February 6, 2006: 9:38 pm: GMing

I just noticed that Bankeui has posted another excellent sounding prep tool for GMs.

Yesterday I told you how to make Scene Frame on the fly, with an easy tool. Here’s another prep tool to make scenarios full of conflict for your games. This is part brainstorming and part R-map.

It’s another one that strikes me as being especially useful for Amber GMs, which is kind of odd, since I don’t know if I’ll ever GM a classic-style Amber game. There are plenty of other games it should work for though, so it’s well worth a read.

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February 4, 2006: 3:33 pm: GMing

Over on Deep in the Game, Bankuei has posted what looks like a really great method for running a game.

But that’s not the key difference in play. The difference is that the players have prepared a tool for improvisation -the character. With the character, the players don’t need to prep a list of possible events and responses, they simply use the character as a focus to improvise with. They can make up on the spot how a “hot-headed young knight out for glory” ought to act without thinking too hard.

What the GM needs is to prep tools that do the same thing. Instead of trying to guess what might happen, what the players might do, what they might find interesting, you can instead prep tools that react to what IS happening, what the players SHOW you they want to do.

The GM’s role really boils down to helping make interesting stuff happen. This breaks out into framing engaging scenes (and conflicts) and presenting neat NPCs. So let’s talk about how to make that happen…

It strikes me as a technique that’d work especially well for something like an Amber game (whatever rules system was being used), since I’ve seen the same general sort of advice discussed on various Amber forums for years. Chris really does an excellent job of explaining how the whole thing works, and I’m definitely wanting to try this out with the next game I run (whatever that might be).

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January 16, 2006: 10:36 pm: Game systems, GMing

I asked this over on The Masters’ Council, but I’ll ask here too:

For some time now, I’ve been planning on running a Buffy campaign with just one player, who would be playing the Slayer.

The whole thing was put on hold for a while, and now that I’m thinking about it again, I’m wondering if there is some system other than the B:tVS RPG that might work out better. Maybe something that puts more authorial power in the hands of the player, possibly something that’s more of a Narrativist/Sim blend.

Any suggestions for what that system might be? Indie games would be preferred, but it’s not a requirement. Non-D20 is a requirement.

December 6, 2005: 9:48 pm: Cons, GMing, Playing

Over on The Forge, Pôl Jackson posted about the games he played in and ran at this year’s Ambercon NW, and then came to this conclusion:

And it took writing all of that just to realize: I need to start playing on purpose. I can’t just show up to a game half-prepared and expect that fun will somehow happen to me, as if by magic. Over the last year, my tastes have changed, and my expectations have changed. I need to be proactive about the games I sign up for. Make sure I know the rules. Make sure I’m hooked into the story. Make sure I show up to the game in the right frame of mind to play. I am responsible for my own fun.

Specifically, here are some things I think that I should do for next year’s AmberCon NW.
* When signing up for a “variant” game, I’ll e-mail the GM first and get the skinny on what the game is really like.
* I’ll come to the hotel a day early. Better yet, two days early. Soak up the atmosphere and have my vacation before Amber Boot Camp begins.
* In traditional Amber games, I’ll be more aggressive about suggesting events that could involve my character. Both before the game (“how can my character hook into the action more?”) and during the game (“could I be in this scene?”). Write a kicker. GMs will like it!
* When running a non-Amber game, I need to find out which players have played that system before. If most haven’t, then this should be a “demo” game, with different expectations (with a goal of “learning the game” rather than “running a full session”).
* Playing a new game? I need to buy the book and read the rules beforehand! The less time spent struggling with the rules, the more time can be spent playing.

I think that’s all great advice for pretty much anyone who attends an Ambercon, and I plan on trying to keep it in mind myself the next time I go to one.

October 24, 2005: 8:27 pm: GMing, Playing

FindPlay is a new service set up by Clinton R. Nixon (co-owner of The Forge and talented game designer) that let’s you locate other role-players in your area who share your interests. Currently it’s got a few limitations (like not working for places Google Maps doesn’t cover), but hopefully Clinton will get those worked out eventually. For now, just go and sign up. I did, though of course I didn’t find any other RPers in my area.

September 6, 2005: 9:27 pm: Game systems, GMing

On The Forge:

Topic: [DitV] I don’t want to say ‘yes’ and I don’t want to put dice on the table…

I’m one of the players in the game Michael Croft is talking about in this thread, so it’s particularly interesting to see some other takes on what went on during the session. I have yet to GM a Dogs game myself, but I think that what happened is probably something that happens to a lot of first-time DitV GMs, especially those who have run “old-school” style games where the GM is supposed to do exactly what Michael was doing. There are definitely a few pieces of good advice in the thread for dealing with it though.

August 28, 2005: 2:02 pm: Game theory (or close enough), GMing, Playing

Over on The Forge, there’s a great Actual Play thread about a Dogs in the Vineyard session that took place at GenCon. The actions of one of the characters apparently crossed a line for one of the players, and the discussion gradually develops into talking about how to deal with such situations.

July 10, 2005: 3:09 pm: Cons, GMing

Here, at long last, is the post where I try to talk about The Mountain of the Sorcerer-King, the Mountain Witch game I ran at this year’s TBR.

I’ll start off by saying that in the future I don’t see myself planning to run a game using a system that hasn’t been released yet. Tim was great and he gave me a bunch of help, including an update to the version of the playtest rules I had and a bunch of advice about running the game, but I still don’t think I was as prepared as I might have been if I was using a system that had already come out. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m glad that Tim is taking the time to get his game right before he releases it. I just probably shouldn’t have committed to using The Mountain Witch before it was actually completed.

On the bright side, the players mostly seemed to be having quite a good time, and there were definitely moments of inspired play. They didn’t hesitate to expend Trust points, and were therefore able to prevail rather handily in most of the battles against the Sorcerer-King’s minions. One of the players commented that he thought some of the opponents should have been tougher to defeat (specifically suggesting that they should get either a bonus to their die or get to roll more than one die), but I think much of their success came from the combination of their not being afraid to spend Trust and my not managing their Trust points as well as I should have (by making them expend more points). The final scene ended up being quite bloody, and I think most (if not all) of that blood was due to PC-on-PC violence, as a couple of Fates came to a head. It isn’t that it was a bad session, overall, it just could have been better.

There were problems though. The first of these arose during the part of the session where I did my best to explain the rules and guide everyone through character creation. Since I’d never actually run (or played in) a game of The Mountain Witch before, I didn’t have as firm a grasp of the rules as I would have liked, and this made it harder for me to explain them to the players (most of whom hadn’t had a chance to read the rules at all). The fact that this was a slot of limited length at a con meant that I also felt some pressure to get the game going, and so I probably rushed things more than I should have. For the most part this wasn’t a big problem, as the game is reasonably simple and I was able to fill in gaps in rules knowledge as we went along, but I think that if I’d been able to explain things more clearly, it might have avoided some of the rough spots that occurred during play.

One specific thing that I think wasn’t explained as well as it might have been was how to come up with strong Fates that would work to help build tension in the game and that could be foreshadowed during play. Part of the problem there was that, since I’d never played The Mountain Witch, I wasn’t sure myself what would and wouldn’t make a good Fate. That made it tough for me to give guidance to the players on what is, in my opinion the single most important aspect of the game.

We stumbled some during the play due to the relative inexperience of both the GM and most of the players with using a conflict resolution system. For my part, I’d read plenty of discussion on The Forge (and elsewhere) about conflict resolution, but that’s not really a substitute for the experience of having run a game that used it. Some of the players were in a similar situation, but a couple of them were being introduced to the concept for the first time.

There was also a serious issue with the amount of time we had to get through the game. I was running in a six hour slot (including a brief break for lunch), and with the need to explain the rules and create characters, that wasn’t enough time to do what I think would be considered a proper game of The Mountain Witch. Tim had already advised me that I was going to have to push to bring things to a conclusion in the amount of time I had, as the final rules recommend 8-12 hours for a full game. In the end, I ran well past the end of the slot in order to get the PCs through their confrontation with the Sorcerer-King (my version of the Mountain Witch), and I still don’t think the players had enough time to truly develop their Fates. If we had been an experienced group of MW players (with an experienced GM), we might have pulled the whole thing off in the time we had. Maybe.

There’s some possibility that I’m going to give this another shot at ACUS 2006 next March, and I’m thinking that it might go better on the second try. I’ll have time to better assimilate the system, which will have long since been released, and that should help both my running of the game and my teaching of the rules. I’ll also plan to do pre-generated characters with clear, powerful Fates that are designed to play off of each other. I’m going to have to mull things over before I make a commitment, but I think The Mountain Witch is a great game with lots of potential, and I’d like to take another shot at running it.

May 22, 2005: 8:05 pm: Game theory (or close enough), GMing

Forge regular Mike Holmes posted an in-depth explanation of the concept of bangs. It’s well worth a read.

April 10, 2005: 4:50 pm: Cons, GMing

I just submitted my first game for this year’s The Black Road.

The Mountain of the Sorcerer-King

Players: 3-6

Even at the best of times, the life of a mercenary has been a hard one. You have traveled from shadow to shadow, looking for whatever jobs you could find. Often hungry and lonely, you have seen some of the few you’ve counted as friends die on the field of battle. You’ve known that one day you too would bleed out the last of your life’s blood in some foreign land, dying for a cause you cared nothing about, for a payment that you would never collect.

Perhaps that is why you so were so quick to accept this latest offer, not taking the time to really understand what you were getting into. The payment would be enough to buy a chance at a normal life; that was all that truly mattered. Now you find yourself far from help near the top of this cold mountain, preparing for an assault on the Sorcerer-King himself. At your side are men and women you neither know nor want to know. Men and women who all carry a story similar to your own.

Who knows what the dawn of this day will bring? How will desperate warriors incapable of trust react when their only means of survival is to rely on each other?

The Mountain of the Sorcerer-King uses the rules from Timothy Kleinert’s forthcoming game The Mountain Witch ( Rules will be taught, and dice will be used. Part of character creation will take place via email before the con.

Now I just need to figure out a description for Nine Losers in Tijuana (the sequel to Nine Losers in Akron).

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