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fang_langford [userpic]

Why Can’t Gamemasters Play the Rules?

October 26th, 2007 (05:43 pm)

Ever notice?

Ever notice that in most typical role-playing games there simply are no rules that the gamemaster must follow. In fact, there is a sad lack of rules for them at all.

Why is that?

I’m thinking it is because the mentality where the game system stands in for physics when it comes to the preternatural. It would follow that, as the figure of god in the game, the gamemaster is not bound by them. What they get instead are any number of vague, self-contradictory and explicitly reversible suggestions. Guideline quality in typical or popular gaming has always suffered from a certain amount of ambiguity.

What happens then?

This I think leads to the unspoken understanding that role-play gaming is something you must learn from people who do it. Surely this retards any growth happening in the hobby, right? I remember starting the whole gaming community in my home town; I must have been talented because it never seemed that hard (until somebody else tried it).

What’s the alternative?

Make some gamemaster rules. Now I’m not talking about broader rules for players and gamemasters alike; I doubt you could subvert the difference between them to generate such rules.

Here’s some of the thinking I’ve been putting into Scattershot. The die mechanic has already been altered such that over any period of measure, you will fail noticeably more than you succeed. In order to move towards your chara goals, you simply must spend experience dice. In short supply, you need to go out of your way to do things that garner experience dice. What is their primary use then?

To improve rolls....

So, as far as I’ve gotten, I need to work out the rules for which a gamemaster must roll his dice (and require his own experience dice). I’ve only a few ideas here. And they aren’t that good (yet).

  1. A mirror of the ‘hunted’ disadvantage; a GM must roll to use a recurring chara
  2. In conflict with a player’s goals; much like in a conflicted resolution
  3. ...I’m stumped and tired; let’s hear some of you suggestions!


Posted by: Levi (the_tall_man)
Posted at: October 26th, 2007 11:28 pm (UTC)

When you say to someone "Here's your role in the engine-of-play", you don't also get to say "And, in addition, you're responsible for keeping it running."

If somebody tells me that their design is good enough that my job is going to be restricted to a specific set of stuff... I act like I believe them. And if that breaks their game, because, really, I'm supposed to keep it running as well as playing that role (while pretending otherwise), then that game can go hang.

I'd rather go the other way. Keep the GM's authority open and wild, and also give *more* to the players.

Posted by: fang_langford (fang_langford)
Posted at: October 27th, 2007 02:38 am (UTC)
Right On!

You've got a very good point. Giving more to the players; that is terrific!

Remember my Lurking Desire? In this case, once again, I'm building towards what looks just like an old school game. If you think a bit, giving the GM rules to follow, especially ones that the players know, empowers the players to 'out play' the gamemaster.

Also, can explain how rules that draw you into genre emulation are that much of a limitation. I might not get this one. I don't have a lot of experience with how other people GM. For example, the gamemaster must build up experience dice by invoking tropes or incorporating material from the players' chara. Tropes aren't that specific and shouldn't the players material be used anyway?

Honestly. I think I don't really know how things are for other people. Any input is really appreciated.

Thanks for helping!

Posted by: Levi (the_tall_man)
Posted at: October 27th, 2007 03:31 am (UTC)
Re: Right On!

I'm not talking about "rules that draw me in". I'm talking about flat resitrictions on the GM role.

Here's a secret: Sometimes, when I run Dogs in the Vineyard, I say "no."

I haven't tried RUNE yet. We'll see how that runs, one of these days.

Posted by: fang_langford (fang_langford)
Posted at: October 29th, 2007 02:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Right On!

Oh! I guess I didn't understand.

That's one of the barriers I have with communicating on the internet; I look at things from a very different perspective. In this case, I was thinking of rules as the place where you start, something that can fire the imagination where a blank canvas cannot.

Your way of looking at things is obviously more correct and I'll have to remember to speculate more clearly in the future.


Posted by: Levi (the_tall_man)
Posted at: October 29th, 2007 03:06 pm (UTC)
Re: Right On!

"Your way of looking at things is obviously more correct"

Bah. It's just what I think. And I'm a loony.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: October 27th, 2007 12:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Right On!

On the point about giving rules to the GM that empower the player to "out play" the GM...

I always thought that when it comes down to it, the Players do have the power to "out play" the GM as it is. I'm thinking of how I GM combat, for example. I have a group of, say hypothetically, 7 PCs who are averaging 4th Level with two fighters, an spell-caster fighter, a cleric and a thief. We know the stats and capabilities and movement of each. I create a "board" (tactical hex or grid map of a local area). The Party encounters a small band of Hobgoblins, Goblins and Kobolds on a foraging mission to the forest to look for bee-hives (so they can get wax for candles for the mine). Ok. Battle.

"My" team is averaging, lets say 3rd Level, but I have two additional bodies. I know the stats. We have a board, much like a chess board. Success and failure, much like in Chess or Go, will depend on the tactical movment on the board, who gets into what positions, and faces off against which Characters with what weapons, etc.

As you can imagine this produces a game-within-the-game that has distinct rules for both the GM and the Players that we all play by equally. It is both a luck and skill game. The failure of the Party to win means that Characters will either die or be captured. To win, for them, means the same against "My" team. Treasure is a reward, along with experience points, for success. And if I'm GMing the way I like, there is also an advancement of the Story either way.

So from this I play my RPG in a way that empowers the Playes to "out play" the Gamesmaster. Is this anything along the lines of what you're looking for? I'm not sure, but I hope it helps.

Posted by: fang_langford (fang_langford)
Posted at: October 29th, 2007 02:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Right On!

You're right, I agree that GMs are following the rules during.

However, my thought is that the remaining realm of gamemastering might still work well if turned more into a structured (or rule-based) practice, especially with novice gamemasters.

I'm interested what you think of putting only a little more rules into, for example, the way you got the player chara into combat. One way could be, the gamemaster has to roll for how many goblins (very old school) and therefore use his own 'plot points' to boost (or reduce!) the number of enemies. Another possibility would be having to roll to insert a combat into the game in the first place; failure would mean that no goblins show up (though 'plot points' can help force the issue).

How would you look at rules like that? (And I must say, I don't think I'm doing the idea justice with these examples; please bear with me.)


p.s. Would it be okay if you identify yourself?

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: October 27th, 2007 09:07 am (UTC)

Personally, I like rules that either help the participants create good content or that deal quickly and decisively with uninteresting, but important, bits.

An example of the first point is Burning Wheel's circles: Roll to find a contact your char might reasonable have; fail and either you don't find the person (boring) or you do find him or her, who just happens to hate your guts (interesting, because conflict tends to be or create good content).
For the second: There is a big battle coming. Neither side has a means of affecting weather, but it will be very important. A table or arbitrary random roll is a good way of making the decision.

Giving a participant an obligatory resource to manage seems unnecessary, to me. It makes role playing a game. The benefits would have to be really substantial for me to see the point of such a rule.

Maybe I am not in your target audience.

-Tommi Brander

Posted by: fang_langford (fang_langford)
Posted at: October 29th, 2007 02:15 pm (UTC)

The Burning Wheel has the kind of rules I'm thinking of. If you succeed the contact roll, the gamemaster has to play it your way. Very interesting! (I wish I could afford to read these games.)

I have a very wide target audience indeed; you're included! There is an intent in my project not to force attention on the meta-resource. If that is your favored way of play, the rules will direct, then make a small stated change in how you handle the 'plot points' (so they're more ubiquitous and don't demand attention during play).

I'm taking a page from The Riddle of Steel to turn what could be an obligatory resource and turn it into a functional requirement (or at least a 'dial' that can be turned up to a requirement).

Thanks for the font of intrigue you've brought to this discussion!


Posted by: Saxifrage (saxifrage00)
Posted at: November 17th, 2007 06:56 am (UTC)

I like the mechanics in the board/card game Dungeoneer for this sort of meta resource. Since there's no GM player, players collect "Peril" as they explore and defeat nasties which can then be spent by other players against them. (Players also collect "Glory" as they explore and succeed at things, but that's tangential to this thread.) The idea of Peril could be incorporated into an RPG mechanic that gives GMs some advantage: bonus dice or modifiers, an extra monster, introducing a Complication to a character's otherwise-successful task resolution, and so on.

The trick seems to be figuring out a well-integrated way to spend such "Doom" points. How players/characters earn them is likely to be the simpler problem: just whenever they take a risk or earn someone or some group's wrath, I imagine.

In any case, if you haven't played Dungeoneer, I'd highly recommend it just to witness how elegantly the Glory/Peril mechanics work.

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