Thursday, January 4, 2018

My GM Style

Things have gone quiet here on this blog. A lot of Life happened. A sick housemate (and one of my players), a new 9-to-5 job, a new Freelance Job (which I'll announce when/if I can) and the general holidays. In short, the past fall season has been a Bear and I'm now just finally catching up to my notes and my work. 

Part of my New Years Goals is to run more games. I want to get better at running games, and I want to share stories with people. A lot of the past few years of Storytelling have given me an idea of what I'm good at and what I like, so I wanted to lay out on the line what it is I mean when I decide to run again. So I decided to write this Social Contract as a GM. 

Gaming is a Social Contract between all the people at the table. These are the things they are comfortable in playing, all the things they expect of one another when playing. People mention the contract a lot, but I rarely if ever see anyone writing it or saying it out loud. I'm trying to fix that for myself. There's no rhyme and reason behind any of this, but I'll try to summarize at the end.

I guess we'll start off with the obvious. I have a personality that some people have referred to as 'intense'. I have strong feelings and I am often bursting at the seams to share. A lot of my stops and starts happen when I'm trying to undercrank it to a) give myself some air and b) let someone else have the floor. My job isn't to lead, my job is to facilitate and create a space for players. I want to say that first because a lot of talks a lot about me, and truth be told I really don't like making things about me. I don't care if my name is in lights, so long as people enjoy my work. I think that's important to differentiate. 

I like setting, story, and characters. I'm not particularly fond of mechanics or systems and frankly prefer lighter systems that either help a story or  otherwise don't get in the way of it. I like Fate Core and the system being used for 7th Sea, still trying to wrap my head around Apocalypse World, and Nerdy City's Omni System. I tried the FFG system, and there are a lot of good parts to it. Unfortunately, I don't dig on systems that get too quantitative. Anything that involves tables and percentages make me lose interest. I'm borderline dyscalculic. So for me, when telling a story, I don't like math getting in the way. I'm sorry to all my D and D friends.

Since we're on the subject of mechanics and rules, I should probably get the rough stuff out of the way. I have had a bad history of people trying to use, abuse, and disuse the systems in place to get cookies for no discernible reason than to a) show off b)make themselves less likely to be fucked with and c)because they could. I'm going to say this now, clearly: Don't do this. Not only will you not get anything, but I'm more likely to refuse the next request and the one after that and so on until you learn the lesson or leave. 

That being said, I am always up to friendly negotiations with players. If you want your character to get a thing, or do a thing, great! I'm down to help with that always. But it isn't going to be as simple as "I roll a few dice and this happens". Be prepared to do a few scenes (depending on the scope of the request) and we'll get you to where you need to be. Part of this is because I want to imbue on this a cool story to go with how you got the thing, as well as seeing if you know what you're gunning for, especially if it has a mechanic attached. This is a holdover from the old MES approval system, and it's one of the few things I took with me when I left. 

A favorite example that I've mentioned before. A player had spent the better part of six months prepping, and planning, for their assault on the main antagonist. Through working out the problems and the information, the character had enough of a plan to eliminate the enemy in one swoop. They did, it succeeded. Their work was clearly shown over the months and they understood what they were doing. I'll be coming back to this example in a minute.

One of the things I try to do with my players is always be open with discussions, questions and feedback. If you have a question about something in game, message me. If you need help on a thing on your sheet or in the book, let me know. If I don't know the answer, I'll work with you to figure it out together. 

But this comes with a drawback. If I don't receive feedback, I don't always know where to bring your characters. Your characters are the focal point, otherwise you'd be random stormtroopers doing a thing (which now that I think on it...) I like it when players add their own details, come up with side characters that can be used or reference. I once built an entire hotel and my GM used it for the duration of our game together. I love it when players add details in the world that benefit the world and the other characters around them. 

It should come as no surprise to people that I love open sand box games. I like building a world that has an interesting cast and exciting locations that people can discover. While there is plot going on, there are also these other elements that may or may not be connected at all that can be discovered as they see fit. I once had a player whose character received visions, she misinterpreted them and it ended up with her in a rundown house in Staten Island discovering the ghost of a recently deceased antagonist protecting her old cult. Ultimately, it had nothing to do with the story, but it was a fun scene that added something to the setting and gave the character some new information, if not the information she was looking for. 

This isn't to say there isn't plot going on during these games. Oh, there is. I like plots with a lot of moving pieces, conspiracies and Westeros levels of intrigue between parties and the like. If one moves, another moves, and so on and so forth. I like to play with a constant state of 'with consequences'. This doesn't mean 'you don't get to win' it just means 'just because you won, doesn't mean this is over'. Pieces move in response, and consequences happen. 

Going back to the previous example, the player's character caught my antagonist's blindspot. This was a mage who had a pretty acceptable understanding of all schools of magic...except for Death, and the one Mage on his team who could have helped him was on the outs with him. So the PC, who was a Master of Death at this point, raised the armies of those the antagonist had killed for some thirty years (he was the tyrant mage-lord of manhattan since the 80's) and decided to reenact the end scene of the battle of minas tirith on him. 

This went off without a hitch, but it also had consequence. First of all, this was done relatively by himself, but done with research. This left a bad taste in the other characters (and their player's to be honest) mouths and the character got a lot of flak. They also got called by the Guardians of the Veil and were pretty much set up to be their next golden boy...or sacrificial lion. I ended my tenure before we could get there. 

Which leads me to something: I will close up shop if I don't feel like people are invested in the game.  I've been in several situations where it felt like people were at game just to be there, because it was expected. I don't want that. I like it when players are invested, or are looking to invest. I like it when players have issues they want to address, questions about the lore or about their characters, if they want to add details. I want to run games for people who want to play them. And I have, in the past, made my polite resignations when it has become clear that the games I'm running are just 'that thing we do on this day'. Your hype gives me hype. Your feedback tells me that I'm not doing this for my own entertainment. 

So to Summarize, I'm a story and character driven GM who likes to build a sandbox for his players if they are willing to bring their toys to the share. I appreciate open negotiations geared towards telling the best story possible, even if it isn't as mechanically pleasing. This can make me come off as railroading, but  I can work in a wide range of topics and subjects, as the group sees fit. However, I expect my players to also be open with any questions or concepts, or directions they want to go in and my players can expect me to have all comm channels open to hear ideas they have in their characters and what they want to do. 

I promise as the GM to be there, to make the space open and safe. As the GM, I promise to build something with my players. 

I hope people enjoyed. If people have questions, I'm always willing to talk about it. I'd also love to see people talk more about their GMing style. 

I have a Patreon, focused on my serialized fiction. One of my series, Bleed, focuses on the lives of role players both in and out of game. It is released to the public monthly, and patrons receive early and immediate access. If you like what you read here, please consider supporting. That'd be cool of you.

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