Sunday, September 6, 2009

Where I'm At In My GMing

Stuart of Robertson Games had a really nice article last week where he discussed the differences in approach that different versions of D&D take. I don't think I'm alone in extrapolating some of those differences over to evaluating my Game Mastery style, as GMs also have different expectations and goals according to how they frame their games, just as systems do.

Looking through the glasses of preparation for my upcoming Castles & Crusades sandbox campaign, I've assigned a values of 1 and 10 to each pair, and then I'll gauge where I'm at along that axis:

Comprehensive Rules (1) vs. Minimalist Rules (10): With the choice of Castles & Crusades and my generally rules-light style of running, I'd say I'm definitely running towards a 7 or 8 on this one. My games aren't freeform, but neither do I have a comprehensive list of modifiers for every possible scenario. A more minimalist approach generally means a stronger, more centralized GM presence, one more in line with adjudication than enforcement. I'd say that describes where I'm at pretty well just now.

I do believe in the fun and relative randomness of charts--but I'm not sure where that drops in on here.

High Power Fantasy (1) vs. Low Power Fantasy (10): I am middle of the road on this one. My games have some more high fantasy elements (airships, a suspension of reality in certain cultural and historical developments), and I'm not adverse to throwing in the kitchen sink at times (something I think skews towards the high-power stuff). But my campaigns generally feature more humans than any other race, and there is a certain of amount of grim reality in traipsing through a deadly, unexplored wilderness. While it isn't Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, neither is it Conan of Cimmeria. I think I fall neatly into the bell curve here.

Narrative Mechanics (1) vs. Simulation Mechanics (10): I don't generally find these as helpful guideposts, so I'll skip this. That doesn't mean you have to.

Strategic Chargen vs. Simple Chargen (10): I give the option of a more customizable character, but I think this character generation session will feature a lot of charts from those brave or foolish enough to tempt the fates. It may not be incredibly simple, but there's not going to be build-planning for 6-7 levels down the road. In my experience C&C really isn't the game for that. I'm at around a solid 8 here, I think.

Tactical Encounter (1) vs. Strategic Adventure (10): I don't believe the two here are mutually exclusive. I definitely have a love of strategic adventure, and a sandbox campaign can definitely push resource management hard. However, I also encourage and reward players for taking advantage of terrain, obstacles, and tactical positioning during combat (running away is also a valued skill--I'm a Kenny Rogers fan in this regard). But to me, without the journey, what meaning holds the encounter? 5 or a 6, I guess.

Combat Balance (1) vs. Adventure Balance (10): I want all my players to have some good spotlight time if they want it (some don't, they just want to hang out and roll dice, which is cool, too). For some, that means hacking orcs or turning undead. For others, it means carousing in town or delivering epic speeches. I don't expertly tailor every combat encounter around set character abilities. Because encounters are less important than overall adventuring, and I recognize and emphasize the niches beyond encounters, I'm saying an 8 here.

Balanced Encounters (1) vs. Balanced Adventures (10): The world does not change for the players. There's a red dragon in the swamp, and orcs in the pass. If you come back 3 levels later, unless you did something to affect it, there's still a red dragon in the swamp and orcs in the pass. It's up to the players to scout, assess, engage or disengage, and find the path of least (or greatest resistance. 9, and see here for more.

Wargame Combat (1) vs. Abstracted Combat (10): I use minis, but as a general reference tool, not as a hard-and-fast representation. 4.

GM as Player (1) vs. GM as Referee (10): L'etat c'est moi. 9.5.

Fantastic Characters (1) vs. Common Characters (10): 7. I think most characters in fantasy RPGs have some element of the fantastic in them, merit of them being an adventurer, a dwarf, a halfling, etc. But I also believe strongly in the Hero's Journey, and making that journey challenging. I want my characters to be able to rise from being a hastily-conscripted tailor's apprentice to a legendary master of a stronghold. Again, the journey is part of the fun!

Established Setting (1) vs. DIY Setting (10): 9. I love Greyhawk, but our setting for this campaign is pure Do-It-Yourself. I do still borrow liberally from a number of sources (history, literature, old game settings, magazines, message boards, etc.), as does every DIY GM who isn't a damned liar.

Resource Optimization (1) vs. Creative Problem Solving (10): I have no issue with either--using a resource you have or coming up with a clever solution if you don't are both great part of the game. Down the middle, again.

I think that I've definitely changed my GMing style from even a few years ago. In 2003 or 2004, you'd find me much less rules-minimal, much more strategic in character generation, and a little bit more involved in canon. I think some of that has to do with not having the prep time, time to "master" complex, new systems, or the desire to micro-manage towards the holy grail of some would-be fictional masterpiece. But a lot of it is just growing personally as a Game Master, and finding a method of play that challenges my players, makes our games unpredictable to I as well as they, and draws on the legacy of a hobby that set fire to so many imaginations for a reason.

EDIT: I should add this is sort of a snapshot for where you are as a GM for your current campaign. Obviously, these can change from campaign to campaign, depending on what you're trying for.


The Rusty Battle Axe said...

This is interesting. A couple of these don't really seem like opposites on a continuum (particularly Resource Optimization vs. Creative Problem Solving), but I'd have to read the original article. The Castles & Crusades campaign we currently have going sounds pretty similar to what you are starting.

Stuart said...

These profiles are very interesting! :)

The original article was just my comparison of B/X D&D and 4e. I hadn't thought of it further than that.

Zachary The First said...

@Rusty: I felt the same way on that one. That's probably why I'm down the middle on it.

The Rusty Battle Axe said...

Thanks for pointing me to the original article, which I just read. Interesting.