Topic: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto  (Read 13924 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Fightest

  • Fighter than anyone else
On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« on: February 21, 2011, 01:23:02 am »
I've seen Rumia's gain more and more activity for the past year or so, with lots of people hopping in as game masters to some sort of RPG or other. I think this is great, and I do feel that a GM is no less an artist than a playwright or a painter.

I've had a lot of experience as a GM, and I'd like to think I've picked up a few things over the years. I know that some of you out there also have your experiences to share, and I am certain that novice GMs must also hold some interesting views on what they do and how they do it.

In this thread I wish to hold discussion on, essentially, what makes a good GM, their philosophy, the techniques they use, the tricks and methods to really make an RPG work.

I will start off with a little discourse on what I feel is most important to being a GM:

Rule Aleph

This is a game for a GM and several players. Everyone must have fun. If there is somebody not having fun, then it is up to the GM to figure out why. To reiterate - this is a game for a GM and several players. This is not an opportunity for someone to dump their noninteractive novel onto some onlookers.

Improvisation

Pretty much a requirement of being a GM, a good sense of improvisation allows one to achieve many things, allowing a game to run seamlessly without the players being any the wiser when they mess everything up. This is really too broad to really go into detail - the ability to develop anything from throwaway NPCs to entire dungeons on the fly, the control of how quickly a session runs, the ability to respond to the madness that players usually bring - but I will bring it up in the next few paragraphs.

A sense of story and plot

Some will argue that the best RPG is of the sandbox type, where the player characters are tossed into a world to mess around in, and the GM responds to their shenanigans. I call nonsense. Most players, and I state this confidently, have no idea what they want to do, even having put together a character and backstory. (I will discuss the exception later.) Due to this, players simply need to be led around with a technique commonly referred to in a derogatory manner as railroading, literally meaning that the players are stuck on one track that goes in one direction. (Of course, this is a terrible practice in excess, which I will also discuss later.) It then becomes up to the GM to stitch together a plot from which stories can emerge, that the players can latch on to. If players are unable to decide what they wish to do, the GM is to present a plot hook to them, an obvious anchor point that the PCs can follow that will lead them on adventures with satisfactory conclusions. Unless running a game from pre-written material, it is then, obviously, entirely up to the GM to put together a setting and to detail it enough that such plot hooks can emerge which players can follow.

The exception: Player buy-in.

Active players are a blessing. They will not only work with the GM to flesh out a setting, but they will also clearly establish what they want from a game, and strongly make their character a part of the world, making it exceptionally easy to develop challenges and stories for them. They will also initiate stories by themselves without the need for plot hooks. If you have such players, appreciate them.

Preparation

I personally prefer to prepare everything in advance. I mean everything. I have spent from a summer vacation to a whole year preparing games - major NPCs, factions, locations, plot points, the works. I like to think I have a good sense of plot, and I can spin a pretty good yarn. I need time to do so, however, and I thus take this time to make sure everything comes together and makes sense. Typically, however, a GM will prepare a session or two in advance from foreknowledge of the previous session, and that is fine. Preparation really comes from the above section on a sense of plot - this is the time that the GM takes to find plot hooks, double-check story connections, and, of course, make sure the monsters have numbers attached to them. In a curious sense, the ability to improvise comes as almost a counterpoint to preparation - surely one removes the necessity for the other?

In a sense, they do - a perfectly improvised game will be almost be indistinguishable from a perfectly prepared game. However, none of us are perfect, so we have to have the two work in tandem to make sure that one fills in the holes in the other. For example, I believe that no dialogue should be prepared - it's the difference between talking to a person and to an answering machine - hence I make sure to improvise all NPC dialogue. On the other hand, I know that sometimes when I improvise a dungeon, they tend to be too dry and functional, so I spend time preparing to add detail to make them come alive - the difference between a rat-infested sewer dungeon and an underground almost-city with its own rules and inhabitants.

Pacing

Nothing is worse than seeing players looking bored, wondering what to do next, while one of them puts together clues that only they understood. Improvisation comes in here - how do you get everything back on-track again, and the players rearing to get to their next objective? The obvious-sounding solution that it took me quite a while to get is, well, give them their next objective. Were you planning on dropping the big reveal in the middle of the sky-cathedral as the hosts of Heaven look on? It won't happen if the players are stuck figuring out where to go from a dank tavern in the middle of nowhere. Pull in the story tighter, accelerate events, do not be afraid to make things happen earlier than they should. Improvisation and preparation really shine together here, as one has to be well-prepared to be able to shuffle things around on the fly without everything falling apart.

Humility

In the wise words of Some Guy On The Internet:

Quote
The GM is the world-master, the forger of stars and planets, the birther of all life, and the grand mind behind life, the universe and everything. Yet even the most minor of NPCs is more important than the GM.

The GM must quickly realise that the players are, ultimately, more important than him to the game. After all, without them, it would just be a person at a table with some books and some numbers. Whilst possibly in contradiction to some of the things stated above, a GM should be ready to change at a moment's notice to please his players. The GM's hand should never be felt in a game, there should be nothing that tells the players "hey, you're just my pawns here." Going back to Rule Aleph - it is the players that make the story, ultimately, not the GM. There are lots of grey areas here - inactive players will need to be led by the hand before they do something, for example, but if a player says "I want to do this" the GM had better have a damned good reason if he does not immediately say "Yes." An acceptable alternative would be "Roll the dice".

I'm dedicating a whole paragraph to the dreaded GMPC. The Player Character controlled by the GM himself. No. Never, under no circumstances, ever do this. Even GM's Voice characters - NPCs that exist solely to tell the PCs what the GM thinks they should be doing, or simply tell them plot or setting information - are poor form.

It's running late for me, so I'll leave this here. I'll go into finer details later - the GM's tools and tricks, like Foreshadowing, Thematics, Allusions, Blatant Stealing etc.

Hello Purvis

  • Acolyte
  • *
  • Hello Jerry
  • Staff
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Nickname: Purvis
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2011, 01:39:29 am »
To build on Fightest's Note about Railroading: Creating a track is not a bad thing. Forcing players to stay on it when they have other desires is. Assuming what they're trying to do isn't anti-plausible in their characters' reality. If they'd rather do Y than X, look into the plausibility of Y.

Tengukami

  • Breaking news. Any season.
  • *
  • I said, with a posed look.
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Nickname: Amaterasu
  • Gender: Androgyne
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2011, 04:49:07 am »
Excellent input! Brings this to mind:




Fan Fiction
 Tumblr
"Human history and growth are both linked closely to strife. Without conflict, humanity would have no impetus for growth. When humans are satisfied with their present condition, they may as well give up on life."

Berzul

  • (*7(*7(*7(*7(*7
  • Round face... z( ⌣ω⌣)z
  • LOOK AT ME
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2011, 05:06:39 am »
I understand. it is a simple matter of good Game design. Something that ZUN talks about, also what Square did back in the day where there was Square. Generally you want to design as much imagination as possible. It is a matter of how you think others would go with the situation. Nowdays... someone said that there are already something in people that they approach games with, some sort of understatement of the role of the system, which you gain exp, deal damage etc... It is the goal of the game, to kill someone, so why bother to talk with him?

Interestingly enough I put my trust into having players talked what they are doing exactly, then rolling the necessary dices. Such things however, generally are checks that they know they can do. They do not try to think about the situation as a fictional world, where you can do ask you character to do anything. But the true matter, in my opinion, is that not many people want to do such risky moved, knowing that there might be consequences for that, are to shy do preform such things, or do not think like their character would, but rather for themselves. It is rather hard to make an campaign for everyone...

Smok, destroyer of thoughts

  • The dangers of combing Ran and Mokou fanboyism
  • Nickname: Smok
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2011, 10:55:36 am »
I plan ahead some things, but most is improvisation. If you give players freedom, they come up with ideas you as a GM might not every come up with yourself.

Then again too MUCH freedom might leave players unknowing what to do next, making them bored and leave your game.

Well, I do hold a quest, as you see, and I'm grateful Purvis plays it actively, sometimes Inaba and E-Nazrin throw in a comment, but that's it. I'm happy with what I get, but I do have moments when I scratch my head and think "I probably screw up on improvisation" and such.
But I don't think I'll achieve the genius of Himiko- snatching at least 4-5 active players to her/his Parsee quest. I must admit that the game is constructed well and the read is enjoyable as Sect and Purvis go on with the show allowing me to bud in and also participate making the show great and magic. I actually started liking ALL SA characters more as Himiko quest begun.
I still wonder what am I screwing up then.


Mokou Fan

Fightest

  • Fighter than anyone else
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2011, 02:12:56 pm »
I understand. it is a simple matter of good Game design. Something that ZUN talks about, also what Square did back in the day where there was Square. Generally you want to design as much imagination as possible. It is a matter of how you think others would go with the situation. Nowdays... someone said that there are already something in people that they approach games with, some sort of understatement of the role of the system, which you gain exp, deal damage etc... It is the goal of the game, to kill someone, so why bother to talk with him?

There is a subtle, but extremely dangerous pitfall that a GM must avoid at all times, here: C/J-RPGs are not to be taken as a baseline for a pnp-style RPG as the former are 100% railroad, with a few highly notable exceptions. A player has no choice but follow the game-designer's story, which is anathema to a good pnp RPG, where choice must always be present, even as an illusion.

The illusion of choice

As mentioned earlier, the GM must have a good sense of plot and story, that the players can be easily hooked and led. So what happens when the players head off to do something else? Of course the GM lets them, rule Aleph and everything. At some point, however, the GM will need to be able to rope in the players so that they can activate the next plot point, reveal another Big Bad, come afoul of some cult, what have you. A masterful GM will be able to adapt and interpret the players' choices that will put the players exactly where he wants them without the players realising. As far as the players are concerned, their own actions and free will got their PCs where they are, which is the ideal that every GM should strive for.

A simple analogy to remember: whichever branch of a path the players take, they never see the other branches, thus they never see that all these branches lead to the same destination.

Exception: splitting the party. Leads into The Experienced GM.

It is when PCs take multiple paths simultaneously that the GM's mettle is truly tested. The GM must be able to handle multiple stories all at once, filling them in as he goes along - it is thus good practice to ensure that branching storylines are at least partially fleshed-out so that the GM is not caught fully unawares - whilst ensuring that nobody is left out, and ensuring that the pace is not hopelessly lost between scene changes.

Consider a case: the PCs need to get information out of a prisoner without being authorised access. The GM has prepared, for example, the outlines of two paths: an action route, where the PCs beat up guards, sneak past security, what have you, and the cautious route, where PCs use smarts and cunning to talk their way into seeing the prisoner. One route is violent and aggressive, leading to a session filled with face-punching excitement. The other route is quiet and elegant, leading to a session where the players feel good about themselves for devising clever, non-violent solutions. Both are equally valid from a design perspective. The GM considers that there are other routes, but he knows he can improvise his way through those. What do the players do? To the GM's dismay, they do both.

An experienced GM will understand what makes these two routes different. He understands that what makes one of them exciting in no way translates to the other. He must understand that he cannot make the obviously exciting route - the action one - more exciting than the subtly exciting one - the talking one. While it is generally easy to make action exciting, it takes a lot of experience to make inaction exciting, but the GM must be ready for this. From my own experience, many modern TV series do this - courtroom and hospital drama are excellent inspirations for exciting inaction.

Furthermore, the GM must understand the importance of pacing. He cannot dedicate too much attention to one scene, but he cannot switch between the two at the drop of a hat. He must have an innate feel for a good time for a scene change, usually on a resolution or a cliffhanger, and use them whenever possible. A well-handled party split will feel exceptionally rewarding to both GM and the players, and some of the best sessions I have ever run had PCs running all over the place, doing their own thing, maybe even coming together at the end to complete a major objective.

Rabbit

  • Red Tenshi
  • 3x More Touhou
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #6 on: February 21, 2011, 08:36:26 pm »
I want to expand a bit upon something that Fightest touched upon generally.  A good skill for a GM to have is what I like to call emotional investment management.  You want players to be emotionally invested in a game because that is your number one tool for holding their interest.  As the common writer's maxim goes, there is no greater death knell for your story than when one of the players utters those eight fateful words: "I don't care what happens to these guys".  Make characters your players love.  Make characters your players hate.  Social outings with your players outside the game are a great "ear to the ground", so to speak - if they're talking about the game even when they're not playing it you know you've got 'em by the proverbial balls.  If they have opinions on other characters that's good and if they don't, then perhaps the time has come to sneak in a little personal development for one or more people.  Nothing major, a hook here, a cryptic phrase there, something that will let that character's player know that "this has just got real".

But here's the kicker, and why I call it "management".  We've all heard the horror stories, the drama, the tears and the pain.  People who become too emotionally invested in their characters tend not to like it when something unfortunate happens to them.  When you get the rare player who can't really roll with the punches, dealing with them isn't easy and such problems should be identified early on and addressed as quickly as possible in an informal setting, first in private and then with the rest of the group to see what they can do to help the player.  A little heart-to-heart chat goes a long way in my experience, though I will be the first to admit that I have encountered very few problem players.  However, whenever they appear they have always had a knock-on effect on the rest of the group.  When they're frustrated, they make bad decisions and when they make bad decisions the rest of the group suffers and the rest of the group doesn't want to get hung up on this particular unwanted detour anymore.  Not pleasant by any stretch of the imagination.

I remember posting some tidbits on this very subject a long time ago, I'll see if I can dig them up later on.  But for now I must sleep.
Too much of a good thing, and it is no longer good.

Dizzy H. "Muffin" Muffin

  • :3
  • :3
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Nickname: KimikoMuffin
  • Gender: Girl
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2011, 09:58:30 pm »
I'd like to add a little bit to Rabbit Inquisition's first paragraph; one cardinal rules of storytelling of any kind is: never make a plot point of threatening anyone or anything the audience/readers/players aren't familiar with, up to and including the world. Or, to put it another way, the players will never be interested in unusual things happening if they don't have a grasp of what normal is.

A friend of mine once started an MSPA Forum Adventure (which is different from an RPG, but many of the same principles still apply) in which he introduced the protagonist and implied that the setting was a generic-fantasy one, gave a description of the guy's idiosyncratic powers, and then almost immediately presented us with some flaming object in the sky and some other character who dumped exposition about some sort of vague threat. And all this in the first few updates or so. Unsurprisingly, it didn't get very popular and he didn't get many responses before it basically petered out into nothingness.

I explained to him in the aftermath of this that this was part of the reason why Homestuck starts out with over a month of derping around with John. And, for that matter, why the first few chapters of Lord of the Rings are focused on the resolute ordinariness of the Shire. If, on the other hand, he had spent some time showing the guy in the village getting ostracized for his powers, and had him discover what was threatening the world after we understood it more fully, it would've worked better.
  • Muffiny Miscellany

Hello Purvis

  • Acolyte
  • *
  • Hello Jerry
  • Staff
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Nickname: Purvis
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #8 on: February 21, 2011, 10:05:45 pm »
Muffin's advice is particularly important if you're making your own world. With pre-established ones, assuming the players have some familiarity with them, you have something to work off of already (we know why the human town or the hakurei shrine getting smashed is a bad thing already). But with your own setting, you have to make players interested. Some will get right into it. Some you'll have to repeatedly boot in the ass to get them to interact and take an interest.

Mr. Sacchi

  • All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.
  • Not postponed. Not in the end. Not for long.
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Nickname: Sacchi Hikaru
  • Gender: Male
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #9 on: February 22, 2011, 03:27:07 am »
Oh god, this thread is coming quite in handy for me, an aspiring forum RPG GM.

But, I'm gonna have to make some serious rewriting. Because my RPG pretty much had a situation that sets path to what's probably the most epic scenes I've ever made in life. And yet it completely takes out the freedom of the players.

Someone help me I need serious help in story writing.

Rabbit

  • Red Tenshi
  • 3x More Touhou
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #10 on: February 22, 2011, 04:33:21 am »
Hey hey, that's what we're here for.  I can't speak for any of the other forumites but you can always drop me a line if you've got something that needs improving.  There's a lot of overlap but writing and storytelling are two different skillsets.  A good writer does not a good storyteller make, and I've seen a fair few people find that out to their detriment after their RPGs crash and burn.  You can have the greatest ideas in the world but if you don't sell it, they won't come, contrary to what Field of Dreams might tell you.
« Last Edit: February 22, 2011, 08:13:12 pm by The Once and Future Rabbit »
Too much of a good thing, and it is no longer good.

Pesco

  • Trickster Rabbit Tewi
  • *
  • Make a yukkuri and take it easy with me
  • Staff
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Nickname: Inaba Tewi
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #11 on: February 22, 2011, 07:44:35 am »
Stickied for Good Topic-ness

Fightest

  • Fighter than anyone else
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #12 on: February 22, 2011, 08:44:34 am »
But, I'm gonna have to make some serious rewriting. Because my RPG pretty much had a situation that sets path to what's probably the most epic scenes I've ever made in life. And yet it completely takes out the freedom of the players.

Someone help me I need serious help in story writing.

This brings me to another topic!

Bottleneck Design

A careful balance needs to be struck between player freedom and a driven plot/storyline. Unless run entirely by player agency, a given RPG must be pulled along by the GM every once in a while to ensure momentum and pacing do not falter. So how does a GM remember to maintain this balance on top of everything else that he must do?

A device to consider when designing or preparing a game is the bottleneck: despite all player freedom and activity, at some point they will have to all be pulled in through a narrow story channel, developed by the GM. How they reach this stage is mostly up to them, but, once they reach the bottleneck, the story takes over for a while and the players have to respond, instead of the other way around. Going back to the concept of the illusion of choice, the experienced GM will be able to channel the players towards this bottleneck without them being the wiser.

Good bottlenecking only pulls in the players to present them with a story-related problem, introduce relevant factions, NPCs etc. Once this is done, the bottleneck opens again, leaving the players to figure out their own solutions to the problem. A masterful GM is able to extend or contract the length of the bottleneck as necessary, and, as the quoted poster has talked about, will be able to channel their players into exceptionally-crafted scenes without the players' feeling the GM's influence. It is important to remember that, without this mastery, the players will notice themselves being driven along without their input, which can lead to catastrophic damage to a player's sense of immersion.

A simple case example: in the GM's plot, two kingdoms are nearing war. The players are agents of one of the kingdoms, tasked with preventing the war from occurring by any means necessary. The GM lets the players decide how they will do this, but he has in mind a confrontation scene between the PCs and the opposing kingdom's regent, who discloses to them the reasons of his going to war, advancing the plot, and activating many new storyline options.

This confrontation is the bottleneck - no matter what the players do, it will happen, but it is up to the GM to weave it into the narrative as organically as possible, to ensure that there are no jarring transitions, and no loss of freedom of the players right up to the confrontation scene.

Good bottlenecking: the PCs hear of a masquerade ball where the elite of the opposing kingdom will gather. Surely they will not pass up such a juicy opportunity to gather information and sow some dissent? Little do they know that the king himself will be attending!

Bad bottlenecking: the PCs are ambushed by ninjas, tied up and gagged without a fight and taken to the king, who monologues at them at length.

Stickied for Good Topic-ness

Oh, thanks, that's really useful!

Rabbit

  • Red Tenshi
  • 3x More Touhou
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #13 on: February 22, 2011, 08:08:44 pm »
There is a subtle, but extremely dangerous pitfall that a GM must avoid at all times, here: C/J-RPGs are not to be taken as a baseline for a pnp-style RPG as the former are 100% railroad, with a few highly notable exceptions. A player has no choice but follow the game-designer's story, which is anathema to a good pnp RPG, where choice must always be present, even as an illusion.

Ah, this reminds me: never underestimate the effect of C/JRPGs on the human psyche.  For many first-timers it will be their only experience with roleplaying.  This presents a challenge for the aspiring GM in that these people are used to having the rails and the structure in place, their conversation choices all thought out for them, the big giant glowing exclamation points to tell them who they need to talk to when they first arrive in town, you know.  All those devices we've come to know and love in our video games.  The common JRPG maxim of "explore everywhere, talk to everyone" doesn't apply here and in extreme cases, players can find that they're fish out of water, flopping about with nothing to say or do, completely outside their comfort zone now that they have to do the actual talking.  This isn't a criticism of JRPG players (JRPG veteran, right here!), it's a rare person who's not nervous about getting up in front of a stage and performing a play which is exactly what you are expecting your players to do - perform for an audience of five (or more).  The thing about JRPGs and CRPGs is that they inculcate bad habits.

Being the hands-on type of guy, I like to go with the personal approach.  Talk to your players (you'll hear me say this a lot).  Coax them little by little, have the NPCs come up and talk to them rather than expecting the players to seek out the NPCs (can't see the name tags on the tabletop).  Under no circumstances should players feel like they're under time pressure in their first couple of sessions to say something as this will invariably cause them to say nothing at all or flub their lines.  While this is funny to talk about later on, that's not what we're aiming for here.  Take a little bit of time in each session to slowly get the shyest players to talk a bit, to practice speaking in front of an audience and acting in-character.  That way, when they have something they really want to say they will be able to do so without hesitation, or at least a little less hesitation than normal.

Here's a little story of what happens when a player's nerves get the better of them because of perceived time pressure:

Prohibition-era New York.  The Museum of Natural History.  We are supposed to be infiltrating, but are spotted by a night guard.

Guard: What are you doing here at this hour?
Player: We were, uh, looking for a [forgets pre-prepared line here]...uh, establishment.
Guard's eyes narrow.
Guard: What sort of establishment?
Player: The kind that serves...uh...drinks.  We're very thirsty.
Guard: You're under arrest.
Player: (OOC) Flichtenstein.  (Well okay, not actually what was said but you get the idea.)

I swear on whatever power you choose to believe in (or not) that this actually happened.  Being under fire can make people do patently stupid things that they struggle to forget later on in life.

So, to conclude, video games are bad mmkay?  :V

EDIT: You know, Fightest, you've had that sig for over a year (I think) and I never realised where it came from until just a couple of weeks ago.  Mind = Blown.  Why yes I only just played Persona 4, why do you ask?

EDIT NO. 2:

It is when PCs take multiple paths simultaneously that the GM's mettle is truly tested. The GM must be able to handle multiple stories all at once, filling them in as he goes along - it is thus good practice to ensure that branching storylines are at least partially fleshed-out so that the GM is not caught fully unawares - whilst ensuring that nobody is left out, and ensuring that the pace is not hopelessly lost between scene changes.

Quoted for emphasis, if only because these have been a traumatic experience for me.  I've been in RPGs where I could spend half an hour actually doing stuff and then the rest of the session playing WoW, comfortable in the knowledge that nothing I did would be acknowledged and that the plot being covered by the GM at the time had nothing to do with the main storyline or with me whatsoever.  Oh, and that's just on IRC.  More torturous in real life, let me tell you, but it also forces you to come up with ideas to pitch to the GM about how you can affect the story with your skills.  If one person is hogging all the limelight it may be because he's the one actually putting in effort.
« Last Edit: February 22, 2011, 08:20:00 pm by The Once and Future Rabbit »
Too much of a good thing, and it is no longer good.

Fightest

  • Fighter than anyone else
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #14 on: February 23, 2011, 11:11:16 am »
Not really related to anything, but I thought I'd throw some more ideas around, and one of these will be a Tools of the Trade section, where I talk about the immediate in-game things a GM knows or does to make their life easier or the game more interesting and enjoyable. Thus the first installment!

Tools of the Trade: the NPC

Short for Non-Player Character, the NPC is, in my opinion, the most important tool used to connect the player characters to a setting, barring unusual exceptions. By definition, an NPC is any meaningful actor within an RPG that is not under control of the players, whether it be the barman in the local pub or the Admiral of the United Space Force or even an emerging AI trying to find its way in the world. It is natural that human beings interact best with other human beings (or things that are at least similar to them, or think like them), so a PC will feel much more comfortable interacting with an NPC than looking at a lifeless piece of architecture or some expansive landscape. Players can develop emotional connections with NPCs, whether it be antagonistic hate for a recurring nemesis or grudging respect for a cutthroat information broker. Most importantly, an NPC would most likely be the driving force behind a plot, due to the NPC being able to think and act independently - it is much easier to make a villain out of a corporate magnate than out of a haunted forest (not impossible, though).

Additionally, the NPC can be very sparingly used as the GM's voice, where the NPC is used specifically to direct the players where the GM wants them to be. The GM must be extremely careful that he does not fall back on this device as it is, ultimately, a storytelling crutch, a shortcut that hinders creativity and mastery. Under no circumstance must this NPC follow the PCs around, dispensing wisdom as the GM sees fit, as that brings the NPC dangerously close to being a GMPC.

It is important for the GM to understand the difference between an NPC and what I call window dressing. An NPC, for all intents and purposes, should have a purpose for their existence, and must be used in some way or other. It is possible for player characters to be in the middle of a crowded square, but they are the only Characters there - everything else, whether it be living or non-living, is simply there for decoration. In that sense, the humans, elves, turians, what-have-you that are going about their business are not NPCs, as they serve no function in the plot/story. Conversely, the PCs can equally be in the middle of a crowded ball, and every living thing there is an NPC, with their own opinions, connections and agendas that the PCs can use or, at least, relate to in some way or other to advance their story. Of course, it is up to the GM to decide where to use NPCs and where to use window dressing. The masterful GM can make his window dressing indistinguishable from NPCs through colourful and creative description, and, should it be needed, transform window dressing into a true NPC.

As such a powerful tool, the NPC must never be truly throwaway. A street urchin pickpocketing a PC can be just a one-time annoyance to demonstrate the poverty of the lower classes in an industrial-era city, but can equally be used to unlock myriad story options if the GM gives a little thought to what makes a particular NPC tick - in this case the street urchin can lead the PCs to an underground society, or a mysterious haunted vault where more like him hide out, or many other options. With good writing and acting, the GM might perhaps inspire sympathy in the PCs for the urchin's plight, leading them into side-quests to help the poor thing out.

It then rests entirely on the GM's shoulders to make an NPC interesting and convincing. A rule of thumb is that quirkiness is good - of course it might seem unrealistic if every NPC the PCs encounter has an unusual quirk or habit, but it is far better than the opposite, where the NPC has nothing to interest others: they're not monumentally boring - as that can also be used for comedy value - they're just uninteresting. The experienced GM should be able to develop an NPC on the fly to fit a situation, with a barebones set of opinions and motivations that can be then fleshed out as time goes on, with an interesting quirk that makes them really come to life. For me, this experience comes from reading a lot of fiction, as well as watching a lot of TV. The novice GM should not be afraid of using a fictional character as a baseline, for example House's House or Full Metal Alchemist's Alex Louis Armstrong - they're colourful characters with lots of presence, just what an NPC needs. Just make sure that they do not take over the scene, and, if you want to make a reference joke - which is also fine - do not push it.

Fightest

  • Fighter than anyone else
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #15 on: February 24, 2011, 02:17:11 pm »
The following section stems from a pet peeve of mine, and I would heartily recommend that everyone take the following in:

Tools of the Trade: In Media Res.

Literally meaning in the middle of events, In Media Res is a literary device that describes how a narrative begins. Specifically, such a narrative always begins in the middle of the action, explaining very little about the setup of this action, how its participants got there, what initiated it and what's even at stake. In this manner, In Media Res makes a few sacrifices in the short term to achieve something very important in the long term - pulling in the audience from the extreme get-go, only letting go when the author chooses to. The sacrifices are ultimately minor, as there are plenty of other devices that can be used to establish context - flashbacks and allusions are two such devices.

Although mostly used for noninteractive fiction, there is no reason In Media Res cannot be used for an RPG. An exciting scene is an exciting scene, whether it's a tense courtroom drama or a ship-to-ship firefight, and it even gives the players opportunity to fill in the details for themselves, if you encourage them to, stimulating group interaction. In this case example, the PCs are holding off a boarding action from a pirate vessel, with the session starting just as the grappling hooks take hold. Players can help the GM by doing their own little flashbacks mid-action, whether it is to get the Stunt bonus for extra dice rolled in Exalted by describing them guiding the two ships into some dangerous reefs (what reefs? the GM didn't put them in, but they're there now!), or even to bring in some hitherto unrevealed allies or abilities in Spirit of the Century (the gambler who had just recently won half the crew's pay is ready to waive the debt if they help him with his crazy plan...). The scene comes together with gusto, everyone is involved, and adrenaline gets pumping to get the session to a dynamic and exciting start.

Of course, In Media Res is highly artificial, and should be used sparingly in the middle of stories, but there is little better you can do than to start a whole new chapter on a surprise encounter with a nemesis, or a heated argument, or a fast-paced chase on horseback. And, of course, there is nothing stopping you from, after the scene is finished, from going, "several hours earlier..." It is an obvious railroad, but the masterful GM with confident and trusting players can make this setup work to an unparalleled degree of success.


As such, this is my personal comment to everyone who starts a Quest on this forum. If I ever see a game start with

> You awaken in (foo) covered in (foo).
> You are (a man/a loli/a dog/a robot/etc.).
> There is nobody around save for some (machines/scenery/buildings/etc.).
> Your memories are hazy.
> What do?

I will personally kill a kitten.

Fightest

  • Fighter than anyone else
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #16 on: February 28, 2011, 01:18:56 pm »
To actually run a game a GM needs a few things: a story in a setting, a system, some players and all those other abilities I've been talking about upthread. I will have a separate section to talk about the first three:

So You Want To Run A Game: Story

The first game of a first-time GM usually starts off with a thought process that goes roughly like so: "I have recently found out about this one pen-and-paper RPG (whether through purchasing a sourcebook or being a player in a game). I have some interesting ideas, so I'll get together some players, throw together some sort of story to connect these ideas together, and make a game out of it." Although it would be an exaggeration to say that this is a recipe for disaster, it is certainly not a very good start, as the first-time GM will often run into a brick wall when constructing this story, unable to stitch things together to his satisfaction. The worst case here is that the GM decides to pull off a half-arsed job, ending up with disappointment on both the GM's and the players' sides. Sometimes the GM will be able to worm his way through on instinct, putting together scenes that feel right, intuiting when an enemy should appear, and when the game needs a wind-down session, but it does not do to rely on this.

Fortunately, we have the shoulders of giants to stand on when we decide on how to structure a story: the Greek Three-Act Play and Campbell's Hero's Journey. I will focus on the former, as the latter is more formulaic, and, whilst a wonderful device, is not a one-size-fits-all deal.

Lemma: the Plot of a game is the all-encompassing setup that causes conflicts to emerge; the Story is the narrativistic description of such a conflict.

The Three Act Play is well-structured and thus easy to remember:



Act One: Exposition.

During the exposition the heroes and setting are introduced. We find out about their strengths and weaknesses, their business, their troubles, the people they have a relation to. During this act there may be minor conflicts, but resolution is often quick to follow, and these minor conflicts are best used to really show off the characters individually, as well as establish a group mechanic. Act One ends on a plot twist - a major change in the established status quo that turns the story into a new direction, dropping new and exciting problems onto the heroes.

Example: The PCs are a team of space merchants, operating a small trading vessel that just barely manages to stay out of bankruptcy by doing risky, but rewarding runs through dangerous regions of a galactic sector. The first act would introduce us to each of the PCs through little vignettes - self-contained, one-person stories that demonstrate what that PC can do, whether it's the shady fast-talk of the salesman getting double the price on some goods, or the expert shooting of the ex-soldier holding off some small-time pirates. The PCs would then go through a few runs, where it is demonstrated how they all stick together, and how the party works to take advantage of all the PCs' abilities. At the end of this act, the GM would spring the plot twist - the PCs get ahold of some strange, allegedly extremely dangerous cargo from an unknown dealer, only to realise that there is a living person in deep cryo-hibernation inside the container! The PCs realise that they are suddenly in the middle of something much bigger than they are.

Act Two: Development

The plot twist sends the heroes on a dangerous and thorny path, and they must overcome many dangers that now seem to surround them. Whether they wish to find a resolution, or merely to survive, Act Two is generally the bleakest time in the heroes' lives. They must use all their wits and their established group dynamic to succeed. Dangers can be manifold, whether it be a direct danger to their lives, or a more subtle danger of corruption or temptation and the ensuing fall. Tension builds up all throughout this Act. Act two ends with another plot twist that is almost always utterly tragic, with seemingly no hope remaining for the PCs. Don't forget to actually leave a light at the end of the tunnel, though.

Example: Our group of space merchants are on the run from the Galactic Government's agents, having found out that their cargo is a prototype super-soldier made through inhuman experimentation on kidnapped children. They might have a break here or there to run a mission or two, but they must now always be wary - their faces are known on every law-abiding planet. They know that the only way to clear their names would be to expose the super-soldier program, but they quickly realise through the plot twist that the seemingly-benign Government controls any media channel that they can get to with an iron fist, and is quick to quell any dissent. All throughout, personal issues plague the PCs - the ex-soldier is haunted by PTSD, the salesman is entrapped by an agent, and the captain finds that he might not have cut off ties with the mafia as well as he thought. At the end of this act, the group is split, every one of its members facing an insurmountable challenge, with the government itself hot on their heels. The session ends with a gunshot. Anyone could have died.

Act Three: Resolution

Despite the difficulties that the heroes have faced, they rally and fight back against their enemies. This is where the heroics really come into play, where the mettle and character of each PC is tried to its limits, but, ultimately, each one comes through, having become stronger from adversity. With the aid of unlikely allies, they strike their enemy where it hurts most and finally bring about justice, and set things as they should be. Act Three continues the tension built up in Act Two into a peak - the climax, where the major conflics occur, where heroes meet their nemeses, where the grandest battles are fought. After the climax the tension decreases, everything is resolved one way or another. At the end of this comes the denouement, the time of peace, where the heroes rest on their laurels, enjoying the change they have brought to the world and themselves, where the audience gets to come to terms with the events of the climax, and the story comes to a satisfying end.

Example: The PCs come into contact with a rag-tag resistance group led covertly by a member of the Government itself, which provides them with the co-ordinates of the superhuman research facility itself, deep in the most dangerous sector of the galaxy. There they rescue the kidnapped children, and use the resistance group's black-market channels to send out video evidence of this program in action. The group defeats the agents that are after them, and the PCs individually defeat their personal demons. The Government, of course, tries its best to hush up the incident, but the people in charge of the project are cast down and replaced in a massive PR move, and are now unable to threaten our heroes, who are cleared of all official charges due to some clever negotiating on their part. The heroes return to their business, where even the most grizzled of pirates do not seem like much of a threat, and can live out their lives happily.



Those readers with any pop-culture awareness will realise that I have just, approximately, described Firefly and Star Wars in the examples and the descriptions respectively, and, of course, it is my point that both have excellent storytelling (for the most part).

Of course, within one major plot we will have many stories, and each one can be structured using the Three-Act Play approach. In the example of Star Wars, the events of episodes 4-6 are just one story in the plot of the rise and fall of the Galactic Empire. Let me demonstrate my point through another series of examples:

Act 1: Our hero faces an Orc! The two leer at each other, exchanging insults and demonstrating their weapons. End of Act 1 the Orc charges!
Act 2: The Orc is a mighty opponent, with tough hide and strong arms. Our hero is on the defensive, unable to find an opportunity to attack, lest the Orc land a fatal blow! End of Act 2 the Orc sweeps our hero off his feet, helpless against the Orc's finishing blow!
Act 3: Our hero remembers his loved ones, and is invigorated with a newfound strength! He sweeps away the Orc's blow and strikes at his enemy, bringing him down! The hero takes a moment to honor his enemy and to contemplate on his own shortcomings before continuing on his journey.

The shortest of stories, but still entirely within the confines of the structure provided by the Three-Act Play.

What I have described above is a heroic epic, where the heroes end up winning, but it is not necessary that this happens. All a GM has to do to change it into a tragedy is to flip the moods upside-down - Act Two then becomes the Rise to Power, where everything goes the Heroes' way, where their success is assured and their victory is absolute. At the climax, everything would come crashing down around them, and the denouement would change tone to match the ensuing events.

As a final point,  the GM should not be afraid to vary the length of a story, and intersperse major, epic stories with small ones that give characters more time to play around, without having to worry about the consequences of their actions too much.

Fightest

  • Fighter than anyone else
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #17 on: March 04, 2011, 03:04:16 pm »
So You Want To Run A Game: System

Now we get into the nitty-gritty of actually getting a game together. Most RPG sourcebooks will go on in their introductory section about how rules are what make a game, and they are completely right. However, it is up to the GM to choose which rules he follows. The system then becomes a very important choice, as it will shape how a game runs and feels for its entire duration - heroic and all-encompassing, or down-to-earth and gritty, or anything in between. In that sense, if a story and a system match each other well, the synergy will make the game all that much stronger. If they do not match, the dissonance can potentially tear the game apart (or, in rare cases, allow for an interesting deconstructionist game).

In the modern age of RPGs, with the emergence of niche genres and indie developers, a wide variety of systems is available for the discerning GM. In general terms, RPG systems are loosely-defined by the genre or type of game they wish to facilitate, hence a good awareness of one's own game will allow the GM to make a quick and educated choice of system.

Typical RPG genres and types are (but not limited to):

- High Fantasy - intricate settings with a good degree of simulationism to explore the deeper mechanics of a fantasy world - politics, economics, trade, relations between major nations.

- Sword and Sorcery - strong focus on personal or small-unit combat against immediately-dangerous foes, with exploration, dungeon-delving, and adventuring often expected.

- Cyberpunk - the exploration of the human interaction with the machine, the new dangers and changes brought upon society by technological development, action often expected.

- Horror - the demonstration of the weakness of one ordinary person versus a greater foe, the exploration of the drive and nature of a person as they are pushed to the utter limits of their capacity.

- Pulp Adventure - over-the-top campy action, generally light-hearted, with its own genre expectations: dinosaurs, zeppelins, steampunk, British gentlemen and scrappy archaeologists, they all belong here.

- Supers - great perils and awesome enemies, but those who fight against them are formidable forces in their own right, explores the question: when one man has the powers of a god, what will they do?

- Urban Fantasy - a modern, recently-emerged genre, where magicians and monsters exist in the modern world, but are a close-lipped secret, where the fantastic hides just around the corner from the mundane, and only those in the know can cross the border between the two.

Each of the these can be additionally modified by a few keywords: Space, Western, Heroic, Gritty, Lovecraftian, varying by applicability. In addition, very specific games exist for very specific applications, e.g All Flesh Must Be Eaten for zombie survival and Maid for... whatever it is Maid is for.

Most mainstream modern systems tend to mix genres, allowing for more than one type of game to be run in them. One that somehow manages to mix all of them is known as a kitchen-sink game. There are very few of these in existence. I will go over the most common (read: those that I am familiar with) mainstream games and their systems:

Fightest's note: I really welcome other experienced GMs to talk about systems that I have failed to cover here, especially the plethora of White Wolf stuff and Call of Cthulhu if possible.

Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 Edition

What most of you will have been introduced to the RPG world by. A highly-complex (or, as we say in the vernacular, crunchy) game, it uses the generally widespread d20 system with a lot of modifications. It handles the progress of power from lowly peasant to epic hero quite well, and its variety of applications keeps people coming back to it. With a highly-detailed combat system and few details on anything else, it is best used for Sword and Sorcery games, and should be quickly discarded if the game being planned does not fit into that genre.

Pros: Popular, lots of support and first-party material.
Cons: Overly complicated, unbalanced, slow, steep learning curve with limited rewards.

Fightest's note: Do not run your first game using D&D. It is a terrible idea. There are better games and systems out there.

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition

The new kid on the D&D block, 4th edition is the epitome of gamist design, approaching every obstacle as something to be solved, providing methods and numbers to everything from killing a goblin to sneaking into a treasury. If possible, it is even more focused on combat than its predecessor, with as many options available, and is thus also best for approaching Sword and Sorcery, with the additional appeal to tabletop wargamers from the game's strong focus on grid-based combat. Once again uses the d20 system, with lots of modification for streamlining and ease of use.

Pros: Well-designed for a specific function, balanced, clean, lots of support.
Cons: Niche appeal, narrow design.

Exalted 2nd Edition

Intended to be the ultimate high-fantasy kitchen-sink game it nearly completely delivers: vast setting with a plethora of factions, characters, nations and locations, all waiting to be thrown into turmoil. Characters are expected to be extremely powerful players in the world, and the game promises - and, indeed, allows - a freshly-minted PC the ability to subjugate a small nation without a GM's facilitation. It is a crunchy game, rewarding a well-planned character design. With separate systems presented for as much talking people to death as well as stabbing them, whether by yourself or with a million-strong army, Exalted is a strongly versatile game with a few glaring flaws stemming from its World of Darkness roots.

Pros: Well-crafted setting, a feeling of power for the players, versatile.
Cons: Glaring and unexpected issues, potentially gamebreaking. Hard to run for a novice GM.

GURPS: 4th edition

Designed from the start to be ultimately modular, GURPS approaches games from a systematic point of view, presenting accurate data from which a GM can construct his own world. Exhaustive detail is provided on every aspect, whether it be the damage of a sword based on its component materials and its weight, the acceleration of a rocket related to thruster capacity and fuel type, or the range of a fireball based on its specific potency, the arc of its flight and the mystic energies in the area. Fortunately, a lot of pre-prepared materials are also available in the form of additional books (splatbooks in the vernacular) that are geared towards a specific type of game. In that sense, GURPS can be used to run any of the above genres and genre subtypes presented above, given that the GM has enough familiarity with the system and the patience to make it work.

Pros: Ultimately versatile, easy to run once everything has been prepared.
Cons: Highly front-loaded, requiring a lot of preparation before the game starts. Generally quite dry.

Shadowrun

Presented for a peculiar mix of Cyberpunk and Sword and Sorcery, Shadowrun is a crunchy game with combat, hacking, and magic systems that lend a good amount of immersion into the game for their detail. There is adequate support for any character type expected from the cyberpunk genre, with a few unusual twists thrown in that allow the game to stand out with its own brand of uniqueness. Its premade setting presents the world in a good amount of detail, but is modular enough that a GM is able to play around with the world to their whim.

Pros: Surprising degree of realism in combat situations, from bullet ricochet to explosion reflections, to add immersion. Unusual setting flavour makes it stand out.
Cons: Front-loaded, requiring GM and player preparation before everything starts to flow smoothly. Systems not immediately intuitive.

FATE and its derivatives

A strong example of what is called a cinematic system, FATE rather focuses on what makes a character a character, rather than expressing them through numbers. PCs gain strength from their quirks and curiousities, and the game is designed to allow the GM to direct player characters by rewarding them for behaving in-character. Very little crunch is present, and games run in FATE tend to be much more light-hearted and party-like than the more typical D&D, for example. The FATE system is highly versatile due to its focus, and can be used to run, for example, Pulp Adventure with Spirit of the Century and Urban Fantasy with The Dresden Files.

Pros: Easy to run, encourages player buy-in, versatile.
Cons: Can get repetitive, characters can lose uniqueness due to singular resolution system.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd edition (WHFRP, pronounced woof-ruhp)

Almost legendary for its grittiness, i.e. the degree to which everything is simply difficult for a player character, WHFRP nevertheless boasts a versatile and intuitive character advancement system that should, in theory, allow a PC to grow from a simple peasant into a wandering hero, into a slayer of demons, into a corpse gloriously burning on an ancestral pyre. More likely they're going to end up bleeding out in a ditch with a severe wound infection, however. A solid system with a mostly-intuitive resolution mechanic gives the player just enough rope to hang their PCs by.

Pros: A generally-realistic approach to a medieval high-fantasy setting, solid resolution mechanic, excellent progression system.
Cons: Very specific brand of gameplay, bordering on the fetishistic. A pro in certain circles, like anyone who plays Dwarf Fortress.


Again, I invite other GMs to present other games/systems they're familiar with.

Stuffman

  • Spechul Membah
  • *
  • We're having a ball!
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Gender: man with a plan
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #18 on: March 05, 2011, 01:37:18 am »
Savage Worlds: A fairly clean and concise system, mostly for pulp games. Options for making characters with supernatural abilities are there but somewhat limited. Also, oddities in the dice system makes it so that having low stats occasionally increases your chance of success. It is very easy to pick up and play, however.

Mutants and Masterminds: Designed for a game focusing on superheroes but I can see it working for any game involving high-powered characters in a fairly modern setting. Another d20-based game, this one uses a point buy mechanism instead of levels, allowing for greater freedom in character creations; it also offers several templates for easy character creation and benchmarking. Haven't gotten the chance to play it but I think it looks rather promising.

HERO System: Similar to Mutants and Masterminds, this game is built with superheroes in mind. It has considerably more depth and variety, but it is also very complicated, making it rather off-putting to those inexperienced in tabletop RPGs. The rulebook can apparently stop a bullet!

BESM (Big Eyes Small Mouth): Stems from the generic Tri-stat system. Probably the best of the anime-themed games, this one is fairly simple as far as freeform point buy character design goes. It makes it pretty easy to build any kind of ridiculous character you could want. However, it is entirely devoid of balance and requires heavy handed adjudication on the GM's part due to some unclear rules. Fun, regardless! It is worth noting that you will want to choose between second and third edition; second is simpler, third has a bit more content but is more complicated. (A d20 edition also exists; avoid it like the plague.)

Dizzy H. "Muffin" Muffin

  • :3
  • :3
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Nickname: KimikoMuffin
  • Gender: Girl
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #19 on: March 05, 2011, 02:00:50 am »
I believe FATE is itself derived from Fudge, which ... well, they're a bit different, but Fudge has pretty much the exact same set of pros and cons, really. I've also never personally seen a singular action-resolution system referred to as a "con" before, but I kinda see why it would be.

I keep poking at a 3/4-complete Demon-Slayer RPG I started working on after being inspired by Devil May Cry, and with a system based on Fudge except with numbers 3-18 (and 3d6) instead of the adjectives. I'm vaguely worried that it wouldn't be the right system, but, um, I don't even know how to look for a better free flexible system for a hack-and-slash-and-shoot modern-fantasy with veritable supers ...
  • Muffiny Miscellany

Hello Purvis

  • Acolyte
  • *
  • Hello Jerry
  • Staff
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Nickname: Purvis
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #20 on: March 05, 2011, 07:33:33 am »
This is missing Unknown Armies, ORE, and Window. This is shameful

Also: 4e is not remotely the best approach to Swords and Sorcery. That honor goes to REIGN. 4e is for your hack and slash almost but not quite WH Fantasy games.


Unknown Armies: A modern era supernatural RPG. The rules are mostly quick and easy, and the game is definitely flavor heavy over rules heavy. Magic is possible, very stylish, and flexible. The setting itself is very well done and handled; the combat chapter starts with 6 ways to avoid a fight; and emphasizes why it's not a good idea to go hacking and slashing through everything. Magic styles are varied, modern in flavor, and based off of either obsessive insanity or consensual reality. It is designed to be played at street level, which is more or less everyday shmucks learning a bit of the truth; global level, in which powerful peoples vie for temporal power, and cosmic level, where the real players try to win the universe.

Pros: Everything ever.
Cons: Hard to adapt to other settings.

Window: Window is based around a very simple concept: Roll under 6.  Every stat, every action, every skill and so on is assigned a die; success happens when you roll under 6. Anything you're average at, you have a d12 for it and will succeed half the time.  If you're good, a d10, a d8, or even a d6 (a 3 or lower is a crit). If you're bad at it, it's a d20. And that's it. All the rest is up to you.

Pros: Very fast, very flexible, easy to make house rulings on.
Cons: Doesn't lend itself very well to gaining power over time. Requires a lot of maturity. Some GMs may want to make a lot of extra rules.


ORE: this system is based around condensing everything into a no more than one roll; thus the name One Roll Engine. It works off of dice pools, and is designed to incorporate a large variety of playstyles. It's particular charm is that character creation is very open ended. You can theoretically make damn near anything if you can keep it under point cost. The GM is encouraged to allow this, and find ways to deal with especially broken stuff through cleverness, as the rules and skills are much more fluid than that of DnD. Fun aspects include loyalty, willpower, and character motivations being sources of power; and attackable. ORE has a variety of flavors including Wild Talents for your Superhero Time (which adapts easily to everything), REIGN for specific Swords and Sorcery Times, Progenitor for kickin' rad alternate history superhero stuff, and so on.

The best description for Wild Talents, in particular, comes from the books. One in which you make yourself invulnerable to ever taking HP damage and ways that GMs can screw with you anyways, and how to make a character that can literally extinguish the sun and what it means to have such a character. That is, they literally make the power Suppress Nuclear Fusion for you. It is a system designed to be kicked around in clever ways.

Pros: Very flexible, very easy to pick up the basics.
Cons: So many ways to do things, it's easy to get lost or be inefficient. Very breakable at higher levels.


« Last Edit: March 05, 2011, 10:28:38 am by Purvissimo »

Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #21 on: March 05, 2011, 12:04:52 pm »
Fightest: I think you're under-representing D&D 3.5 here. The system isn't nearly as complicated as you make it out to be (it wouldn't be nearly as popular or as much of a gateway game as it is if it was): the core rules are simple enough once you try it out, though some spells, some of the alternate combat techniques (grapple), and options from some of the later splat books are indeed complicated. Also, you missed out on probably the biggest advantage that D&D 3.5 has: accessibility. The basic rules and some of the expanded rules are available for free online, unlike almost every other game system out there (unless you download torrents and that kind of stuff, but that has the disadvantage of being, well, against the wishes of the publisher).

That said, there's one other game system I want to add: Pathfinder. It's frequently called "D&D 3.75", and with good reason: it's essentially an overhaul of the 3.5 system. Classes have been rebalanced and upgraded to make them not only more fun to play, but worthwhile to take beyond five, ten, and up to twenty levels of, complicated combat systems have been made less of a pain in the ass to implement, and the skill system is actually usable.

And the best part? The core rules are free.

As for pros and cons, pretty much the same as D&D 3.5, but better.

Fightest

  • Fighter than anyone else
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #22 on: March 06, 2011, 11:29:51 am »
Fightest: I think you're under-representing D&D 3.5 here. The system isn't nearly as complicated as you make it out to be (it wouldn't be nearly as popular or as much of a gateway game as it is if it was): the core rules are simple enough once you try it out, though some spells, some of the alternate combat techniques (grapple), and options from some of the later splat books are indeed complicated. Also, you missed out on probably the biggest advantage that D&D 3.5 has: accessibility. The basic rules and some of the expanded rules are available for free online, unlike almost every other game system out there (unless you download torrents and that kind of stuff, but that has the disadvantage of being, well, against the wishes of the publisher).

This seems like the thread to do so, so I will present arguments against 3.5. The basic resolution mechanic is, indeed, not complicated: take a d20, roll over target number. Everything else, however, is an unholy mess of numbers and tables that are needlessly complicated. On the other extreme, everything but combat has only the most cursory of rules, often unclear in form and intent, frequently relying on GM fiat to get anything done other than murdering a guy in the face.

Beyond that, however, even forgiving the above issues, there is the issue 3.5 is infamous for the most: balance. As in, what balance? The game is a powergamer's wet dream and a nightmare for anyone who does not like to juggle numbers during character creation. Having both at the table simultaneously puts immense pressure on the GM on trying to run a game that is challenging for one and not soul-crushing for the other. Sure, additional source material can bridge the balance gap, but that reintroduces the aforementioned needless complexity into the game.

The reason 3.5 is such a popular gateway game is because of its strong market hold. It has been around for a long time, and is practically a household name - it's something everyone knows simply through word of mouth. Hence it's not popular through any particular strengths of its own. It's popular because it has the most hype. (Also being free helps a lot.)

For all intents and purposes, D&D 3.5 is a ball-and-chain for new GMs - it will inhibit their creativity and imagination for a long time, and it will be felt even after they might choose, for whatever reason, to switch systems.

I will take your word for Pathfinder, however. It seems solid, but I have not had the opportunity to play or run a Pathfinder game.

Hello Purvis

  • Acolyte
  • *
  • Hello Jerry
  • Staff
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Nickname: Purvis
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #23 on: March 06, 2011, 09:00:36 pm »
Reminder that 3e and 3.5e were built up on the much simpler and more story-driven 2e and iconic 1e that more or less was the first real system. So 3e and beyond gets a lot of free fame for things its not; and in fact actively ruined.

Also the magic system is just...I laugh whenever anyone calls a spell in DnD unbalanced. Of course it's unbalanced! Good lord, Fireball (Aka: Kill Entire Military Regiment) is not that far off from being a starter spell.

« Last Edit: March 06, 2011, 09:02:57 pm by Purvissimo »

Stuffman

  • Spechul Membah
  • *
  • We're having a ball!
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Gender: man with a plan
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #24 on: March 06, 2011, 10:50:55 pm »
Really, D&D isn't that unbalanced compared to most games. I'm not aware of any tabletop RPG that doesn't have balance issues. The problem is that it puts so much work and so many rules into trying to make it balanced, and fails completely.

Pathfinder isn't any better. The power gap between classes may be smaller, but casters still have spells to sidestep any conceivable obstacle you could encounter, the spells they have are still better solutions than the things other classes can offer, and they still win battles in one round right from the get-go with things like color spray.

Hello Purvis

  • Acolyte
  • *
  • Hello Jerry
  • Staff
  • LOOK AT ME
  • Nickname: Purvis
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #25 on: March 07, 2011, 12:20:53 am »
Stuffmangen says it well.

Though I would argue the unbalance is pretty pronounced in DnD. When the human commoner is the weakest thing in the world, yet humans are still predominant...because. And don't get me started on dumb stuff like immune to normal weapons and normal attacks that cause level drains and so on.

Fightest

  • Fighter than anyone else
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #26 on: September 06, 2011, 02:08:35 pm »
Need an update every once in a while.

So You Want To Run A Game: Players

As odd as it may seem, it is up to the GM to pick the players for their game wisely. Of course, what normally will happen is that the GM will announce their game, get a group of takers, and run the game once the group has filled up. While there is nothing wrong with this approach if the GM and his players are all unfamiliar with each other, something that will inevitably happen is that the group will run into player mismatch.

Players can, in general, be divided into three types based on what they want out of a game:

Gamist players like to crunch numbers, calculate distances and optimise approaches. These are the players who will turn anything into a science, from shooting an orc to seducing the king's daughter. They enjoy using the game's mechanics to lead them to victory.

Narrativist players enjoy stories, both experiencing them and making them happen. These players will pursue options that will yield the most engaging story for their character (or, indeed, for other characters). They enjoy letting stories proceed as they should happen.

Simulationist players wish to see the fictional world presented to them and experience all it has to offer. They will take interest in the details of court intrigue or the mechanics of a country's currency fluctuation. They are happiest when allowed to explore and investigate.

Fightest's note: All three are viable and respectable gaming philosophies. Indeed, many RPGs are designed to cater for one or the other type of gamer, sometimes several types simultaneously.

During player mismatch the group suffers from split priorities: some players absolutely want to go one way, some players absolutely want to go the other, based on their fundamental preference to what they want from the game in which they are playing. In the short-term, the Masterful GM solves this issue by Splitting the Party. The issue, however, will remain a strain on the whole group in the long-term if the players are unable to settle their differences and come to a compromise, and, indeed, it is entirely possible that a game can fall apart for this very reason.

In addition to the above major categories, players can also be classed in three different divisions based on their experience with a certain system, the wrong combination of which can also cause player mismatch.

Newbies are players who understand RPGs but have not used a particular system before. They might have trouble grasping certain systematic conceits, but should have a lot of enthusiasm for learning a new system and playing around with it. A newbie will give a GM little trouble outside of requiring guidance. A newbie is more likely than not to work in a team, as they will probably be aware of their shortcomings and rely on other players (and their Player Characters) to fill in the gaps.

Experienced players have been around the block a few times. They know the trappings of a system, and know most, if not all, the little tricks and shortcuts. In my experience, an experienced player will give the GM the most trouble due to their ability and willingness to strain a system to its breaking points and sometimes push past entirely. Experienced players will often stick together to the exclusion of other players and, if they are the only representative of their kind in a group, are unlikely to work well in a team.

Veteran players have seen it all, and are entirely comfortable being entirely aware of how to bend a system over a barrel but not doing so, as they are all-too-aware of what that might cause. Conversely, they know how to use the system to fill in gaps left by other players. They are the most adaptable to a group's composition and their preferences. As such, they work well in any group.

As such, it falls to the GM to pick his players carefully. He must understand well what definitions his game falls under and be aware what player types he wants to or even must exclude. A game tailored for and run for a carefully chosen group of players will almost certainly be excellent and rewarding for everyone involved.

ICE

  • LOOK AT ME
  • Nickname: GreyICE
Re: On storytelling, gamemastering, and the approaches thereto
« Reply #27 on: February 26, 2012, 09:15:58 pm »
I really love this guide.  It's absolutely wonderful.  I'd like to add my thoughts on a few systems:

D&D 3.5/Pathfinder - overall, the system is just plain too imbalanced to be safely used by newbie DMs.  If you really want to do it, and are dead set on it, use the D&D tier system.  Banning Tiers 1&2, and suggesting that Tier 4/5 characters take a few options to up their level.  As the guide puts it, instead of Wizard/Fighter, suggest they play Beguiler/Warblade.

It's not perfect, but if you really want to play 3.5, this is a great fix.

Pathfinder is less of a good fix, mostly because all of the balance issues are still there, but some of the new classes are quite fun, and integrate reasonably well into existing D&D tier 3 classes. 

I'd still recommend a different system, but this is the best you'll get out of it.

D&D 4E - if it's your first time DMing a game, DM D&D 4E.  Making encounters is easy.  Balancing the party is reasonably easy (one of each role, 5th can be all sorts of things).  Balancing encounters is fairly easy, especially at low levels.  Roleplaying is generally left to be free-formish (Skill challenges can be used, but overall it's best to let characters do what they want).  Overall, this is probably the best system to start out with if you have never DMed before and your players are moderate-low experience.  It is just that easy and kind to run. 

Notes: Print out power cards, and make sure people are keeping things moving.  Combat is usually fairly snappy, but some people have reported that combat takes forever.  I don't quite know what they're doing, but if it's an issue for you, well, you can always double monster damage and halve hit points as a quick and dirty fix.  As you move past level 10, there's more to discuss, but since you'll probably have been DMing for about a 6 months - 1 year at that point (if you started at level 1) it should be a lot easier for you to make the transition. 

Dark Heresy  - The Warhammer 40k Roleplaying game, and it makes up in deadliness what the Warhammer Fantasy game lacks.

What's that you say?  Warhammer Fantasy is deadly and dangerous?  My friend, you have NOT played Dark Heresy.   Based entirely on rolling D10s, the system is fairly snappy.   And lethal.  Oh god, so lethal.  Your average lifespan if you're outside of cover, can be measured in seconds.   Fortunately, many of your enemies suffer the same.  Wait, no, I'm lying.  Demons of Chaos can be hilariously durable, to the point where they can take close range fire from your best weapons easily (note the standard 40k weapons are at the top of the chart, so if you can imagine facing down a Khorne Berskerker with a few laspistols and a crossbow, well, you're on the right track).

So you turn to the magic... I'm sorry, the Psyker.  And, like D&D, Psykers are far more powerful than the rest of the party.  Unlike D&D, accessing the warp can have... consequences.  Horrible terrible no good very bad consequences.  When you have achieved the legendary TPK (Total Planet Kill) you are on the right track.  Many experienced and paranoid veterans take 'kill the Psyker' quite literally, and liberally friendly fire their own party's psyker, sometimes mere minutes after character creation.

Fortunately character creation is based entirely on random tables, and thus you can have a new character made in a few minutes.  Which is good.

Imagine if Shadowrun met D&D, and had a baby that was kidnapped and raised by The Computer and you'll be on the right track.  Utter insanity where the most likely plot for your second party is finding out what happened to your first party. 

Play if you like: Wound tables which include results like 'the surround area for 2d10 feet is slick with blood, characters walking on it must make a balance test or slip and fall' and facing down implacable enemies with the most ridiculous of weaponry, and laughing constantly at the amazing things the random character generator spits out. 

Don't play if: You want a serious, mature game with lots of character development and deep, moving plotlines.  Or if you think White Wolf are gods among men and produce flawless gaming systems. 
 

SMF 2.0.15 | SMF © 2017, Simple Machines
Theme based on ModernDark64 design by BlocWeb
Page created in 0.084 seconds with 22 queries.