Monday, July 23, 2018

Failing the roll isn't always bad

During the course of the adventure someone fails a roll, be it a roll to disarm a bomb, or reset the security system, or shut down the killer robots.  But that doesn't mean bad things have to happen.

If the system you're using is player/story driven this failure might just means the story gets exciting.  Failure in this case should just mean detour.

To illustrate, think of the story as a starting point and an ending point, with many paths leading from the start to the end.  This failed skill roll means that we're on a new path.  Perhaps with less time, or with new threats.

As long as the players know they can trust you as the GM they won't worry about failing a roll.  In fact, if they know they can trust you, they'll be excited when they fail a roll.

This sort of trust comes from not being an adversary to the players.  You hear this sort of thing all the time, about how some GMs are out to GET the players.  That's one of the many reasons I hate people, but there are plenty of GMs who are the ally of the players, and are willing to let them fail and admit they failed so that together they can tell great stories.

I'm not saying there shouldn't be consequences for failure, there totally should be.  But they should rarely be instant player....er I mean character death.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Go ahead, write your own game system, you know you want to...

It starts with house rules for your game.  The game engine doesn't handle a particular situation or maybe it does, but it handles it badly in your opinion and the opinion of your fellow players.

After you have enough house rules, and you've played a ton of game systems and read even more rule books you start to think that you could write your own game engine.  You and just about every other serious gamer ever.

I'm not saying don't try, it's an excellent exercise in discovery.  Rules are almost always some sort of compromise between realism and fun.  Spending some time trying to model your own game engine can help you understand why rules you've used before work the way they do, when you start to see the bigger picture of what the rules are there to do.

I recommend, before you start from a blank slate you take a look at a game engine that has been adapted to a variety of genres such as Cortex Plus or Apocalypse World.  Any system really that provides you the tools you need to move it's basic mechanics into another genre or adjust it's rules to fit a narrow scope of narrative style.

Make your own variations using these sorts of game engines first, so you have some experience with making up everything except the core mechanics.  Then, once you've got that handled, then try making something from whole cloth.  A game engine all your own, with your own methods and madness.

Perhaps you will publish your game engine, and perhaps a world setting, so that others can enjoy your work.  If nothing else you have got a reason to run play tests and get people together to role-play, and really that;s what this hobby is supposed to be about right?

So give in to your mad dreams of designing the best game system ever.  It's fun and every gamer should do it.  At least once.

Monday, May 21, 2018

How to let a game die gracefully

There are times when I feel like I'm a terrible game master.  I have probably developed some bad habits GMing for one group that I'm still carrying and they make me feel like I'm not very good at it.

I've been doing another run of one of my long established campaigns for another group.  Things were going okay, we seemed to be having a lot of fun at the sessions, but it's been hard for us to get together for a game recently, and it doesn't help that I feel like I'm not doing an exceptionally good job of GMing.

So, how do you let a game go?

You can go to radio silence.  Just stop sending out game invites, and let nature take it's course.  We tend to be fairly busy and one less thing pulling at our time is usually a relief. 

Send out a blameless message to shut the game down.  "With scheduling and the coming [INSERT SEASON HERE] let's close the game down...."  Perhaps leave the potential of reigniting the game at a later time.  No blame, no guilt. 

Send out a hate filled rant about how the players aren't dedicated to the game, and you can't work under these conditions.  Hey, there are GM divas out there, I know.

Don't be afraid to say "We should stop".  Best to end a faltering game then keep dragging people to the table.  If they are not happy with the game, guilting them or forcing them to continue playing will not make anyone happier.  If you think that sort of thing works, I recommend you seek out some sort of professional mental health care.

I have a game I need to let go.  So I'm going to go the guilt and blame free route.  The players have been fantastic, and I've enjoyed the time at the table regardless of if we were gaming or just socializing.  But I need to let the game go.  It's not fair to the players, and it's not fair to me.

Games go "unfinished" all the time.  Campaigns left in the middle, or last act, or worse after the first session.  It happens all the time.  for a game to really work you need the right people at the table and the right chemistry of characters, story, and rules.

What!  Rules!  Yes.  If you don't have the right mix of those things, even rules dear reader, then you're not going to have a successful game.  You might be able to survive if the chemistry of the rules is off, but trust me when I say that it helps things go well if that's right too.

So, rip the band-aid off.  Close that faltering game.  Don't cast any shade, don't be a jerk, just say "it was great, you guys were great, but we need to stop...."

Until next time, keep role-playing!

Monday, April 30, 2018

So you want to roll the dice and use this mechanical aspect of the rules......

We've all had it happen.  You have a player who says, I break open the [insert container here] and get a [fairly mundane object that would reasonably be inside] from inside and then [take a clever action that you weren't expecting] so that I can [bypass an obstacle].

Some folks would break out all the rules they could and put them between the player and the goal.  Do you have enough strength to break it?  Make a roll.  Wait, not strong enough, you use a crowbar you say, what is the strength bonus for that, and do you even have one?  I'm sorry, but you can't break it.  Can you pick locks?  Nooooo?


By this point the player is probably pissed off.  They are trying to move the story, and the game master is trying to build a wall of rules.  Sometimes they have a good reason, at least for them.  But we all know that there are times when it's just because they don't want to 'lose' or be 'outsmarted'. 

The rules are supposed to be there to help us resolve things that might effect the story.  Combat is the easiest example since it's often life and death.  The rules (usually the most involved rules in the game engine) are there to simulate combat in a way that fits in with the rest of the rules.  The combat rules might be exactly the same as the rest of the rules.  Determine values, roll dice, rinse, lather, and repeat.  They might be a whole game onto themselves that seem divorced from the rest of the game rules.

Task/Even Resolution is, in my opinion, the core of any game system.  The rest of the rules are refinements or granular adjustments for that, but the core of a game engine is the resolution mechanism. If you (the GM) don't want to outright decide something or let the players run with something you should be able to comfortably fall back on the rules and the players should not feel as though you are trying to screw them when you do.

It's okay to ignore the rules to.  as long as you aren't playing favorites.  When Johnny tries to jump across the Chasm of Doom and you say, "Okay, you make it to the other side and keep running." that's fine.  Unless you then change your tune when Boyd tries to jump across, "Roll your leaping skill."  and smiling when you say it will only make it worse.  If it's not important to roll to jump across the Chasm of Doom, then no one should roll, unless there is a really good reason.  And not just because you don't like Boyd, or his character.  Those are not good reasons.  They are a sign you're not really suited to running games.