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Author Topic: The Benefits of GM Fiat  (Read 3742 times)
SlurpeeMoney
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Posts: 69


« on: October 20, 2004, 07:52:16 AM »

Ron requested that I post an my style of play, as I am a rather large proponent of Game Master Fiat in gaming, and this seems to be rather the minority on the Forge. So, here it is.

When I started gaming, my group was typically 14 - 24 people crammed into the living room of my best friend's house. I had a short attention span, so most of our games ended up being one-shots, in which I improved most of the events that took place, and used player actions as the biggest catalyst to "What Comes Next?" If, half a session ago, the characters happened to kill the Patron God-Dragon of a colony of primeval dwarves, well, those dwarves would usually end up comming back to seek vengeance.

With 14 people, a Game Master has to keep on his toes, and maintain absolute control of the way the game is going. Often, there are four or five different directions in which the game is taking place, four or five storylines going on at once, and the ability to switch between them seamlessly is of incredible importance. You really can't get into battles about whether or not "the rules say..." or "last time I could..." As the Game Master, you dictate results, you stick by them, and Gawd help the player that steps out line. To this effect, I even went so far as to create a meta-rule that could help lessen the events in which a player pissed me off, known affectionately by my group as the God Slap. Character or player getting out of line? Pick up a handful of dice. Character or player not stopping? Roll those dice and tell the player how much damage the gods have just inflicted on the character for being stoopid.

Oddly enough, the rule was not only embraced in our group, it was loved and lauded; the effects of a God Slap were often humorous, and the group would be talking about them for days afterwards.

With 24 people people in the group, things get even harder. As a Game Master, you find yourself switching storylines as fast as you can rip out results, and most of the time people are being as loud as possible to gain attention. If I cannot arbitrarilly change/alter a rule, if I cannot change backstory to fit a current decision, if I cannot do whatever the hell I need to do RIGHT NOW, with no discussion and no argument, the game falls apart and loses all structure. It stops being fun. And the players understood that, and they went along with it, and I'd have maybe an argument every week or so (We played, in our younger days, every day for three months. It was good.)

My attention span is longer now, my groups considerably shorter, but I still play with the same ferocity I did when I had larger groups. My style is still fast and loose, dealing with problems as they come and dealing with them in whatever way they need to be dealt with. I've done away with the God Slap (much to the disappointment of long-time players), and instead rely on in-game solutions to stupidity. My style is much more descriptive now; with much fewer people, I have time to expound on such silly little details as style of dress or architecture. It's made me a much better Game Master, one that my players know to be fair, entertaining intriguing.

But the players come into it knowing that you don't argue with the Game Master. His word is law. He is Gawd.

So getting down to the nitty-gritty of it... What are the benefits of Game Master Fiat?

1) Very, very fast play; decisions are made, usually without reference to the rules, based only on what best fits the situation.
2) Storytelling. I realize not everyone is a narrativist, but I am, and the conditional authorship that fiat provides allows me to utilize situations that may not fall directly into the backstory or the rules. Sometimes, directly against both.
3) Improvisation. In a large group, or even a smaller, faster group, decisions are made on the fly. Don't bring any notes; you won't need them. Reactionary Game Mastery is one of the hardest skills I've had to learn, and without a huge amount of fiat at my disposal, I could never have done it.
4) It's what most people expect. There is a structure to a fiat game that people understand from the old D&D days. The Game Master controls everything, get over it, let's move on.
5) It works. You know that old addage, if it ain't broke, don't fix it? Well, there are wiggly bits in Game Master fiat, and in the hands of an unqualified Game Master, they can become a problem. For an experienced Game Master, however, fiat is an invaluable tool, with which there really isn't anything wrong.

So, that's that. That's how I play. I support Game Master fiat. I'm also a Monarchist. Color me un-Diplomatic.

Kris
"Take 7000 damage from the God Slap, and the Dire Insult disadvantage from being peed on by a dog while unconscious in the gutter..."
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: October 20, 2004, 07:57:50 AM »

Hi Kris,

Actually, what I requested was a specific session or other unit of actual play - the game, the people, the events in-game, the moments of satisfaction and frustration, that sort of thing. A real journalistic account of what it's like to play at your table, rather than a statement of principles.

Can you pick, oh, say the most recent instance of play and just tell us about it in these terms?

Where was it in "the story"? Did it serve its function in getting in-game stuff where you wanted it to go?

What did the characters do? (go light on this part, rather than "then then then" posting, please)

Who was there, and who was most active or least active, in what ways? How long did it last? Did you like it?

And so on.

Best,
Ron
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SlurpeeMoney
Member

Posts: 69


« Reply #2 on: October 20, 2004, 09:26:57 AM »

Well then it looks like I'm going to have to game again soon. My last game was something like a month ago, and I barely remember it. I'll try and organize something and come back to this when I've had a more recent game under my belt.

Cheers!
Kris
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daMoose_Neo
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« Reply #3 on: October 20, 2004, 05:07:54 PM »

Consider this a little "Me Too", but I've enforced such a rule as well ^_^

I was running a campaign at my highschool during our hour lunch and in my area D&D is still considered "Dark and Evil!", so to try to keep things clean and folks off our back we ran a rather PG game, roughly similar in content and play to the Final Fantasy games or other "kiddish" console RPG games.
Our "God" rule pertained to vulgarity, swearing, and other such behavior (cause we were sitting in the middle of school!)- Swearing was considered using the god's name in in vain and brought down their wrath. This rule was understood by everyone.
And then came the vulgar new player. Swearing up a storm, a couple of lightning bolts from the heavens solved most of the problems. I was a little easy with the healing though and it wasn't long before he was back at full HP, less than 20 however and swearing. My "lightning bolts" were simply d20. And then he pushed the wrong button and got nailed with one final bolt, killing him right where he stood!
He never was ressurected. He gave up shortly there after, and the party, which had preserved his body and carried it to the nearest town (a days travel), ended up losing it looking for a priest: they stumbled in during a festival celebration where a bunch of drunk men were dressed as priests, claiming to be priests. In their eagerness to "help" they dropped the body down a well...and there he stayed.
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Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!
Luke
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« Reply #4 on: October 21, 2004, 10:14:07 PM »

Quote from: SlurpeeMoney
Well then it looks like I'm going to have to game again soon. My last game was something like a month ago, and I barely remember it. I'll try and organize something and come back to this when I've had a more recent game under my belt.

Cheers!
Kris


Hi Kris,
Like Ron, I'd very much like to read a description of the actual mechanics of one of your play sessions. Doesn't have to be word for word, but I'd love to hear about an instance of conflict in the game and what the players did (not the characters) and how you (as Fiated GM) resolved the situation.

I assume, from what you're saying, that the players have no control over their actions except to voice them and throw them into play. Once they are spoken, the outcome is utterly up to you, right?

thanks!
-Luke
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SlurpeeMoney
Member

Posts: 69


« Reply #5 on: October 22, 2004, 07:24:11 PM »

I own a big book on publishing science fiction. While almost all of it is good advice (go buy it: "The Complete Idiots Guide to Publishing Science Fiction"), the one piece that really stuck out to me was the Try/Fail sequence. My games almost always follow this principal, looking something like this.

1) A character has a problem.
2) The character tries to intelligently solve that problem.
3) The character fails.
4) Things get worse.

Almost all of my decisions related to whether or not a character's actions are going to succeed are based on this principle.

1) If the idea will solve the problem outright, it almost always fails.
2) If the idea will solve the problem eventually, it may succeed, but only after multiple attempts, after each of which, Things Get Worse.
3) If the idea will probably not solve the problem, it may succeed, especially if it solves one of the minor, peripheral problems that has crept up while Things Got Worse.
4) If it isn't going to solve the problem at all, it will probably succeed.
5) If the idea is actually going to Make Things Worse on it's own, it always succeeds.

As an example, in my most recent Palladium game (no hissing; go back to your corners...), one of the two players was attempting to establish something of a large-scale drug running operation. His first idea was to talk to the first shady person he met, who immediately directed him to a local lord who happened to be in the freelance pharmacudical business. His idea fell under the "Solve the Problem Eventually" category; meeting with the local lord, Things Got Worse.

The local lord was willing to, eventually, solve Tristan's problem, but only after a period during which Tristan worked for him. The work was mostly intelligence work, gathering as much information about a particular Lady as possible. Tristan agreed to work for the Lord.

In order to blend in, though, they needed new clothes, new hair, new everything, so they went shopping on the Lord's money. This would fall under the "Things get worse right away" category. Things got worse. People talk when a Lord's money is being spent, and when they were finally done, their cover was almost blown by the curiosity of other Lords and Ladies, one of whom was the Mark.

Attempting to side-step the error, they began to pose as embassadors for their Kingdom. This is a Make Things Worse on It's Own idea. The Mark, hoping to gain an ambassador's favor (and later intimidate the hell out of him), began with the sexual mojo. Later that evening, she showed up in his bedchamber with a small entourage of young ladies, and invited him down to the Pleasure Chamber.

He just went with it, so got tortured and pleasured all at the same time, and woke up with none of his S.D.C. and half his Hit Points.

In this case, no dice were rolled; Palladium doesn't really have rules established for social situations, so it was all pretty well role-played through. Had rolls been neccessary, though, it would have ended up exactly as it had. I weigh the possibilities by what will make things the most interesting, make my decision, and if the players want to roll dice, they roll dice. Most of the time, dice-rolling only happens for matters of little consequence regardless.

Keep in mind, though, that for inconsequential actions, or actions that don't go along with the main storyline, I don't bother trying to come up with How Things Get Worse. I just let them do what they're doing, they roll, I follow the rules. For the main story, though, my way goes; to hell with dice, rules, or what the book says. And most of the time, it makes things go a lot more smoothly.

~Kris
"Yeah, I play Palladium. What of it?"
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SlurpeeMoney
Member

Posts: 69


« Reply #6 on: October 22, 2004, 07:31:37 PM »

Also, as a side note:

The more effort that goes into describing or developing an idea, the more likely it is to succeed in one of my games. I like to reward effort, so narrative descriptions, clever entertaining dialogue, or even a really well-planned expositionary are all more likely to succeed (and make a better story) than the World's Best Generic Plan. Ultimately, it's story that matters in my games.

I also tend to reward good role-playing; if an hour ago, you role-played a viscious scene and you did it with flair and style, no matter how dumb your plan is, it may turn out to be one of those "It's so dumb it just might work," plans.

The Try/Fail sequence is just my mainstay; there is a lot of room to wiggle when you're game is completely under your conrol, and you don't have to worry about niggly little things like rules. ^__^

~Kris
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GreatWolf
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designer of Dirty Secrets


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« Reply #7 on: October 23, 2004, 08:34:58 AM »

Quote from: SlurpeeMoney
Almost all of my decisions related to whether or not a character's actions are going to succeed are based on this principle.

1) If the idea will solve the problem outright, it almost always fails.
2) If the idea will solve the problem eventually, it may succeed, but only after multiple attempts, after each of which, Things Get Worse.
3) If the idea will probably not solve the problem, it may succeed, especially if it solves one of the minor, peripheral problems that has crept up while Things Got Worse.
4) If it isn't going to solve the problem at all, it will probably succeed.
5) If the idea is actually going to Make Things Worse on it's own, it always succeeds.


This seems like a relatively straightforward Drama-based system to me.  That's not a slam, by the way.  I'm just being descriptive.  Actually (if I can mention this game), it sounds a bit like the Theatrix flowcharts for action resolution.  Do you have any exposure to this game, Kris?

Also, another question for clarification.  Do your players understand the rules that you described?  Or do they think that you are using the Palladium rules, whereas you are really using these rules?
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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
SlurpeeMoney
Member

Posts: 69


« Reply #8 on: October 23, 2004, 04:51:20 PM »

I've not played Theatrix, no. In fact, this is the first time I've heard of it. And yeah, my players think I'm using Palladium's rules. Like I said, it's all deception.

They think I have this huge planned out game, when I've really got a few key situations written on a piece of paper.

My players think I'm rolling dice to get numbers against which they are supposed to compete. I'm not. I'm rolling to make them think that's what I'm doing.

My players think I actually play by the rules. For them, there are rules. For me, there are no rules, and I cheat anyway.

As for dramatic systems, yeah. That's exactly what it is. I don't use it all the time; most of the time, I just make up situations as I go along, and everyone has a good time getting knocked around. But if I need to decide whether or not something is dramatically interesting, I go Try/Fail.

~Kris
"I'm a cheatin' bastard at heart."
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Michael S. Miller
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« Reply #9 on: October 23, 2004, 07:02:24 PM »

HI, Kris.

Let me second what Seth said: Your system sounds very similar to Theatrix, a diceless system that puts effectively all the authority in the GM's hands.

Quote from: SlurpeeMoney
And yeah, my players think I'm using Palladium's rules. Like I said, it's all deception.

They think I have this huge planned out game, when I've really got a few key situations written on a piece of paper.

My players think I'm rolling dice to get numbers against which they are supposed to compete. I'm not. I'm rolling to make them think that's what I'm doing.

My players think I actually play by the rules. For them, there are rules. For me, there are no rules, and I cheat anyway.


I think this exposes one of the weaknesses of GM Fiat in play. Let's call it the "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" phenomenon. It's been working fine for you as long as your players think they've got a legitimate chance to affect the game in a meaningful way. What do you suppose would happen if they found out the truth?

Another question: Have you ever been a player under GM Fiat conditions?

I was looking back at your first post in this thread, where you list the advantages of GM Fiat and describe how it evolved in your group. It sounds like you're a heck of a fun guy and can carry the weight of a game on your personality alone (Heck, with GM Fiat, that's what you're doing). Being the star of the show is quite a rush. I should know, I've carried games on the weight of my personality for years. In my AD&D2 game, my version of the Gawd Slap was blue lightning bolts that would strike out of a clear sky.

So I fudged die rolls and ignored rules for years. I was the center of attention and a whirlwind of pure game--I even ran Theatrix a number of times. Each game night was like another installment of "The Mike Miller Show" and my players had a blast.

Until I stopped having fun with it. Lots and lots of different games in different genres with different players all started to seem the same. And the sameness was getting old. Y'see, what all these games had in common was me running them. And running them the same way: Covert GM Fiat. More of the same led to less fun for me led to less fun for my players led to even less fun for me. I had at least one instance where I had to leave the table in the middle of a convention scenario I was GMing just to catch my breath and browbeat myself to going back to the table and finish the session. I was miserable and seriously considered dropping gaming entirely.

The happy ending: [cue sentimental music] Found the Forge. Figured out that Narrativism was what I wanted. Changed my play style. Played cool games. Met cool people. Designing cool game of my own.

Of course, I'm not trying to say that "This is what will happen if you don't get off that GM Fiat dope and straighten up." I just saw a lot of parallels between your gaming experience, as you describe it, and my own. I thought I'd add another perspective. For me, letting go of GM Fiat was difficult, frightening, and the best thing I've ever done for my own gaming enjoyment. Collaborating with other people, rather than dictating to them, just plain rocks!

Of course, Your Mileage May Vary.
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