WHO IS RIGHT?
When GM’s and Player’s clash, who will emerge victorious. The answer is no one, however, the common rule with most games gives power completely with the GM. So is the GM always right? Not exactly. True, the GM does receive the power of God over his/her game; however, they do not receive the power of smite. A common failing to all GM at least once in their career is pride. There are ways to avoid being proved wrong.
THE GM’S VETO POWER APPLIES TO:
THE GM MUST ADMIT DEFEAT TO:
I already mentioned the incident with the
Marine Corps RPG. In Pathfinder, everyone knew the game so well;
there was never a conflict in the game Universe. However, my biggest
problem came with Craig. He did nothing wrong. Not at all.
It all became routed with the fact that Craig…was a genius. I am
not exactly sure where his IQ is. I think we did a test once and
his is about 10 or 15 more than me. He also has boatloads of raw
technical knowledge where my expertise was in the more abstract.
He admitted to me several times that he does not have the brain for imagination.
However, I admit defeat when it comes to intelligence. I had to be
extremely careful when it came to using techno babble since I knew if I
was just guessing and I was wrong, Craig would speak up. However,
there was one moment where he nailed me on one very bad cliché.
My attempt for a standard ghost story lost all forms of tension right at
a pivotal point. One crew member announces like some great revelation,
"Guys...I think its the Captain..." and then Craig blurts out, "Well of
COURSE its the CAPTAIN!" And all mood is flushed down the proverbial
toilet. At that point, the game was a crawl that was only saved by
the overlying plot of the adventure around it.
DICE ROLLS Vs. GAME FLOW
Sorry players, but this MUST fall into the
GM territory but there is a gray area open for argument. If a character
is struck without warning from behind by a very large bludgeon and is knocked
out, unless the player offers a very good reason why he should turn and
pop a cap in the ass of this bat wielding goof (“Shouldn’t the four other
players behind me have noticed this chicklet brain before he cold-cocked
me?”), he is out cold.
My biggest and probably only conflict in the years playing with Derrick came from a D&D adventure where Derrick played an Elf. Now, the adventure was a published work, not an original (called The Egg of the Phoenix). In a Dungeon crawl moment, the group comes across a strange artifact. Simply put, the slug said that the object “places a charm that will effect everyone who touches it regardless of saving throw or race:” Derrick would not have this and promptly and rather pompously rolled his percentile dice. Some might recall that elves are 90% immune to charm but this artifact was quite direct about its effectiveness. Derrick became very upset and thought I was just picking on him. However, the rule held and his elf was charmed.
So in this case, I always go for game flow
unless, as said before, there is a good reason for a die roll. Like
someone pulls a knife and lunges in towards the PC in plane view, the PC
should be able to make a roll to avoid. Every GM can weave tales
of Players engaging in action no other human would attempt only because
they know they may critical success. This is common with Slashers—they
commonly shoot first, shoot second, shoot some more, and then maybe ask
a question. A villain holds a bystander hostage with gun, ordering
the PCs to drop their firearms. In movies and most likely, real life,
the PCs would lower their weapons knowing they are not that good a shot
or that human life is too precious for such a risk…not so in many a game.
Blam… “Oh, I hit the hostage…oh well.”
I already mentioned the incident with Bill and Derrick and the mech game where he we were surrounded 10 to 1, fought, and still won. Derrick was renowned for never backing down from a fight. He usually assumes overwhelming odds meant an exceptionally long fight. Even in Conestoga, he would go up against amazing odds and I WOULD expect a fight from him. PCs with guns think they are indestructible. PCs with mechs think they are god. However, one moment in Conestoga, I wanted him to surrender. It would lead to him finally coming face to face with his arch-nemesis—his equal, Jagheel Adaigo. However…he would have to surrender. Let me tell you. When you have no weapons, and a 30-foot tall robots bears a weapon on you…you surrender. If I recall…that was the ONLY time Derrick ever surrendered. Subtle, wasn’t it?
THE GAME ROOM – DO’s & DON’Ts
The room can sometimes make or break a game. Don’t believe me? Trust me, cramping six players in bedroom with no chair and inadequate air circulation will piss off many and result in a group of uncomfortable and very smelly players. You would be surprised how much heat five or six people in a closed generates
BIGGER IS BETTER:
You name it, I have played there: Bedrooms, Living rooms, Basements, and Pool Halls. My computer room was a popular venue for smaller groups. However, the heat buildup was extraordinary. Even with fans, unless the window was opened, eventually no one could breath. I have noticed basements work better than almost every location except for one…schools. Schools offer an unbiased location for all to meet. There were two basements that did stand out. Both Derrick’s three couches on cement with massive wood tables and Charles' massive living room with couches, a loveseat, a recliner and a futon was great for large groups. The local college was best. It allowed great side moments when I would GM with just one player. We would walk away down the hallway and just talk secretly. The group played every Saturday at 7:00, and we were often enough, the only people in that section of the school. We often got secluded rooms in the corner. The only distraction came from a security guard that would arrive once every three hours. We sometimes wouldn’t have the door unlocked for us and we would have to hunt for him. One time, a new guard wouldn’t unlock the door for us even though we had the time booked and blocked. So…we just sat there, in the hallways and played right there. We were in the top corner or the school and no one came by. It was an odd session. The only down point came when I was late for a session. I tripped on the rug and broke a rib. I still have trouble sleeping on my left-hand side.
THAT BLASTED AWARENESS CHECK
THE RICHES CANBE PLENTIFUL…
While in a weapons shop in some far off space colony in Pathfinder, Charles asked if the clerk had any really rare weapons. Charles has been known to do this often at every outskirt colony shop. He bought rare powerful guns. But upon running out of ammunition, he would simply toss the weapon. For the longest while, I never sold him a gun he had any desire to keep. Only an old flachette 14mm seemed to hang around. But this day was different. The clerk pulled what was known as a Z1-Deckard. This was an advanced pistol that fired self-propelled rocket shells. But not only that but it would also auto-aim on vital organs or exposed vulnerabilities. The first time Charles fired it, it took off the rear axle off a futuristic hummer. “You’re a keeper!” Charles said and pocketed the weapon. He never threw that gun away. He even, at one point, walked back into an enemy base to confront a main bady just to get his gun back. However the downside was ammunition. They cost more than $1000 per bullet and were available in only half the places he checked out.
During Pathfinder, I attempted an experiment
in the first season. As like a dungeon crawl, I incorporated random
events in the life of the group like Raider attacks to ship malfunctions
to unexpected windfalls to name a few. Some specific instances of
note included the crew finding drugs smuggled on their ship to a stowaway
kid, and the life support shutting down. The rarest type of encounter
I rolled for was a new story. I rolled such an instance during another
adventure. Halfway through a very edgy episode dealing with Joe’s
PC’s loyalty and a race to locate this rare vessel equipped with nuclear
weapons, the crew suddenly came across another vessel equipped with an
automated computer system that had gained sentience. Joe made an
improper conclusion that this was connected to his adventure somehow and
started lying to the group. This didn’t help his cause…
CUE CARDS & BASE SKILLS
Here is an idea for the GM…keep it simple.
You never need to write down every single statistic of your NPC or even
the players. So for every thug and villain, create a cue card.
On this card, place the following applicable numbers: Hit Points,
Armor, primary weapon stats, and all-important Base skills. Base
skills are derived from the old THACO of early AD&D and only apply
to certain games. Figure out all the skills the Character uses the
most and add them to the applicable statistic. As said, this only
applies to games that deal with skills where you add the skill to a stat
and roll a die to either beat it or add to it. These Base Skills
should include: Awareness, Hand to hand, and all ranged weapons separated
with their applicable weapon accuracies. For games that don’t use
skills that way, just write down all base numbers used most frequently.
PCs should do this as well to streamline combat. For me, whenever
I play in a game, I write these numbers in the often never-used “character
sketch” space on a character sheet.
And yes, the GM should have Cue cards of all the PCs as well. When combat occurs, the GM can just lay out the enemy cards in front and refer to them when needed. Also it could be helpful for the thugs to have several duplicates or perhaps their cue card to have boxes to keep track of several NPC of the same stats at once.
A NPC fires at a Bill. Bill dodges the
blast and returns fire. The shot grazes the opponent who tumbles
over a table. The NPC bears his weapon on another PC, Jack.
The NPC fires…Oops…one sec. The group waits as Jack check his dodge
skill. Now what was that again? He checks his dexterity…then
checks his dodge. Okay. What was his armor again? What
was the capacity of that armor? He’s going to check…and the game
grinds to a halt. Nothing cheeses a group more in a combat scene
when the battle slows to a snail’s crawl. It shows a lack of professionalism
in the player for not knowing their stats. Cue cards are a great
way to quickening the pace but some Players just insist on checking number
and pages in books. First of all, in large groups, the player should
be getting ready for his/her turn before it comes up. When they are
called upon, they should be ready.
Rules are not set in stone but once they are changed, they are. The GM is free to, at the beginning of the game, to change ANY rules in the game as he or she sees fit. Write them down, to make sure they don’t come back to bite them in the ass. As for in game rules, don’t change rules that previously favored against a player. That’s just bad form. Only change a rule during the game that has not previously come up OR if the rule change benefits the Players. There is the golden rule. Rule changes before the game can benefit anybody but rules changes during game play should always favor the players. Changing a rule during the game that cripples a player will just annoy the group and make them believe the GM is picking on them. There is the rare case when the rule benefits no one. This is when changing a rule just makes the game easier, not better.
SPECIFIC GAME TYPES
The lights were off, bathing the room in total darkness. I was conducting some private gaming with Ivan. He was outside the massive spacecraft “Maelstrom” as it closed in its ultimate destination, the sentient star known as Millennium Moraes. Monsters started appearing on board the ship. Ivan tried to shortcut around them to reach Derrick on the bridge. Derrick was pinned. I role-played privately with Ivan. Derrick donned headphones and quietly sat out for a moment. It got fairly warm after a while, even with the lights turned off. We were all in the mood of the session. Dave found the roaming fan somewhat annoying so he turned it off. However, it got hot real fast. While Derrick was out of tune, headphones on, I asked Ivan to turn the fan back on. The Fan spun to life and started sweeping across the room. At full blast, the breeze crept up Derrick’s legs without warning. Derrick JUMPED and screamed. It scared the hell out of him.
Have the map make sense: Even some mazes baffle the intelligence. But some maps double around, seemingly overlapping themselves. They are there just to confuse and to frustrate the players. Maps should make sense. Place locations in proper areas. On ship maps, don’t go overboard on repetitive locations. The first mistake GMs make in ship maps in making the ships like a dungeon. Ships rooms and hallways have to interlock, with little to no spacing between unless there is a reason for it. Dungeons don’t have to work that way and can be a bit more erratic.
Draw the map for the players: When players start drawing maps based on the explanations of the GM, something will be lost in the translation. Even if the GM sees the map being drawn, his judgment on how close the Players got it may be a bit off. Its best to go right to the source. It is a good idea then for the GM to draw the map for the players. If in a classroom, draw it on a black board, or just hand the PCs an updated map, or just grab theirs and fill in the new areas.
Don’t randomize the enemies: There is such a term of “too many monsters.” When the PCs fight something new at every turn, it can get uninteresting really fast. The problem is that the GM starts thinking of cool monsters for the PCs to fight but does not think if that monster should EVEN be there. Throwing in cool monsters because they are cool showcases the lack of an unique image for this crawl. The morale drops substantially. Fit the encounters to fit the setting. A GM will be surprised how enjoyment a dungeon crawl can be even if it lacks thirty battles. Keep the fights important to the theme of the crawl. Don’t randomize. A battle out of the blue won’t spark up a crawl…it will make it drag.
Give the location a purpose: The word “random” is actually the bane of many players. A maze crawl with no purpose other than to suck up game time can be very irritating. Even if the GM is throwing it in to break up monotony or give the players some fighting time and some rewards, make it mean something. Throw in a story. I don’t care how, just make a destination. Have a purpose. Make the players motivated other than the sense of adventure.
“Iron Helix” was an attempt at a science fiction dungeon crawl. The Pathfinder crew came across an old space bomber. It was not a huge vessel but it was a very detailed and logical five-decked spaceship. Every deck had a purpose with plans that made sense. It also contained a trio of defender robots almost impossible to defeat and very persistent. By the time the first one showed up, the crew had already explored most of the ship. I drew the maps of the various decks for them and soon, by the time the robots made their appearances, the group already knew their way around, but still could get lost and again. It was one of the best episodes we ever had. They were not aware of three robots that are launched only in single patrols—they first explored the ship to uncover why it never completed its mission. The group split up of course. Charles, Doug, and Carron explore the engine room and hear the elevator door in the hallway open. But they hear the other group on the radio on the bottom deck. The three hide deep in the service conduit deep in the reactor (a blind spot for the droid which cannot scan the tunnel because of the shielding). The other group spots the first droid on the bridge deck. It chases the groups that eventually find each other on the top deck. The first droid is disposed off in the garbage incinerator. There are two ways in, a service hatch and the main door. The group led the droid in through the hatch but Doug had to hide in a service space to close the hatch behind it so the incinerator can work…lotsa tension there. The second droid arrive in a standoff with Charles. The exchanged firepower across an outside hallway, emptying every clip. He destroyed it but there was still one left. It was ejected out of an airlock. This adventure was chopped full of great examples of choreographed music and detailed action scenes with interesting twists and character development…but its still basically a dungeon crawl.
Just to reiterate, I know mech designs.
Many of my friends do as well. I have had my share of dumb designs.
I discovered fast that in the heat of battle, you forget the little eccentricities
of your mecha and just want to shoot with the biggest gun. My best
design was the Warhawk for Doug’s game. It was the best because how
it maximized its points. I went for total efficiency. No transformable.
A decent sized mech but not too small. My mech ended up not only
being one of the fastest (only a transformable jet was faster) but
I was also the toughest. I had the second toughest armor on the second
most maneuverable mech…and I had the best gun. It was a rapid-fire
energy cannon that dealt more than TWICE the force of any other weapon.
It had unlimited ammunition and extremely long range. I had another
weapon for emergencies, a point-blank range energy weapon that dealt even
more damage. By making it short ranged, I was able to keep the cost
down. I also made it fragile with a bad accuracy since point blank
shots were easier and no one would think of taking my secondary weapon
out before my main one. Suffice to say, I ranked up more than double
the kills of anyone else the group.
THOSE CAMEO PLAYERS
The final hurdle with larger groups brought together from a regular call in arises when certain players make sporadic appearances. Some join, create a character, sit in one session, and soon vanish thereafter. Some simply only show up when convenient or when a work schedule doesn’t conflict. They arrive once every third or fourth session. Suffice to say, this can really disrupt game play. These events will occur so the player should not be punished for not showing up. How the game responds depends on the situation.
ONE SHOT WONDERS:
Joe left the Pathfinder group is controversy.
He was kicked out and I thought of killing his NPC off but at the last
minute, I decided to just have his PC walk away. He left the ship
and vanished. The other PCs assumed Joe’s character would join up
with the organization that he spied for. Joe (as mentioned above)
tried with another PC but the character was denied entrance and the Player
left, obvious never to return. A year and a half of gaming later,
Doug, the resident fighter pilot, encounters a nemesis pilot controlling
an advanced craft as high-tech as his. They tussle once above planet
and the PCs main craft, the Vanderov, crashes during the fight. Doug
encounters the pilot later in a café in an intentional meeting,
big surprise, I brought back Joe’s character as an NPC, still working for
the bad guys. Doug never played with Joe and only came on AFTER Joe
left. The talked. Doug suspected his identity but wasn’t sure
until the end, where the NPC revealed himself.
SPORADIC PLAYERS :
Semi-Regular Cast-Member: Like TV shows, PCs can be semi-regular. If that the case, give the PC an outing to leave game and return and have it believable in the story more than just suddenly “beaming in” in the middle of a scene. Make a scene where the PC can re-join the group. And have a scene where the PC leaves again. The problem here is that if a session end prematurely in a spot the PC cannot re-join, he or she might have to wait in the new session for a moment where they can enter believably.
Doug once missed the first session of a two-part episode of Pathfinder called “Mouth”. The episode dealt with the group driving across a bridge on a planet and arriving a 1000 years in the future and the city has been taken over by a maniacal evil AI that has turned the metropolis into a Biomechanical nightmare. It sounds cheesy but the creepy music and artwork by HR Giger really helped. The episode was disturbing and scary. The second session started with them still in the future but Doug didn’t join them across the bridge. Unfortunately, he waited for two hours into the next session when the others returned from across the bridge and he missed all the fun. Of course, they related what happened and Doug related that perhaps it was best that he not have been there. One PC that did go across developed a permanent aversion to blood.
Auto-Pilot Players: Of course, if its just one session they missed or it’s a session where the PC cannot just walk away to go shopping, then the GM must take control. They GM cannot make grand decisions on the PCs part. All the GM can do is donate the useable skills, participate in combat, and offer commentary in the most Spartan degree showing character traits that are the most obvious. And the most important part is this, when under control of the GM, the PC CANNOT permanently change. The PC would only be killed under the control of the Player and never the GM. Then the Player is away, they should be content with the knowledge that their character will not loose any weapons, armor, limbs, and especially not their lives. This stems from the Players anger for GMs controlling their characters. They hate it when they are there or not, but they have got to live with the fact that the GM will be playing them if they are away…but at least the Player will not return with the sudden shock that their character is suddenly a quadriplegic
Derrick arrived at almost every session
of Terminals until his schooling became a higher priority. Then he
started showing up less and less. His PC was not popular with the
group and something happened which upset me to this day. While he
was away, one PC became angry with what Doug had done in the previous
session. Unable to really speak on his behalf, I tamed the arrogant
character a bit and kept him in the BG. However, it still did not
work and the group decided that for the time being, his character (and
his clone from another dimension…long story, see above) should be placed
in a cell until they figure out what to do with both of them. I tried
to avoid this but hand to relent to PC demands. When Dave returned
two sessions later, I could not find a away for the PCs to let Doug out
of the cell and he ended up sitting there for a full session. He
stopped showing up after that. I didn’t blame him.
RESPECT THE PLAYER, RESPECT THE GAME
Don’t strip them. Don’t confiscate player’s valuable possessions unless there is a good reason in the plot to do so. Also, don’t destroy those players’ possessions that they paid for with their good money, unless, of course, it serves a plot point. Just stripping a player or group’s possessions, especially those prided weapons, can cause real problems. It can upset the Player as he just lost a something he/she spent hard earned money on. Mecha are the biggest example. The only way to destroy a player’s mech is at the hand of an opponent in battle. Never just blow it up maliciously. At the very best, take it away or give them the opportunity to get it back or another design later. The more personalized the item, the bigger the risk the GM takes removing the item from the player. The same goes for NPCs as stated above. Don’t mutate NPCs the Player has taken to heart.
Doug was a friend and a good player…but
a bad GM. He lacked good improvisational skills and felt no compunction
of thinking that save for killing the PC, everything was up for grabs.
The game in question was Robotech. Those who played know of the Beta
fighter from the Invid Invasion. Well, I loved this mecha.
Don’t ask me why but its my favorite from the whole game. During
the course of the two sessions Doug refereed myself and Ivan, I went through
two of them, and neither were destroyed I combat. I lost on from
sabotage (blew up right in front of me). The second was simply stolen.
That last one upset me. You would think I would lock the stupid thing…