What kind of Gamesmaster am I?

This was inspired by a discussion on GameCraft about a GM equivalent torobin_d_lawsPlayer Types. (I took that quiz a while back, recorded here.) I see portions of my GMing style in a number of the different types, but am inclined to agree that Master of Ceremonies reflects the bulk of my style.

GM types by Georgios
Master of Ceremonies
You are the GM that really gives Players a full range experience.

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I'm going to quote the initial post here, because I think it's useful and it's on a forum (and they are notoriously ephemeral). All credit goes to Georgios, who originally posted it in German as was kind enough to also post it in English. Go read the original discussion.

(Caveat: these GM-Types, much like those by Laws, aren't mutually exclusive of course. Many, if not most GMs fall somewhere in-between. And two GMs of the same kind aren't necessary alike. But I feel that they give you at least a rough idea, of what to expect and what is expected of you.)

The World Builder has the goal of presenting an in-depth game world. It's not just some random place, where faceless NPCs wander around boring building. The game world has a history. The landscape is diverse and exciting. NPCs are part of a living, breathing world, that features a nearly endless amount of details. The World Builder is someone who draws on sourcebooks, non-fiction books and genre literature to have a wealth of information to make the game world come alive. You might call the game world his work of art, and the players his audience.
Playstyle: If you're playing with the World Builder you should take an interest in the setting and enjoy the complexity of the world. Especially when the World Builder uses a published setting, you'll find many references (and also some intentional contradictions) to pick up on.

The Duelist is looking to compete with the players. He relishes playing the opposition to the characters. To him the game only starts when the group is fighting for something. That is not to say, that the Duelist only values combat. It's more that he's out to challenge the players. He loves victory to be hard-earned and have the players avoid defeat by a hair's breadth. But if the players display great tactical or strategic skill he will not deny them their well-deserved win. To him it goes without saying that his rule calls must be hard, but fair. Otherwise every victory is shallow and meaningless.
Playstyle: If you're playing with the Duelist you should never walk away from a challenge or base your decisions on anything other than tactics or strategy. With the Duelist you really have to work for everything you want, and have to prove yourself again and again. The Duelist's word may be law, but it would be an offence to his honour as a gamer to be biased and give anybody (let alone himself) an undeserved advantage.

The Plotmeister considers himself the master of puppets, where all threads come together. He brings a complex and multilayered plot to the game, that the players have to unravel. To him the game world is not so much a place, as it is a web of cause and effect, with the characters caught in the middle. This can sometimes lead to even the simplest and most common plot hooks leading to a wide fog of surprising twists and unexpected developments. It's the Plotmeister's goal to constantly baffle and surprise the group, but doing so with plot developments which, looking back, are both consistent and sensible.
Playstyle: With the Plotmeister you should always pay attention to what happens and never lose track of even the smallest of details. He likes to give the players all the pieces of the puzzle, but it is up to them to piece together the big picture. As a player you should make notes and constantly exchange theories with each other. Never take any assumptions for granted and test them in the game first.

The Master of Ceremonies is all about running a very atmospheric and immersive game. A game with the Master of Ceremonies should be unique and allow the players to dive into a whole new world. He likes to use all kinds of aids to make the game more vivid and real. He'd use things like lighting, background music, carefully crafted props and fancy handouts. It's also important to him that his NPCs talk and behave appropriately, that is to say.. authentically. To the Master of Ceremonies a roleplaying game is above all an experience and an act of escapism.
Playstyle: Gaming with the Master of Ceremonies requires the players to suspend their disbelief and keep heckling to a minimum. Nothing makes you more unpopular with him, than an out-of-character comment at the wrong time or an action that breaks the atmosphere. He especially disapproves of any kind of metagaming (which can include purely tactical/strategic play).

The Actor pours all his effort into the NPCs. He wants to present the players with many different NPCs with peculiar features or at least NPCs that are clearly and easily distinguishable. For the Actor the game world consists of characters with their preferences and dislikes, their strengths and quirks. To him roleplaying is all about character interaction. That of course requires the NPCs to have a consistent personality that is not subordinate to any rules or constraints of the game. The Actor wants the characters and their interaction with the players to be memorable.
Playstyle: To get along with the Actor your character needs to have character. Just like you have the opportunity to find out more about the NPCs and their motivation, the Actor wants the game to reveal more about the players' characters. Who are they? Why are they the way they are? Contradictory actions of a character must always stem from some inner conflict. On no account should it be because the player didn't care if his actions today are consistent with those from before.

The Director considers roleplaying a medium to create stories together. In order for this creation to be exciting and entertaining he draws from all available means of roleplaying games (e.g. adventure structure, great challenges, dramatic conflicts, etc.) but also from any and all narrative art he's familiar with (e.g. three act structure, genre rules, cinematic language, etc.). The Director is only interested in playing the „important stuff“. Actions that don't advance the plot or reveal something about the characters, he prefers to avoid or completely cut out of the game.
Playstyle: The Director expects the players to work on bringing their vision to the game. That means, they should actively look for situations where they can forward the story. In other words, they should take charge in specific situations and push the story into a new direction. The Director wants the players to surprise him.

The Provider is the kind of GM, who doesn't have his own stake in the game. He has fun, because the other players have fun. Many Providers simply enjoy the company and are only GMing because nobody else wants to do it. The adventure is often made up of the player's preferences and he implements them according to the rules and to the best of his abilities. He's also willing to give the players more power, if that would increase the player's enjoyment of the game. The Provider feels obliged to meet the player's expectations halfway.
Playstyle: It doesn't take much to get along with the Provider. It's one of the reasons why most players consider him the best kind of GM. But there are two things, with which any group can push him away. As a player you must have at least a general idea of what you enjoy in a roleplaying game. Nothing is more frustrating for a Provider than players who claim to like one thing, but in reality want something completely different. Additionally, the Provider – more than any of the other types of GM – needs confirmation that the game was fun. A group that doesn't regularly tell him that he did a good job and they enjoyed themselves in his game, is practically chasing him towards burnout.

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Clear Dice

Girls, Games, Ponies

Ever since WotC's "April Fool's Joke" about "My Little Pony: The RPG", I've been noodling around (along with litagemini) about creating a real "My Little Pony" RPG.  The stories are all about cooperating to solve problems, and the ponies divide naturally into classes.  I thought it was criminally stupid of WotC, whose parent Hasbro owns the My Little Pony TM license, to NOT make such a game.

I was happy to see at Gencon that at least someone else has embraced the idea with Bella Sara.  It's not a role playing game, it's a card game with an online component, but it was one of the hottest things at the show.

I think they might have something there...
Meme Sheep

Internet Friends Meme

If there are one or more people on your Friends list who make your world a better place just because they exist, and whom you would not have met (in real life or not) without the Internet, then post this same sentence in your journal.

I've done it before and am happy to do it again.  There are some truly wonderful people on my flist, and they make my world better every day.

Gacked from varianor

Origins 2007 Schedule

It occurred to me that I've been so busy herding cats that I never posted my Origins schedule. Sap that I am, I agreed at the last minute to recruit, coordinate, zero and organize Blackmoor gms for Origins and Gencon. And edit the modules we playtested. As usual (not just for Blackmoor, but for just about any campaign I've ever worked with) we're down to the wire and the premieres are in various states of edit/revision. I hope I get them before the con...

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As you can see, every slot is busy.  On the up side, I might be able to slip away to the dealer's room after my marshaling is done for those slots, assuming that there's someone to cover the campaign resource table.  But no drinking the night away for me, not with that 8 am Marshalling.  Gah.

Needless to say, I've done very little on my WWAWM entry... fortunately, it's Cat, and it will be fun for the players even if I make it up on the spot.

Robin Laws continues to be brilliant

robin_d_laws  continues to be brilliant in this entry on Risk in RPGs.

What's clarified for me here is something I find very frustrating in play, but never found a definition to fit it. 

Years ago (in the late 1980's) I started advocating for a play-style I called "cinematically correct".  If it would look good on film, it was good. 

If I was playing, I'd seek out mechanics that would let me crash through the skylight and land on my feet, or at least have something really interesting happen if I failed.  If I was running, I'd flat out tell players that if they could persuade me something would look good on film, and frame it like a shot, I'd do my best to help them find a way to make it happen in the game.  Or at least have something really interesting happen if they failed.

Go read it.  Robin Laws is Brilliant.

WWAWMIn other news, halfway through the month all I've done on Toccata and Fur in A Minor is develop a map of the neighborhood and begin drafting personalities for sample cats.  I do have an outline of the events, but it needs fleshed out big time.
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World Wide Adventure Writing Month Begins!

World Wide Adventure Writing Month begins today - 31 days, 32 pages.

The challenge - write an adventure scenario (to share) in the space of a month.  I've certainly written modules faster, and as for slow... well, I never did finish Safari, my homage to Man-Eaters of Tsavo.

My scenario for the month is: Toccata and Fur In A Minor, a scenario for the Cat RPG.  I'll be running this at both Origins and Gencon this summer, so it seems like a good candidate.  I'm infamous for finishing my module as I run it - I'll be trying to avoid that, for a change.
Here's the blurb:
A new family has moved into the neighborhood, and from the melancholy music you hear it seems that not all is well. Misery & Boggins - always together, and you're just the cats to deal with both. Cat is set in a mythic suburbia where the player characters are feline pets that are our secret guardians, keeping humans safe from an unseen world of gremlins and evil. This simple system encourages family play and all age groups' participation.
My 32 pages will include maps and pre-generated characters.

So far, though, all I have are some sketchy ideas based on a session I ran for some friends in DC.
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Jamestown and Zombies Ho!

Jamestown ZombiesThis article, from BoingBoing, conflates the 400th anniversary of Jamestown with the whole Zombie trope. And all of a sudden the plot bunnies are breeding, and I find myself wanting to write a scenario about early colonists dealing with a zombie infestation in the New World.

To quote:
those pilgrims were starving to death, and living in absolute horror. It got so bad, some were reduced to subsisting off old shoes, rotting corpses, pools of blood left behind by the sick and dying, the salted flesh of murdered spouses, and -- BRAIINNNNNSSSSSS! The story of Jamestown and Pocohontas and Thanksgiving was not so much a Disney movie, explains radio producer Nate DiMeo in the voiceover -- it was more like a Wes Craven movie.

Oh, yeah... but what system? Chill could certainly handle it, or maybe the upcoming Witchhunter: The Invisible World or Colonial Gothic. Hrm....

Be afraid, be very afraid...

GMS - How to Get Useful Feedback

Ok, GameCraft is fantastic. I've put it in my link list, and will be checking it out in greater depth from home. Please credit GameCraft if you pass this along.

Getting Feedback - Repeat, Clarify, Probe

First, ask specific questions. Were the scenes and encounters too hard? Too easy? Too long? Did they feel railroaded, did they feel 'adrift'? Stuff like that.

Second, repeat what they tell you. When they answer a question, put it in your own words, and ask if that's what they meant, just to make sure you're understanding clearly.

Third, probe for details. That is, ask about various little bits of what they said that seem to be leading somewhere. The dragon wasn't too tough, just a bit simple. What struck you as "simple"?

Fourth, clarify. Recap everything you've learned by asking. Thank the players for their feedback, and pay attention to it. The players are telling you not only how their priorities were served, but what those priorities are. Try to look at their answers in light of what they are telling you is important about the game.

How to Have A Good Game

This, by Levi, an admin at GameCraft,  is so simply perfect that I'm quoting it entire - please credit GameCraft!  I don't mind when people quote from my LJ, but it's only polite to credit.  In this case, this is NOT my original content, but it's so very good that I want to share it.  While you're at it, you might want to check out GameCraft in general.

1. Come For A Good Time
If your primary goal at the table is something other than having an experience you enjoy, and that others can enjoy with you, you should be doing something else. Generally speaking, that means having fun. Sometimes it might be more specific - crafting a satisfying story together, or having the experience of seeing things from the perspective of your character, either in addition to or instead of classically fun stuff. But if what you want when you sit down at the table on any given night isn’t enjoyable to you, or does not allow enjoyment for others, do not sit down at that table. Not gaming is better than bad gaming.

2. This Is Your Gamespace, These Are Real People.
Accept and understand that the players around you are real people that are also here to have fun. Nobody comes to the table to watch one player discuss their personal character’s stuff with the GM when it could wait, or to watch two players crack inside jokes at each other and exclude everyone else. Nobody comes to the table to be treated to the personal aroma of another player, or to closely observe their food being chewed. Nobody hosts a game hoping for a marathon cleanup session at the end. Nobody comes to the table to be the ego-boosting kick-toy of anyone else. Never, ever, forget that you are playing the game with real people.

3. Accept Responsibility
Taking the same point as #2, and bringing it into the game - what you do at the gaming table is your responsibility, and you should accept this. What others do is their responsibility, and they should accept that, too. This absolutely includes what you decide that your character does. This absolutely includes the actions of the GM as world. If playing your character as written could very well interfere with the fun of others, you need to decide where to go with that – it’s your call, though; excuses are lame. If you ruin the game by playing your character or the world ‘correctly’, then you still ruined the game.

4. Give Feedback
Anything from telling the GM “I had a good game tonight” to “here’s ten specific moments of play I really liked, and ten moments I really didn’t”, can help. For the GM, telling the players what they loved about their play, and what they found dull, works the same way. The GM can’t read the minds of the players here (or anywhere else), and the players don’t know what’s going on internally for the GM either. Unless they tell each other. This doesn’t need to be formal – in fact, it seems that it often works best if it isn’t. But the clearer it is, the better; and it’s often good to get a quick idea of this stuff before you start.

5. Share Creativity
No one person at the table has full control over what happens in the game. If someone does, you get some really boring shit. At the very least, a player generally controls most of one character in the game. There are an infinite number of little variants on how the GM and the players share control over who gets to put stuff in, and things work best once the group hits a level of input from each person at the table that they’re comfortable with. Find that level. If you’re looking for ways to muck about with that level of input, there are quite a few ways to do that.

6. Seek Consensus
The people at your table have, if your game is actually running at all, a consensus. The ideas in their heads of what the game is and does match up well enough to produce good play. Sometimes a group will hit on little moments when their ideas just don’t match up, and they’ll need to talk about what this specific thing looks like in their heads and agree on one way to go about it. Once in a while, one of the people at the table will want to bring something in that they aren’t sure will match up with what the others have in their heads, and it’s a good idea for them to mention that before they do.

7. Negotiate Honestly
When problems come up in your group, the first step is to make sure that everyone at the table is onboard with at least the basic ideas of the first five things here – they don’t have to be “skilled” at these things; being onboard is plenty. If they aren’t, I don’t really have any good advice for you – for myself, I likely wouldn’t play with them for much longer. If they are, and you still have a problem, then it’s time to sort that out. Now, my own recommendations on doing that are below, but they aren’t really ‘polished’ and they’re kind of artificial; if you’ve got any ideas on that, I’m really interested. But here’s another standard saying that ties into this – it’s usually a very bad idea to try and solve out-of-character problems with in-game events. That’s dishonest, and doesn’t generally work. Also, using the rules to ‘punish’ your players or ‘get back’ at your GM? Same thing.

8. Consider Your Options.
When someone makes an attempt to alter 'your part' of the fiction - the world if you're the GM, your character if you're a player, you have choices. You can simply agree, or disagree; you can put it to the mechanics, you can modify what they’ve stated and give it back to them. Limiting your options in this case is silly; most advice to limit these options in a ‘positive’ way comes from a desire to keep the energy of the game high, or allow for trust between players above and beyond the basic average; those are good goals, but instead of using limits on yourself and others to achieve them, simply remember that your decisions will affect those things as well as the specific matter at hand.

9. Watch The Spotlight.
At any given instant of play, someone has the spotlight. This doesn’t just mean ‘one person is talking’. It means that if there are a whole string of scenes, one person is usually “center stage”; the scene revolves around their stuff, whether that’s world stuff or character issues or whatever. If that person isn’t you, then you’re a supporting character in that scene; try to play good support, whether that means keeping quiet, offering support or advice, playing up the effects the setting has on your character a bit, whatever. If that person is you, then fill that scene; it’s there for you to step into. If nobody is sure who should have the spotlight, then act as support for each other, until the focus hits. But watch that spotlight, too. If you’re getting more than a fair share, work to make more scenes about other characters. If you’re getting less than your share, then when a scene doesn’t really have a focus, step up and take it. Now, sometimes the players will think that different people are getting too much, or not enough spotlight time – we’re people, it happens. Talk about it; most of the time, whoever’s being a hog or hiding away just needs to know about it - and on those occasions when that isn’t true, work it out.

10. Play the Game At The Game
This is a close partner to sharing creativity. Sometimes, you’ll have an idea about the game before you sit down at the table, about something you’d like to see happen there. Sometimes, you’ll have a whole string of them. That’s good stuff. But when those ideas start to look like a whole storyline, you need to be careful with it. A storyline like that is great raw material, but don’t get too attached; if you get too attached to that storyline, you’ll find yourself pushing to make it happen, and ignoring or working against all the other good ideas and creative input at your table. Remember, at all times; raw material is good. But don’t play the game before it starts – play the game when you’re at the game.

11. Show Your Stuff As You Go.
Almost everybody wants to feel like the fictional world, and the characters in it, are real to them enough to imagine. This is, of course, achieved by describing things. But nobody wants to be bored by drawn-out description, or huge whopping chunks of detail. If the GM rattles of ten facts about the place the characters are standing, only the first few will sink in; likewise if a player does this when describing their character. So, the key is to describe as you go. If a player wants us to know that her character Jill is a graceful woman, she shouldn’t simply tell the group that at character creation; her character should ‘glide’ and ‘move nimbly’ in play – her description at creation need only be a single, vivid image, that she can build on by describing not only what the character does, but how. This works in the same way for the GM; when the characters walk into a abandoned study, it can simply be an old, dusty study, smelling of books; as the characters interact with it, the GM can note the thick books, the puffs of dust as things are moved. One key to a good description that’s often missed is that it starts simple and vivid, and grows as you go, so that it’s never boring.

12. Learn To Speak The Same Language.
This is an ongoing effort that every group needs to make together. Every single person thinks that different phrases and wordings imply slightly different things, and this is one of the biggest things that can knock down even an honest attempt at talking to other people. Your group, to communicate both well and quickly, will sometimes need to hash out things related to this; accept that it’s going to happen and try not to get too serious about a problem until you’re sure this isn’t it.

Feel free to add to this list...