A few weeks ago I posted the conversation I had with Vincent Baker. In that conversation he talked about how he believed that a game master was in alignment or out of alignment with a game, and that the rules in Apocalypse World helped put a Gamemaster in alignment. I think we both agreed that perhaps more could be done to put players in alignment. Here’s the first three statements from Apocalypse World, page XX.
- Barf forth apocalyptica
- Address yourself to the characters, not the players.
- Make your move, but misdirect.
These are somewhat poetic, but not necessarily the standards to fly as a flag for general purpose use. Vincent breaks them down in the book, and the flowery nature will help to recall them in play, but it doesn’t suit for general purpose. Vincent makes clear that general purpose is not his goal. I’m not sure we can make a perfect general purpose set of instructions, but I do think these “alignment rules,”or “Barfers,” are an example that can be looked at broadly and set to other games. For instance Vincent’s barfing, plus Episode 16 of the D&D podcast have lead me to what I think is alignment with 4 ed Dungeons and Dragons. Let’s play with that and see what trying to make our own “Barfer” nets us.
- Make the Player Character’s heroes, by hitting the players where they aren’t looking. D&D is about creative combats. It’s exception based design leaves lots of room for you to introduce new rules. Your players should have to be constantly adapting to new tactics. Whether you introduce these problems through terrain, using minions differently, the numbers and tactics of monsters, or the abilities you give to monsters, the players need to have new problems to solve, or play will get stale. You can hear this in the ideas that are generated in Episode 16, looking at Gabe’s balls, or third example I need to add.
- Craft the field of battle. You need to create the terrain beforehand. Put in things like choke-points, debris, cover, high points, etc. The easiest way to do this is to create a dungeon.(Or buy a dungeon, like in a module)
- Dungeon is in the name, motherfucker! The dungeon is essentially a creative restraint. It makes it so the characters have a set of problems to deal with, and a sense of the scale. The moat-house, and the Temple of Elemental Evil, are dungeons in the same module. One likely fills players with more trepidation than the other. They are clearly of a different scale.
- If you can’t have a dungeon, bake with a set-piece. The second method is to make set-pieces. A set-piece is like a small dungeon, that doesn’t have a particular place. For instance, you might make a set-piece that has a road that curves around a boulder for when the players are traveling. A clearing in the woods, etc. This is the kind of thing where you can work in an interesting battle based on something the players are likely to do, like that trip to the city, or whatever.
- Bring the Player Characters to the fight. Use things the players want to get them to fight. If one player wants to be king, then there is a lead to where the orb of justice resides which will be used at the coronation of the one true king. (I would probably talk about different ways to use flags here, but I’ve already made shows like 009 through 012.)
Not too bad for a first draft I hope. It doesn’t quite hit the specificity of what Vincent has done, but it’s what I got done on my work breaks. Hopefully it took Vincent a bit longer for his. Smiley Face.
The point is start with a broad declaration of what the GM is supposed to do and narrow it down to explain what the GM does specifically. This is what Dog’s does, what Mouse Guard does, and what A.W. does. This isn’t fucking advice, it’s instruction. Advice talks about the whole probability set of Gamemastery, and leaves it to you to screw around and try to hit the right tact. Instruction is telling you how to play this game, right here, right fucking now, and helps to set a clear expectation of game play. It’s not the whole set of tools, it’s the tools you use now.
How about you folks? See this motherfucking gauntlet? I’m dropping it. You got better Barfers for 4E? How about other games?