Friday, November 7, 2014

How a GM should Cheat

John Wick's two rulesof GMing are: There are no rules. Cheat anyway.

Now you may like or dislike John Wick as a person, but the man does know how to GM games and his rules are solid...provided you are trying to play a more narrative focused game. However, those rules don't work without some context. What that context is changes for everyone depending on the intricacies and nuances of their games, but there are factors that inform it. Today, I want to talk about that.

What Are You Trying To Do With Your Game?
This is perhaps the biggest question that gets missed by a lot of people when they sit down to run a game with their players. What is the point of the game? What purpose does it serve? Two purposes are generally known right off the bat. The game is intended to be a fun time, and the game is intended to be a social interaction between the players and the GM. I can't think of anyone who plays RPGs that isn't looking for at least one of those two things - perhaps to different degrees - every time a session comes around.

Beyond that though, what is your game supposed to do? For some people the game is supposed to provide puzzles, tactical challenges, and obstacles that are best handled through strategic logistics. This is ok, in fact it is great. A person in an L5R game I'm in is having as much fun if not more than the rest of us just keeping track of and handling the minute details of our ships cargo, stores, and the money we're making. Yes, he RPs and does the rest with us, but he's also having fun using the game as a person to person "store simulator" and it works.

Other people want their game to be more narrative focused. They want to tell stories. They want their characters to have meaningful interactions. They want plot points and character growth that trumps and surpasses what the character sheet and rules try to track. This is also okand awesome and a great way to play the game.

Some want to feel like a bad ass. They want the world to follow the Rule of Cool (Warning: TV tropes link!) where the system is just a suggestion and as long as something is bad ass enough it can happen.

Some people want all three, and then some.

Personally, when I run a game I want my players to love their characters. I want them to have personal stories, and I want there to be a larger story that is told by putting them together. I want events to be cinematic and awesome. I want to have moments that leave my players grinning until it hurts. I want their characters to bleed, hurt, cry, suffar, love, make friends, triumph, and experience joy. I want them to be challenged. I want them to be defeated. I want them to rise up from that defeat and keep pushing. I want a lot of things, but to boil it down I want the game to be a story, and not just any story but one with epic moments and characters such that the players will be talking about them for years to come. I fail as much, if not more, than I succeed. But it is what I want.

How Do You Deliver On What You Want?
Blunt objectivity time, what needs to happen for your game to deliver on what you and your players want from it?

If your group wants a story with character development than you need characters and you need reasons for them to change. You need an antagonist and antagonizing elements to prompt them to change. You need a story that brings those things together.

For a more mechanical/tactical/strategic game you need obstacles and complications that require the kind of thinking you rplayers want. You need monsters that can't just be defeated by throwing dice at them willy nilly. You need limits on resources and ways for your players to gather more or lose what they have.

The thing is, if you sit down and plot it out there are things that are needed for it to happen. You want a story about a kid playing baseball and learning to hit a curve ball, you're going to need baseball teams, a pitcher than can throw a curve ball, the kid that can't hit one, and a teacher to resolve the issue. In between those you need other things like baseball games, training sessions, a way to make the trainer work for the kid, and so on. The same is true for your game to deliver on its purpose.

Cheat To Make That Happen
And now we have where the cheating comes in. You now need to cheat to make your game deliver on its purpose. Some of this is obvious. The rules say that Player A's sword can hurt anything, but you want him to have to try new tactics? Well Monster B now breaks the rule about Player A's sword. He now has a new challenge ahead of him that isn't in the rules.

That one is easy, what about other things? I want my games to be cinematic. That means that not only do I have to fabricate events to make things cinematic, but at times I also have to cheat things to keep them cinematic. The rules say the enemy TIE fighter can blap a PC in one shot, but that's not very cinematic and so the first shot misses to set up the chase scene. Later, the rules say the TIE takes damage and ceases to be a problem. That also isn't cinematic so now the TIE isn't shot down, it hits a canyon wall and starts hurtling and spinning towards the PCs as a flaming ball of death before exploding.

In a story based game you want the Antagonist to be Vader like, big and scary. Guess what? You're going to have to cheat for this. You need to bend and break rules tomake the NPC able to pull that stuff off.

A Note of Caution
In all of this you need to be careful. Remember the first point of a game is to have fun. Your cheating needs to bring fun into the game, into the equation, and make it work. Cheating to "beat" your players is not cool. Cheating in a way that removes fun from the game is not cool. Cheating in a way that provides challenge and increases fun? Now that's awesome.

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