Slashers since most of the time, they simply won’t care about the details of the plot.  As for GMs, they are almost always humanitarians because Player deaths are factors not planned in the story of the game.  Executioners are rare and seldom if ever seen in this type.

     Conestoga was a three-month Interactive epic.  Derrick considered it a Mini-Series, but I though it was more of those 3-hour epics like Lawrence of Arabia.  I designed the game as a heavy plot campaign for one or two players.  I played it twice.  Derrick finished it first.  He introduced a great character that fit well into the setting with his own personal motivation and sense of honor kept him on the narrow line of the story.  Derrick enjoyed the game story, even though it had many side-scenes and a plethora of NPCs.  Ships of the Line, however, played by Bill and Derrick, failed after one session.  The problem was that I didn’t do a very good job overseeing the creation of the characters.  Instead of creating a Captain and 1st officer of a spacecraft crewed by over 300, the Players became independent people fighting each other and other officers, ignoring the chain of command and going so far as to running security cameras on every deck and flying wherever they wanted to, forgetting that this game had threads of “Trek” and they needed to follow SOME rules.  Putting rules down is not the problem, if the Player creates an honest cop, he should follow rules…same goes for creating PCs in a military setting.  I didn’t clarify that and the game folded quickly.  Derrick admitted later that he didn’t think he could mesh with Bill as a player and doesn’t lay the failure of the game on me.
 
Sandz:  "You want to shoot down four jumbo jets to kill four people?" 
MaCleary:  "Its a solution, isn't it?" 
     PAUSE 
Sandz:  "Be Quiet."