Month: June 2016

Experience Talks: GM as Writer

GM as Writer

writing-1209121_1280…and then the elephant said, “Not with my trunk, you don’t!”

A good GM also acts as writer, whether he has written the stories himself or not. The situation is similar to a playwright who has created a script, yet has to endure the director’s differing interpretation, the casting director’s questionable role assignments, and the actor’’ mediocre performances. The end result of all this is often quite different from what the writer had in mind originally, but given good people, the resulting play can be greater than its original manuscript.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) 

Interdependence

Writing a game scenario is different than writing a book or a play. The characters involved get to change the script as they go. It’s similar to improvisational theatre, in which the actors are (sometimes) given a topic, and they develop their own characters and plot as they go.

A GM can start with a great story, but what happens when the players don’t do what the GM expects? The GM has the choice of giving the players complete freedom to do what they want and go where they want, or of railroading the players onto a predetermined path. Or, of course, something in between.

A good GM finds the compromise that best suits his players and himself. This is not always easy to do.

Some GMs are great at improvising as they go. I’ve played with some GMs who can craft a wonderful story, and always seem to have the answer to what happens next, with only ten minutes to prepare (“We need to you GM tonight.” “Oh, okay.”)

But not all GMs have the gift of quick thinking. Some rely on fluid scripting. For example, a GM might set up a crossroads for the characters, and want them to take the left fork so that they will gain the ally they need before they take the right fork to battle the enemy. But then the players insist on taking the right fork, so the GM ensures that the ally just happens to be traveling the right fork on the way to battle the enemy anyway, and the party is fortified even though they did not do what the GM expected.

Example: In my Star Hero game, the heroes got caught in a hyperspace whirlpool, and got transported to a universe where magic works. There was a planet right in front of them when they emerged into the new dimension. As I had planned it, the planet was the inadvertent cause of the vortex, because it was drawing magical energy from hyperspace. 

My players found it odd that a planet was right there, and debated whether or not to explore it so they could possibly find a way back to their own universe. Eventually, they decided that even if they decided to go somewhere else to explore, whichever planet they landed on would end up being this Planet X which was in front of them, so they decided to land after all. 

I was relieved that they decided to land on it, since logically, no other planet would have been causing the whirlpool. I was a little insulted being thought of as a railroader, and if they had gone elsewhere, I would’ve had to probably postpone the session, since I had nothing else planned. But it all worked out in the end. 

Writer Summary

As a writer, a good GM needs to tailor the game to the players’ interests. By plotting a script that everyone wants to be a part of, it becomes much easier to keep the players following “their part of the script.”


Dave barely touched on the many writerly jobs the GM performs. Creating the plot is the cornerstone, of course, but there are characters to be developed and a world to build as well. In what other ways do the skills of a writer transfer to the craft of Game Mastery?

This article was originally published in The Way, the Truth, & the Dice. Due to the original article’s length, it is being serialized for this format. 

Faith and Gaming: In Vain

Last month as we concluded our consideration of Magic, we raised a bigger issue: is it appropriate for characters in a fictional world to call upon any deity?

It is not a simple question. At every turn God has commanded that we have no regard for other gods; it is top of the list in the Ten Commandments, the concept behind many of the prohibitions (from sorcery to cutting the corners of your beard), and the reason why Israel and Judah were conquered by foreign nations. You shall have no other gods before Me.

But at the same time, you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

We are caught between the proverbial two horns. Read more

You Have No Choice: Fallout 4’s Missing Dynamic

mathildaWarning: Some generalized spoilers for Fallout 4 are ahead.

I am on my way through a second play-through of Fallout 4. While the settlement-building mechanics and the amazing Survival Mode (after the recent update) are stars in Bethesda’s crown, I feel like they’ve missed the mark on creating a role-playing experience. It’s a problem, actually, that’s been going on for a while across multiple games (and multiple publishers). It seems like every new iteration of Elder Scrolls removes a little bit of the role from role-playing game, and Bioware RPGs give you so little control over character design that they may as well not bother. I understand that they’re simplifying and streamlining for the benefit of people with shorter and shorter attention spans, and in response to focus group testing, but it’s gotten to the point where Fallout plays more like a shooter than an RPG. Read more

Faith and Gaming: Magic

It was inevitable that this subject would eventually surface in this series. After all, the supernatural elements in many role playing games are the ones most feared and criticized by those who oppose them, and eventually something would have to be said about them.

But it is just ironic coincidence that the issue has come up in October, the month in which issues of pagan magic and supernaturalism are most debated in the church, the month in which most Americans, at least, celebrate what some still think is the ancient and mystical pagan Druidic festival of the New Year, Samhain, thinly veiled under the pseudonym Halloween.

So what is it about imaginary magic which gets so many people so upset? Read more

Experience Talks: GM as Director

 

Back when I started gaming, almost twenty years ago, there was practically no material on how to have a good game—so I had to learn the hard way. All of the tips, tricks, and advice in this article come from years of GMing badly and gradually getting better. Watching other GMs that you like and practicing a lot are some of the best ways to improve your game.

Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement. 

Please don’t use this article as an excuse to dump on your fellow gamers by saying “Look, it says here that you’re a bad gamer!” Likewise, don’t feel that if you don’t do all of these things that you’re not a good gamer, and realize that this is not a complete list of good gaming qualities. Just use this article to improve your own gaming techniques. Read more

Faith and Gaming: Weaker Brothers

Most of the arguments which are raised against role playing games have by now been answered. They no more involve consorting with demons than reading The Screwtape Letters or That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis. The magic in them is about as like witchcraft as that of Penn and Teller. They are less violent than most action movies and television shows, and more likely to present the negative consequences of such violence. And in very few games do characters actually get away with evil.

But still, we are told that we should refrain from playing such games out of respect for the weaker brother. Read more

Cartography in Photoshop: The Clone Stamp Tool

We gamers love our maps! I spend a good deal of time over at The Cartographers’ Guild, and I have been known to occasionally contribute a tutorial over there. This one has been among my more popular offerings, so I thought I’d share it here, too.


clone-stamp-tool-1Anyone who has made brushes in Photoshop has doubtless learned that you cannot make a two-toned brush. That is, if you make a tree brush and try to overlap two strokes with it, the tree beneath will show through the one on top. The reason for this is that Photoshop’s brushes are a grey-scale image where black pixels are completely opaque, white pixels are transparent, and grey pixels are translucent. This allows you to paint with the brush in any color you want, but it prevents you from using it to make nice isometric mountains and forests: Read more

Faith and Gaming: Bad Things

By J.J. at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0
By J.J. at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Last month we talked about Settings, one of the foundation stones of role playing, the worlds in which we play. We could go on and talk about characters, plots, deities, philosophies—but in addressing settings, we opened an important issue that we didn’t address. What do you do about Bad Things, and is it appropriate for Christians to think of these?

At first glance, the answer would seem to be no. “[W]hatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Phil. 4:8, UNASB) Should we be dwelling on evil that has never happened, perhaps which never would or even could happen?

Yet if we fail to allow that there could be anything bad in our game worlds, then there is no conflict in our stories. We need evil villains so that our characters can be great heroes; or in the absence of such villains, we need catastrophes, disasters, destructive beasts—there has to be something bad in our worlds, or there’s nothing to tell. Read more

Magic as Part of Creation

First, let me address the matter of the question. When talking about a designing a role-playing game and the role that magic in the role-playing game will take, we must first decide on what questions we are asking ourselves. Several questions come to my mind. First, what is magic? What is it, not only in fantasy and reality, but also in the role-playing sub-culture? What will it be in my game world or system? The second question is “Why do I want it in the game system?” Why do I need or want magic in the game I’m designing? Third, how does it work in my game system? How do I want it to work in my game? Read more