Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Fun, World-Building, and Sandtrap Players

The other night, my best friend, C.G. and I were discussing how using the new Ritual Path Magic system in my Otherworld setting would impact it (check this post out to see what I eventually came up with).This particular campaign has been around for almost six years now and I’ve put a lot of thought and effort into it, it is without a doubt the favorite child of my many children. I’ve spent hundreds of hours writing up material, drawing maps, etc. for this thing, and it shows in the sprawling detail I have for it. Now most of the time, when a GM puts this much detail into a setting he HATES to have things "messed" up by player characters. Not me!
At one time I might have been that GM, but never with this setting. It has grown to what it is now mostly through player character actions. It has become this sprawling giant of a campaign because I took into account everything my players did and adjusted the world accordingly. Any of my players will tell you the one thing I always hold above just about any other rule I have when I run: Actions have consequences, and I enforce them. If you play in any game I run expect this one axiom to stand above any others I might have. If your character chooses to do illegal things and get caught, you will go to jail. I won’t stop you from doing those illegal things, but I will play the NPCs of the setting in as real a way as possible.

This has turned off many players to my campaigns, and I’m sad to see them go, but everyone knows the drill when they sign up to play with me. I have a list of rules, play styles, etc. that I had out before I invite any prospective player to play with me. I want them to understand beforehand that these are the things I will rarely change. Most people still want to play, and the ones that do go after a while tend to be power gamers (vs. gamers playing with powers), spotlight hogs, and vindictive players. I call them "sandtrap players" because that's what they are and do: they bog down the game and can quickly turn a good campaign into a quagmire of misery for all. Basically, I am at no loss when they go. This has enabled me to form a tight and well-rounded gaming group, some of the wheels are squeaky but overall they are a good bunch of folks. I know GMs who have to deal with all sorts of nasty headaches like rules-lawyering, munchkins, etc. I don’t, and that’s just the way I like it.

Because the fun of all can be ruined with even one person who does these things. The composition of a gaming group is like what goes into a good cake, no two ingredients are the same, each has its own flavor it adds to the whole, and when mixed together they become as one.

Gaming is my hobby and truth be told, it’s really my one and only hobby, everything else I do for "fun" tends to link into it in some way. I want my hobby, I want my time, to mean something, but most of all I want it to be fun. I hope any who read this think as I do, or are inclined to do so. Gaming should be fun! It doesn’t mean you have to run a silly or over the top campaign, some of the best moments I’ve GM’ed or played were some of the most tragic, terrible things that could happen to a character happen and the player has to pick up the peices. But those tragic things are what make the character and be extension the game seem so real.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Gamemaster's Guidepost: On Rule-Breaking, Magic Systems, and Consistency

Last night and early into this morning I tackled a gaming issue than can make Gamemaster’s go mad: How magic fits in his or her game world. Sometimes the easiest thing to say is “THERE IS NO MAGIC!” but that means less design options for your players and overall…well it’s just not as much fun. When your entire campaign rests completely or even partly on the concept of magic, that’s just not an option. In my case, my Chronicles of Ceteri campaign is at its heart firmly in the Urban Fantasy genre, so I can’t sidestep this issue or ignore it. After the Monster Hunter series came out I near-instantly fell in love with the Ritual Path Magic system. I decided then that I would retrofit my Chronicles of Ceteri campaign with it and toss the systems I currently had (a combination of Ritual, Standard, and Path/Book magic), because it made way more sense for how I envisioned magic working. There was a bit of a problem however…I used magical items in the setting fairly liberally, since Ritual Path Magic in Monster Hunters only has charms to represent enchanted objects (and one use at that) this actually presented a small problem, well..problems. Most of these were by nature one-use, since I dislike how Standard spell magic interacts with more modern-day settings. In fantasy ones its great…but it (in my opinion) breaks down a bit in a standard setting. So my problems needed a few creative fixes. First I developed a rule-set for Alchemy using Ritual Path Magic, then to cover how I treat focusing objects (staves, wands, etc.) in the setting I created a variant of Charms. Finally, I did work up a method to create actual enchanted objects but I intend to wait and see what @rev_pee_kitty comes up with first, I guess I can sidestep the issues till then. After all most of the ‘magical’ objects my PC’s have collected  and kept are unique in their own way. For instance, the Amulet of Orlack is an item which is helpful against vampires, it detects their presence, gives you a bonus versus their powers, gives a bonus to your Active Defenses against them, but as long as you wear it most vampires will react negatively to you, even if they’ve never meet you. Only a handful of them were made, and most of them have been destroyed by the vamps themselves. For these types of items I just write-up what I think they should do and assign statistics as needed. It’s not very formulaic but such objects shouldn’t be. And that’s a very important thing that some dogmatic Gamemaster’s might overlook, sometimes you can’t assign a cost to a magical item, sometimes it being a unique creation should just be enough and leave it at that. That was a hard lesion that I personally had to learn, and it took a WHILE for me to spot it on my own. This of course can extend to other things, like monster statistics. Still it shouldn’t be done too often for several reasons, chief among them that you as the GM are going to get lazy if you can just arbitrarily decide stats on the fly. I can hear some GM’s reading this now going “But I always run my games like that!” you know what? That’s okay too, as long as your players know that’s what you do and you are at least consistent. If you aren’t you run the risk of your players not trusting you and that can be VERY bad in the long run. My brother, C.J., did this so often when he run his games for our group that eventually everyone decided they no longer wanted him to run. It’s not his fault really, he liked to do things on the fly, but he was never consistent and whether it was the case or not eventually it looked like the GM was cheating the players. And they revolted. I personally hate not having a rules system to do something, but at least I know now that sometimes you just can’t have one for a given thing. Sometimes you just need to break the rules and go forward. Or make up your own as the case may be.

So to sum up:

  • When designing a world with magic, be consistent, and think ahead to make sure nothing breaks the world you have in mind.
  • Create good, balanced rules for things that you cannot already do with the system you are using or adapt them from some place else.
  • When you need to break a rule for some reason, go ahead and do it but don’t make it a habit and when you do be as consistent as you can be.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Carpe Blogiem: On RPM Submissions

I’ve been distracting myself for the last week or so with working on submissions for the Ritual Path Magic system that Steven Marsh sent out about a month ago, to be honest I wasn’t going to do anything because I didn’t think I knew enough about the magic system. But a pathological needlephobe like myself who is doing eight insulin injections a day needs a distraction, and there are times when my brain just refuses to shut down. This combination just plain stinks. So, with a will, I put myself into go-go-write mode and studied the system, read it backwards and forwards until I had a basic grasp and then I dived in. I didn’t get how it worked completely at first, and made a few mistakes as I created my ritual submissions, I had previously only used the system during my playtest/shakedown of the Monster Hunters 3: The Enemy book, and even then my players stuck to a few basic spells they had prepared in advance. After a few email exchanges with Jason “Rev. Pee Kitty” Levine and questions on the Rituals Wanted! thread SJ Forums I had worked out my plan of action, I’d create one original spell of my own and I’d adapt one spell from GURPS Magic. Eight days later, I’d written, polished, and revamped 100 spells that I was mostly pretty proud of. My girlfriend, L.A., helped me name a good portion of them and who could resist a spell called “Conjure Credentials” or “Post by Ghost” I mean those are pretty cool names. I hope at least those two make it past the submission process. I had also hoped to include a magical item creation system of my own design as well but that was declined because PK had already had one written for months now. I was a tad disappointed but I’m pretty happy that there is something to go with the Ritual Path Magic supplement…I just hope it’s not a gadget-based system like the one he’s advocated on his FAQ site, I really dislike gadget items  regardless of their origin.

Well, that’s said and done, I’ll eventually submit a pyramid article with a bunch of the goodies I’ve written up while working on my own submissions, and of course they’ll probably end up in my Otherworld campaign setting since I’ve decided to retrofit the setting from the standard GURPS magic system to Ritual Path Magic, it works so much better for what I have in mind. If you haven't seen it yet, make sure you check out Steven Marsh's post on the Rituals Wanted! thread on the SJ Games Forums and if you have an idea and know the RPM system, submit it! You can only be told yes or no, either way it's just words.

Enough rambling, I’m off to get some coffee and maybe toy around with some more gaming stuff.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Gamemaster's Guidepost: The Campaign Wheel

Man, I hate it when this happens to me. I used to change game settings and characters like a hypochondriac changed doctors. This was to say the least not very popular with my players and I even lost a few people over it. These were the times where I learned a few valuable lessons in world-building and even more valuable lessons on retaining players and keeping them happy. I also learned that no matter what you do, you can’t make every player at your table happy all the time. You would think this is obvious, but really, it’s not. Every GM wants to come to the table and make all of his players enjoy the time spent there, to make the hours of gaming worthwhile. But there is a flip-side to this as well, the players have to be having fun, but so does the GM. If a GM is finding that he is bored with the game he’s running things tend to peter out quickly, sometimes in a spectacular fashion (such as players leaving the group or the entire gaming group breaking up).

I like to think of myself as very creative at my best and as my girlfriend, LA, has said on more than one occasion “you’re like a ferret on caffeine that just cannot sit still”. Now the problem is that is a fairly accurate description of me at my worst. I’ve gotten better about it over time, and after I set up my ‘Campaign Wheel’ I’ve been running the same games for years now. What is this ‘Campaign Wheel’ you ask? Simply put it’s just a grouping of campaigns organized in such a way that you can at the drop of a hat switch from one to the other with minimal prep work. I tend to run a specific campaign for three to six months before switching to another one. Each campaign has a specific theme and I tend to only keep three games in the Wheel at a time, usually a Sci-Fi, Modern, and Fantasy one. This allows me to make use out of almost every single GURPS supplement out there at one time or another. Sometimes I’ll stick to a campaign at the request of a player(s) or change it. Sometimes I just need to swap my campaign out and go with something else, mostly because my ‘creative juices’ for that specific themed game is low while I have ideas for the others.

Looks like the Wheel is turning for me again…