The RefMentor Cries a Little

Even though I consider myself a pretty good GM (and I am not alone in that!), I have done things as a ref that have not set well with me.  To the point that they often come up as I think about these posts, and what I could have done instead.  So, I figured I might bare my gaming soul a bit, and tell you of these personal fail moments as well as ways I might have done them better.  Take away what you will, either my catharsis, or a bit of advice!

I have often said that I am not so good at ending campaigns.  Usually I can write this off as my thinking the game world continues, with one of it’s problems solved.  But not to long ago, I was playing the original Plot Point Campaign in Rippers (A great Savage World setting).    We had come to the final story beat and I screwed it up…Big!  Now, because this is the final event in the story, I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I am going to have to talk around it a bit, but I will try to be clear.  A little earlier in the campaign the players did two things that I forgot to take into account in this event.  First, an NPC escaped them, and then they, shall we say, left a door open that should have been closed. (For those that know the PPC that should be clear, without giving much away).  These two things should have had a HUGE impact on how this final scene played out.  But for whatever reason, I went to run the final scene as it was presented.   Because of this, the climactic encounter flopped.  The world should have changed for good or bad, and it didn’t…and then, I basically wrapped the campaign, rather than embraced the change and added my own adventures to reach that conclusion, because I was mad at myself and was soured on that story.  Wrong, Wrong, WRONG!  Now, I kick myself and bawl myself to sleep over it.  How could I have avoided that?  First and simplest; Preparation.  I should have taken a few moments to look at what had happened to lead up to the final encounter, which happened either way.   But now, the door that was left open had consequences to the escaped NPC and to the number and type of opponents the PCs would have encountered.  Since I didn’t do that, I should have taken the time to decide what would happen when the primary opponent escapes.  This could have added several more adventures to this game!  LESSON HERE: Prepare enough to keep the story line consistent, and when a mistake happens, gloss over it and carry on!  The world didn’t end (Probably!)

As I have mentioned before, the story set-up and setting is the purview of the referee.  As such, there are times that one needs to take over the story.  (This is not just the ref’s story, so this needs to be kept to a minimum to help set-up a better game experience!)  In a fantasy setting of my own creation, my players were going to explore some reported goings on at a outlying holding.  When they got there, the Garda (The holding keeper) offered a banquet!  But all was not as it seemed, and they had been drugged!  I had everyone roll drug resistance, and expected they would all fail.  Of course, one of the players succeeded very well…and then I declared the drug was plot strength, and even he was affected.  While I did give him a bit more info after they woke up in a pit, I wail and gnash my teeth about how that happened!  I easily could have either declared it plot strength from the beginning to move them to the next scene I had created; Or the one PC could have made his roll, and we could have played that out!  I almost decide to let the player have it, but decided that would probable spend too long in game time on just one player…Which it may have, but it might have simply been “i will run into the woods, and watch what happens…”  LESSON HERE: If you are going to let the dice decide, let them decide!  If you have considered carefully and decided that it is important for the GM to decide how a beat plays out, just DO IT!

The last nit i wish to pick is another fairly recent game and an ending.  In this game, an epic game of Role Master Standard System, in a world of my own creation, the game was reaching it’s climax, but I had begun to bore of the setting.  Because of that, I was not putting the energy needed into the play, and the final battle ended, not quite as I had expected.  The final battle with the enemy never happened, but the last of his forces were defeated, so he raged impotent in his hidden fortress!  So, not a bad ending, but not what I had expected.  So, I tried to wrap the game up, and ended up with an unfulfilling mish-mash for my player.  It kind of left a sour taste for a favorite setting for me as well… LESSON HERE: Stay Energized!  If you are not having fun as a ref, it will reflect in your game.  Think about this.  Is it because you are burned out as a ref, on the genre, on the system, or the setting…or something else.  You need to figure this out, to see what they correction is.  It may just be have a conversation with your players and switching games for a bit, or alternating games…or letting someone else ref (I plan on doing a post about this, if I get around to it!)  Whatever the problem get it fixed.  If you can’t then the other players at the the table will feel that lack, and no one will get the fun they want from it.

As a second comment on the last whine, in retrospect, I should have stopped the game.  I let it play about 4 sessions too long that were simply waiting for things to pick up again.  I should have asked the player, yes it was a game with my Lady Wife, how she would like this story to end.  We could have worked out a good ending, with a good reason to come back.  As it is, we do have a reason to return to the story, but I’m not sure the desire is very strong.  TALK WITH YOUR PLAYERS!  Your table knows what they like.  They, including you, as you are one of the players, just with a different role, can come up with what is your BEST FUN!

I hope that these few glimpses at my whiny side help you look at some of your problems or issues.  I am here for advice on this or any other topic.  Feel free to ping me about it.  Who knows, maybe it will inspire a whole new article!

Keep rolling, and enjoy your “Rich Fantasy Lives!

 

RefMentor

NOT the Big Easy!

Conflict creates drama.  Drama comes from the uncertainty of an outcome.  We, as role players, use drama , hence conflict, to create adventures.  In this post, I am going to discuss a notable difference in the way I play epic and episodic.  What you and your table expect from a game is often defined by how much and what type of drama you are looking for.

Before getting into anything else, lets talk drama and conflict.  Conflict occurs in game when two or more people, in this case PCs and NPCs, desire a specific outcome and not all parties want or expect the same, or even similar outcomes.  Drama is created when an outcome of an event is uncertain.  Therefore, when Player Characters are at odds with Non-player Character, other PCs, or even the environment, we engage the game mechanics to determine the outcome of the event.  The most obvious is out-right combat.  This is the sort of conflict that most people think of first when thinking of RPG conflict.  It is also the most detailed system in almost all RPG mechanics.  But, Lets say a PC needs to get documents out of the safe of an NPC.  The NPC is personally unreachable or undefeatable by said PC.  We now have a conflict, that can’t be directly solved with combat.  While it is possible that the PC may hire a group of mercenaries/thugs/bravos/etc to beat the combo, or even the actual document from this NPC, that combat is probably “off screen,” and said PC may or may not have solved the problem, but will not know until the hirelings report back.  So the drama here is not the combat, but the outcome which is unknown for a period of time.  But what if the PC wants to break into the place where the safe is, crack the safe and thereby obtain the document.  Here, the conflict is with the environment; how obvious does the PC want to be?  How tough is the safe, either physically or the combination?  The drama here comes from the stealth of the PC, the chance of getting caught, what do they know about the safe, can they successfully crack the safe either by manipulation or brute force?  Can they get away without being tied to the act, or does it matter?  Game mechanics here are skill resolution types.  While some games make any failed roll the only outcome, others allow re-attempts, either with penalties to skill or time.  (I usually allow re-rolls, with the penalty increasing each time.  To me this reflects that you have already worked to the best of your skill, and are now hoping for a bit of luck, that becomes more frustrating the more times it is tried.)  Finally, what if they want to con, or sweet talk the NPC out of the documents?  Now we face a social conflict.  Some games, particularly the more modern of them, have a social mechanic that can make the give and take of wordplay as exciting as the cut and thrust of sword and axe.   All of these are ways to resolve conflict, and the drama comes from not knowing the outcome.  Some systems may resolve some or all of these on a simple dice roll, while others may take a great deal of real time to resolve.

Having defined conflict and drama, let me talk about Epic vs Episodic (and my own Epic-sodic).  In general, Episodic games are divided into scenes, or acts that each have a major conflict that needs resolved.  Once the conflict for that part of the arc is dealt with, often the minutia of getting to the next conflict, such as travel, or information gathering (Which can be a conflict on its own), or even simple resupply is pretty much handled by a few moments of discussion and hand -waving.

For Instance: “OK.  You have beaten these henchmen and discovered where the lair is.  As you don’t want to give Dr. Q any warning, you head pretty much directly to the lair.  Since you need to go across town, you can run a few simple errands.  Does anybody need to buy anything or restock?  OK.   Now, you are arriving at the lair of the Villainous Dr. Q…”

In Epic games, I often play out even the non-dramatic events, such as day to day life.  The idea here is that the player , and therefore the character, becomes familiar with the mundane life as well as the exciting parts.  While this makes story arcs last much longer, it does tend to make it easier for the players and their characters to relate to the disruption caused by the adventures, and/or care more for the people placed in harms way.  This is where i use the the idea of “Random Encounters” or  “Wandering Monsters.”  It is not just to add conflict where none needs to be, but to make it seem like everyday life and travel could be interrupted by these horrible dangers at any time.  The attack by orcs may not be related to the rampaging ogres that you are tracking…but perhaps it is?!?!?!  In Epic style like this, the story arc is not the only thing.  The idea is to highlight the dramatic by contrasting it to the more mundane.

In my Epic-sodic, most dangerous conflict, that could kill a PC or leave them in a significantly worse way, are part of the story arcs.  Random combat encounters almost never occur.  If they do, they are they to advance the plot, usually by providing a clue.  This allows a bit of the mundane to be contrasted well with the primary dramatic, story advancing, scenes.

Conflict is not the only way to introduce drama, but it is often the easiest.  Other parts of a game can be presented dramatically as well.  For instance, resource management can provide a dramatic element; Will i have enough  bullets to deal with these zombies? What about the very core of the game; You are down to the last three cans of food, one of which has lost its paper wrapper, and has a slight bulge in it’s side.  Sounds like time for some foraging!  And in a game with a lot of good role play, drama can come just from character or NPC interaction scenes.

(What about the dreaded “Notice/Search/Perception/Awareness check?”  (Although, this is the core of an upcoming post) This can lead to drama.  What did I see…or worse…What did I FAIL to see?  This can definitely lead to a dramatic moment if you believe that you may have missed a poison trap and your character is about to die!  But what if it was to notice the man in the rumpled coat?  Is he there because you should take note of him?  Have you seen him before?  Or is he there just for game color?  This bit of drama can be fun, but note that this is fun for the PLAYER, not necessarily the CHARACTER.  The character doesn’t know they just failed a perception check.  But what if they are searching for a clue in a murder case?  If they fail the roll, does the killer get away, game over…)

When considering drama in your game, consider conflict in all of its many guises.  Consider the tone of your game. Consider what your players like and how your table plays.  Drama does not always equal Conflict.  Conflict does not always mean Hack and Slash.  But, conflict is dramatic!  Be aware of the impact it has on your game, and where you are going, and look at drama as a something to happen at every game, even if no one slaps leather!

((Sorry for the long delay…Again, my hope is to have one about every month!  Fingers crossed!))