This is the last of the formal chapters of the GHB I. Except for the appendices and the special reference material in them, and the specialty sections of The Grimoire and The Bestiary of the GHB II., the GM is done with the rules. This the last chance to offer what meager pearls of wisdom are yet left to give that have not spilled out already elsewhere in the pages of the GM’s books. The balance of the pages of these books are devoted to use and their use in play. Although there are no rules to be read and learned in this chapter, the articles it contains are no less important to the running of the game, of use to novice and experienced GM’s alike.
Some topics which needed some discussion for the GM’s benefit had to be placed after the bulk of the GM’s tasks and resources needed in running the game, by necessity, after the GM had gotten a handle on the nature of the game and the system and the manner in which it should be run. The topics discussed in this chapter have little to do with the substance of the game itself so much as the involve the way in which the GM conducts his game. While much information of this nature was provided in Chapter 1. of Part II., some things were adjudged too esoteric to be included at that point, or which coordinated the information presented in two or more chapters, such as how to handle the elements of the game, especially the living elements (NPC’s and beasts) in the context of play and the scenarios so the players find them challenging but hopefully not TOO deadly. Here, tips and hints are provided to help the GM make his game the best it can be as soon as possible, how to play creatively with the end result of the game in mind without being rules-bound, and for making the game last longer with better quality, for preserving the newness and freshness, maintaining the mystery that engages the players. There are a couple of tactics for keeping players happy and involved that may seem a little strange at first which are, nonetheless, very effective.
A Word about Game Mechanics
The term “mechanics” in a roleplaying game refers to the hard and fast rules that govern the actions the Gm must integrate between the characters and the gameworld, the stated “can’s” and “cannot’s” in the text provided as the common ground on which all the players can meet and agree. they form the boundaries which provide a sense of equality and fairness between the players. Some players view the mechanics as an evil that just will not go away, to be done away with or minimized as much as possible at every turn so they cannot bog down or get in the way of roleplay. Some people even manage to roleplay without rules, making their games up without rolling a single die, the GM somehow deciding, or running the game by consensus, as far as what is best to allow to happen and what is not, based on some overall aesthetic of the game and its story.
While one of the most appealing aspects of roleplay is its freeform nature, its lack of rigid structure as a synthesis of the imaginations of the GM and all the other players involved, most players need to have some form of rules as a baseline for security. Most people are more comfortable having their boundaries defined for them. Rules are needed to define the basics and standards for character abilities and knowledge, to encourage the unsure and give them an idea of just what may be possible, but also to place realistic boundaries on the characters of those who would push and push looking for a boundary, otherwise run amok, presuming much too far, ruing the experience for the rest.
To a certain extent, it is true that the written rules are an evil, that is touched on briefly under the heading “Keeping the Game Fresh”, but really in theory only, not so much in practice. System-less roleplaying may be the ultimate ideal, but it can only really work in a perfect world where the GM and all the players would all be completely fair to one another and contribute equally without prejudice of any sort, taking care to leave all of the stress and baggage of their mundane lives at the door when arriving to game. In a perfect world, the GM would have no trouble choosing when to award success to characters and when not without being the least bit unfair, to design and run his game without bias towards or against any PC and implement his plots and designs and determine the outcomes of such highly emotionally charged situations as combat with true impartiality, even to his own creations.
But that world is all too elusive for the greater majority, and highly unlikely to be found by that majority in this lifetime.
The rules of this book and the text appended form the greater part of the tools provided to help the GM maintain a sense of impartiality, to help him keep his style of play even-handed, and to maintain the integrity of his gameworld for the players and their characters, alike. Since the rules cannot really be done without, the GM must learn to do his best to disguise their presence. To that end, the terminology for the mechanics has been kept as period as possible in those aspects of mechanics that will most commonly affect play, especially in regards to such things as trades and skills which will likely see much use and discussion in play. These terms have not been framed as verbs or adjectives, but as nouns focusing on what having those skills makes the character. It is not the Animal Husbandry skill, it is the Husbandman trade, but the player and the GM both must be quick enough on their feet to be able to adapt the use of the labels in the game to use them in casual speech, to separate the skill from the one who practices it – the Beastmaster (or Mistress) and the practice of Beastmastery, the Baker or Baxter from the practice and place of baking and the bakery, being a Barber, Surgeon, Physician, Herbal or Leech – all the healer trades – and the pursuit of the arts of healing. The Padfoot skill makes the character a Padfoot, but one does not “Padfoot” about, it is not a verb. When the wants his character to exercise the skill, he needs to say where it is he wants the character to go and the means by which he wants him to do it – moving silently as a Padfoot, in the context of the game without disrupting the atmosphere. However, while the names of things may get improperly used here and there as the players get used to using them, they will generally sound alot better (more authentic and period) than more modern terms that see alot of use during play in the genré. Those mechanical terms that could not be translated into period form are pretty obvious, like AV’s and DV’s, should be addressed with some forethought or avoided entirely when speaking for a character, as discussed under the heading “Avoiding Anachronisms”. The players are provided with the same discussion on anachronisms in their PG, so the GM should not feel bad about wanting to chide them for speaking in blatantly mechanical terms. That sort of thing should be kept to a minimum first by the GM keeping a copy of each of the characters’ record sheets, and should never be included when supposedly speaking in character.
That is, so long as the GM takes care not to do the same.
For much of the information and stated “do’s” and “do not’s” of the procedures in the GHB’s “rules” may be too strong a word to be appropriate. It is definitely a word that brings to mind with it certain unwanted connotations. It would probably be better to say that the GM’s books in the Realms of Myth series embody a set of “guidelines” to help the GM create and maintain a vital medieval fantasy gameworld, accompanied by a general philosophy for governing the playing out of adventures in fine Swords & Sorcery style.
As guidelines, the GM should feel free to adapt, change and otherwise make whatever amendments for which he sees a need – after having read through it and absorbed the contents – to make the game work for him, his players, and the fantasy gameworld in which they play. In doing so, however, it is important that the GM pay attention to the way in which powers and abilities and skills in the game are all balanced against one another, and take care not to upset that balance.
The GM should always bear in mind the fact that one cannot please all of the people all of the time. Bending a rule now and then when there is good reason will go a long way towards keeping most of the players happy most of the time, however.
Since the game as played belongs at least as much to the players as it does the GM, any changes to be made to the rules (or “guidelines”) as written should be proposed to and discussed with all the players prior to being implemented, and get a consensus. If any players are still grumbling after a modification has been made, the GM should simply remind them that they had a chance to air their points of view, and remind them it was agreed to by all, or at least by the majority. If the players had brought the proposed change to the GM and complain of its effects in play, they should be reminded it was their own idea, and the GM was under no obligation to implement it. Sometimes the cures is worse than the original problem.
In any event, the GM should give the game a good 6 months of steady play to get to know the in’s and outs of the system before trying to putter around with it and customize it to his own style of play, if he has a mind to.
Any amendments the GM makes to the specific application of any aspect of the text during a game, or at any other time for that matter, must always be recorded in a log or journal or even inside the cover, or on the margins of the relevant section of the text, or on the white space in the first or last couple pages in the books, in case the situation should come up in play again. This is very important to the consistency with which the GM runs his game. No one is perfect and it is highly unlikely that the GM or the player who first disputed or took exception to the text will remember the original solution to the problem 10 months down the road when it comes into play again.
More important that acknowledging the flexibility of the “rules”, the GM must acknowledge the fact that both the roleplaying and the story being told in the game should always take priority over the mechanics. If during a game the GM suddenly finds himself at a loss for a rule he knows he should have consulted and doesn’t have the reference immediately at hand, BUT the layers are in the midst of a particularly high quality streak of roleplaying supported by a superior sense of mood and atmosphere carefully having been built up over the course of the evening, he should never sacrifice it for by breaking off play to fumble about books and/or flum through pages and disorganized papers. The GM should rise to the challenge and roleplay right along with the players – that is right, wing it. If handled with confidence and yielding a believable result, the players will never know the difference. All the GM need to do is take notes at a furious pace so he will know just what he did when he looks back at it in planning for the next gaming session.
All the GM needs to be able to do in order to do this fairly in most cases is take into account the major relevant factors in the situation and weigh them against his knowledge of the rules in general and what he wants to achieve in the scene in regards to the plot of adventure at hand. He should be able to come up with a straight ruling or resolution, some sort of dice check according to the scores, skills, and abilities of the player(s) involved in the situation. The operative part of the game system, the d100 and the AV’s and DV’s that determine the chance of success, especially the flexible manner in which they can be generated and applied, as explained in Chapter 1. of Part III., were designed that way specifically to facilitate the GM working “off the cuff”, as it is called.
With even just a little experience running the game and a passing familiarity with the rules in general, the GM should develop an instinctual feel for the flow of play and the situations that can occur, and develop an ability to make snap decisions for resolving just about any sort of difficulty in a sufficiently realistic manner satisfactory to the players and the needs of the moment. The GM should take some care that he not become arbitrary or cavalier in administering his game, however, especially when making straight rulings where P’s are directly involved. Being arbitrary or cavalier when the situation at hand is a matter of life or death for any character, PC or NPC, or where the main plot of the adventure or the main thrust of the overall campaign is involved in any direct way (except, of course, for overt plot devices) will be very likely to upset the players and sow mistrust among them. This will be especially true when the ruling results in the death of a character. This is not as critical in the cases of NPC’s, unless he or she is especially important to the PC’s for some reason, but it can be disastrous when the casualty is a PC.
Like the less tangible aspects of roleplay and running a roleplaying game discussed in Chapter 1. of Part II., getting a grasp on not only the mechanics of the game but when and how to apply them can be a bit of a challenge in some instances. Some GM’s will be better at roleplay and designing adventures and NPC’s, while others will excel at memorizing and implementing the rules in such a way that they are fully integrated in play, in all their details, without being oppressive to the players. If the GM has a particular affinity for storytelling and roleplay itself but cannot handle the recordkeeping and hates the dealing with the rules, or vice-versa, he might think about getting a “deputy-GM”, perhaps a significant other or spouse, to handle those tasks for him and help keep play from bogging down. A deputy GM could dispense descriptions when needed and/or roleplay all the NPC’s when they come into play, or inform the GM of a need for dice checks as they come up and take care of all the bookkeeping as changes take place in the game, depending on what tasks have been delegated to him. If the GM does not care to delegate that much of his game to another, but finds roleplaying the NPC’s or some other individual task of running the game to be a distraction from the “big picture” of what he is trying to accomplish, the overall flow of the game and the PCs’ activities, he might well take on a deputy to handle just that task, if he can find one to take such a limited position.
This tactic is particularly useful for those GM’s who do not have alot of time themselves to prepare their games, dividing the workload. This can be a great boon, but requires close and regular contact and VERY good communication skills. In the digital age, coordinating their efforts via email and texting can make it a snap. Teams of equal-partner GM teams are not unheard-of, especially in writing adventures and campaigns. One can act as a sounding board for the other when one is creatively stronger in plots and stories, and the other can make notes on the NPC’s and develop them if he is stronger in characterization, while they collaborate on developing background material for the gameworld itself. Sometime the Muse may switch off between them. In play, they could similarly divide the GMing tasks between them, as mentioned above. if the pair is a couple, one can roleplay certain types of NPC’s and the other take the balance. this may make for a better portrayal for specific NPC’s and certainly will provide the players with a better mix of roleplaying styles, thus, a richer gaming experience. Hey, it has been known to work.
The Role of Realism
No matter how many times the game is called a “fantasy”, the GM should by no means delude himself or allow the players to con him into allowing just anything to happen on a whim. For the fantasy of which the game consists to not only survive but flourish, it must have the depth and atmosphere of believability required to draw the players in and absorb their attentions. In doing so the GM must be careful about how far and in what directions he stretches the belief, or their dis-belief as the case may be.
Every GM undoubtedly has a slew of ideas for his medieval fantasy gameworld, but unless he wants to detail every stick and boulder in the world as the PC’s go, he must have something to hang it all. These are the basics the GM takes from the Real World, the common experience shared by all the players which he can rely on and does not have to provide for them. Everyone who roleplays needs to find something that at least feels familiar in the gameworld, a point of reference just to be able to begin to relate to it, and then to the events that unfold in the course of the game within it. These are borrowed from the Real World. Grass and leaves are green, and green plants need sunlight. Gravity makes water seek the lowest level it can find and follow slopes to the lowest ground, and also makes things fall down when dropped, or when living beings trip, and land after they have been thrown. Thus, rain and all other precipitation basically fall down from the skies, blown about by the wind as they fall. People, PC’s and NPC’s, need air to breathe and water to drink, and food to sustain them. These are all basic facts with which the players are familiar, and which they expect to find working normally according to their experience in the gameworld.
They form the baseline of conditions common to all fantasy worlds, and convey the essence of the value of realism.
Sure, RoM is a fantasy, but cutting loose in it and running wild is only one of its uses, NOT its sole function. Any GM who denies the value of the sort of realism imbued in the system and the details of the game through the taking of such great pains, who glosses over it all in play and takes the easiest and simplest route at every turn through the mechanics, is basically denying himself and his players of a great deal of the fun to had from it. As the final authority in his own gameworld, the GM can sidestep, ignore, or “house-rule” anything in these books that he doesn’t like or agree with, including the basics enumerated above. However, changing any of these can have far-reaching and even unwonted consequences and can take some real getting used to by the players. In short, doing so is generally more trouble than it is worth.
The use of the term realism is NOT intended to imply a simulation, however. That would require modeling events by the use of complex mathematical equations and would be ultimately tedious and require an advanced degree in physics, geometry, trigonometry, computers, and the like. What brings the fantasy world to life and the events and characters in it is verisimilitude. That is a realistic approximation of what the players expect, the appearance that all is functioning as it is supposed to be. It applies to the way in which familiar things are used and acted upon, and in turn act upon other creatures, beings and objects, and also unfamiliar things acting in expected ways according to the natures attributed to them by the GM’s description(s). It means that, when a young and relatively inexperienced character and a more knowledgeable, skillful and experienced character fall from a 100ft. cliff as the rocks on the lip crumble and give way, they will BOTH die unless the force of magick is brought to bear to mitigate the situation in some way for them, whether to dampen the damage they actually suffer, or to slow their rate of fall so there is no dangerous and sudden impact, or the site on which they actually impact has been softened to a point where it absorbs enough the impact to mitigate most of the damage, if not all, or the like.
The rules of RoM have been written so that variances in basics such as the amount of physical punishment characters can withstand are based on their physical attributes, and vary only a little with growth of experience. What varies between them when one stands at the beginning of the spectrum and one at the other, highly advanced, end of the character spectrum is the incidence of success each of them enjoys. In the instance of battle, the wearing of armor is the great equalizer, depending on the weapons wielded. An experienced and skillful character facing his physical match who is wearing the same armor, but who is relatively young and inexperienced, will triumph in the end due to the increased number of hits his greater skill will allow him to land, barring any unforeseen events like Heroic Effects or special tactical uses to which the setting can be turned by a savvy opponent.
This balance was struck in the interest NOT of creating a simulation, there are far more detailed methods for doing that, but in the interest of realism and verisimilitude, for the sake of believability, while providing the players with the tools for making sure their characters get a fair shake in facing the various challenges in the game their characters might face, regardless of their natures.
Beginning characters are comparatively a bit tougher on average than characters in many other similar types of games, but they are not indestructible, and they are designed and generated in such a way that the players have a chance to get attached to them early on, which is a good thing because they are as fragile as real humans physically, or almost as much in the cases of some of the non-humans and demi-humans.
Some would argue that fantasy, the Swords & Sorcery genré in specific, is pure fantasy, based solely on myth and make-believe and, in such an arena, the insistence on realism and logic simply cannot be applied in conventional terms. This is silly, if not actually laughable, and at the same time a little sad. In the first breath, history is pillaged mercilessly (the ultimate source of all realism) while writing primarily medieval or Bronze Age-based Swords & Sorcery fantasy games, and yet when such creations hit the market, all ties to the Real World and the legacy of historic fact and rich cultures they have plundered are emphatically denied. At the same time, these creations are billed as medieval fantasy games, despite the fact that only what was most familiar or attractive was borrowed, especially in the case of armor, weapons, and fashion, put together higgledy-piggledy, mixing periods without even acknowledging the fact, without regard for the confusion such a practice sows and perpetuates, and without proposing any sort of reasoning why these things should all be found in use together at the same time. Very few take the time or trouble to acknowledge the traditions they borrow from, when there is absolutely nothing wrong in doing so.
The myths, legends, and folklore that have come down to the present through the historical record are the seeds from which the Swords & Sorcery genré grew, so it is the most natural, valid, and logical source for material to create such games. It can be used as is, turned all about any way at all, even twisted about just so, until it no longer even resembles what it started out as, BUT the writers should at least give a nod somewhere to the source of their inspiration for the readers’ benefit.
Out of the various stages of the medieval era and the following Renaissance, of which most Swords & Sorcery games are simply a muddled mish-mash, the apex of medieval culture was chosen to frame the rules and cultural basis to which those rules are tied, prior to occurrence of the Black Death, to be the common and uniting factor. Why? Because it was at this point that metal weapons and armor were in the process of achieving the height of their practical development, as were the castles alongside which they were used.
The situation is much the same regarding magick. The people of the period chosen, as in those prior and following, believed in all things magickal. Their legacy of folklore concerning magick is extremely rich, and also rather clear as to the divisions and classifications of magick, and its effects. The folklore and fairytales and popular literature, legends, and myths provide sources for additional color for the magickal arts and the effects that could be achieved with it, which can now be clearly seen in the descriptions of the magicks presented for use in this game.
It does not matter whether or not a player or GM believes in magick in the here and now of today, the fact of the matter is that the people of the period in which the game is set did. It is their writings of their perceptions that have been taken and presented as the basis for medieval roleplay, as they always should have been. The availability and authenticity of what those sources is what “realism” or verisimilitude in play is about. As it happens, this also adds to the vibrancy and depth of the fantasy roleplaying experience and makes the suspension of disbelief required to play in the first place that much easier to achieve. This is certainly a strong source of better, richer, more eminently satisfying inspiration for admittedly medieval Swords & Sorcery fantasy play than the rehashes, in which so many simply feed off of and recycle what has gone before, and the baseless fancies and musings of any of the writers of this all-too-disjointed and misguided modern era. How such a wealth of knowledge, such a rich resource, could have been ignored so consistently for so long by so many is an confounding conundrum.
It has been argued that using a historic basis is mutually exclusive to the very concept of a fantasy game. This is patently false, or there would never have arisen the historic fiction genré – and what is fiction but a form of fantasy, one of its many faces. History is not somehow inviolable or sacred, to be protected from being taken and run with by authors in their literary works, or in roleplaying games. A GM could easily use an accurate Real World map and a history book and dictate at which point in history his alternate universe Earth departed from the known stream of Real World history. He could just as easily use the history of the period as an accurate guide providing all the major events to create a backdrop, running adventures and campaigns that have no effect on national politics or other major events – or perhaps eventually allowing them to and at that point departing from recorded history. The historic record can be used creatively for gaming in a number of ways. The fact is, fact is stranger than fiction, and often the scenarios that can be unearthed from the history books are better than any fiction the GM could come up with on his own. And using the historic record does NOT automatically make the game a simulation of the period rather than a roleplaying game. Of course, when the GM is following the historic record closely for any reason, he might not want the players to know, or they might read ahead and arm themselves with unwarranted knowledge of the future. On the other hand, players who are steeped with an intimate knowledge of the period rivaling their characters’ own can make for some excellent roleplaying.
Unfortunately, there is a school of thought regarding roleplaying that goes so far as to suggest that those who want representative simulations of social or political events, armed combat, or anything else for that matter, or even a certain amount of verisimilitude thereof in the roleplaying games, their hobby, ought to go and do the real thing, instead. This is pompous arrogance of the most pernicious and pugnacious stripe. The entire point behind roleplay as recreation is to go places and do things as fictional characters in a fictional setting that as people playing never would or could in real life. It is the ultimate pastime for the “armchair quarterback”-types. Telling roleplayers that if they wants things to be realistic, want to have a bit of realism in their games, they should go and adventure for real and put their health and lives at risk for real is flippant, irresponsible, and just plain mean – and all because the people who treat roleplaying as a hobby rather than “just a game” want a few more details in their play, to sharpen and brighten the images of their fantasy games in their minds. In most instances all these people really want is a bit more color throughout and a little sharper focus here and there, especially in their roleplaying with the NPC’s, but also in their battles, too, if it isn’t too much trouble. Just because it is “make believe”, nothing more than an extended conversation based on “Let’s Pretend” and “What if …”, does not mean that the people who play it have no right to expect or even want their games to meet the level of quality of their own fantasies and share their native sophistication, whether they are true hobbyists or not.
The undeniable spirit or concept of realism in fantasy roleplay is neither an ephemeral specter, nor merely some childish “bugaboo”, as it has been called in the past. The perennial nature of the issue precludes its being such. In point of fact, the longer one plays (medieval) fantasy roleplaying games, the more strongly lack of realism is felt. In the hobby of roleplaying, those who scoff and say “It’s only a game – get a life” are completely missing the big picture. Yes, each roleplaying game is just that, a game, BUT all roleplaying games taken as a group also comprise a hobby and many people find or choose those from among them which are their favorites. These individual games then become the players hobby specifically, by extension and prolonged attention and play. Those who scoff and ignore the perennial issues like realism in the effects of the rules in action, and especially in the source material, do more than the initial disservice to the games and the players – they weaken the hobby as a whole. All those who game and eventually come ‘round to acknowledge it as their hobby (that they are hooked and just can’t leave it alone for more than a week or two) eventually understand that they feel much more strongly about roleplaying than they do about other sorts of more conventional games, especially board games (for which they may well also have a taste). The added depth of play created or at least contributed to by some degree of attention to realism is an important part of the hobby of roleplaying.
Player Social Skills vs. Character Presence Skills
Unfortunately, the knowledge and ability represented by the Presence skills are tied closely to the basics of the point of roleplay, social interaction and its uses in influencing the actions of other characters, primarily NPC’s.
The Presence skills have been included in the array of established, defined skills for a two-fold reason. One is to allow the PC to exercise a level of influence that his character may learn over time to exert but which the player may well never achieve, try he ever so hard. This, in the same manner that it is perfectly possible (and very common) for a player to play a character either more or less attractive according to his BTY score than he is in reality. The other reason is these scores provide an aid to the GM in determining the extent of the effect of those skills when they are used on his NPC’s, to provide him with a guide showing how to accurately illustrate the application of the PC’s skills and talent on his NPC’s in regards to social skills, persuasiveness, drawing NPC’s out casually into conversation, putting them at ease and getting them to reveal more superficial secrets and/or gossip.
These scores and SL’s are primarily provided as a guide to the GM in determining the outcomes of various social situations where the he might otherwise have no help at all in resolving. They provide a focus to offset the vast numbers of NPC’s he must deal with, and also injects a little bit of impartiality and distance between the GM and his creations so that they act in manners that are internally consistent with their own characters. In short, it gives them something of a life of their own. They act as pawns of Fate rather than puppets driven solely by the GM.
Some players may take the inclusion of a defined skill covering such things as a license to ignore or completely forego any attempt to actually characterize and portray the use of such knowledge and abilities through roleplaying. This cannot be allowed. The Presence skills are NOT intended to be a substitute for roleplaying, by any means. HOWEVER, many players have no such potentially formidable interpersonal social skills themselves, and/or certainly not to the degree that is implied by the possession of this suite of skills at Master or WorksMaster LoA, nor may they be possessed of the same physical allure and beauty that increases the effectiveness of these skills.
The GM MUST insist that every player hoping to exercise or especially to cultivate the Presence skills try his best to accomplish what he seeks by making use of any above average character CHM and/or BTY through his roleplaying, carefully choosing his words, being conscious of his manner and approach.
As the referee, the GM must judge how sincere an effort is being made by the player to do so. If he judges the effort is not being made, he is perfectly justified in lowering the character’s effective AV for the exercise by a degree he believes reflects this fact (GM’s discretion). On the other hand, if the player’s effort in roleplaying the situation is particularly clever and convincing, so that it seems to outshine the character’s actual SL, a bonus might be granted to the AV for that particular d100 check for the skill’s use.
The process of making Encounter Reactions with humanoid NPC’s involve the same CHM and BTY and Presence skills, and should be refereed by the GM in the same manner, applying the same standards.
The PCs’ status as heroes, or as at least heroic characters in capacity of ability, knowledge and skill is why people like to play them. Naturally, they will possess faculties that are the same as the players’, BUT they are commonly better with them. It is not fair to the player or character to bind him to the roleplaying capabilities of the player, PROVIDED the player is doing his best to portray in his roleplaying the skill or ability in use to the best of his abilities.
Some might argue that the same is true of the Perception skills, as well, but that is patently silly. How can the player’s perceptions have anything to do with those of the character? The situation is not even comparable to the dilemma that occurs in regards to the Presence skills. AWA checks are simply the means used by the GM to determine whether the character(s) have discerned something that is difficult to perceive, regardless of the sense to which it pertains, to let him know whether concealed information, the presence of foes, etc., should be revealed.
In regards to Savvy, the NPC’s face is NOT the GM’s face, and so the player has no opportunity to try to read what might be there in the GM’s judgement for his character to see, not to mention that fact that the character has the capacity to FAR outstrip a player’s native talent in regards that skill over the life of the game or that particular’s character’s career.
On the Other Hand …
As stated, RoM has attributes and hard scores that ostensibly measure aspects of the PCs’ personalities. SPT, HRT, Virtue & Vice, all do this to a certain extent. The Virtue and Vice especially insofar as they first track the character’s behavior and are then used as the measuring stick against which the character’s behavior is measured later during play when certain situation arise which can test the character’s “mettle”, once the player has set the character’s “pattern”. Part of this has to do with the tracking the balance of Light and Dark in the characters, which is an issue for Mystic characters (PC AND NPC), and also for the sake of consistency in the portrayal of the character persona. BUT Virtue and Vice scores are purposefully changeable. People can change. They are never locked into a particular pattern. The PC personas are expected to evolve over time.
In play, however, such statistics will sometimes also be used to determine the effects of such aspects of the characters’ personalities as CHM, specifically to judge or measure how susceptible to seduction a character is. The Presence skills are an important part of RoM. They invite the character to use them and, in doing so, to expand the arenas in which the player would normally roleplay, and provide the opportunity for those character attributes and skills to actually outstrip those attributes that the player may have himself in that regard, as previously mentioned.
When playing in situations involving those attributes and skills, however, the GM may be tempted to use those attributes and skills against a PC to trap a player into making a roll based on one of those “personality statistics” in order to determine whether or not they are seduced by someone – or, worse yet, only allowing the PC to provide the DV and making the roll himself, on behalf of an NPC who has the active part in the situation.
Even if a player has given his character statistics that would seem to indicate that he is highly seducible, it is still a bad idea to force a player to roll dice in order to see if their character is seduced. Maybe that character did start out a “seducible” character, and maybe he should have expected to be easily seduced as a result, BUT forcing a player to allow his character to sleep with some NPC because of a dice roll is getting WAY too personal, and might even be violating the player’s character persona in that player’s view. Presence skills should ONLY ever be pressed this far in this direction if the player gives his permission. And that does NOT mean in a grudging half-hearted way. This is an area where the GM definitely needs to exercise some sensitivity.
If the GM finds that the player will not follow through in the decisions the character would make based on the way in which the player built that character’s statistics, especially in regards to following a pattern the player himself has set in regards to Virtue and Vice, his HRT and SPT scores, especially when the decision would be an obvious one for the character in question and everyone at the table knows it, then the GM should remind him that his character’s decisions aren’t reflecting his “personality” according to patterns and facts already established and if the problem persists. The use of a Hero point might save him from succumbing to his animal nature in particular instances, BUT if the violations of the established persona persist, appropriate adjustments will have to be made to the character scores to make the “personality statistics” more accurately reflect the manner in which they are being played. This may well cost the character in other areas as a means of re-balancing his statistics, unless the player begins to portray the character in line with the previously established statistics and traits, but that cannot be helped.
IF the mistake was inadvertent, the player did not know he was going to have this difficulty, the GM might sit down and go through a little re-design work on the character to make it more accurately reflect the persona established.
The bottom line is, unless (obviously) the player has explicitly granted his permission, the GM should never make the decision of how a character acts especially in a sexual manner, so as to rob the player of his character. That is what is most important in this situation. Likewise, the GM should never use the dice in such a way as to rob the player. That is nothing but a cheap dodge – hiding behind the game system.
This goes back to “GameMastering 101”.
Using the NPC’s Well
Throughout the text on NPC’s, the importance of treating them and roleplaying them as real characters, and thinking of them as real people in the same manner as the PC’s are for the purposes of getting behind them and having them act and react in a realistic and believable fashion has been constantly stressed. Most GM’s will be able to get a handle on this with a little practice, but even good ones tend to have a problem keeping this up once the NPC’s are engaged in battle with the PC’s, or when it looks like the PC’s will be paying a little visit to them at home. The GM must keep the behavior of the NPC’s in battle and the disposition of their home defenses in focus. They are going to defend their positions and property just as strongly and desperately as any PC who is threatened in the same manner – and having done so to the NPC’s, the PC’s should expect a similar test of arms on their own home turf in return, if the NPC’s are able. Hired henchmen will desert their employers due to loss of morale first, but getting those who have a vested interest in victory to lay down their arms due to loss of morale will be difficult, especially when they are defending their home(s).
The longer a foe has lived in a particular location (base camp, ruin, castle, home, labyrinth, etc., the more dangerous it should be to uninvited guests and trespassing interlopers. this should, of course, depend on the skills (including those of any henchmen) and the financial and physical resources the NPC(s) has at his disposal (to hire workmen to install defenses and wood and/or water in the vicinity to construct them of) to make it hazardous to drop by without an invitation. When it appears that a NPC might see battle in the game, the should make a point to review his record sheet, his skills and equipment, prior to the game and come up with a general strategy and a few tactics for both attack and defense to use on his behalf in play. These he should make notes on in the space provided for that purpose on the record sheet. This will be doubly important for those rare NPC’s who wield magick, and also for groups, regardless of their composition, so they can fight more effective in a coordinated manner, perhaps even in formation.
Maximizing the abilities of NPC’s in battle and using the opportunities in tactical situations to their best advantage are discussed under the heading “Making the Most of Combat”, immediately following.
It is also important that the GM review the possibilities for plunder or loot ahead of time. The NPC should always use what he has on hand against the PC’s, especially if they should be hemmed in and pinned down in a position where they may want to parley and negotiate a surrender, but they will be unable to do so if the GM does not have some idea of what they have to offer. Stopping the game at such a juncture to generate a suitable amount of plunder is just a death sentence to the gaming for the evening, the game will effectively be over. Any momentum gained in the plot and pursuit of the adventure, especially that gained in battle, will be lost, not to be recaptured for the balance of the evening. Of course, the NPCs’ use of their own goods (plunder) should also depend upon what they know about what they have.
If there are no magick-wielders among the NPC foes, it is likely that they will not be aware of the fact that they have magickal items among their things – although such an item might be of value to the owner for sentimental reasons or simply for the value of the materials of which it is made in the case of enchanted items of jewelry. If they have magick on loan from a patron, however, they will be informed of it and instructed in its use.
It is recommended that the overwhelming majority of any magickal items to be included in the plunder gained by PC’s be of limited use only, not permanent in nature, otherwise the balance of power between the PC’s and the people of the gameworld may be upset too far in favor of the PC’s, eventually to the point where it is irreparable. This is addressed at length in Chapter 4. under the heading “Magick in the Gameworld”.
As stated previously, NPC’s are Real People, too, and as such they should be seen to fight and defend against their foes for the safety of their homes, their moveable goods, their lives, their livelihoods, and those who are dependent and/or otherwise important to them, and just as ferociously, dangerously, and even deviously as any PC. In planning their tactics, the GM must consider the best and most advantageous combinations of mundane skills, and or mundane and (as applicable) magickal skills, so they can make as good a showing with the resources at their command as they can, or as much so as the GM deems appropriate to the abilities of their leaders. If they are meant to be inept in military matters, it will likely be every man for himself when it comes to blows.
The number of Enchantments and Sorceries that can be used to enhance the effectiveness of various sorts of mundane traps which might be constructed by an Artificer-Craftsman or Smith, or in the wilds by Huntsmen, or as parts of buildings by carpenters in wood structures and Masons in stone buildings, are legion. Magicks can be used to increase the likelihood of a foe’s being caught in them, on pit traps to make them harder to escape, to enhance the damage inflicted and thus likelihood of death, and so on. BUT the GM must use magick on behalf of the NPC’s with a light and judicious hand. If there is a magick-wielder of some sort in the PC party and a rival of PC with similar skills has offered his services to their current foe to increase the stakes in their rivalry, but that is only one source (although a troublesome one for the PC’s). Such a NPC magicker will pick and choose the manner in which he provides aid, and very likely will not tax himself overmuch in the adopted cause, and very likely will be the first to depart it he sees things getting too dangerous, leaving his erstwhile allies in the lurch.
again, the GM should look to the NPC’s defenses. The Bad Guys do not generally tend to sleep well unless they feel well looked-after and defended. how are the NPC’s prepared to guard against or detect the incursions of spies and enemy forces? How are they fitted to protect against these incursions? Sentries are likely posted in high places, whether man-made towers or up in tall trees, where they have a clear view of the surrounding area, and at some central point in their compound there should be a gong or bell(s) of some sort which can be rung in case of attack or fire or other emergency. are they surrounded by a picket line of guards given passwords that are changed daily, do they maintain a line or perimeter of signal fires? If they have had time to dig in, they might have ditching (moat) filled with oil to be lit and keep enemies at bay, and the spoils of the ditch digging piled up to form a rampart on the inside turved over with sod or reveted with split logs or stone to make them harder to walk on, and perhaps soaked with oil in any event so a single fiery arrow could set the whole thing ablaze if and when the enemy got that close. In marshes and when dealing with water-filled moats, the sluggish or still waters could be covered with an oil slick to be used in a similar manner, a nasty way to compound the dangers of the wetlands. The NPC’s might keep kennels full of half-starved hounds or other dangerous beasts – a bear in a pit to bait for their amusement, which could be loosed through chutes in their defenses to wreak havoc on foes or trespassers. Given sufficient time resources might be gathered and any number of preparations made.
Humanoid folk are their own worst (or best in this case, from the GM’s point of view) foes for test of wits they can provide as well as in arms. Defeating an intelligent foe, one who fights with skill, heart and cunning, adapting to the needs and circumstances of the moment, is always more satisfying and challenging to the players than an endless stream of dumb beasts needing only to be hacked down. This is not to discount the dangers some of these can pose, or the fact that when the PC’s are out travelling the wild places where the beasts live they are the most obvious and constant danger. The deadly instincts of predators make them wily and dangerous enough foes to provide a challenge for most PC’s – and pack animals are the worst. But more about the beasts and the dangers they pose and how to properly deploy them in The Bestiary of the GHB II.
But the principle of using the NPC’s well has more to do with roleplaying than it does with battle. NPC’s ate thinking reasoning and feeling people. They get their feelings hurt and take insult from the PC’s just as anyone else might when they are denied simple courtesies and kindness. They have social contacts and trades which give them access to knowledge which may or may not be used to advantage, and influence which may be used to the PCs’ advantage or to thwart them in specific causes or in society as a whole. The GM must be aware of the treatment the NPC’s receive at the hands of the PC’s, the general nature of the NPC’s and what that means by way of determining a response, and sensitive to the NPC’s feelings and connections and what they can do, if anything, to redress any wrongs, or on the other hand, to help the PC’s when they earn it. A good word in the right ear(s) can do the PC’s a world of good, while a wrong word in the same ear(s) could hinder their every move or even see them beset on all sides.
Keeping the Game Fresh
Over the course of time, as the players and the GM gain experience and get comfortable with the rules, their characters and their roles, and each other, the hardest thing to do will be to keep one another from getting jaded. It is very difficult to get the players excited about things they believe they have seen and done a dozen times before.
“As you move across the threshold into the ruins of the abandoned building you see that it was indeed a chapel as it appeared from outside.
The roof has long since rotted and collapsed and subsided on the floor where it is barely recognizable any more. Down the nave towards the apse at the far end from you, where the altar stone still sits on its dais. Ivy and assorted creepers, vines bracken and other herbage, even small saplings festoon the walls, clinging to stones especially along the crests of the walls, completely enwrapping the apse, almost roofing it over again.
As you look about, a shaft of moonlight sudden pierces the over-hanging shroud of ivy, vines and bracken over the apse, illuminating a spot on the dais just before the altar itself. At the same time, a strong gust of wind pushes the worm-eaten door shut with a loud ‘BANG!’ behind you.”
“I bet the place is haunted.”
“Yeah. I wonder what the Dead want this time.”
“Er … As you look on, wisps of mist appear, seeming to coalesce from the pale ivory shaft of moonlight where it hits the leaf-strewn dais, growing into a small cloud about the size of a housecat, thickening to translucence illuminated by the moonlight. It stretches upwards and continues growing, to the size of a child, and then appears to begin glowing in its own right with a soft silver-blue light, adding to the ambient light in the hall …”
“Well, so much for our swords.”
“Unless he picks one up to attack us with.”
“… the cloud of mist stretches upward to the height of a man and thickens and widens until it approximates the size and general shape of a man. That shape builds and finally settles into man-like lines but facing the side, in profile. As it turns towards you, the man comes sharply into focus, seemingly wrapped in a long white cloak, as real as any of you.”
“We approach, but only to the base of the steps leading up the dais.”
“There are no steps there, only a simple low dais one step high, about as high as your hand is long from heel of palm to fingertips. This is just a simple chapel, no big town church or great cathedral.”
“Well, we make sure we are out of reach where we stop.”
“As you approach, what originally looked like a long white cloak wrapped about him can be seen clearly to be a winding sheet, such as the dead are dressed in for burial. What appeared to be a hood is in fact the last couple yards of the sheet looped up over the top of his head like a hood.”
“This guy doesn’t seem to be able to get over this being dead thing.”
All you can see of this man’s eyes, even as close as you are right now and looking him full in the face, are empty black pits.”
“I don’t think that bodes very well.”
“He whispers hollowly at you ‘Help me’, but his voice sounds more like a cry heard from across a long distance, accompanied by a chill like an icy finger that creeps up your spines and makes the hair stand up on the napes of your necks. He reaches his hand out and beckons you forward.”
“Yeah, I’m starting to like this even less.”
“You catch a small and faint gleam of ruby in the black patches where his eyes should be, as the lower half of his body starts to dissolve back into streamers of mist and he starts to rise up into the air, ever so slowly, drifting forwards toward you now, repeating ‘Help me, Help me, Help me’, louder and louder.”
“That’s it, I am starting a spell. Do you guys remember anything about the spec’s on these things?”
“Whoa, what spell?”
“Well, if it is a ghost proper, it could be a lawful haunting, for all that it is showing us this aspect, which isn’t all that threatening. Keep an eye out for objects being animated and flung at us from our rear flanks, or objects being animated and wielded as weapons. Considering the condition of the chapel, I’d guess this place was desecrated. I wish we had a Mystic with us …”
“Yeah, well he had that recital to go to for his son, so we had to leave him at the base camp, all zoned out. It is what it is.”
“Yeah, yeah, Either way, I think I still have some holy water.’
“Uh-huh, there it is. I have a flask of holy water in my pack.
“Good. We can probably make the most of it by sprinkling it in a circle around us to give us some breathing space if this thing is unfriendly.
“I will take care of that.”
“It won’t protect us from hurled objects, but it will keep the ghost from sending any animated weapons into the circle to harry us. If he is a lawful haunting, the presence of the holy water might just settle him down enough to tell us what his beef is. If not, it will give us enough time for me to finish the spell I started.”
“… Okay. What spell will you be casting while he makes the circle?”
“Hey, what about tomorrow?”
“The daylight makes it VERY difficult for the ghost to manifest.”
This can be tough to overcome, but there are a few tactics the GM can use from the very start to keep this blasé, expert player sort of play down to a minimum. The most effective of these are the ways in which the GM can suppress the players’ knowledge of the rules and their workings in play, especially those which are supposed to be the GM’s own special province, such as those having to do with beasts and monsters and spirits and such.
As has been stated, the kicks and thrills the players get from roleplay stem mainly from probing the unknown, adventurously testing the PCs’ skills and abilities against the NPC foes and beasties and things that go bump in the night, which are essentially supposed to be unknown quantities. This is the soul of fantasy roleplay. Ideally, the sense of adventure and mystery should be maintained throughout the run of the GM’s game.. Unfortunately, as the players become more experienced and knowledgeable in the game system, the rules and parameters, they lose much of the sense of wonder and even challenge. How can the innocence of the novice be maintained, or perhaps recaptured?
The best way is to make a habit of keeping the players’ knowledge of the game and gameworld as close to that of the characters’ as possible. If the GM is going to err in this, he should always err on the side of caution. In short, keep the players in the dark as much as is practical.
And why do that?!
Well, a number of arguments that arise during a game are the result of disagreements over interpretations of the rules, that is, over procedure and the definitions of what the character attributes, scores, abilities and skills mean. These easily make up the great majority of these arguments. All the GM has to do then is keep the players from violating the spirit of the descriptions of their characters’ abilities, knowledge and capabilities, rather than arguing the letter of the rules – a relatively simple task.
Accomplishing this, however, requires that the GM set up some pretty stringent house rules for his game, and enforce them without exception.
The first and most important of these house rules is that no player is to bring to the game a copy of either the GHB I or II, or at least to have it with him at the table where he will be tempted to get into it during play – and that the players are to keep their hands off the GM’s own copies. Those are the GM’s references. No player has any need of them during the game. A PG will suffice. If a player does show up with either of them, the GM should instruct the player to leave them out in his car, or the GM should see they are placed out of reach and temptation somewhere he can keep an eye on them. The player can reclaim them after the end of the evening’s gaming session. The player’s ownership is not the issue, but when the player is not running the game itself, he has no right to use them for the benefit of his character or the rest of the PC party.
This rule should largely eliminate the leakage of undue knowledge of the GM’s side of the game by players who know too much, who own those books and bring them into the game to use in out-witting the GM, or anticipating or second-guessing what he has planned.
This is not quite sufficient to the original cause, however.
The fact is the GM needs to limit the amount of information the PC’s share, their knowledge of the hard stat’s of one another’s characters. This knowledge, too should be kept as close as practically possible by the GM to each character. To effect this, the GM must rule that under no circumstances should any player be allowed to see any other player’s character record sheet. the ONLY information contained on those record sheets that the players should be allowed to share freely and on request is the PART of the physical description, race, hair color, eye color, sex, and distinguishing marks (if any). Aside from that, character trade(s) and family background can be revealed, indicating the characters have discussed this. Weight is not included in the information to be freely shared because the characters have no way of a) knowing that unless they have been weighed so they can share it, and weighing one’s self is an EXtrade SLEMELY odd thing to do in the period of the game. The people of the gameworld are NOT as obsessed with personal body weight as are modern people. of course, if they insist, they can always go down to the market and pay the Keeper of the Great Beam to weigh each of them in turn so that information can be shared. This is a good way to start their Reputations growing, but perhaps not in the direction that might be most useful or advantageous. Height is much the same, although they can figure out among themselves how they rank in order of height, relatively, tallest to shortest – but NO numbers should be revealed. If they insist, they can take a rod and mark each of the character’s heights on it and then take it to the local carpenter to have him measure it. Since the measures marked on the rod could have come from anywhere, this might be done without damaging their Reputations, however.
A character’s Strade SL, CND, STA, and Build all affect his appearance, too, however, so the players should not fixate on height, but refer to their character’s proportions as described under “Appearance & The Physical Scores” in Step 4. of PC Generation. The Build labels are perfectly safe to mention as they stand in game mechanics for use in comparing character body proportions. Contests of Strade SL can be held to determine who is the strongest, relatively, among the characters, and perhaps contests of AGL and CRD and CND. These sorts of games are common among the rural followers of the Green Lords every Imbolg, Beltain, Lugnasad, etc., and could be fun to go through just for the roleplay and making new NPC friends. Again, however, all the PC’s will be able to determine will be relative scores, the rank in which each falls within the group NOT the actual scores themselves, so the players have NO business sharing their knowledge of hard scores between them.
To inquiries after a character’s trade(s) and skills, the player (or GM on a NPC’s behalf) should respond with the trade for which he will be most commonly known and approached in society for work, the one for which he is a guild member (as applicable), under whose law he falls. Any other (secondary) trade(s) he has may be discounted as a diversion or hobby, or as ancillary interests, any trades nested within the primary will be additional areas of interest but still part of the over all trade, a necessary extension of that knowledge, as described in Step 5. of PC Generation. These will not be considered as anything other than a part of the trade under which they were taken, and so are not likely to be mentioned at all, in the same manner as a Petty Skill.
Indeed, in discussing trades, skills, knowledge and abilities, a character’s primary trade may NOT be the basis on which he interacts and is known by society at large. The PC trades represent the skill sets and areas of knowledge commonly pursued by the denizens of the medieval world to improve themselves and their fortunes. Whether or not a Witch or Wizard or Druid declaims that fact as the basis on which he wishes to be known in the world may well be affected by the prevailing social attitude towards members of those trades, the prevalent view provided from the pulpit for the masses by the Church, since at least the Witch and the Druid will be pagan followers of the Olde Ways. Proclaiming his power and knowledge may not be prudent for the fact that one never knows who might be listening, it might well make the character a target for one of his more powerful brethren, who might well leap at the opportunity to prey upon him while he is still young in the craft. The powers of magick and the thought of being in the company of one who has “mastered” it will make a lot of common people either scared, and some people mask their fear with anger or rancor. Magick-wielding characters might just opt to be known as Herbals, or Alchemists, Apothecaries, or Healers, or Craftsmen, or whatsoever their secondary trade(s) might be, as those trades are MUCH easier to live with, considered far more acceptable to the mainstream of citizens of the medieval gameworld. If the Wizard achieved his training formally through one of the universities, he is a scholar and an advanced one, having obtained a doctorate in Natural Philosophy and bearing the sheepskin (charter of degree) from the university attesting to it.
As far as the humble Mystic, regardless of the obvious exaltation of having achieved the direct patronage of the Light, it is nothing but sheer hubris to proclaim it or otherwise advertise the fact. Having the nerve to baldly state it invites the challenge to prove it, following which proof (of which word is all too likely to spread like wildfire) the Mystic will shortly be inundated with the flocks of the faithful wishing to be blessed and making supplication for dispensation. Mystics are simple wandering mendicants (beggars), solitary hermits, men of humble means seeking to lead a more perfect life, walking in the Light if they are to be so blessed. This describes them far better, but at the same time it does not admit to any miraculous ability. Other than similar descriptions of his present lifestyle, especially if the other players are not satisfied with this, he is likely to tell them a little of the more worldly previous life, which knowledge he carries with him still, though at times the memories of that life may still weigh heavily upon his heart. If the Mystic has a position as a formal clergyman ordained in the Church, that should be the manner in which he introduces himself, and he should mention what manner of service he provides for the Church, his actual position in the hierarchy.
Warriors are pretty straight forward and certainly acceptable socially, even respected by the common run of folk, although “man-at-arms” is more period and less generic. If he is employed he might prefer to describe himself in terms of his employed status, saying that he is a guardsman for this or that lord or garrison, or even as a “sell-sword” or “mercenary” if he is unemployed. Sacred Knight is a fair enough title and trade to own if asked by the rest of the players, or by any NPC at all, but this is likely to elicit the immediate question to which order under the Light is it the knight has taken his vows.
A character boldly claiming to be a huntsman may well be questioned as to whether he is in any lord’s employ, does he keep hawks or hounds or horses, or if he serves in one of the many positions available in the service of the royal forests (as described in the Huntsman trade). If not, it will be assumed that the character is merely a common trailsman, woodsman, outrider or harbinger – certainly a respectable profession, just not terribly prestigious.
A Knave character, on the other hand, would be nothing less than a total fool to declare that fact to his comrades, or even make himself liable to arrest and indictment for admitting he is an Assassin. Again, one never knows who else might be listening. If the rest of the players are really doing their best to play their characters, those sorts of admissions should evoke all sorts of righteous indignation, or fear, especially at the revelation of having an assassin in the camp. Good pious characters should be running for the constable of the hundred, notification of the sheriff and the Church, so the blackguard can be brought to justice. If they are being true to the period, they might try to take the character prisoner themselves, raising the Hue and Cry against him if they fail, and turn him over to the local constable, watch, lord’s men, sheriff, whatever representative of the law is closest, as an admitted felon and pursue his prosecution. The penalty for theft could be loss of a hand, but for habitual theft the noose awaits. For the assassin there is only the noose.
Of course, the people of the medieval world also believed patronage from those above and good service to them in return were the only ways to get ahead. Due to the stratified nature of medieval society they were right. It may take the PC’s some time to learn these facts and take them to heart. Modern man can be very independent, but no man is an island. No one can prosper without friends, colleagues, associates and especially patrons in the medieval milieu of the game.
Unfortunately, what most players asking about their fellows and their trades are looking for is a list of what it is each character can do, and that is exactly what the other players and the GM must NOT give them. By following these guide lines, the players will be forced either to get to know one another through roleplaying, just as they would the GM’s NPC’s, or go through a litany of “I am a bit of a (thus-n-such), and (this-n-that)” and “I can do a little (thus-n-such) and a little (This-n-that)”, etc., through his whole roster of skills, character by character through the whole party, ad nauseam.
How many people would be willing to stand up and lay all the details of their lives out in front of a bunch of total strangers? Despite any information providing a bond of long duration of any kind between any of the characters, at the start of the game they are still basically strangers. If some bright player suggests such a thing, especially as a transparent attempt to get around the prohibition against sharing character record sheets, suggest that he be the one to stand up (literally, at the table) and start the ball rolling. In doing this the GM must be sure to insist that this player and any and all who follow him actually roleplay this out, with NO references to hard scores or statistics, different kinds of points, rates of speed in mph’s or recovery in relationship to points, or any other blatant game mechanics, always insisting on the proper use of trade and skill names in context, as people in the context of the roleplaying gameworld, not just players around a table.
To begin with, this amounts to public speaking, which will make alot of people very nervous. In addition, spilling one’s guts to a stranger is generally only an easy catharsis when one has no expectations of seeing that person again, and then is generally only done on a limited topic, for a singular nagging trouble. Even if the players are willing to go through this sort of soul-baring with the group, down to their background secrets and all, the GM should be sure to monitor it all closely and make sure that it all comes out as conversation in true roleplay, NOT just in the form of reading one’s own briefing sheet aloud for all to hear. Briefing sheets are written from the character’s own point of view and that will not be appropriate to be read aloud for others. The contents will need to be rephrased, at least, perhaps paraphrased, and given to the party as a first-hand account in the first person, from the point of view of “I”. If a player cannot figure out how to convey something, especially when trying to work around the labels for game mechanics, then the character will not be able to either.
The GM should offer NO help in this arena. He is not there to help them give their characters away, to tell them how to say what they have to say, only to tell them when they are using the wrong words or point of view to frame their monologues and need to stop, reconsider and regroup before continuing. This way there may perhaps still be a thing or two left for the players to find out about one anothers’ characters over the course of their adventures after this process has been completed. Hopefully they will tire of the endless catalogues of trades, skills and abilities before it is over and done. If they get through all the characters, the GM should give them some sort of reward for having the patience just to sit through it.
Most people think they have the most boring lives, and often feel the details most people find the most interesting are among the most mundane to them. Nobles just do not think about money and material comforts, or advantages like travelling on horseback. They simply have those things. They are of little note unless that horse is exceptional even among those of their own class. Commoners just do not think about having to work for their bread, about having to do the greater part of their own little domestic chores and work. They just do them. It simply cannot be helped. This is the way of the world, and the GM should keep these facts in mind. Petty Skills that belong to one’s class, and even those that do not with which the character is equipped, aren’t likely to be considered very important or noteworthy and by their very nature – they are “petty”.
It takes a while for people to become acquainted, and fictional characters are no different, the GM should remind the players of this when they start trying to take short-cuts through it.
By allowing characters to get acquainted through actual roleplay, and allowing those who have been provided a common bond to cement that relationship the same way, alot of the snobbery affected by full trade Wizards, Witches, etc. vs. Hedge-Wizards and CunningMen or Hearth-Witches and WiseWomen, or Surgeons and Physicians vs. Barbers, Midwives, and Leeches, can be avoided. These characters can discuss magick or medicine as equals, unless the one with the lesser knowledge applies a diminutive in describing his own skill to give those at the top of the trade a clue as to where they stand, relatively. Humility can be found among those at the tops of the trades as well, however, and the term “secondary trade” does not exist in the concept of roleplaying these characters, so establishing the extent of knowledge between such characters will have to wait for practical applications when the true extent of knowledge is revealed by who is actually capable of taking care of which tasks.
Any player fool enough to stand and recite the complete catalogue of his character’s accomplishments (trade(s), abilities, skills) will make of that character a completely known quantity. Regardless of whether he holds back a secret or two (such as personal background information), that PC will lose a subtle amount of consideration and general respect. Whatever he holds back will be but small consolation. Indeed, the other players will probably start telling him when and where he can best apply his specific skills or knowledge. He will be reduced to the status of a party tool, and he will deserve it as well, because that is exactly what the player will have made him. He will have made his character nothing more than a list of skills in the minds of the other players, to be used on the party’s behalf whenever needed. And heaven help any Wizard PC who spills his true trade, the Art he favors, and starts to spout off a list of his individual magickal skills. He will be come nothing more than the party’s “Spell Gun”, having robbed himself of the mystique of his trade and the party of its wonder, mystery, and respect they should always have for the unknown quantity which magick should always be. The author ran a single campaign weekly over the course of more than four years and was still very gratified to hear “I never knew you could do that!! Where did you learn that?” between the players from time to time even two and three years into the game. To make the perfect party that operates as one homogenous organism the better to face the Bad Guys requires a certain amount of “de-humanizing” (as it were), a shift in focus solely towards the mechanics of the system, and that is NOT what roleplaying is about.
When it comes right down to it, however, the PG is part of the problem in regards to suppressing players’ knowledge of one anothers’ characters. This really should not come as much of a shock. While much sorting was done to divide PC knowledge from GM between the GHB’s and the PG, there was no effective way to shield the players from one another.
To cut down on kibitzing between players, especially by experienced players towards those with less experience, each player should really be limited to bringing to each game session only the descriptions of race, trades and skills that pertain to his own character. This would make it largely impossible for a player to go flumming through his PG to read the description of another character’s skill(s) to give him advice on how to use it more effectively or efficiently in play. Yes, it does happen, and it is particularly irritating when the player of a non-magickal character does it to the player of a magick-wielding character specifically about the use of a magickal skill!
However, putting together photocopies of only the descriptions of the race, trades and skills that pertain to each character for each player, including the rules in Part III (especially Combat), and the resources in Appendix D. which are all equally open and available to all PC’s would be time consuming and a little pricey. If the GM does intend to go this route, more power to him, BUT he should be prepared to absorb the entire cost of putting together the customized PG’s, as there is little doubt that his players will be a bit annoyed at the prospect of doings so, having already shelled out good money for their PG’s in the first place. For a player to make photocopies of limited passages of his copy of the PG to assemble an abbreviated PG customized to each of his own characters will certainly not be viewed as any infringement on or violation of the spirit of the copyright protecting these books.
An additional hurdle to good roleplaying and the preservation of PC “innocence” as regards the rules is the rather strange notion that the PC party should share everything – all resources, from tools to food to money to be held in common at need, that all expenses from lodgings to healers fees be paid for from the common fund, all information given to any of the characters immediately be shared regardless of its significance to any other PC or NPC, whether a matter of personal character background (from the individual briefing) or discovered in the course of the game, including all skills and knowledge and their SL’s, and that the PC party should be headed and actually led by a person known as the ‘party caller” or “party leader”, with whom all other players must discuss the actions they would like their characters to make and their strategies and tactics for play, so he can then decide for them what is the best course and then relays the relevant, approved actions to the GM for them, so the party actually functions like some great, hideous multi-partite, hive-minded, communistic/socialistic organism. To these types of players, the PC party should always remain together (or at least within ear-shot), and any and all new information uncovered in the course of play should, again, be shared with the rest of the party at the first opportunity, and the withholding of information or the running off alone for private errands or business will only be viewed as an act of sedition intended only to sow dissention and disrupt “party harmony”.
WARNING: The previously described practices are diametrically opposed to the cultivation and preservation of the quality roleplaying for which the RoM books are designed to equip the players kin the PG and the GM in his GHB’s. Indeed, such practices as described are completely opposed to the very intent and practice of actual roleplaying. These types of gamers may be found within or without the GM’s gaming group. They may be found singly (looking for a party to merge with), or in complete (homogenous) groups.
If any actual roleplaying is to take place between the PC’s, who have been spawned, raised in, and will live out their game lives as integral parts of a living, breathing fantasy gameworld that, according to these rulebooks, is at least quasi-medieval the previously related practice of gaming as one multi-headed group-being. is absolutely absurd. Not only needlessly oppressive to the individuals participating but absolutely bizarre. Regardless of the fact that the players personas for the game are fictional, they are still supposed to be representations of whole and complete people, and realistic, believable representations of people, at that. All of this so the game will achieve some depth and enough believability for the players to be able to suspend their disbelief fairly easily and successfully, so as to make an engaging and enjoyable pastime. Under these premises, it could safely be presumed the characters would act like real people in a real place – HOWEVER, where are there real people on this earth who ever acted in such a mindless fashion of their own free will?
The guidelines and rules in these game books have been based on the facts of English medieval society, so the great majority of those games run by these rules will show that stamp in their play. Among the English in the period of the game, the only people who lived and acted in such a communal fashion were monks and religious ascetics in isolated hermitages. It is extremely unlikely that such people would venture forth as a body to adventure. The adventurers of the period of the game were highly motivated merchants, mercenaries with their eyes on gold and glory, strong-willed rugged opportunists, individualists and rank capitalists. The adventurers in the context of the game will associate with these historic adventurer- types often, will have grown up to seek a very similar way of life in one manner or another, and may eventually turn themselves into the very same types. These historic adventurer-types and the PC’s are supposed to be products of their medieval environment, in greater part at the very least. They and every one they know should be social elitists of one stripe or another, or accept such personality types as the average for society, the norm in their medieval gameworld, the only world they know.
While it is quite possible that one or two characters may dominate a party due to sheer presence, this should in fact only be based on the realities of medieval social precedence, and should have nothing whatever to do with the opportunities the players themselves have to interact with one another, or with the GM in particular. The “party caller” arrangement described above serves only to subjugate the rest of the players and separate them from the GM (in itself a rather medieval hierarchical arrangement), limiting those players’ opportunities to speak with the GM and, thus, to actually express themselves and play the game. Roleplaying is in its essence a matter of self expression, and roleplay is what the players come to do. While having a “party caller” can simplify the GM’s job a bit, making the proceedings a little more orderly, it creates a more adversarial relationship between the players and GM at the same time. It sets the PC’s up as a team, complete with captain, to compete against the challenges set by the GM. BUT the GM is supposed to be able to listen to their ideas and woes and fears and whatnot. In some situations, the GM is even supposed to be the PCs’ friend. that adversarial relationship eliminates that possibility. By separating himself from the players this way the Gm loses any insight into the PCs’ personalities and foibles that dealing with them directly, without a caller or leader, might otherwise have given him, robbing himself of the information he needs to really tailor the adventures and plot hooks to the needs of the PC’s and to really bring the gameworld and the PCs’ adventures home to the players.
In practical application, too, the “homogenous party organism” just does not work. The vehicle of the game, the substance of which it is made, is roleplaying. The Gm has a responsibility to see that EACH player gets to roleplay, even in getting acquainted around the table during the first game. Dry written briefing sheets do NOT mean the same thing as shared interaction – ESPECIALLY when they are not allowed to share what is on their character record sheets!
Even when the GM helps the PC’s bond from the start, establishing that the characters are all close to one or more other characters within the party at the start of play, or at least previously acquainted and on friendly terms, and have been for some time in the past (for the sake of peace in the party) it will take time for the players, hence also the characters, to get acclimated to one another and establish their common ground. Over the course of time, they will naturally become more comfortable with one another. The GM should discourage any attempts to shorten the process and make it more abrupt by imprudent sharing of character information.
The GM may think that the whole series of house rules and measures for keeping the game fresh and alive with mystery with good roleplaying are a bit over the top, but the players will soon adapt. All that is needed is consistency, which will be the GM’s responsibility, requiring him to be vigilant. Even if the GM does not go through with all the steps described (photocopying the relevant sections of the PG to customize them for individual characters might be considered a little extreme), any and all efforts he makes in this direction will improve the quality of play and allow the air of fantasy to remain fresh and vibrant for a longer period of time. These tactics and approaches really will make the game that much more enjoyable for that much longer, especially when the GM follows these practices from the very first day he begins running his game. These measures may seem at odds with the directive at the beginning of Part I. to have all the players get together and make their characters together, at the same time, but it really is not, in practice. Each players will be focusing on his own character to start with, and the GM can discourage sharing during the process, and it will be amazing how much the players forget about their own characters even during the process, much less anything they learn about the other characters. This effect can be heightened if the GM will host the day of character generation before he ever sets pen to paper to write the first adventure or the basics for the campaign (which is only proper procedure anyway if he is to craft the stories to fit the PC’s as closely as he can) and he collects the character record sheets. He will need these for writing the character briefing sheets which show the players how their character have been woven into the background of the gameworld, as well. On receiving their character record sheets and their briefings on the first day of play, the players will have enough to do just getting reacquainted with their own characters to be able to give much thought to the spec’s of the other characters in terms of game mechanics. using the guild lines presented here, the GM can keep them from ever really getting to the that point.
The GM will have to jump right in and establish his house rules, and it is a good idea to include them at the head of the briefing so none can claim they did not know and were not told. Indeed, it might be best to first acquaint the players with these house rules on the first occasion he gathers them together to make their characters. Those who do not like them may opt out right then and there without wasting their own or any one else’s time.
The GM will have to keep a keen ear out for not only slips in character, but also for the anachronisms previously discussed. Of course, the GM will have his work cut out for him, for he will be expected to lead by example, at least in regards to uttering anachronisms – he has much more to do with game mechanics and does not always have a NPC to speak through in the game.
to discourage the players from rebelling against his wishes and discussing their characters’ spec’s and stat’s outside the game, the GM may want to initiate the rule that he will keep all character record sheets when not in use for play, laying the stack out on the table for them all to find their own at the beginning and taking them up again at the end, storing them in his campaign notebook. This has the added benefit of reducing the chances greatly that anything will happen to them, so long as he is careful how he keeps them. He will be in a WORLD of trouble if he should damage or misplace any of them while they are in his care, however. They cannot play their characters without those sheets and recreating a character in all its details is essentially impossible. The players will never trust him to keep them for them again.
The GM should also keep in mind the fact that variety is the spice of life. Thus, he should always try to mix things up in his game as another means of keeping things fresh. If the GM is having trouble in his game with jaded players who have seen it all and, through their experience and exposure in play alone, have memorized a goodly portion of the rules, this is just the tactic that will turn the tide for him. By tweaking his gameworld a little here and there and denying the players undue access to the rule books (especially his GHB’s),he will trip them up and catch them unawares, tip them off balance, but then he has to keep them there. He must examine his writing with a critical eye. Any plot devices or common plot elements or storylines used previously must be avoided. When the players start doubting their own memories of the rules, and find they cannot figure out quite where the plot is headed, their boredom will become a thing of the past and they will lose their cockiness. This will go a long way to restoring the mystery and magick to the game for those players. The philosophies and procedures for making up new magicks and new beasts, two of the easiest ways to add new things to the game to trip the players up, can be found in The Grimoire and The Bestiary of the GHB II. On the other hand, exploring the outermost limits of the mundane beasts and using them intelligently, especially utilizing the tactics described for predators (as applicable) will reinforce the danger they represent in the players’ minds to begin with, and this will go a long way towards dispelling boredom. RoM characters are designed to be able to take a bit of punishment (in most cases) to begin with, but they are by NO means “tanks”, even when they are among the biggest and baddest of PC’s physically (half-ogres, half-trolls). Moving the game to unfamiliar terrain is another very effective tactic for mixing things up, especially underwater where few GM’s venture and the environment itself is hostile and the creatures often deadly. An encounter in the woods with a pack of wolves, a couple big grizzly bears, even stags in must, intelligently conducted, should be sufficient to make even trade SL10 characters scramble and sweat. Until the PC’s are equipped with enough enhancements to make it a fair fight, a single full-blooded troll in nothing but a breechclout carrying a club will be more than enough to give the same trade SL10 party of adventurers a run for their money.
The key is more to mix things up to keep the PC’s entertained and focused and DE-emphasize the rules in the pursuit of play. The more the GM relies on intelligent, humanoid foes (the most dangerous beasts to be found), the longer the GM will be able to make use of the mundane beasts for sheer physical challenge, and the less he will have to resort to the nasty magickal and fantastical beasts. This makes the mythical and magickal beasts SO much more exciting and special to the PC’s when they finally are encountered. He can take his time in introducing them into play. The less he uses the fantastical beasts of myth and legend, the longer he can continue to use them, and the longer they will, in turn, retain their air of wonder, of myth and legend. The PC’s can scoff and doubt along with the common run of folk in the gameworld – until they encounter them in person. Then they will have a story to sell to the minstrels and bards. This practice can postpone almost indefinitely the time when the GM will have to invent his own because the PC’s have “seen it all before”.
This follows the same principle and practice described for employing magick and especially including magickal or enchanted items with NPC foes and including them in the plunder garnered on defeating them. These practices as an integrated method are essential for having a well-balanced game with the potential for running for as long as the players and GM desire.
Many players who find themselves quickly jaded by games because they memorize the rules and turn it into a battle of wits with the GM often do not know how to act when they are deprived of their books and the game stresses story and roleplaying over skill use and especially battle. Battle is sometimes essential, and is really just as important as any other element in play if those characters who have those skills are to get better with them from any means other than by training with a master, just as magick must be practiced, and locks must be picked, and traps must be found and disarmed, and opponents must be charmed and manipulated, and so on, BUT it is no more important than any of the other aspects of the game.
The emphasis on rules and the practice of manipulating them to the player’s greatest advantage (“mini-maxing”), for maximizing damage in battle or customizing a character to fill a specific sort of role in battle (for speed for multiple attacks) indicates a “video game” frame of mind, bent on “winning”, and that really has very little to do with any true roleplaying game. The PC’s abilities and effectiveness against their foes in battle is important, of course, but it is not the end-all and be-all of the characters. One cannot “win” in a roleplaying game, one “succeeds”, and the means by which one measures success can be as varied as there are characters playing the game.