The GM must know his responsibilities and place in that interaction, and equipped with all the tools and advice that can be given him to meet the demands of that position. He is present to provide the ever-changing details of the gameworld settings into which the players’ characters venture in the interests of fairness, so none of the PC’s are able to manipulate the setting to his own advantage over any other PC or to diminish the challenge to the detriment of play, unless the GM has provided the means for them to do so in the context of play as the means of their coming out as triumphant heroes, IF they can discover those means (as applicable). The GM is also there to mediate between players, again in the interests of fairness, so no one PC dominates the game to the exclusion of any other. In the course of play, it is very important that each player, and the GM as well, be able to speak up on behalf of his character, whether it is to interact with the GM’s NPC’s or the gameworld environment, or with another PC, but also to give one another a chance to speak, in turn. A certain amount of courtesy is expected so ALL the players’ characters get a chance to speak and act.
Most importantly, the GM is present to roleplay ALL the other creatures and denizens, whatsoever their race or species, as they are encountered by the PC’s, every one and every thing that inhabits the gameworld which is not run by an individual player. He is to describe their actions, to speak for them, to use them all to further the storyline or plot at any given time, as he has designed or written it. he is to provide the PC’s with a fair challenge and prevent the role of the PC’s in the story and the scheme of things from getting TOO exaggerated. The PC’s are already the center of the game. Every story written for the game will involve or hinge upon one or more of the PC’s, one way or another. Their place in the world is already a little exaggerated.
The GM is needed to design the plots and storylines called adventures, and/or the greater story-arcs called “campaigns”, to keep the action and the stories moving along as the PC’s interact with the various NPC’s and plot elements, hopefully keeping them and himself entertained in the process.
During the roleplaying session there are a few important points the GM must keep in mind. Roleplaying games are a) recreational, and b) decidedly social activities, and the commonly accepted rules of behavior are generally expected to be observed.
In many ways, the basic rules for roleplay embody nothing more than common courtesy to the GM and the other players. They are very important, nonetheless.
While our example of roleplay clearly and amply illustrates the common flow of play, there is much about the GM’s job as mediator and referee that cannot possibly be shown in any such example, regardless of its length. For the benefit of both new and old GM’s alike, an attempt has been made in the following passages to boil down the essence of many years of gaming experience and frame it in text as a basic guide to the general do’s and dont’s of GMing. Hopefully this will provide information needed about the specifics of the GM’s “office” (in medieval parlance), the techniques of and facts about gaming that might otherwise take the new GM many long months, or years, of frustrating trial and error to discover.
Unlike board games such as backgammon, chess, checkers, or Parcheesi, which all have specific, narrow, hard and fast rules, the rules for RoM are intended to be pretty flexible in general, and definitely open-ended – in the GM’s hands, anyway. In some places they are more of the nature of guidelines so the GM can personalize the game and adapt the rules to his own special medieval fantasy world to help[ him deal with the constantly changing, almost infinite variety of situations that can arise during play.
The rules must be largely open-ended in alot of areas due to the fact that the greater part of the GM’s job running the game revolves around the interpretation of players’ actions and written rules, integration of actions into the situations, and arbitration between players and characters(PC’s and NPC’s).It is his task to establish an understanding with the players as to their intentions for their characters, to establish what it is they are trying to accomplish by their character’s actions rather than just acting on what the players say specifically. The GM may have to quiz the player to get him to clarify the act and the intent or goal behind it. Few people are literal enough in their speech for anyone to be able to go solely by their specific words. Context and intent are everything. The GM must also decide whether or not the characters’ actions affect the surrounding environment of the gameworld in some way, and then implement those changes and find realistic and believable ways to represent them to the PC’s – putting them on notice that the laws of cause and effect work just like they do in the Real World. The GM must deduce all such reactions as rationally and realistically as he may, whether they stem from PC or NPC actions, or from events in the surrounding gameworld environment, even when one character is acting on another, regardless of whether PC or NPC. Unless some means such as magick stops them, the players must determine their own characters’ responses to the events around them. If more than one character is present, as is likely, the GM should encourage the players to discuss the situation and arrive at a common agreement on how it should be handled. In certain life-or-death situations, however, the GM must also make it clear that precious moments are trickling through the hourglass as they speak. This can sometimes result in disagreements, but the GM is there to make sure that these get resolved amicably, with all players involved being granted a fair chance to make their points.
As the characters’ actions influence the on-going situation in the game, the GM must keep them informed of all changes in the states of affairs of which the character’s are aware, regardless of whether they are the consequences of their own character’s actions or not, including entrances and exits of NPC’s, events that happen in their immediate vicinity, and those that might be a little farther off which they happen to catch sight of, descriptions of all scenery and furnishings, colors, textures, atmospheric feel, and the situations in which their actions land them. The PC’s may not even be aware of why some changes or events or situations occur or arise in the game, simply encountering their effects when they stumble across them. Some NPC in the background whom the PC’s may not yet even have met, and may never even get a chance to meet unless they make an effort to do so, may be following and responding to the PCs’ actions, exploits, or interference, seeking to aid or hinder them. The GM has the whole gameworld at his disposal and a completely blank sheet on which to write the plotlines and events he wants the PC’s to experience. BUT, it is up to the GM to give the world of fantasy where the PC’s dwell an air of reality in the players’ imaginations, to make it live and breathe for their characters, if only during the gaming sessions, and to challenge the players to do the same with their own character as he does so. It can be hard work on some days and in certain gaming situations, but rising to the challenge is imminently rewarding.
One of the most difficult aspects of GMing to get accustomed to is the regulating of the flow of play, the give and take between himself and the other players. Deciding when one PC has had enough play and someone else should be given a chance to speak can sometimes be rather difficult. There is no set formula for this. The nature of the game and the manner in which it is played is fluid, and that fluidity must be maintained. One trap in this sometimes tricky type of play into which the GM should guard against falling is in considering that the characters and their actions are occurring in “turns” of a given length of time. While this concept can keep the loud and verbose few from dominating the rest of the PC’s and the game in general, such an approach actually violates the free-form nature characteristic of this pastime, the fact that it is supposed to consist of an on-going, continuous cooperative narrative. “Turns” of a set duration passing in conventional fashion by clockwise rotation around the table reduces the roleplaying game to the repetitive rounds of a board game. Important scenes should not be broken in half just to allow one of the other PC’s to say that he is headed to market.
Players whose characters don’t have anything to do while another PC is engaged in furthering the plot, pushing forward and continuing the narrative, should sit back and enjoy the action going on, like watching a movie or having a book read out loud, if their characters are not present to participate, as mentioned previously.
When he has something of some importance to do separately, he should discreetly let the GM know so that a good place can be found to break away to discuss it. This type of situation is likely to occur when the PC’s decide to split up to follow their own theories and activities, to make contacts and interview NPC’s. Before the GM starts into any involved activity with any one or two characters, he should take a poll around the table to review the direction each intends to go, what they aim to accomplish. Small personal tasks can wait to the end or be taken care of by the making of a brief note in many cases. If it looks like more than one important storyline will develop due to the direction(s) in which the characters intend to explore, he should address the one in which the greatest number of PC’s will be involved first. If the characters are splitting up to go on short but significant solo jaunts, the GM should take them in order according to how important he believes the ground covered will be to the story, or even progressing clockwise around the table in conventional fashion. If any of the PCs’ plans are not actually significant or pertinent to the story, they can generally wait to the last. This will be especially true of personal character business and household or other domestic matters. When a character is going shopping but the materials sought are significant to the story, the task should be considered in that light, in case some significant roleplay might be required along the way. When a skipped action actually develops into something significant, perhaps through the occurrence of a random encounter related to the current story, the GM can stick with it and jump right into it and work out any incipient inconsistency in the tale which might occur especially due to the timing of events between the characters relative to the flow of play.
Getting a handle on the evaluating of PC priorities and who to allow to roleplay when, where to rest or pause in dealing with one to pick up the narrative with another, is a distinct challenge to learn, and can put a great deal of pressure on the GM. The timing in these cases has alot to do with the flow of the story. He must learn to look at the actions of the PC’s in terms of the relationship to the storyline he wants to emphasize, whether those actions develop the story further or not. If a player is sitting quietly and looking dejected and neglected, the GM should be thinking of some way to bring his character back into play, unless there is no device he can come up with. It is hard when the player feels left out isolated due to making decision for his character that involves a course of action that takes him away from the others. If a PC is back at the inn and some exciting situation is being missed, especially a battle, perhaps one of the employees of the inn, or an agent or regular from the neighborhood happens upon it and recognizes that his compatriots are in danger, can race back to the inn looking for the PC to give him that news. Any number of similar devices can be used to prevent boredom from setting in. They are there to have fun, after all. Of course, the PC’s should learn not to split up unless they absolutely have to, or not to go too far if they must, or they risk missing something their characters will only get to hear about afterwards. That is why having personal servants and secretaries, valets and grooms, and the like can be so useful.
The fluid and ephemeral nature of roleplaying, existing solely in the minds of the participants all agreeing to a game of “Let’s Pretend” between them, bringing it to life among themselves by talking it all out, will give rise to several concepts and conditions the GM will have to take into consideration during play. The roleplaying settings and situations will change as the story progresses, and may change from one gaming session to the next, or may change any number of times during the course of a single session. Whether the GM is working with a solo character or with a larger group changes the requirements. Solo play can be both flexible and story intensive, it is certainly heavier on the NPC’s, requiring more of the burden of story and roleplaying fall onto the GM, rather than upon other players who would normally take the burden of recurring characters and established associates and adventuring companions off of the GM’s shoulders. Of course, there are also fewer distractions and no competition for the GM’s attention. A group of players representing a party of PC’s provides the GM with the opportunity to accomplish a great deal more in the course of each story-arc, which requires more planning, and in these situations egos can get bruised or tempers rubbed raw here and there, especially when skills are duplicated, and moreso when they are duplicated and one character is better than the other. The GM can be required to provide the social oil to keep the friction between them from rising to a counterproductive degree. On the other hand, although more can be accomplished simultaneously, larger parties tend to cover less ground in a given storyline in a single gaming session, allowing the GM to get away with preparing somewhat fewer of the details – one never knows when one’s sketchy ideas for the future will be called into active play by the PC’s taking an unexpected turn or twist. Roleplaying in larger parties is generally more dynamic and colorful. The variety of ideas is greater when there are more players to provide input on which to draw.
The greater the number of players with characters in the GM’s game, the more fierce the competition for his attention can get, unless he has a strong enough personality to ride heard on them. The optimum number of players is really four or five, three or four for a relatively new GM, five or six (eight tops) for a highly skilled and experienced GM. GMing for just two PC’s can be a great way for a GM who is a complete novice to explore the rules and procedures of the position. The PC’s in the adventuring party should not have to compete against one another for attention, nor are they there for the GM to measure his power, abilities and patience against as mediator and referee.
The GM should understand that he is in the pilot’s seat in the game, and with that power comes with a great deal of responsibility. His role of storyteller, referee and mediator, or final arbiter in any dispute is no polite fiction, it is neither honorary nor hollow but quite real and important. In the game he runs, the GM is the pivotal player. He is responsible for telling the players what the senses of their characters tell them. He is their eyes, their ears, their sense of smell, touch and taste, their only link to the fantasy world in which they exist. Nothing can occur in their environment, nothing can happen to the characters, between them, or around them without the GM’s approval. The material on which the stories told in the course of playing the game are based, the grist for the PCs’ adventures, of which their very lives are made, is mostly devised by the GM, leavened only by the creative additions the PC’s come up with for their own individual characters, and the input of the PC’s is limited in scope to their knowledge, skill, and abilities as defined by the player during the process of character generation. Otherwise, the GM is their sunny days, their starry nights, their silver moon at night, blazing sun during the day, and majestic sunrises and sunsets, their rainy springs and snowy winters.
It is the GM who describes to the players just what is in the environment surrounding their characters, the nature and details of their location in the gameworld. When conflicts arise between players or between player and GM, it is the GM who must consider the facts and make the final ruling. Having the final word, the GM has an obligation to take care and be thoughtful, listening respectfully to all sides before reaching a decision.
As stated previously, in order for the game to be a success, the players and GM must all willingly suspend their disbelief, as they would before diving into any Swords & Sorcery book or movie. It is the GM’s job to help make that process as easy for the players as he can. The fantasy world they create and share between them in their imaginations can be fragile, its atmosphere easily broken and its mood swept away.
In order to engage the players even when their characters are not actively involved, the GM must first make the adventures and the gameworld setting believable.. To have believability in the medieval fantasy, the players must feel they have freedom of choice to steer their own courses – free will. The two go hand in hand. The players are not likely to enjoy any game in which their characters are unfairly hobbled or prevented from performing actions which the whole group (or at least the great majority) deem reasonable. simply by the GM’s “say-so”.
Just because it happens to be the GM’s game and he does not agree with the players as to the reasonableness of an action forbidden is not good enough. The GM must have a sound basis for disallowing any action. The GM must share his gameworld with the players and their characters or there will not be any game at all. He will find himself sitting by himself at the table, all alone. The PC’s must feel free to act and feel that the decisions they make significantly influence, if not dramatically alter, the outcome of every scenario in which they participate in the game as a whole.
Otherwise, what is the point?
This is their purpose, what such heroic adventurer-types are supposed to do, and it is exactly what the GM is there to give them the opportunity to do, not to frustrate them by telling them they aren’t even allowed to try. The GM must learn to leave the PC’s essentially to their own devices once he has set an adventure up for them and given them the circumstances surrounding which should draw them in. He must let them work out their own differences, BUT he should also make sure they have solid ground and motivation to do so, and be reasonably confident that they are, indeed, working things out rather than drawing lines of conflict which will tear them apart later. It is the GM’s responsibility to eliminate as many of the grounds for conflict as possible when setting up the game and bringing the characters together.
In his own game, the GM can do virtually anything, anything at all, dictating that the moon will be made of green cheese, that babies do indeed come from cabbage patches or are dropped by storks, and including squashing the PC’s like bugs. Some GM’s even get their kicks this way. This is no fit response for the PC’s running off to do something the GM doesn’t particularly care for or want them to do, however. These GM’s don’t seem to understand that, with the resources of the entire gamut of fantasy at their fingertips, an entire fantasy world at their disposal, sitting around swatting an endless series of PC’s like flies is not much of an accomplishment. Woo, tough trick, for the GM with the immeasurable power of the very cosmos of his fantasy multiverse at his beck and call to go gunning for a little band of relatively small and inoffensive (and certainly insignificant on a cosmic scale) PC’s, and win. Swat! End of story. well, that was fun, was it not? And challenging, right? What next? Bigger characters? Bigger flyswatter. Splat! The PC’s are defenseless against him, so it will always fall out this way. After once or twice (alright, after the very first time, really) everyone will be bored, irritated at the waste of time spent making the characters, if not actually angry, and looking for a new GM, if not a completely different game to play. Players tend to take this sort of high-handed and mean-spirited act rather personally – and why should they not? It is tantamount to saying “I don’t like you. You and your characters are insignificant as bugs to me and I don’t actually want to game with you.” So much for being friends, not to mention the impact on the hobby in general.
The players must be able to trust the GM, to trust that, no matter how they play about or even rib him to the contrary, he will act impartially in interpreting the rules, not sacrifice their characters to his own insecurity, vanity, or weak ego. At the very least, they need to be able to trust that he will not favor his own NPC’s creations over them. Any feeling of competition between the players and GM, or vice-versa, must be avoided, or swiftly eliminated as soon as it crops up. The GM is not running the Bad Guys as a team (the team being the whole gameworld) against the players’ team of Good Guys. If the team of Bad Guys is fairly balanced against the PC’s, however, that is another matter entirely, although the GM must maintain his impartiality.
The GM merely sets the adventures up. In order to maintain the players’ trust, he must remain detached from his creations and make sure that they act according to plan or only on the information which they have fairly obtained by whatever means have been placed at their disposal, NOT on the GM’s pool of knowledge, as he is basically omniscient in game terms. Even if the Bad Guys have their agents watching the PC’s to keep tabs on their activities and initiatives, that intelligence does not automatically get instantaneously transmitted to a monitor in the NPCs’ headquarters and into the heads of all their agents everywhere simultaneously. While there are magickal means of accomplishing this to one extent or another, it has to be worth the cost to the Bad Guys to employ a Wizard in this manner. Just because they may have a Wizard on their team doesn’t mean that he automatically has the skills necessary to spy in this manner and disseminate information this way.
Where magickal means are not available (and they should mostly NOT be available, especially for the more common run of foes faced at lower trade SL’s), it will take time for information to be collected, reports to be carried back to those in charge, the information assimilated and understood by those leaders, decisions made as to what is to be done with the information, if anything, and then new orders sent out and spread by messenger, and then for those orders to be implemented.
Even if it is a matter of meeting the PC’s someplace, intercepting them or some agent of theirs, the GM must account for the time it should take for the NPC’s to gather their intelligence, and then to decide how to act on it and implement their plans, unless they have an agent in the field with enough guts and initiative to act on his own (certainly some sort of above-average leader-type), or with just a couple of others (whoever could be raised on short notice in the neighborhood), also willing to accept the consequences of failure, should it befall them. This will depend, of course, on how bad the NPC in question wants to get ahead, or how personal the situation concerning the PC’s is to him. In any event, when it comes down to tactical or combat situations where the PC’s actually actively face-off against the NPC’s in battle, the GM must never be seen “rooting” for either side. If he roots for the PC’s and they prevail, they will most likely feel that he took it easy on them and didn’t give them a decent challenge, unless they really got mauled in the process. Even if the PC’s cut a wide swath right through his carefully orchestrated adventure or campaign, he must not allow himself to get frustrated or angry. The plotting, writing, and design was his job only at the start. The PC’s will only have been doing their job, making of the situation whatever they could.
The GM must be trustworthy and have integrity and make sure that he shows these things to the players. The GM must be willing to use the PC’s well in arranging the adventures in which they are to have a part, like the heroes they are supposed to be, or at least provide them with sufficient clues to find the hero’s path. They have to be able to at least figure out at some point who the Good Guys are and who are the Bad Guys. Of course the GM already has a measure of that trust already, in that the players trusted him enough to allow him to referee the game in the first place, in just showing up to play.
The GM must show integrity in the way he conducts his game, treating all equally and fairly. The first and most important rule for the GM is never lie to the players or deceive them in his capacity as GM while running the game. While it is sometimes desirable to be a bit vague and mysterious to heighten the mood of a setting, the only acceptable time the GM can conceivably lie to the PC’s during the course of a game is when he is roleplaying a NPC, and then only when it is in character for that NPC, and generally only when it has something to do with the current plot, such as misdirecting the PC’s to protect the NPC, to guard his personal and/or professional interests. Lying to the players in any other circumstances or in any other capacity is unforgivable and just plain low. It is just way too easy to cast an ominous, menacing, or sinister person or object in a pleasant or even desirable light when providing a description, then blame the PC for having acted carelessly. Of course, this does NOT mean that every NPC should be wearing a white hat or black hat so the PC’s can tell at a glance. They will NOT be marked with badges (other than perhaps the heraldic badges of their masters, as applicable). The Presence and Perception skills – Savvy, Game Face, Player – have to mean something. BUT, ignoring the fact that he fed the players the come-on, reassuring himself it was the player’s own fault, after all, he hadn’t even had to fudge a single die roll to do the blighter in. Getting the PC’s to do what the GM wants to get them to off themselves by deceiving them is a complete wimp-out, just too easy. The is the sole source of description and player information, their sole link to the fantasy world in which the characters exist, as mentioned previously. As such, it is the GM’s obligation to be truthful in his descriptions, although the extent and detail of the description should always be determined by the manner in which the player’s described their character’s efforts and activities in examining their environment. While he may tantalize with mystery, emphasizing a shroud of fog or gloom or smoky, ruddy torchlight to create mood and require more active examination to obtain details, and answer only the questions asked and provide only that information that is revealed by the characters’ movements and actions, the GM has a responsibility to the players to answer direct questions fully as well as truthfully. The only exception to this principle is in the use of the AWA score and checks against it representing the character’s presence of mind in spotting minor tell-tales that might provide clues, but these checks are not used for grosser more obvious facts and features of the characters’ environment. This goes back to the issue of trust. A GM who lies to the players in his capacity as GM, whether directly or by purposeful omission, cannot be trusted. A GM who cannot be trusted won’t be running a game very long.
When the GM employs situations whose appearances belie their dangerous or even deadly nature, it is the GM’s responsibility, implicit in his having taken on the mantle of GM, to somehow provide the PC’s with a clue or clues, or multiple chances for AWA checks to observe a clue or warning sign hinting at the true nature of the situation. If Sleeping Beauty hadn’t been so overwhelmed by at the novelty of seeing a spindle and distaff or spinning wheel used for the first time in her life, perhaps she would have made her Savvy check on d100 to notice the old woman’s smug satisfaction at being found by her, or made the Savvy check to take note of her anxiousness, perhaps even the licking and smacking of her lips in anticipation as Beauty sat down with the spindle to give it a try herself, or the simple aura of malice and menace hanging about the old woman before she actually pricked her finger to fall under her spell to sleep for 100 years. The same might be said of Snow White’s encounters with her evil stepmother when she showed up in her various disguises, before having the breath squeezed out of her with the corset or taking the fateful bite of the poisoned apple offered her.
As far as showing integrity, it can have an effect on the players outside the game, as well. The GM must be honest with himself and the other players about his other obligations and the demands on his time, just as the players must in the same way. One should not make arrangements to get together to game when other commitments must be addressed as well – a paper to write, a presentation to prepare, a client quote, an exam to study for, etc. The game is recreation, and that is in no way intended to get in the way of, much less take the place or priority over, Real Life. Cancelling a game at the last minute due to poor planning or time budgeting (as opposed to the event of an actual emergency) is hardly fair to the other players, who might well have liked to make other plans if only they had been given sufficient notice in advance. An alternate gaming day can be easily enough arranged, if the GM simply communicates with his players. If there is a fear the gaming group might drift apart or break up for lack of regular play, the GM can always ask that someone else in the group set up a game of their own, in which the GM can play a PC of his own, to spell him when he does not have time to prepare his game properly, especially when he is not comfortable running the game off the top of his head – “off the cuff”. The players might even go for scheduling two games on alternating days to make sure the group meets regularly and the GM’s get plenty of time for planning, design and preparation.
The GM also needs to take pride in his work. The game really needs to be prepared in advance, at least enough so that the GM knows how to handle a range of possible PC actions and the descriptions and contents of various locations or NPCs to which the GM may have previously directed them. If GMing is worth doing at all, it is worth doing well. If the GM does not put the quality time into the development and preparation of his game, the players will notice, and that game may not have a very long life if it continues in that manner. Players may well propose that someone else set up a game of their own, leading up to phasing the old one out, or drift off to someone else’s game entirely. Decline in the quality of a once good game can cause the same thing to happen, though often more slowly. Good work and quality gaming will provide their own rewards top to the GM, when he sees the players shudder on hearing some vile foe’s name, or look over their shoulders furtively at the mention of an elusive and dangerous nemesis of whom they seem never to be able to quite rid themselves, or when he hears them reminisce with nostalgic gusto over their past exploits like a bunch of hoary-bearded old campaigners ‘round the campfire months or even years after the fact.
Exciting exploits, fond memories, these are what the GM has the ability to create.
The GM must never rob a player of his character. During play, the GM may at one time or another come upon or arrange for some situation or circumstance that deprives a character of his ability to choose his own actions, or influences his behavior in various ways, such as falling victim to a “Thrall” dweomer, which effectively removes the character from the player’s control, or limiting the amount of autonomy the player has in running the character. This is not to be confused with the occasional action of the Vice and Virtue scores which, when applied in play, ensure a certain amount of consistency in the character’s behavior. In these situations, the GM must remember that it is not the player who is affected, so he should be taken aside and briefed. In his briefing the GM must tell the player what is happening to the character and exactly how he is to being affected. Then the player should be allowed to roleplay the character through the situation in accordance with the new restrictions on his behavior. In this way, the player still represents his own character. If the PC acts in a way that the GM doesn’t agree with due to the condition under which he is laboring (as opposed to simple preference), additional directions can be given the player via private notes, so long as the circumstances influencing the PC’s actions persists. Otherwise, the player might as well not even have shown up for the evening, and this waste of a player’s time can sow resentment. These sorts of situations should be very few and far between, when they are ever allowed to occur at all.
Not robbing the players of their characters also refers to the need for the GM to understand when to step in and act as mediator, and when to butt-out and leave the players to their own devices. While much of the action of the game will involve the NPC’s to some extent or another, hence, keeping the GM busy with much of the time roleplaying those NPC’s, the PC’s will not always need the GM’s input. If the GM will not allow the PC’s to talk with one another even for a moment without throwing his own two-cents in, especially when it is clear that they are in character, he is robbing the players of the roleplay for which they came to the session. Whether forced to it or not, there will be times when the PC’s have deemed the circumstances to be sufficiently dire and dangerous to have specifically checked around to make sure that no NPC’s are around to eavesdrop because they want to discuss the situation at hand in private, their feelings about it, and what the best course of action might be. Even if a NPC is present, such as a personal servant of one of the PC’s, a family member, or close friend, the GM must have some sense and common courtesy and simply be quiet and let the PC’s have the floor to speak among themselves. He should have the sense to appreciate the fact that, in effect, they are giving him a break from the otherwise non-stop demands of being the GM. Better yet, their roleplaying among themselves gives the GM an opportunity to sit back and be entertained by them for a change. If they need clarifications of facts or ancillary information or other input from any NPC present, they will eventually realize the fact that the NPC has remained silent or just up and ask for the GM to step in for a moment to supply the required data. There is no need for the GM to correct the PC’s when they get their facts or information snarled up, unless they reveal their confusion in the presence of NPC’s who care that they have the right information. If a NPC is present who has information the PC’s need, that NPC can always enter the conversation and provide it, then bow out again. The GM should always be on the look-out for these sorts of opportunities because it is during these character “bull-sessions” meetings, briefings, or confabs that the GM gets to hear the players’ pet theories, and these can often provide some pretty fertile ground for inspiration to create additional developments, wrinkles or consequences of the current adventure which the GM might not have considered, or perhaps for later adventures. It gives the GM the chance to hear the players’ thoughts without having to try to pick their brains himself, against which most players are usually on their guard.
The directive not to rob the players applies most strongly and directly to life and death situations in the context of the game. While the players should always be aware of the characters’ mortality, the fact that they can die, their lives should never hang on the result of a single die roll. While the best effort has been made to eliminate these “save-or-die” situations from the rules, the GM may stumble across one in play from time to time. Even when the PC is hanging at the end of his rope (figuratively or literally),all dice rolls failed, the GM should be able to fudge to final results so they are debilitating, maybe for the long term, as opposed to being fatal. This is where the fact that it is the GM’s game comes into play, and the essentially flexible and open-ended nature of the rules. A blow in battle that would otherwise kill a character outright could just as easily be fudged so it lands on a body area where it will be less critical or be made only crippling rather than lethal. The circumstances of a fall could be altered enough so the character has an additional chance to catch a projecting branch or similar life-saving device, a deadly fall cut short by a projecting shelf so the character doesn’t suffer as critical an amount of damage, at least not enough to kill him. He may need to be rescued and carried to safety, but he will still be alive. Alternately, the character might land on some soft, cushioned spot at the bottom which reduces the damage of the fall to the point where he can survive it, even if he is not able to get up and walk away from it, but long-thorned briars and wicked broken rocks thrusting dagger-like towards the sky bare inches from his nose. He will certainly appreciate his luck.
The GM should only allow himself to be strictly ruled by the dice and the physical facts they indicate, without embellishment or alteration, in matters of a PC’s life or death when the PC is in the predicament he is due to some needlessly foolhardy act undertaken simply to defy death. . But the role of the dice in the game and the GM’s use of them are discussed in further detail in Part III. The Rules of the Game.
The GM’s position might sound terribly complicated, and it probably is, but after the homework and preparation are done it is mostly just alot of fun, and vastly rewarding. While experience may be the best teacher, the GM can always seek out other GM’s from whom to get advice. ‘Shop-talk’ with other GM’s can provide insights, allowing the newer GM to profit from the years of his colleagues’ experience.
If the prospective GM has already participated in roleplaying games as a PC, he probably already has a fair idea of what it is the GM’s do, and what he considers to be the “mistakes” made by other GM’s, and the things he wants to do different as a result. Being prepared for EVERY contingency isn’t really possible, however. The players really aren’t that predictable, even when the GM is convinced that he knows them well.
The quality of one’s GMing consists not just of the ability to plan and prepare ahead of time. Given sufficient time to plan, just about anyone can prepare a decent game. What really shows during play is the GM’s ability to respond to and adapt to the unexpected . The GM must be alert and feeling creative. Being able to fill in little details spontaneously as the PC’s go along is good, but being able to do so on the spot at the players’ request is what makes for a great game. If the PC’s suddenly decide to stop, to speak with some NPC the GM has not prepared in advance, he must still be able to handle it, to be able to at least think fast enough on his feet to tell the PC’s where they need to go, or come up with some clever way to point them along their way, to turn the situation into an encounter tailored to re-emphasize the direction they should be going. As far as tweaking the game and keeping the quality up to snuff , the GM should always remember to keep the lines of communication open with the players, to talk to them, find out what they do and do not like, what could use improvement, what is too much and should be toned down. This can be the measuring stick against which the GM should compare what he wants the style of his game to be. He should make whatever adjustments he sees the need for, but only as far as he is comfortable. The game as he runs it is an expression of the GM, his personality, hopes, wishes, desires, and dreams (or nightmares, as the case may be), even if only subconsciously.
When talking to the players, the GM should remember that the players are just that, players, whether in the game or outside it. The GM should never allow a player to talk him into revealing any secrets or information about the game he is running to him that his character does not already know. The “Oh, it’s okay, my character doesn’t know …” line is pure, unadulterated tripe. There hasn’t been the player born who is capable of a) keeping a secret or confidence granted by then GM, and b) being objective enough when playing not to use what he has been told. Much of the allure of roleplay is the anticipation, excitement, suspense, rescuing the downtrodden, trouncing the Bad Guys and bringing them to justice. Once a player knows a secret about the plot or the NPC(s), there is no way he can help but to act on that knowledge at some time or another, in one way or another or, worse yet, spill the beans to one of the other players or just inadvertently blurt it out at the table during the game. The suspense generated due to exploring the unknown, the secret natures of any NPC’s, the twists in the plotlines are all part and parcel of the GM’s game – why give it away. It is like reading the end of a game first. They do not screen the end of a movie first in a theater, why should the GM let the players in on the surprises he has planned. Not much a surprise then, is it? It is like having someone tell you “who dunnit” when you are barely to the end of the first chapter of a mystery. Even if it doesn’t appear to spoil the fun, even if they beg to be told, the GM should never spill the beans. It will almost surely spoil the GM’s fun at some point. When the climax comes and the GM’s moment comes to reveal the big secret, the wind will be completely sucked from his sails for it will have already been spent. To a certain extent, it robs the players of the personal motivation to complete the adventure – they already know how it ends.
This can be a terrible let-down.
If the GM must talk to someone about his game, have a confidante with whom to share all the wondrously intricate twists and turns of the plots written for the slow torture or agonizing exploration of the PC’s, he should find someone completely unconnected with his game. In this regard the GM really needs to be somewhat isolated and insulated from his players. But when those players start calling just to discuss the up-coming game, to talk about various character dilemmas and party plans, the GM knows he is reaching them, has caught their imaginations. When the GM goes out socializing with his gaming buddies and they all want to quiz him about the campaign, he knows he is doing his job. Then, perhaps, he can sit back and decide what little harmless tidbits of information can be safely and magnanimously revealed. If the GM adds little bits here and there to the environment, to the background of the game, he can lead a slow exploration into areas of character knowledge and history that don’t generally come into play. It can be greatly rewarding.
Even after the GM has some experience under his belt and has a grip on pacing, balance, the PC’s, and all the other elements in the GM’s toolbox for use in controlling the game in general and the rate of speed at which it progresses, he shouldn’t always expect everything to go smoothly along without a hitch. Nor should the GM get himself all twisted up into a knot over it when those little hiccoughs happen.
No one is perfect.
Omniscient (well, almost) and omnipotent beings GM’s may be, but they are only human after all. As the measure of an artist’s skill lies in how well he adapts and covers his mistakes and technical errors, so the measure of the GM’s skill lies in how well he redresses his errors in play. Regardless of the area in which the GM makes an error or the means by which he chooses to remedy it, if he can do so to his own satisfaction without getting the players all in a twist at him over it, he must be doing alright.
Paper is an absolute must during a roleplaying game, or some means of recording notes during play, at least, whether by hardcopy or digitally. It matters not if it is a Blackberry, a laptop, a steno pad, notebook, or piece of scrap paper, both the GM and the players need to have some means of taking notes on important points of information during the course of the game at their fingertips. Scratch paper is favored for notes that are purely temporary in nature, such as Wind and FTG points use, which will commonly be thrown out again after the evenings play is over, unless a scene is broken in half and that information will be needed again at the following session. Some means of passing notes between the GM and players will be needed also, for which sticky-notes come in handy. Changes in the status of character equipment or changes in the equipment which the character is carrying, stun and wound effects for the characters and NPC’s in the event of a battle, notes regarding temporary magicks the characters have going and the characters to whom they have been applied, all of these are instances of notes that are only of temporary value, most likely to be discarded at the end of the evening’s session, for which scrap paper of some sort can be most handy. However, the players and GM both will need some means of taking notes of a more permanent nature, concerning dates and times and important places and the reasons they are important, notes to serve as reminders of important events and the reasons why they are important, names and character assessments of important NPC’s, colleagues, opponents, family, neighbors, patrons, etc., and notes concerning gameworld history, local, regional, national, and/or international, which may come out during play as their adventures progress.
How can the GM tell what he should write down, what he will need to remember for later on? In addition to his notes setting forth the plots and timetables of events and the NPC profiles for his adventures, the GM will likely need to make a note of ALL NPC’s he introduces, names, dates encountered, reason behind encounter, and any significant location like an inn or tavern with which they are associated, regardless of whether the GM considers any of these NPC’s important in the context of the adventure or not. Whether they are or not, it is likely either the GM or the players will find some reason to bring that NPC back into play again, or the GM may see a place where a NPC that has had only a quick ‘walk-on’ part can be worked into play again, thus saving himself time creating a new NPC from scratch. Beyond the NPC’s, all towns of interest and the reasons that they are of interest to the PC’s should be noted, background information on PC’s and NPC’s alike that is uncovered or expanded in the course of play will need to be written down for later reference, as well, and any similar information which the GM makes up on the spot during the course of the game, anything that does NOT already appear in the notes prepared beforehand regarding the adventures he runs. Just about any thing, person, place or detail that may later be of interest.
This will be especially important in the case of ANY interpretation or adaptation of a point of rule. The GM must make a note of the rule, the situation to which it was applied, and the manner in which the application was varied or adapted to make a more satisfactory result.
The GM canNOT rely on the players to take his notes for him. What seems important to them will not necessarily be the same things that will be important to the GM. The GM knows far more about the situation and the gameworld than the players in the first place. They cannot share his perspective of it.
For the players’ part, taking notes can be at least as important. In effect, the player’s notes become a written record of the character’s memory. It is all too easy to forget things from one game session to the next, or to “mis-remember”, and the only remedy for this is the players’ own notes.
“The character’s memory is only as good as the player’s notes.” should be the GM’s basic attitude when the players can’t remember something they should have written down.
Without any written record to back it up, the GM should never allow the players to debate his record of events from the game.
However, this should never be used as any sort of excuse for rewriting the past in the game. That is nothing but dirty pool. GM’s should be forgiving in the case of incomplete notes, especially when they are his own, and willing to clarify or discuss an incomplete character note to jog a player’s memory. This is to be greatly preferred over simply dispensing information a second time to players did not care enough to write down the first time. This is the only condition under which the GM should allow the players access to the contents of his own notes. The GM’s own notes should always be more detailed, almost in the nature of a diary, though often consisting of sentence fragments and simple facts, and also containing thoughts and details the players should never see. Te GM should always jot down sudden inspirations that occur to him during the game, noted in the margins of his notes so they are not lost amidst those having to do with the course of the adventure, or on stickies mounted to the page for later reference. The GM should, in fact go back through his notes from time to time looking for these marginal notes, especially when writing new adventures. This way he can catch threads left hanging, little holes that need addressing from old adventures, or use elements left in limbo that need to be updated, and especially let him keep a good and current record of NPC’s, all of which will serve to give the players a sense of wholeness concerning the gameworld. Allowing the PC’s to see that the world continues on around them in their absence, that it has a life of its own, provides more depth in the illusion of the medieval fantasy, gives it more vitality.
The players need to have a sense of the gameworld’s continuity, to understand that the places and people in it continue on with life even when the character’s aren’t around. Otherwise, it becomes nothing but a bunch of paper cut-outs to be dusted off and trotted out only because the PC’s have arrived. The PC’s lose respect for the gameworld and its contents, and vanity and contempt take its place.
Players are encouraged to take the opportunity to compare notes any time their characters are together, filling in holes and copying items they might have missed. If a player needs the notes of another PC to update his own, and the other PC whose notes he wishes to use is not in his character’s presence, there will be NO way for the characters to exchange any information, so the GM must prohibit the update from taking place until the character’s are together and have the time to swap stories. As stated, a player’s notes are his character’s memory , BUT only his.
Also, going over old campaign notes can be great fuel for reminiscing about great times.
It is of vital importance that the GM keep track of who is doing what at what time because time frames can get off-set and confused when the PC’s pursue their own tasks and activities, not so much when they are together in a group as when they set out on their own separately. Then it becomes more critical that the GM be able to keep track of who went where and at what time, with whom, how long it took them to get there, how long the planned activity took or is still taking, or will have taken when they get through. Some kind of record must be kept of every game, from session to session, especially if an adventure takes more than one session to complete. But when the character actions happen simultaneously in several places at once, the GM must again have a place and means for matching them up in time so that he and they both know where all the PC’s are at any given time while they are all so engaged. For campaign style play it is essential that an on-going record of the game’s events be kept by the GM.
Record keeping can often make or break the GM. Keeping accurate tabs on PC and NPC actions and reactions can eliminate alot of unpleasant disagreements and misunderstandings. The dates and times of day on and in which all major significant events occur during play and where they occurred should all be noted for later reference. Any drugstore or office supply store can provide the GM with planning books, spiral-bound pads of blank calendar sheets, single-sided, one month to a page, or 1in. square per day, and there are any number of calendar programs available for the GM who keeps a computer at the table while GMing to help him keep his notes and game calendar. These are ideal for keeping track of the day-to-day events in the game, when a magick was cast, what it was and who cast it, and the limit of DUR (as applicable); when, where, and what time of day any encounters will occur or have occurred, what NPC’s and/or beasts were encountered, and what the initial reaction was and the events or results of the encounter; holy days can be marked, high feastdays and festivals, sun and moon rise and set times, high and low tides (maritime settings, as needed), and the like as the GM sees the need. For those days particularly hectic and full of actions and incidents, the GM can always make a separate dated entry on the blank back of the calendar for the month in which it occurred, and perhaps add additional blank pages if that space is not sufficient to the task. As noted, the notes the GM takes of his game can be vital to settling debates over past events of the gameworld.
One of the most valuable tools the GM will have for keeping a handle on the party and its activities during play will be the Party Roster provided at the back of the book, and the copies of the Player Character Record Sheets he is advised to have the players make for his use. The GM is encouraged to make what photocopies he needs for his own personal use. Between it, the NPC Record Sheets, and the Combat Roster, many of the details of recordkeeping during play will become much easier. These sheets will eliminate the need for requesting scores for making attribute checks which the GM may require, but about which he doesn’t want to alert the player unless there is a reason to, and thus eliminating alot of references to the mechanics of the game system and the unfortunate effect of compromising the mood and illusion of the characters and gameworld. With a copy of the PC Record Sheets, he need not ask for AV’s, SL’s or anything of the sort, the player will simply state his desire to use a skill or ability and the rest will be handled by the GM without reference to the mechanics. The remaining items of game mechanics that will need to be discussed will be much diminished, equipment, tools, supplies and booty carried and ENC, movement rates, and the various stages of Action Allowance use, which have been labeled so as not to have the ring of mechanics, and matters of magick.
Style, Pacing, & Balance
Equally as important as the way in which the GM handles the responsibilities of his position as set forth in the previous passages, is the manner in which he handles the elements of the game itself, insofar as its content. How does one do that, when the game is nothing more than an over-extended conversation? True, it is not easy, and may fall by the wayside if the players get sidetracked, but all GM’s run that risk to begin with when they sit down at the head of the table and spread their notes out to start the show at the beginning of every gaming session.
The GM’s style can be expressed in a number of ways, one being how “nitty-gritty” the contents of the background in general and the adventures in particular are. Another can be how tightly the GM sticks to the rules as written. These are the two elements of style with which the players will be most concerned. A very important facet of GMing style has to do with how well he discharges his responsibility to provide play for every character in his game. Of course, he can’t make a PC pursue a plotline thrown at him, but he has a responsibility to give ALL of the PC’s a chance. This is discussed in depth under “The Relationship with the Players”, to follow.
Since there is no proper way to prepare the GM for EVERY possible situation that may develop in the course of working through a storyline in a given adventure, the GM will need to have a few tools with which to handle – even manipulate – the PC’s in order to keep the rate at which they tear through his world and adventures under control. Two very important tools that can be used to keep the players from running rough-shod are pacing and balance.
It is highly important that the GM never allow play to bog down. Time the GM spends flumming through pages in the rules or his notes or waiting for a player to do the same is time over which the rest of the players are getting restless and losing their focus on the situation at hand, and any images the GM may have conjured in their minds or have been in the midst of building.
Pacing is a central factor in each gaming session and in every game, just as it is in any good novel or film. Handled well, it prevents play from bogging down (for terribly long, anyway). It encompasses both the rate of action and the progress of the characters – the rate at which their skills and abilities develop. Proper pacing in the plot should give the characters a well-deserved breather after they have “Fought the Good Fight”, or used to cause the too-cocky party to jump to the edges of their seats and keep them wondering what will happen next, or allow the pressure to ease up just a bit before the GM really throws it hard into high gear. Chase scenes will not always end in a show down with the enemy, but may be broken off, to be picked back up again later.
A well-planned and paced game can, through actions taken in the background and the merciless use of the NPC’s, keep the players interested and satisfy their “need to know” just enough to keep them pushing forward, hungry for more. The players who show up at the GM’s gaming table will be hungry, if not actually voracious, for the experiences against which they will test their characters. The GM cannot allow himself to be ruled by their unbridled passion for play, however. He must maintain control of his game or risk letting the players write the stories and run it for him. While the GM should keep the action moving along, he should always be sure to take the time to decorate the settings and set the appropriate moods for the major and more important scenes, as mentioned previously. These are the times when the pacing should intentionally be either slowed a tick or two, or made a little more clipped and urgent, to accommodate the description and set the mood according to the need of the moment.
Games that are paced too quickly feel like they have ended practically before they have begun, lacking that essential sense of substance to the players even when all the details have been included. Some things simply should take a while to develop, one game to the next, to mature over time, rather than being effectively dropped into the PCs’ laps to be resolved all in a single gaming session.
An adventure scenario can be TOO neat and tidy.
On the other hand, it is just as easy to bore and/or frustrate the players with a game that moves too slowly. Being constantly slowed down by a lack of answers or clues to guide and aid them in proceeding with the task at hand can be very frustrating, and they can easily end up distracted while they wait for something to do. Good pacing in play emphasizes the fact that anything worth having is worth fighting for, and requires that the PC’s work to achieve their goals. Reaching their goals is its own reward. The players will not appreciate gifts and rewards that provide them with power either social or political, magickal, or economic their characters have not really earned.
While it is important for the GM to keep the game moving right along, to keep the fantasy fresh and vital to keep the players from getting bored, the GM must also guard against rushing them along too quickly. When the GM has taken the time to spin out a great description or roleplay out a great scene, he must rush in and smash the illusion all to pieces by insisting that the players move right along afterwards. The players may need a moment or two mow and again to absorb the GM’s words, to wrap their heads around the fullness of a scene well-played or a masterful description, to allow the image conjured by the GM in their minds to gel and set in all its brilliance.
The GM should give them this time.
They will come around of their own accord when they are ready. If the GM has the patience to wait, they won’t make him wait too long. This goes back to the principle of never robbing the players. This kind of depth in play generally makes them hungry for more, and inspires them to the same heights in their roleplaying. If necessary, allow the players a short Q & A afterwards to clarify matters. The GM must avoid just jumping in and prompting them and harassing them to make decisions about their next actions. It should be fairly obvious to all when the right time to forge ahead again will have arrived.
One way in which to provide a basic control for the course of the game is by maintaining balance. The GM can be fairly well assured of the even pacing of his game if he can look to the elements of action, conflict, and combat in his game and balance them with subterfuge, deceit, and intrigue in his plotlines, but it is most important that the GM remember to apply the principle of balance in matching the PC’s in the abilities and capabilities of the NPC foes he creates against whom to test them. How to pace a game and achieve balance in different ways in various phases and types of play will be discussed periodically throughout this book, but has already been touched on in the chapter concerning the creation of NPC’s, and will be discussed at some length in the chapters concerning adventure design and campaign play. Although what help and guidance available has been provided, experience in these matters is the best teacher and there just is no substitute for it.
Both balance and pacing are rather esoteric concepts, difficult to get a grasp on for those who are new to the game. GM’s who pace and balance their games well, emphasizing the value of good roleplaying, giving the PC’s ample opportunity to exercise their skills, knowledge, and abilities, testing their limits as they go, and finding ways to help the PC’s maintain some perspective on their places in the environment will find their games and their players working smoothly together, regardless of their experience or lack of experience in GMing.
Through proper pacing and balance, the characters will remain at lower trade SL’s and SL’s long enough for the GM to become familiar with all the game’s procedures and conventions, more sure of which rules come into play when, and how often that is likely to be, and under what circumstances, and where to find the rules he needs if he hasn’t actually been able to memorize them up to that point, and has forgotten to make a note of the rules in the section of his notes on the adventure at hand where those rules will apply. This will give him the time he needs to get a sense of the strengths, the capabilities, and the approach of the PC’s and their more common methods of responding to certain types of events and NPC character types. Once the GM has managed this, the well-paced climb to prominence and perhaps power shouldn’t be too difficult to keep under control.
The GM will know when he has attained a grasp on these principles by how hard the characters are seen to work in play, and how much the players appreciate what the characters achieve.
Above all, especially if he is new to the game, the GM should NOT get discouraged if he cannot seem to get the hang of all the various aspects of his job as set forth in these books right away. It rarely happens right away for new GM’s. Indeed, for most GM’s, getting the knack of spinning first-rate descriptions takes much practice and experience in play, as a matter of fact, it is a constant, on-going process for many of them. If he sticks with it, the GM will succeed. He will know when he is reaching the players, when he has gotten his images across to them, because he will see the interest and even excitement in their faces as the quiet down and lean forward in their chairs, eyes alight, hanging on every word.
In the Thick of It
In practice, during play, the GM should not treat any character action mentioned as having actually been implemented or undertaken until the player to whom the character belongs positively states that he is doing so. This VERY important, due to the fact that some players may boldly overstep their authority and try to dictate the actions of other players’ characters, or try to speak for them. When this occurs, the GM should question the character’s player to see if he agrees or not, agrees with modifications or reservations.
As discussed in the passage on providing descriptions, when a certain course of action is dictated by a player for his character, but doing so cannot be approached and/or accomplished in any other way except through other, smaller or additional actions that remain implied and not verbally included, it will be the GM’s responsibility to make sure that the player understands that he is implying that the character is performing these other acts even though he has not said so, and agrees that it is indeed what he wants to do.
This understanding must be established first, before the sequence of action(s) is implemented and any consequences are revealed.
This is of VITAL importance where special features such as tricks and traps of some sort, whether mundane or magickal in nature, weak flooring, unstable footing are involved, or the general action requires some application of skill at Climbing or Balance, Swimming, jumping or leaping to reach the objective before the stated skill or action can be accomplished. The precise manner in which the overall task is approached and the smaller, implied actions are taken by the PC to complete it must be established first. Not only the intent but specific course of action must be described.
In the exact same manner described in the passage on descriptions and providing information, the GM actually provides the PC with the opportunity to back up a half-second and perhaps seek additional information, a more fulsome assessment of the situation by seeking to verify the character’s actions. In this way a check for traps might be made, if the character is trained as a Huntsman or Draughlatch or Roberdsman, or another character might be called over to do so for him, and perhaps ask that those who have the arcane knowledge to do so check for the presence of magick, if the character cannot do so himself.
This procedure will saves the GM from unintentionally tipping his hand by tripping the trap or springing the surprise on the PC(s) under the presumption of the character’s action, then having to recant it when the player protests. This results in the players being given an unfair advantage, basically rendering the trick/trap useless and the time that went into developing it wasted. As stated previously, telling the players to disregard what has been inadvertently revealed because their characters do not know the danger that awaits them is completely absurd.
If the above procedure is NOT followed, the player in question can claim he never stated the action nor intended to, in spite of the implication carried by the statement of the general intent to act, he may claim he didn’t understand the situation properly. In the interest of fairness, the players’ understanding of the relationship between the environment and their characters is what must be established in any situation where those characters are in danger, especially when the effect of that danger hinges on a specific sort of action on a PC’s part.
Once an action is declared, the GM should NOT allow it to be “taken back”. This rule should stand inviolable if the GM is consistent in following the procedure detailed for insuring a proper understanding of the nature of the action and all subsequent actions implied, so they are acknowledged and approved, as well before being implemented. This should teach the players to consider the ramifications of their actions, and to consider their own words more carefully.
If, during the course of a gaming session, the GM calls on a player to state his character’s course of action when there are other players waiting who are, he should ask that player if he is close to a decision or the GM should proceed to the others and come back to him, OR he could simply do just that, informing the player that he will be addressed again after the others. He must remember to come back to him though. Skipping a player is poor form. One of the reasons it is a good rule of thumb to start on one hand and proceed in order around the table this way is that it is easier to remember to come back to one who has been skipped. An alternate device is to use a number of chips or tokens equal to the number of players at the table and shift them from one side of the table to the other, one by one as he goes through the characters determining their actions, until all the players have acted and all the markers or tokens have been moved.
For the sake of his own sanity, the GM must insist that the players do NOT all try to speak at once, and that they keep irrelevant banter, especially of the anachronistic sort that could not possibly be between characters, to an absolute minimum. All this sort of behavior does is ruin the air of medieval fantasy on which the game depends.
In the old adage “if you want to capture someone’s attention, whisper”, the GM has an excellent tool to get a loud or rowdy bunch back under control. This is an excellent and very effective tactic to use. In many circumstances, it is alot more effective than trying to shout them down, or pounding on the table with a shoe like Krushchev to get their attention. At some point, all sounds become so loud that they are all perceived equally as noise, and so are incomprehensible and often ignored.
The players will often quiet down and start paying attention when they realize that play has resumed and they are missing out, especially when the GM refuses to repeat himself for their benefit, at least until he has everyone’s attention. When those who are tuning in late to the proceedings start interrupting with “What?’ and “What did he say?”, the others will take care of shushing them on their own. The GM should be careful to use this tactic only when he is giving significant information/descriptions in trying to move the game along, such as when introducing a new scene or setting. When he has all the players’ attentions, he should, of course, resume speaking in a normal tone of voice. Like any of the other more obvious tools the GM can use in controlling the game and the gamers, when used too often and especially when used inappropriately, the tool soon loses its effect.
In the midst of the excitement of the game, the GM should always be on the look-out for the roleplaying equivalent of the “ball-hog”. This is a player who must always have the limelight, whose character must be everywhere and at once in the middle of whatever is happening. Obviously this is a physical impossibility, but that does not usually deter this type of player who, mere seconds after the GM starts detailing some other situation for the benefit of some other PC’s, decides that he must be there, instead of where he had originally decided to be. This may arise in part from the feeling that “the grass is always greener elsewhere”, but could just as easily come from the fact that, being an open and free-form game without any real conclusion or winner, the player feels that any other character getting to see or do anything without them there is somehow getting the drop on them, beating them, gaining an edge over them, winning somehow. The character of this type of player must be instantly at hand whenever where anything significant is taking place, so they may say that they were there as well and so stake a claim on it. This character must know of everything that has befallen the whole party because, no matter where they were, he was there too. This trait achieves its most annoying expression when the party is together exploring some sort of new, unknown location, and spreads out over it to cover more ground more efficiently. To help eliminate this practice, or even its tendency, the GM must make the players understand that their discoveries are taking place simultaneously, regardless of the GM’s obvious physical limitations requiring him to give out their separate findings one area at a time. Being simultaneous, no individual or segment of the party should find any others suddenly looking over their shoulders just because they got lucky and chose to check out the only quarter of the location that had anything of interest to offer.
One way to avoid even an inclination towards this sort of behavior is to make each and every PC state clearly where they are going, what they are doing by way of making their examination under these circumstances. If anyone objects that they didn’t find anything and so should be allowed to drop in on some other character, the GM should remind him that, while he found nothing, it will have taken time to discover that fact. If any of them object that they haven’t gotten their description of their area yet, the GM should remind them they chose their direction and area already and are engaged in examining it even as the GM is dealing with the other characters before them, and they will have to be patient and quiet and stand by their choice and wait their turn.
The GM may encounter as well, those sorts of players who demand a full description of every clump of grass and every leaf on every tree, while others will push to skip over every element and description that does not bear directly on the action, that does not provide enough drama, action, or potential danger to keep their hearts racing. These are the players the GM will have to work at keeping the tightest rein on, especially if they are apt to complain. The GM should listen to his players on this point as on any other, but only up to a point, seeking to strike a happy medium between, one with which HE is most comfortable.
Letting his players rush him through the game, the GM is not only allowing them to cheat themselves of the full potential of the experience, but himself at the same time, as well. Letting those intent on detail make him give long, drawn out descriptions of every aspect of every mundane setting when doing so serves no purpose to the plotline, will only bore everyone else to tears. The GM must not allow any one PC to dominate the game or monopolize his time, nor allow the type or style of play preferred by one to overshadow the preferences of the rest of the group, himself included. All of the players are there for the same reason: to roleplay. To let any one PC have the spotlight all the time simply is not fair to the others.
To allow such a thing to happen in this sort of game, the rest of the players might just as well have stayed at home and rented an adventure DVD to watch. Though some players, particularly those who tend to prefer one of the other extreme in style of play, may not seem exactly satisfied, or may appear to get bored from time to time, all concerned should end up being content, eventually adapting to the GM’s chosen style, as long as a steady and evenly controlled pace is maintained, reasonably quick or without annoying lags, anyway, punctuated regularly by tactical situations and/or combat, which always snap the pace up a bit. If they don’t, give them a chance to GM themselves or look for players to replace them. There is no pleasing all of the people all of the time.
Another sort of player who may appear in the GM’s game to test his patience and judgement to the limits is the “expert” player. Whether he GM’s some other game, or did so in the past, or is merely a player with a great deal of knowledge and experience in roleplaying games. Expert players seem to get their enjoyment from arguing points of rule in the game system and nitpicking rulings they don’t agree with, usually having to do with “realism” in the context of the gameworld and the game system. Whether by education or line of employment, the “expert” considers himself an “authority” on one or more topics that directly affect play either periodically or at one time or another. While most topics in the rules for the game have been researched and adapted to game terms in order to interact with the PC’s according to the established conventions of the game as realistically as possible, the GM may come into conflict with the knowledge of the player as concerns a specific situation in which his character is involved. The first step in deal with these situations is to establish the basis for the experts objection(s). Informed objections bearing directly on the character and his situation are one thing, a difference of opinion or interpretation with no real basis in supporting fact or experience may be summarily dismissed.
The GM can treat valid points raised as a boon, a plus, a bonus, and rely on the player’s superior knowledge to sort the situation out for him accurately. On the other hand, the GM can just as easily stand up for the rules as written (they might be good for something after all!) and stand by his original ruling on the grounds that the character does not share the player’s knowledge and wouldn’t know the difference, anyway. Taking the middle way, however, the GM might do a little of both.
The first option is not really recommended, as it undermines the GM’s authority in his own game, not to mention the fact that correcting the GM in the middle of the game, obviously in front of the whole group, is just plain rude. It is the GM’s own game, and in this case it really IS just a game. Of course, the problem here is that the player will feel that the GM is glossing over the importance of the facts of his Real-Life world, and that can be a little more sticky to handle. The second option is just plain unsatisfactory to real, thinking people and is very insensitive to the PC’s who are on the inside of the situation, especially when the expert is arguing on their behalf. A quick quiet conference can establish what the expert’s objection is, which will allow the GM to amend the situation, and/or its outcome according to his best judgement, if he deems it a good idea.
Alternately, the GM may encounter a rude and obnoxious variety of expert player known as a “rule lawyer”, who is generally only interested in tweaking the GM’s by repeatedly citing the letter of the rules at him and constantly arguing against the GM’s interpretations of the rules. The best way to deal with this sort is to tell him to close his mouth and sit back in his chair, hoe his own row, tend to his knitting, or the like. If this sort of player wants to question the GM’s procedures or rulings, he can wait until after the end of the gaming session, and should not be allowed to waste everyone’s valuable time with his foolishness.
HOWEVER, just because a question on a point of rules is raised, by no means makes a player one of this sort, and just because a player is a rules lawyer doesn’t always mean that he cannot bring a valid point of rules up for the GM’s consideration. Both players and GM are all human and mistakes do get made. It is perfectly acceptable to bring the issue to the GM’s notice if he misses or inadvertently skips something. People learn by doing. The GM’s mistakes are his to make.
Some would-be GM’s are intimidated by the heavy responsibility of GMing but, as noted, they must never allow the players to see the effect of that pressure when they are in the GM’s seat. The GM must exude confidence no matter whether he feels it or not. The players must believe that he knows just what he is doing, regardless of the facts of the situation. As soon as he shows his nervousness or confusion, the players will start to lose their confidence in him, their faith in his ability to do the job. Some unscrupulous players will even takes these as signals for them to start in with a barrage of questions intended to intimidate him and confuse him further, to bully him in search of some advantage in play, or perhaps even just to put the GM through some pointless head-game.
This is most likely to happen when the GM allows everyone to start talking at once, as the volume starts to rise, especially when they get to the point of yelling, when order breaks down completely. The best thing the GM can do when he starts to get flustered is to concentrate on getting the players settled down again and quiet, stop, take a couple deep breaths and collect his thoughts. If he still can’t find his place, he should ask the players to backtrack and review with him, starting with the most cooperative, least likely to badger. He should be able to take it from there again. The GM must be able to maintain control of the gaming group. If they aren’t willing to respect him enough to pay attention, he needs to find a new group. The unique situation and nature of play can take some getting used to for all the players involved, not just the GM, especially when all are new to the game.
The GM should work with the players and their characters as much as the scenario at hand allows, and help to ensure that the players work together as smoothly as their characters’ dispositions will allow. Regardless of protests and justifications of “characterization” and “persona”, the point of the game is cooperation. If the integrity of a character must be compromised by what his player sees to be near blind cooperation, that character should be set aside for a solo run or to match up with a group of characters who expect a little more independence. If the cooperation the GM is trying to build can be anticipated as potentially being a serious problem, as might occur given some dwarfish and elfin attitudes, there are loopholes that will allow for additional background set-up (by the GM with the player’s help) which can eliminate any barrier by making all of the characters in the party friendly acquaintances already, if not actually already friends, already measured, approved and trusted over the course of their previous associations. This will allow the characters to work well together, as long as the individual quirks and prejudices of each are respected and tolerated by the others during play, and so long as the players do not use these as excuses to needle or discomfit one another, or otherwise disrupt the party or the game.
The GM should always be willing to review things with the players, particularly the facts surrounding the current situation in the game at hand, and especially with new or novice players. The GM’s patience can encourage these players and help boost their confidence in their own and their characters’ abilities. If the players refuse to move on from a particular point or scene in play and the game begins to drag and suffer from it, the GM should not be afraid to prod them on, gently but firmly.
Patience is the GM’s watch-word.
Any decision the GM makes that he feels has been fairly considered and clearly thought out should stand without dispute. Whatever the situation, the GM must remember that his is the final word. It is his game. However, while “final” is the operative word in “final ruling”, the GM must not go so overboard with this principle that he alienates his players. He is NOT there to lord it over the “lowly PC’s”. He must avoid high-handedness at all costs. Such callous and seemingly arbitrary behavior can seriously upset the players, certainly it can make them abandon the game. No one likes to be handed down edicts from on high, and even less so in regards to their recreation. Being able to weigh valid points and render a fair decision in disagreements with the players, being able to consider and admit faulty decisions or rulings are the marks of a fair and even-handed GM, who is very likely popular with his players because of it.