GM's Guide Content
Following is a list of the things I'd like to talk about in the GM's Guide. I want the game to be able to "slide" towards the preferences of individual gaming groups, but most GMs won't do that because they won't be aware of any other way to play a game.
Our Goals for this Game:
Talk about how our overriding goal was to provide a structured set of rules that are simple, support multiple styles of gameplay, and can easily be shifted to provide heavier emphasis on a certain style of gameplay. To achieve this goal, we followed three philosophies:
UNMENTIONED GOALS FOR THIS GAME:
- Ability to Scale and Zoom - The game can scale, so the rules work the same whether at the level of ants, humans, giants, or starships. The game also has the ability to zoom in or out, so that the GM and/or players have control over what is cut out and what is expanded to a gritter, more action-packed level.
- Cut out all rules that complicate the game but do not add much to the fun.
- Dice & Probability - In keeping with philosophy 2, cut out dull or repetitive die-rolling, allow more fun rolling. If a die roll is made, it's outcome should be significant to the players, and even significant die-rolling should be collapsed into fewer rolls. (More rolls automatically implies that each individual roll becomes less significant.)
- Player intent is god - it rules all even when the player fails to get what he wants.
These are part of our goals, but we should NOT state them in the GM's Guide. Such goals include:
Recognizing and Using Emergent Conflicts:
- Form follows Function - Related to Design Goal 2 earlier, but deeper. There should be no rules in the game which do not achieve their intended effect. If a rule is intended to invoke certain behaviours from the players, or support them in their quest to behave in a way they want, the rule should do this, all of this, and nothing but this. Raven's Uncertainty Principle.
- Do not assign to the character what can't or should not be simulated - this is partly related to Design Goal 2 mentioned in the previous section. i.e. if it can't be simulated, trying to add rules for it just complicates things needlessly. For example, characters with a supragenius intelligence score will come off as characters with regular intelligence once put into the hands of GMs/Players. Furthermore, there are things we don't WANT to assign as statistics to the characters. For example, an "intuit" ability, a metagame ability allowing the players to solve puzzles without trying, should be disallowed. If the puzzle is too hard for the PLAYERS, it should not have been put into the game for the characters to solve instead.
- Character is Sacred - Fear effects, "Charm Person" spells should be eliminated or seriously penalized. The character's mind is sacred and wholly under the control of the character's player, outside of control of the DM. (We may allow Psionic In-Brain battles, where it only appears to the outside world that the character's mind is under control, but this is not the same as having the GM or game rules usurping authority over the character's mind itself.)
The most interesting conflicts are the ones the GM doesn't design into the game, but which emerge from play and grab the PCs' attentions. The GM must learn to become aware of these, so that the world reacts appropriately to make savour the natural excitingness. Since they're emergent, the players will respond to them more emotionally.
More on Design Goal 3 - Our Philosophy on Probability:
We do not believe in die-rolling for boring or unnecessary conflits, or in rolling dice where the result does not significantly change the outcome of events that the PCs have a vested interest in. You will find that if an event is unlikely to happen, it hasn't been worked into the rules. If it's rarely going to happen, then extra rules become just an obstacle from having fun most of the time. That said, we don't want to block players from trying something fun just because it is unlikely. Conseaquently, while the written rules focus on the day-to-day probable events that are fun, there are holes in the rules that can be taken advantage of by players (or even the GM) for events that, while improbable, are also fun. We have specifically noted these holes in the rules.
PCs' reactions to NPC:
You CANNOT arbitrate how the PCs will react to any given NPC/Monster. If an NPC is described as "charming, charismatic", the PCs may still hate his/her guts for whatever reason. This is fine, and fighting it will break the game's verisimilitude. Instead, have that NPC respond appropriately for his/her character and go with it. For example, a charming prince might be annoyed that the PCs don't find him as charming as everyone else at a party, so he shuns them, and all the other fawning NPCs follow suit, destroying the PC's chance to eavesdrop on various conversations.
Whether the players narrate for themselves in-character or out-of-character.
Ensuring all players have a good time. Ensuring all players get some "spotlight time". Who talks when? How are "turns" figured out so that everyone has a chance to play?
Encouraging participation of all characters/players in a way they enjoy:
Bartle's Ladder yadda yadda
Game-session Styles - Single Session, Quest, or Campaign:
Discuss different ways to play depending on the time-availability of the group members.
To force them to eat or not to? To keep track of time-of-day and calendar, or not to? Tie time of day/calendar into QPC, SPC. Should be movie-ish. Spend a lot of time on interesting stuff.. skip by the boring stuff. Action-packed days are long, boring days are short or skipped.
Granularity - The middle is good too:
Sometimes, the camera should be mid-zoomed, as opposed to always one-roll or as-many-rolls-as-possible (i.e. farthest zoom and nearest zoom). Mid-zoom works like a montage in a movie.Although watching scenes moment-to-moment would be an exercise in excruciating boredom, a super one-roll-zoom would skip the flavour. Mid-zoom gives the flavour but doesn't get too bogged down in details.
Build your own Telescopes:
A major feature of the game is it's ability to telescope: i.e. zoom out of the boring stuff and zoom into the amazingly interesting stuff. The resolution of a boring conflict is either arbitrarily chosen or done in one roll, while the interesting stuff takes several rolls. In the rules, there are two telescopes: social conflict and combat. However, more can (and should
) be made on the fly by the GM. Luckily, it is easy enough to build a telescope, allowing the GM to focus the camera on absolutely anything imaginable. (Thank you, Normal Function)
Why the cookie-cutter monsters?:
The monsters are designed so that they can be built and tallied into groups quickly. This further supports our philosophy of fun. While each individual goblin has it's own thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams, the PCs likely don't give a shit when they're facing a hostile group of 100 goblins, 20 ogres, and a mind flayer. Similarly, if one goblin has a chance to hit the PC of 20.10 and another has a chance to hit the PC of 21.90, and a third has a chance of 20.38 ... who cares!! An average number works just fine, with basically the same results.
The only place where a monster's individuality matters is if he becomes important to the story, or the players take an unusual interest in him (such as by taking him captive for questioning). In this case, feel free to add depth.
Tips for turning a cookie-cutter monster into ones with depth (ie "full" NPCs):
The monsters should be given more depth if the PCs start interacting with them on on individual level. For example, some out-of-combat patrols may need more depth because we'll need to know if they have detection spells (to catch the PCs) and their specific social abilities if the PCs talk to them. Not only that, but each monster's uniqueness may need to be made apparent, such as size-differences, scars, voice characteristics, etc. These uniquenesses may come up even in one-on-one combat when the monster is hostile, but only if the player (character) is open to it.
This technique could be called the old "Holodeck's Moriarty" trick. The character starts as a flat, 2D cardboard cutout meant purely as a throw-away challenge for a player. However, the players interact more with this character, so the GM can simply start nudging the character's numbers to give it the appearance of having more depth and soul. If the PCs start plumbing this depth, the newly created character persists and the GM can start fleshing out the appearances of depth into ACTUAL specific details.
Levels of NPC depth:
There are three. NPCs only need to be developed to a certain depth depending on what they're being used for. Any NPC need not be restricted to a given depth, and may become more developed depending on what happens in the game. The depths are:
QPCs and SPCs:
- Meat Puppet - pure combat. Good for the "red-shirts", or any number of nameless attackers.
- Social Touch - pure social. Thoughts, deams, and desires of these individuals are hinted at but not developed. Good for NPCs which aren't super-important to the story, but which contact the PCs socially and aren't likely to be attacked by them.
- Supporting Cast Member - combination of the above two. Not super-important NPCs that the PCs may contact socially, but are just as likely to attack. Good for NPCs that affect the story, but only briefly.
- Full Character - As fully developed as a PC character. Good only for the most important of story-influential NPCs.
Quest- and Story-/Setting-Personification Characters
Predefined quests versus Player-chosen quests:
For example, the prepackaged stuff versus the stuff that the GM has to create in order to respond to unknown player choices. (GM should ALWAYS ALLOW freedom to choose. GM should warn ahead of time of packaged quests, so that the 'quest hook' cannot be avoided, but is willingly agreed upon by players)
Extension to a quest PC, sort of. The environment should be rich and interesting. Offer cool stuff that can be used. Not just rocks and trees. Think of movies involving toys as characters or that movie "9". The environments have plenty of fun stuff.
x100 and Future Extensions:
Basic demonstration of how our game is scalable. Mention that future extensions will be in different scales. EG Starships and Deathstars might be at the x106
scale, and will therefore be perfectly compatible with the basic system.
XP Rewards - How and Why to grant them:
Unless it is specifically decided in advance to be a competitive game, reward for working together to achieve a goal. Reward for SMALL GOALS, INCREMENTALLY (as suggested by Gilbert's Rules of Thumb). All characters who helped to achieve the goal should be rewarded, but preparing a just-in-case spell should be rewarded even if never used.) Rewards to individual players should be shied away from, because players will subconsciously start trying to achieve what they perceive as being "awardable". With group awards, the players will subconsciously be motivated just to work together to achieve goals.