Game Master Guidance

This includes common issues the GM will face from characters and players, GM behaviors and responsibilities, handling rules interpretations & changes, managing groups, resolving encounters mechanically, and handling character interaction and downtime in and outside the game.

It even contains some brief information on publishing play scenarios and works. The full GM Guide contains all the additional information on new, optional, and advise on using character facets – Features (traits, skills, etc.) and new or enhanced mechanics around them for NPCs and PCs.

Priority #1: Narrating Play and Action

Be Immersive: Immersive is where the details of scenes and encounters will get dynamically modified by player actions and NPCs as the story progresses. The GM alters, combines, or refines the interactions based on the motivations and resources of those involved and narrates so that the experience is vivid and interesting. These are optimal in idea, but there’s a learning curve to everything – experimenting is part of roleplaying. Healthy and balanced group fun (both Players and GM) overrides most concerns. This is a dynamic whose specifics vary from group to group, and is usually reflected in “session zero” type scenarios, and/or documented in a Gaming Contract.

What is my Job?

Your job is to basically manage everything else the players don’t. If that sounds like a dismissive or flippant answer, it’s not. The planning, documenting, assessment and reactions of every person, group, or collective is in your hands. The first thing to decide in helping you manage this potentially monumental task is two assess 2 starting points: scope and level of detail. Scope will determine how far beyond the direct actions of the player characters you want to be responsible for. The level of detail will determine to what level of granularity each interaction will be managed. After agreeing with the players on these items, your job as the narrator of the action in adventures and campaigns has boundaries that keep the pace and immersive feel manageable for everyone. The greater the amount of information in scope and detail, the more time must be invested. Truly epic campaigns with world politics, large battles, and culture clashes require a great deal more time to familiarize yourself with, track, and change in response to the Player Characters actions in game.

What is the experience, is play more important than stats, what material should you present? Under appreciated, inhuman level of control, blah blah blah, what to expect from being a GM. As a GM, you are responsible for the entirety of what happens to the characters. The options available to them, the people they interact with, the world they live in are all things that you control.

Developing new materials is a constant job for the GM. In addition to their job of running the game setting, players rely on them to invent and incorporate game system updates, and content of their own which makes the game experience unique to their group. Hereafter is a summary of development references.

Running the Game

One of the primary things GMs do is to manage game worlds and scenarios. Studying and choosing a game world in which to run the scenarios or making one from scratch is a falls under the task of World Building; Even choosing nothing but pre-built adventures still means a GM will have to Building Settings & Play Scenarios

How do I Run an Adventure or Scenario?

The GM must assess every situation with their knowledge of how the real world works and what players should reasonably expect, what the characters are doing and how the rules express it, what forces are arrayed against them, and what tone are they, as a GM, trying to set. Every situation will be different, and the adjustments you impose on characters will either make the action feel more real or perhaps even slow the game down. Careful not to devolve into rules litigation – this can easily ruin a gaming experience.

How Do I Resolve an Encounter?

Oftentimes a GM must inject an element of randomness into a situation – to simulate elements beyond the absolute control of the direct game elements and to challenge characters. It may be a simple encounter determining reactions of an NPC to a PC (setting the tone for future interactions), it may be that it’s a simple check on the weather, the change in weather, or even if a particular item is stocked by a merchant. There are endless permutations of this, involving many factors in each case; but the judicious use of the Simple Outcome check can be used in almost all cases. Use a skill, attribute or trait as the source of the check is appropriate. Otherwise, assume a character has an average chance of success – level 4 – on any simple check. Any concept relying on “luck” should use the Intuition attribute.
Superior/Full: GOOD – The check favors the character – information or benefit is theirs for the taking.

Simple/Average: INDIFFERENT – The check implies no information or benefit is immediately recognizable; any energy, time or resource spent are wasted.
Failure: BAD – The character is distrusted or rejected.

The particular degree – i.e. an item may be in stock, but it may cost 10x as much as normal, is up to the GM.

How do I know the Party is Ready?

However much work you put into a scenario, the PC’s may be outgunned or under-manned. The difficulty in completing any scenario rests mostly with the GM – they have the final say on all aspects of the game. Any play scenario can be adapted on the fly – you can adjust armor, skill levels, abilities, tactics (ambushes, cover, flanking), and even NPC knowledge to handicap or improve the PC’s chances. All of this can be done completely dynamically by a good GM – calculations and changes made as the story unfolds with the PC’s none-the-wiser.

As a general rule, the ability rankings are an excellent way to assess a challenge. The primary ranking of the toughest NPC’s should not exceed the best of the party’s unless you provide a specific means of defeating them or their plans within the story.

Creating Story Elements

How do I make a Play Scenario?

There is no uniform way – some GM’s keep all the details in their head to keep things fluid, others won’t deviate from a script. Some GM’s start with a single encounter and make the rest up as they go, others will write everything out ahead of time.

However, things may run faster and seamlessly if you think out place names, NPC names, some basic ideas about them (relative skill compared to the PC’s, gear they have, loot or knowledge they may be protecting) and how they relate to a story thread. Not having to stop to make up these details on the fly significantly helps to keep the immersive experience for the players. Think about the main themes and the tone (scary, dark, etc.), think about how the NPC’s and locale may react to the presence and actions of the PC’s. A smooth story is usually far more enjoyable than one which seems random and has no continuity.

GM Best Practice Advice

Listen, Create, Reward

Although there are no 100% applicable axioms of Game Mastering, there are some basic
advisory approaches which are typically very beneficial to achieving a fun gaming experience for everyone. Everything is really dependant on the expectations of the players, their familiarity with the material, and the successful meshing of the styles of play to create a healthy group dynamic.

  1. Listen to your Players: Decide ahead of time what sort of experience you are trying to achieve. Do the players want lots of combat, intrigue, puzzles? Gear the play scenarios to match the desires of the group wherever possible. However, you should also be able to take them away from their comfort zone when needed to enhance the story or just to provide greater challenge and a heightened sense of risk – This should create a better bond between players and characters. Will the roleplaying be mostly check-based or will you ask for player interaction; will you reward dramatic role-playing? Make sure the experience is geared towards what the group expects – do not simply present your idea of how things should be. Telling a story takes only you, making one takes the entire group.
  2. Create an Immersive Experience: Be it online or any other platform, the GM can make the entire gaming experience immersive. Episodic gaming is easy – its self contained play without plot threads, places, characters, events and ideas to tie it all together. This is the easiest to GM but can involve a lot of contrivance; The players meet and trust each other and decide to face a threat or seek something together… On the other hand, a GM can tie an experience together with a world thats built, reappearing characters, ideas, items, a timeline to explain some things, and consistent place names and goals.
    It makes the players feel like they are in a much richer shared experience with some simple contextual definition. It also helps the GM to be more versatile when there is a consistent backdrop that everything fits in. With just a little work, both heavily planned and complete improvisation are easy to use while maintaining a nice, consistent experience.
  3. Reward Appropriately: All players expect rewards for a gaming session – its how progress is measured. Incarna uses character points as the core reward, though there are many ways to grant them as part of play. There are additional rewards and reward methods which can be employed, but the biggest thing to remember is educating the players.
    If players have incentive, most will try and tailor their play towards getting the most rewards. Average suggested reward guidelines for a game session should be as follows: 1 CP for showing up; 2 CP for active participation; 3 CP for a full game session with active participation. Add extra CP for extraordinary participation, excellent role-playing, or long durations. Rewards of extra CP allocated towards a specific skill used often or effectively are also appropriate (though probably no more than a single point towards the next level).
    Particularly physically challenging situations may grant a small, one time bonus to Health. A single point is the maximum reward unless it represents extreme durations or conditions.
    In addition to CP, Action Points should also be given in reward, usually a like amount, to allow characters to take chances they may not normally take or ensure success at a critical point.
    Other rewards can be fuel for aptitude powers, blessings for faith characters, money or items for characters.

    What Rewards Should I Give?