Wednesday, 14 November 2012

My ideal GMing recipe

A busy week this week, so I'll try to keep this short. I've been trying to work out what sort of game I like running as a GM these days, and I'm starting to get a clearer idea of the sort of parameters I enjoy when I'm on that side of the screen. This does not stretch to my preferences as a player in an RPG, where the quality of the group of people assembled and the general bonhomie it generates is just as important as the rules used.

For some time now I've been conscious that I've not the stamina to run a campaign, week in, week out. I like running shorter games which stretch to about three sessions maximum and reach some form of definite conclusion. One of the bonuses of this is that player characters can convincingly die in the course of the adventure, particularly in the last session, and nobody will be as put out as they might be if their character bought the farm after six months of play. Because of this, the chargen process also needs to be relatively swift. One of the reasons I like Gumshoe, for example, is that it requires the players to sit down together and create the party at the outset, and to do this in about 30-40 minutes. Call of Cthulhu is also very easy - when we generated our characters for a recent campaign, I was amazed at how quick it was compared with, say, Pathfinder. I'd forgotten. But then CoC investigators suffer a higher attrition rate than their Pathfinder counterparts.

The days of my running lengthy campaigns, like the old Fungi From Yuggoth Cthulhu campaign, are, I feel, over. I simply have not got the time - or the mental stamina - for it.

Secondly, the system needs to be relatively simple. By that, I mean it should not take that long to teach a complete novice how to play it. If this can't be achieved in less than 10 minutes, it is probably too complex. People simply don't have the attention spans for highly complex games, if they are only going to be playing for two or three sessions. Heck, people don't seem to have the attention spans full stop.

Thirdly, there must be some form of mechanics governing a character's personality. Taking Call of Cthulhu again as an example, the Sanity mechanic in this game helps to measure a character's descent into madness. It was one of the first RPGs to actually move away from purely combat-related stats and seek to impose a form of game mechanic on personality, in this case mental stability. King Arthur Pendragon was another example, with its passions rules, and Vampire most famously, with its measure of a character's remaining humanity once they became undead.

Fourth, the setting or environment must be familiar to the players. If they spend too long having to ask questions about the setting, or make false assumptions based on lack of knowledge, then that milieu is simply unsuitable for the task at hand. One of the reasons - again - Call of Cthulhu has been so successful, is that it is easy to drop a newbie into the environment, and they are almost completely familiar with the world they are adventuring in. The GM/Keeper does not need to do much in the way of setting explanation. It helps to have some knowledge of the 1920s, if the game is taking place in the 1920s, but that's about it. I am ruminating about a Trail of Cthulhu game in Shanghai in the 1930s, which would take investigators slightly further out of their comfort zone, but if they are non-Chinese characters, this lack of familiarity with Asia would only serve to reinforce their plight.

Finally, I like giving the PCs their own agendas. I loved Paranoia and Cold City because of this: PCs have their own factional and personal agendas which help to dictate their actions. Cold City has it all really: a contemporary setting, espionage, hidden agendas, horror and even some dungeon bashing on occasion. As a campaign setting, it stands as an appropriate heir to Call of Cthulhu. Mechanically, it still needs some work/adaptation, to suit my style of play.

A level of intra-party conflict/suspicion is ideal for the shorter game. I'm not sure it works as well over the longer term, although I was once playing in a Legend of the Five Rings game where this was made to work perfectly, and the multi-clan nature of a typical Lot5R party just helps to add fuel to this fire of intrigue and double dealing (particularly if the Scorpion clan is represented).

That's it in a nutshell really. Next time I will be posting on Hot War, why I like it as a successor to Cold City, and what I think of the changes to the core Cold City mechanics. Do they represent enough of an improvement?

No comments:

Post a Comment