Where the party at

Where the party at?

The whole point of role-playing is getting a group, as small as 2 in some cases, to play characters that will live in the game world and solve all of that worlds problems, or at least the one at the end of a story arc!  This post is aimed at the referee and the control a ref has over character creation.  To give a bit of background on this (and it’s companion post to follow)…I have been looking at making a new Shadowrun campaign, and have been thinking about characters and the runner team.  I began wondering what sort of ideas I might be missing, so I have been doing some research looking at several blogs, and forums, and reading the well thought out “The Game Master” by Tobiah Panshin (http://tobiah.panshin.net).  I found things I liked, some I didn’t, as well as things I did and did not agree with, but it was definitely enlightening.  Putting this stuff together I’ve come up with the following guidelines for GMs when their players are creating characters.  I have not used this procedure, but it seems like it would work, and I will be using it for at least the simmering idea I have.  I have stated repeatedly that I feel it is my job to work any character in…I still feel that, but I think I am going to be implementing these fences on those wide open fields.  I have no problem saying no to a character, I would just rather say yes!  Here are my rules:

  1. Share the love…or at least the plot line!
  2. Make a Party!
  3. To each, a roll (even a role)
  4. Something to do, Somewhere to go

Rule 1: Share the Love…or at least the plot!

This may not be obvious…and for a big top down guy like me, it wasn’t!  My worlds often have several stories going along, just waiting for players to touch one, so I can listen to the music!  Of course I have main plot lines that I will guide players to, but that is not the point.  The idea behind this rule is to make sure the players know what kind of game you are running!  And, since my players read this blog, I will use the impetus of an upcoming game to illustrate.  However, the game I am currently working on is a Shadowrun game, and for this ongoing example, I’m going to discuss a rules free game.  So, to Illustrate:  Lets make a plot based in modern-day, but with a conspiracy, x-files type setting.  The players need to know that they are going to be playing characters in a story that will include government conspiracies and cover-ups.  It will involve some advanced technologies, and in the story the governments of the first world nations are generally believed to be the bad guys. Also, the game will start in Europe, but will travel the globe.  What I wouldn’t tell them is that the technology comes from an alien that came to recover the Roswell crash.  I also wouldn’t tell them that the government is just trying to collect the technology from a multinational corporation who is equipping it own spy’s and agents with it.  Given this, they can make characters who “Know” the truth is out there…and perhaps have even seen or encountered it…or be part of the tinfoil hat crowd, or the anti-government conspirasists.  Why can’t they play someone who was part of the corporation and left because of a disagreement with their methods?  Well, first it would spoil a plot twist.  After that is discovered, a replacement character might be allowed.  Second…the Corporation would spare no expense silencing or ridiculing,or harassing the character…kinda tough for a starting character in what will probably be a fairly gritty setting!  This allows the players to start considering what sort of character would work in that situation.  You could give them a lot of information without revealing the plot, anymore than a movie trailer would.

Rule 2: Make it a Party!

This is where you may have to raise the heavy hand (or bring down the fingers!).  In this rule, you are required to make sure that each of the characters will have a role in your expected plot.  Also, you could make sure your characters are connected in some way.  That tends to make getting the party together fairly easy if character A knows character B who went to judo class with Character C who met Character D on a dating web-site…but that is not always needed.  It is important that since you know, at least in theory, where the plot will take them, that they each make a character that fits in the story line, and will have things to do.  There is another part to this rule: The party is a party!  They are not support for one of the other characters!  They are important!  In terms of party balance, no player character can be the “Ring Bearer,” (Thanks Tobiah Pansion) but they PCs can be the fellowship who need to protect the NPC Ring Bearer!  In our X-files game, A role-playing geek who is as huge conspiracy theorist, who left college to pursue it would be a good character…but a med student who needs to complete school so she can pay off her tuition and save her grandmother would have much less of a place, even though it could be a viable character, it might not work in your plot…What about four soldiers, who were just separated form the army because they go too curious about some of the nighttime activities of certain members of their leadership…Great!  They know each other, they have a decent tie in to the plot, they will probably be great characters…Rank is no longer important as they are all separated…but  there is a caveat…and that leads me to…

Rule 3: To each, a role (or roll)

This has been called the “too many cooks,” or the “balanced party” rule…when all of your characters are infantrymen, the only thing that differentiates them is their hobbies, in a game sense.  Here you need to make sure your characters all have separate strengths.  You can’t have everybody be the sniper any more than you can have everybody be the field medic.  In order for your characters to each have a chance to be THE character during the plot, they will have to have different strengths.  In our example, we know that they will all have some basic combat training…side arms, long arms, hand to hand…so, how do we make them different?  Well we have hit upon two specialties…the Long range shooter and the medic.  What about an Intel analyst with maybe some interrogation training?  Maybe someone from the motor pool to keep vehicles running?  Helicopter Pilot?  What about a ranking officer with some administration and tactical training?  What about a comm guy who is used to working with, and as a hobby, hacking, satellite communications?  This is not to say that every player wont have some skill in all of these things.  It IS to say that one character will be THE go to person when it come to this task!  (Sorry Besters! (Unless it happens to be your character!)) This is the time that you and your players discuss character ideas and connections.  At this point the characters may be fully formed, or just some vague ideas.  However, you will know that none of the player will be obvious enemies ( A priest of the death god, and a chosen of the god of life, for instance,) and can see how they have the potential to work together and if and how they know one another. Now you have a group of players that will work in your plot, they will work together and they will have a chance to be the main character.  There is still something missing…

Rule 4: Something to do, Somewhere to go

This is something I have struggled with for years as a GM…character motivation.  In the generic “you all meet in a bar” starting, players often form together because they are the people who do something (aside from holding up a PC card)  and then they stick together when someone want them to do something…and now they are a group, so they wait for someone else to give them a job…and so on.  It is important for your characters to have motivations to provide hooks that you can exploit.  When your characters are being created, tell them you need a background for them.  This is not usually a problem, for some characters, because they love to create backgrounds!  But others will find it difficult.  But what you need from them are hooks, and tell them that.  Perhaps you need 3 hooks from each player…you need an enemy, a close friend, and a goal, perhaps.  These can be very detailed; the former friend, who you were always just a little bit better than, who blames you for the time they almost drown trying to prove who could swim deeper, but is now the CFO of a major corporation.  Or they could be simple.  I have always felt protective of my little brother…  Tell them that they should expect these to come up in the plot, for good or ill.  Tell them that you have final say on each hook and you can add meat to it or pare it down.  Coordinate with them on things they would be aware of…If they give you a goal of “want to be rich” you need to see how they define it…and to what ends they will go to get rich, as well as why they don’t just set home watching get rich quick infomercials?

I will be using a tool I have created…don’t know how well it will work, but i think it should be good.  I’ll let you know how it works…but here it is:  I am expecting 3 or 4 players, so I will be creating 5 or 6 hooks in the following categories: regret, achievement or goal, hatred and loss.  Each player will draw 1 of each of those…This will give me hooks I have already created into the plot.  The players can then create as much or as little background that MUST include those provided hooks  I will probably have them add one more or replace one of those.  that way I have at least 4 and perhaps more hooks that will automatically  give the character a reason to follow the plot line!

With these rules in mind I think I might get a very good game.  So, if and when we play it, I’ll let you know how it worked.  The next article is for the players, but you should read it too.  It will echo a players version of these rules.

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View From Above

Where I delve into Top Down adventure construction

I touched on Top Down design in the Common Ground post.  This is designing your adventure or setting by looking at the “Big Picture” first and then designing each of the lower layers until you get to the fine details like family names, the Skorpion class cruisers that patrol the star lanes, and the Rusty Dragon Tavern.  I’ll hopefully illustrate this better with a hypothetical, and probably over the top example.  For this example, assume you have a game system that will fit perfectly for your idea:

The Triumph of New Rome: In our alternate history, Rome almost fell, but was saved through the brilliant, but savage, machinations of 1st emperor Narsis.  Now, the Roman Empire has advanced into a star faring culture.  How do we design this setting?

First, we need to figure out the extent of the Empire…how many planets does it control?  So, for each planet, we need to create some things…What is the planet like>? Desert and dual sun, or water with scattered islands….what about toxic atmosphere but very rich in resources?  So we design all of these worlds and give them names, and decide why the empire inhabited them.  What has happened to the natives, and how did they take to being subjugated by the Romans?  Well, we need to define that.  Oh, every planet has a population of citizens, slaves and subjugated natives.  So, we need to work out these natives, the populations and how many population centers there are.  Of course these places need names…

OK, now we have the empire, we of course need to decide why they haven’t expanded further?  Range?  Or bogged down on given planets?  Well, we need to define that.  But, if it is range, or simply resources, we need to figure out how travel works, and how big the starships are and their cargo…probably ought to work out what the standard method for pacifying worlds is, and is it more important to keep the slaves alive, or are the resources what drives them.

Well, we have the empire and the barest info on the starships.  Now we need to decide which of the planets are going to be important to the setting.  Well, All of them of course!  So for every planet, we need to work out the members of the senate there, what the lifestyle on that planet is, how many and how big the population centers are.

As you can see, top down can get VERY complex, as we haven’t even got a place for the characters to call home yet…assuming its Earth, a lot of information is already available, but we need to work out how it has changed with the New Roman Empire controlling it.  We need to work out the important people and buildings for the setting…what about any important members of the Senate, or the exiled General of the Praetorian who has recently acquired a Septus Class destroyer? Which of course we will need to name and map and work out crew and compliment… We haven’t  even worked out the significant dates in history that brought about this new Empire, yet!

The idea for Top Down is that whatever happens or whatever the players decide to do, you have already worked out what it could affect!  It is VERY labor intensive.   I usually work on a top down idea, but usually only about kingdom level down with a sketch of the world and a few notes about what is beyond.  The biggest benefit of this is it creates a very detail and believable setting that will always remain consistent.  As I have posted in my info, I tend to use this method, or this method with a shortcut. This is a great method to use when you are gaming in an Epic style, or if you are writing stories rather than adventures.  But when it comes to adventures, using this method, you can literally have ages worth of background and settings forever!

What are the downsides?  Well…LOTS of preparation.  Also, Lots of maintenance.  If you have a whole world going on outside of game, then you need to keep at least simple notes on its continued existence or it becomes stagnant.  When you tell a player that a queen from two kingdoms over just got assassinated, because that is the news of the day, and has nothing to do with your current game, next year, the queen cannot still be “Just assassinated!,” It could still be an undecided outcome, but SOMEBODY, and likely many somebodies, if you have built your Top Down correctly, has claimed the king’s hand!

Like everything else in reffing, this is a personal choice.  For the sake of completeness, the next post will be Bottom up, and then I will do a simple compare contrast.  Anybody have preferences of what to see after this short string?  Don’t worry..even without input, I have LOTS of post scheduled…just not certain what order to post them!

Thats my story…take it or leave it…My trucker budies…they believe it!

How to ref

How to be a Successful GameMaster

Probably the only reason you’d be reading this!

2 Rules:
Play to your strengths: 

When Ref’ing, do what you feel comfortable with!  Of course, throughout this blog I will be offering tips on how to find that, ways to stretch what you find comfortable, and when (and if) you should break the first rule…

If you prefer stories that are rapid fire, action after action, flying through space, you will be less successful if you ref an epic saga of a single character, lost in the enchanted forest.  There are ways to temper that, and to fool players, but in a lot of cases, if you are doing those things, you are not enjoying GMing as much as you could be. And, here is a KEY CONCEPT: The game doesn’t get played without a ref!  So, if you get burned out, or are not enjoying yourself, then the players won’t have much fun.

Play what your players want:

This is the age old rule of presenting…Know your audience.  Sometimes this is very easy, as you game with friends.  But, say you are reffing for a new group. You don’;t know what they want, so how can you play to it.  Not true!  If you tell the players what you are playing, they will come play if they are interested.  You may not know favorite colors or flavors of pizza, but you know they are interested in playing a particular genre, and using a specific rule set.  (subject for a later article: House rules!!!!!)  

One of the things we used to do, was the “Scare the Gamers Away” Speech,  (So called by MLW).  In that, we invited prospective gamers over for dinner, and then talked with them about our expectations, and what we get out of game, and what we wanted from our gamers.  This allowed us to listen to how they talked about their previous games, and characters and learn if they would fit in our game.  A bit extreme, maybe, because lots of gamers did not get invited back.

Most of the time, the people you are gaming with, you will know something about.  And, to fill in your gaps, try the revolutionary concept of: Asking!

 

A few other things, that all pale from the TWO RULES.

–  Know your game system.  The better you know the rules, the smoother the play.  If it is a game you have read the rules once a year ago..well…it gets kinda rough.  (Another subject for several entries)  

 – Decide if you need or want any special props or settings, such as player hand outs, background music, or puzzles.  

 – Table rules!  What is off limits at your table, are there any expectations?  These can make or break a group!  Who brings the munchies?  Is dice touching strictly off limits?  What about cross adding (reading you neighbors dice and adding, subtracting or otherwise determining the outcome)?  Sex? Drugs? Rock and Roll?  Some games, because of the ref or the players, must have these subjects, and others will bring a smooth game to a screeching halt if not handled correctly.  (Do two players go off to a room and come back relaxed, or should it be graphic?)

Well…that wraps up the simple overview of How to ref!  Don’t worry.  I will be touching on just about everything here and dissecting some things in multiple ways.

 

Any comments? Critiques? Criticism?

That’s my story…take it or leave it.  My trucker buddies, they believe it!