CyberSavage

April 12, 2010
A little while ago I got around to typing up some of my thoughts about cyberpunk and cyberware, under the pretense of getting ‘ware to work in Savage Worlds. Here’s the result, feel free to comment on it. And yes, I know very well that the way I wrote this is quite one-sided. I intended this to just let my thoughts out in a somewhat coherent form, and possibly to help others thinking of the same things. Therefore, no explanations to the genre or its usual conventions, only pondering on some of the less-considered (and more realistic) parts that might add to it.

Handling of cyberware in general:

I didn’t find any rulesets in the basic Savage Worlds rulebook that would be immediately applicable to cyberware, so I had to create and deduce something else. I decided that there are two main ways to treat cyberware: As 1) “natural” parts of the character, or 2) equipment. In the first case, that part being cyberware is mainly a question of flavor, and the fact that with cyberware some things can be achieved that are impossible with normal biological bodies. The second case seems (to me) to give more freedom in the variety of cyberware used, but easily results in very unbalanced characters. Rules-wise, the first option is simple: Some body parts of the character being cyber is merely flavor, at most giving access to unusual abilities or those over the human norm. Thus, they should be treated as normal Edges, Traits and possibly Arcane Powers. They should be marked off as cyberware, though, since cyberware is susceptible and resistant to different things than human body.

The second option is not much more complicated, but as mentioned, has the added difficulty of maintaining game balance. Of course, that is adjustable too: just tamper with the prices of cyberware. But still, a character putting his money in good-quality cyberware is likely to get somewhat more for his money than one buying more traditional technology. Otherwise, cyberware is just normal equipment: Added abilities, or enhancements to existing ones that can be easily modified, added or taken away.

Of course, both of these seem somewhat restrictive, and I prefer to use them somewhat mixed up: Any significant, permanent advantages (like enhanced Attributes) granted by cyberware should be bought as any other Trait or Edge, but less significant ones (merely a cyberarm to replace one blown off, or a cybereye only modified to show a HUD) are equipment. Also, some cyberware (hand, foot, eye) might be equipped with some sort of quick-change mount so that one could easily change a piece of ‘ware to another with different properties. This would, in my opinion, qualify for that piece of ‘ware to be counted as equipment. Still, any cyberware should be marked as such.

Acquiring cyberware:

Acquiring cyberware has two sides. On one hand, how it’s handled game technically. On the other, how it’s handled in the game world. I’ll do some checking on the game tecnical side in this chapter.

Of course, handling this depends somewhat on the approach on cyberware. As equipment, finding and purchasing is a simple matter, it just requires some more time to be useful, in the form of operations and recovering from them, and they probably aren’t quite as easily resellable. Considered a natural part of a character, though, this gains some complications. As a character gains permanent advantages upon installing new cyberware, this might be felt as a similar thing to an Advance. This would be an easy way of handling the matter, and it’s quite useful,too, when ‘ware is handled completely as a part of a character. One additional advantage is that adding ‘ware might let, at the GM’s option, ignore some of the requirements for Edges. To me, though, this feels somewhat unrealistic, and unfair, as it effectively takes away one chance of natural learning, and forces the character to invest extra time and money into something that might be available as a normal Advance. On the other hand, just selling Edges and Attributes is even more unfair, and that lets the power level of the characters blow out of proportion quite quickly. So, once again, some kind of golden middle road is the best solution, at least for me.

I think a good way would be to give some options to the player on how to handle installing of the ‘ware. Either, he could do it as an Advance, with no side effects, but using the time he could spend bodybuilding or reading instead in hospital, getting his new ‘ware installed. In this case, the advantage mentioned earlier (ignoring requirements) should also apply. Or he could get it as an “extra advance”, with equal amount of Hindrances or other side effects to balance the new abilities. (Some of these I will cover in the next chapter.) The side effects might be permanent, or they might be possible to buy off with upgrades, or just wear off with time and getting used to the new ‘ware. Or the GM might require the character to spend extra time off adventuring and additional (I’d suggest at least triple) money to ensure that the ‘ware being installed, and the installation process, is first-class. Or finally, the player might agree to skipping his next Advance to get it now as cyberware. With this last one, GM should be careful though, and not allow anyone to take more than two of these at once, and require a normal Advance every now and then too.

Getting ‘ware to work:

This is the first chapter in which I extensively consider my opinion of some “realities” of cyberware, and those who want ‘ware to be a smaller part of their game, or just want high-flying action and coolness more than a certain grittiness are adviced to ignore most of this. Personally, I like a certain feel of realism in my games.

Getting new cyberware installed is actually no simple process. First, you need to choose and find the ‘ware you want installed. Choosing shouldn’t be a big problem, finding might. The law might very well become a big problem in the whole process: Many types of cyberware are likely to be at required to get registered, if not downright illegal to anyone else than specialiced groups (like the military). The easier to conceal a piece of ‘ware is, the more destructive it is, and the easier it is to use to hurt people’s privacy, the more likely it is to be controlled. A simple cyberhand would probably be standard operation for replacing a lost one, and wouldn’t require any kind of record besides normal medical ones. On the other hand, a heavy handgun hidden inside a cyberarm or an eye equipped with a camera would probably be restricted to certain kind of personnel, such as military, civilian police officers or spies. Then again, even if law is not a problem, a certain piece of cyberware might require a lot of searching to find one that is ready, either used or new, or a wait of several weeks (and extra cash) to order one specifically.

Well, now we’ve found and paid for what we need, one way or another. Next trouble is to find someone to actually install the stuff. And that might not be easy either. The law might cause problems again, though probably less than before: In a dystopian world, almost everyone has their price, and it might even not be that high. Still, skill is what’s needed. In reality, installing something that will be controlled with your own nervous system requires a hell of an expertise. But the level of expertise that installing cyberware would realistically require would put ‘ware away from the hands of nearly all of our dear street thug PCs, and that’s not (probably) what we want. So, let’s play it moderate and just require a special education of “cyberdoc”, requiring a year or two of studies, added to those of any medical doc. Actually, probably any surgeon is able to stitch a cyberfinger into place, but anything more would require some sort of specialisation. And with illegal mods, you need to either pay a lot extra, or fond somebody less qualified. Of course, this being cyberpunk, the latter option might not be that hard after all…

Next step is to get the operation itself, and recovery. As in any surgery, the operation will take some time, and is not without problems of its own. If you actually managed to find a good doctor, and pay him enough, and get good parts too, you will have a good chance of getting the out of the operation and getting the ‘ware to work smoothly. But probably, not all of these will apply. A ripperdoc on the street or a student of cybersurgery might do the job easier and cheaper, but the result will have no guarantee of being good. Old equipment and shady clinics risk infection. Cheap ‘ware might be much more difficult to attach, and if it’s used it might have its own quirks. Add together a few of these, and you’ll have a new adventure on your hands. Recovery should mostly take time, unless infection really did kick in, so that’s simple.

Now we’ve got that shiny new cyberarm installed, and despite the drunken doc and used parts we’re up and on the street again. Time for some new trouble. A human’s nervous system is adapted to his own body. Rip something off and install something even the slightest bit different, and it will take some time before you get used to the new parts. even worse is, of course, when that new part includes something that wasn’t in the original, like a gun inside an arm, or a tiny switch in your new eye that enables you to switch between normal and infravision. There will probably be some basic safety controls in place that will prevent you from shooting that gun while it’s inside your arm, but at first, that eye might reflexively change to infrared when you squint. Let alone the fact that you will be seeing two different wavelenghts (and thus images) at once. Or, if you’re not sure about the situation, the gun might decide to follow your subconcious fear and not pop up at all. The equipment or surgery might well be faulty, too: A used cyberarm tends to lock up if you straighten it all the way, or that student doc was too nervous to notice he crossed a couple of nerves, so that now you move your wrist when you try to move your elbow, and vice versa. Annoying, if not downright dangerous. Also, this part is good to consider for balancing the advantages of cyberware if that method is used.

Maintenance:

Maintenance is another aspect of cyberware that is often ignored for the sake of a simpler game. But is is somewhat essential to at least consider if one wants to keep the game realistic and gritty. Also, need for constant maintenance is another good wayt to balance out cyberware.

For one part, cyberware need power. even with today’s technology, some of this could be achieved by taking energy from the body’s movements. Note that some wristwatches actually use this already. But to be honest, most cyberware would need mouch more energy than that, and it would be probably best arranged with rechargeable and changeable internal batteries. Once again, one could easily and plausibly go overboard with the realism here, requiring the owner of a non-enhanced cyberarm to sit next to a wall plug a few hours each day, but better times for play would probably be three to six hours per week. another interesting thing with this is the fact that even the best batteries get worn down, so they need to bee changed every once in a while. And they might not be cheap. Even more fun comes our way when connection or size standards get outdated.

Then again, everything wears down in use, but that can be lessened a lot with correct maintenance. To use a little more familiar example for most uf us, guns need to be cleaned basically after every day of use, be that use shooting at target in shooting range or carrying it around in nature. Similar rules apply tu cyberware, even more strictly: Joints wear down, wirings corrode and everything gets dirty and decayed. And as models get older, spare parts get more and more difficult to find…

One more thing is the not-so-usual maintenance: Bullet holes, EMP, hacking etc. While it may not require a new piece of ‘ware to be installed, repairing that kind of damage will still need spare parts and some fine manipulation and mechanical and electronic skills. And of course, even if it’s owner was still alive, a cybereye that has received a speeding bullet will be practically useless, requiring a new eye.

Humanity and cyberpsychosis:

I don’t feel rules for cyberpsychosis to be actually necessary, since ‘psychos don’t actually appear much in the base literature of the genre, and those rules appear to me to have been inserted mainly to prevent players from munchkining by stuffing too much cyber into their characters. Nevertheless, sometimes it might create quite interesting dramatic tension, and for some people, it still is a big part of CP roleplaying. So, here are some simple rulings for Humanity and Cyberpsychosis, which any GM can either use or leave out. Personally, I’d just assign some enemy Wild Cards to be cyberpsychos (if necessary), and leave it at that.

Humanity is a stat separate from any other, used only for following how a character reacts to new cyberware being installed to his body. It starts at 20, decreasing with each new installation of cyberware. The amount of humanity lost depends on the type of cyberware: Basically, the larger the cyberware, and the more of brain’s (active) capacity it requires to control, the larger the Humanity loss. This means that, for example, a simple cyberhand might cost only one Humanity, a cybereye with added switchable infravision three, and a fully modified, strengthened arm-and-shoulder with a hidden built-in gun and finger tools might cost even six Humanity.

On the other hand, light tattoos, illuminating hair, or other such installments that can be merely “inserted” into a body, without any attachments to nervous system, cost no Humanity.

Also, one might give some leeway in Humanity costs, if the character already has a similar piece of ‘ware installed: The shock to the nervous system might not be as severe when your brain and nerves have already gotten used to controlling a certain kind of ‘ware. That also means that in conversion to full cyborg (if possible at all), the Humanity cost will not necessarily incapacitate a character immediately.

Each time new cyberware is added, roll a d20. If the result is lower or equal than the “new” Humanity score, nothing happens. If the result is more than the humanity score, though, cyberpsychosis looms heavy.

Optionally, if that feels too random, you might want to roll only when Humanity drops to less than 10, or skip with the rolling altogether and just rule, that when Humanity drops below a certain point (probably 0…), the char is in dire need of therapy.

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Alter Ego

April 4, 2010

What every single table-top roleplayer (and probably a bunch of other gamers too) love to talk about is their characters. And when the games one has played in multiply, the amount of those characters builds up, and favourites are found.

Personally, there’s one of my character that’s risen to be my pet, even though (sadly enough) the campaign he was in has now dried up. His name’s Tynas Mega. The name, more or less obviously, is an anagram. The character’s backstory claimed he’d made it up himself at some point, without realizing its new, “hidden” meaning. That is, Tynas was actually obsessive about learning all possible spells in existence. Somewhat megalomaniac goal, I’d say. Otherwise, Tynas was actually quite fun to be around: Always cheery, interested in all things magical, curious… And on the other hand, he might be annoying too, especially because of that constant cheeriness and because he had the curious habit of playing with any spells he knew.

Another memorable character was (or rather, is) my Abyssal Exalt, Silent Shriek at the Border of Death. A strong man, wielding a tetsubo, he is the circle’s assigned warrior. The thing is, he is also the one most reluctant to kill, and has prevented the others from committing wanton slaughter a few times. His own reason for this might be phrased as “both life and death are valuable, and have their place, and so neither should be given or taken away at a whim”. My reason for this was, of course, to make a Dusk Caste more interesting to play. Also, he’s more of a general than a fighter, but still will cause incredible damage whenever he hits someone. His title comes from the fact that when he was offered the Abyssal Exaltation, he was on a battlefield, his throat impaled by a sword. Because of that, he still cannot talk with much more than a whisper. He also has a “dark” secret, but as my fellow players might read this, I will leave that untold for now…

Of course, I’ve had a big bunch of other characters as well. An Egyptian skeleton, a depressed elf, a knight in shining armor, a berserker half-orc, a ninja… But by far, Shriek and Tynas have been my favorites. Hopefully, there will be more.

War in China

March 30, 2010

I still feel like I just can’t play enough. Even though there are again two or three games that I’m playing in, and hopefully one or two that I’ll get to GM. Problem is, I still have trouble gathering people to  play at my place. But actually, that’s beside the point of this post.

I’ve now played two sessions of something completely new to me. A new GM, new players, and a new game. That game is Qin: The Warring States. And as the other players and characters seem to be good enough, as seems the GM, I can concentrate on my feelings about the game itself.

First off, character creation was easy enough. I had no previous knowledge of the game, I made the character without the GM’s assistance and still it took only a couple of hours and one almost-mistake that I spotted myself soon to come up with the stats, name and some background for the character. The statting was simple, without excessive calculating or other number-shuffling, and I got clear enough picture of what my char can do while building him.

The dice are a bit weird at first, but get familiar quickly. Basically, you roll 2d10, subtract the lesser from the greater and add result to your attribute and possible skill. Double 0 is fumble, double anything else is autosuccess. As I said, a bit weird at first, but you get used to it quickly, and after that its simple.

Battles seem to go fast enough, especially considering that the system is new to us all. Each strike takes up at most two rolls, and even that only if the defender decides to actively defend. Lethality appears to be high enough to keep up some excitement, while not every hit is lethal or disabling, so the heroes actually feel somewhat heroic.

Hm, I don’t think there is much more to say. Good game overall, at least with this kind of experience. I might end up putting something more later as I experience it more, but this is it for now.

Oh, yeah. I haven’t read the book much, so I cannot comment much on it. But as I’ve got to here, I guess it’s good enough.

Woohoo, back on board!

January 13, 2010

A small but important update: I finally got back to roleplaying. Last Saturday, I finally got around to actually testuin Savage Worlds, and judging on that few-hour session, it seems to fill its purpose for me very well. That means, time to get social by recruiting new players.

I got to play Exalted too. This time, it was on a Sidereal character, with me as the only player, after watching a certain bad movie. (The movie was Dragonball Z Evolution, and it was better than I expected.)

Even better: The test player for the Savage Worlds game is a GM in one of the games that have been on hiatus, and now that the last player of that game got out of the Army, the GM announced that he’s trying to get the game moving again asap, preferably this week.

So yeah, I’m back in the scene.

My Life Drives Me Crazy

December 9, 2009

It’s been quite a while since I last got to play, and I think that’s starting to affect me. Seems my social life is starting to move almost completely to the Internet, and my ideas just keep floating, half-formed, in my head. That, Christmas, and other things get my moods down. And it feels like I can’t handle my life with the strength I’ve got. So I decided, now that I have the inspiration, to update here too. If nothing else, at least I will get some of my ideas to better shape.

Of course, among other things, those old ideas I’ve had for quite some time keep haunting me. And new ones just keep coming. So you might guess it’s kinda hard for me to keep up with them all in my head. At the moment, I have at least four five ideas for a game I want to keep, a couple more I want to play in, the few games I should be playing but the GMs haven’t gotten running again, ideas for items and characters to different games (once again, mainly Exalted) and even a missing for few of my favourite characters from past games.

And my personal life seems to be not much better, but I’ll not go into that any more.

Besides, I hate Christmas. Or rather, I hate all the fuss, advertising, music and, generally, stress accompanying and preceding it. It’s something that adds to my personal blues. And it seems getting earlier every year. A few more decades, and I guess we’ll be seeing Santa’s pictures on Midsummer’s eve… Please, just… Leave us be, alright? But alas, no one listens. Well, no one who could do something about it, at least. And I don’t even like half of the Cristmas foods around here… Sigh.

I really need to get back to roleplaying.  At least that’d get me with real people, and get my mind off my troubles…

Well, I hope getting all this out of my system helps me a bit, too. And hopefully I get to scratching up some of those ideas fo mine here too, so you don’t have to wait for quite so long for the next post.

“What? This game makes sense?”

October 30, 2009

(First things first: Sorry about the lack of commas in this post. I’m typing it on my laptop’s internal keyboard in which the comma doesn’t work. Thus I need to use both my imagination and some pretty unwieldy sentence structures.)

Sometimes it’s the act of playing a game that gets one thinking. For example: “Most of this MMORPG’s quests are sensible when given as such… But when several characters are supposed to do them they’re as insensible as the Time Cube.” And that lead to “What would an MMORPG world where the quests and such were sensible be like?”

The first thing I thought of was the meaning of  “death”. As both PCs and quest-target NPCs wouldn’t lose anything (or lose just a little bit of exp or money) and would be able to walk and fight again in (at the very most) a matter of hours their “death” would be hardly significant. As such death sentence would be nonexistent or delivered as a form of minor punishment… A little more harsh than a fine. That also means that anyone could threaten to kill anyone and go through with it with very little consequences. Killing someone might also be result of almost any mishap a lot easier and to lot more people than in real life.

Another thing about quests is that how do the same guys always get themselves into the same trouble in the same place? Don’t they ever learn anything? There are a few things that would explain that but I’m not sure how well they’d work. Sheer stupidity and cinematic amnesia would be the easiest ones. The latter could actually be combined to a (semi-)rational explanation to experience loss upon death. That means that every time a character dies or maybe suffers something else mind-shocking they lose a little bit of their memories.

How then would the (less-than-human-sized) monsters would be able to carry human equipment? By eating adventurers? By giving up hints about their secret lair? By digging up stuff? Err… No. To this I can think of no rational explanation. Slightly easier but more boring solution comes to the fact of monsters carrying money: The “cash” is actually some parts of the monsters that are really sold or converted to their value of money or something like that. But as I said that’s boring. More interesting variant might be the game world using monster parts as actual money (as in Kingdom of Loathing).

And yet another thing: How the hell has as big a percentage of that world’s population ended up as adventurers or mercenaries or something like that? I can only guess that there’s not much else to do in the cities. Hmm… Actually… With the consequences of death that low it’s not much of a risk. And that would lead to real world’s “risky” occupations to be in no special position. Including that of the adventurer. And while the adventurer’s income depends almost solely on their ability and activity it would still be quite high.

But where do all those adventurers disappear to when their player logs out or changes character…?

New game leads to new problems

September 14, 2009

Some weeks ago (in Ropecon, actually) I acquired myself a new RPG: Savage Worlds. Just by reading it, it seems to fulfill most of the things I’ve been looking for in an RPG. Simple and fast rules: Check. Rules knowledge or strict following of rules not needed for play: Check. Genre genericity (Is that an actual word, or did I just make it up?): Check. Combat does not use a separate (or additional) set of rules: Not check, but this is the single hardest point on this list to find in any game… And the combat rules still are simple enough. No actual calculating needed after character creation: Apart from simple addition or such, check.

And as an added bonus, it uses several types of dice!

Then again, there are a few annoyances. The most visible one, the one that irritates me the most, and (ironically enough) the easiest to repair is that the game has a heavy presumption on using figurines. That is, heavy enough to give any distances as scale inches. Luckily, they also provide a simple conversion rule for the distances, but, well… Oh, and instead of providing a simple radius for explosions they have downloadable templates for them in their web site.

Another trouble is one that has nothing to do with the game itself, and all with the material its printed on: My book started to come apart almost as soon as I started reading it.

Then again, this is all based only on reading experience. Despite trying, I haven’t been able to test-play yet. I’ve got two players and their characters but thrice now one of the players has bailed out from actual play. He is still my friend, but I don’t think I want to invite him to play much anymore, and I’m also thinking of recruiting another pair of friends for this test play… But I guess we’ll see that later. As we will the answer to “Does Savage Worlds actually stand up to my standards in play?”

BIPD Gold

August 22, 2009

Before, I’ve told how many of my ideas come up when I’m cycling or walking. Well, another good idea-giver is that state when you lie half-sleeping in your bed, awake enough to register and somewhat control your thoughts, but asleep enough that those thoughts are not hindered by your active ones. This morning, something I thought was worth writing down here popped up.

I don’t know how I ended up thinking about it, but I guess it somewhat circled around cop shows. You know, both those soap opera -style ones and the more real ones. I thought of an RPG campaign in that style, focusing at first on the cases that come up, then watch the heroes go higher in rank, and at last watching them manoeuvre in the social network of the precinct and other high-ranking officials.

Then, my mind pulled up Exalted. Again.

Well, it seems to me that Exalted does make nearly any adventure or campaign idea ripped from somewhere else more interesting, and that seems to hold true here too. The power level is the obvious change. The social part finds more challenge if the characters are still Celestials in the Time of Tumult, with the need to keep their powers under check, and otherwise trying to hide their natures. Maybe that’d also encourage the players to find, in spite of all their characters’ magical prowess, at least some mundane ways to get ahead.

And, my mind told me, Essence score would give a nice way to tell when it’s time for a promotion. When one of the characters would raise his Essence (at least after the third dot) I’d finish the ongoing or next major adventure, then promote the characters, and skip ahead some time. Of course, the time scale would expand when moving forward, from solving a regular theft or murder case and then skipping a year or two, to working on management and PR issues on a monthly or even yearly scale skipping even a decade, to centuries-spanning planning and arranging. That is, if all goes well and the game keeps going.

Probably I will never even try to run this campaign, but time will tell. Meanwhile, feel free to rip it, but out of courtesy, tell at least someone (preferably myself) where you ripped it.

A city watch full of heroes

August 12, 2009

“Everyone knows what supers are. They’re those guys in the comics that dress up in fancy costumes and wield fancy powers.”

Not quite. You know better, for you are one of them yourself. And you don’t wear a stupid costume or fly around in the sky. You remember a couple of guys who did that. First came up the villain. Threatened to destroy the world. It didn’t take long for the compulsory hero to appear. It never went down to the “epic battle”. The villain was taken down by a single police unit, composed of ordinary people. Although you think it was lead by a more subtle super. After that, the “hero” got harassed by the press, fans, and just about everyone else. The publicity was too much, and he committed suicide. As far as you know. Those two fates were enough of a warning for you to stay hidden.

You also know that you aren’t the only one of your kind. Every now and then, when you see some certain people, you just… know that they have powers too. You don’t know them, you don’t know their powers… You only know that you aren’t alone, and that you know others of your kind when you see them.

Maybe you haven’t been forced to use your powers yet. You hope you never will. But you fear that your hope is in vain. And when you do have to use those powers, instead of a cool costume you just pull a cloth over your face and hope no one recognises you. Until that, you’ll just live the life of an ordinary man. If you can.

The above is a short intro story to a supers world of my very own devising I wrote up one boring day at work. That world was formed in my mind long before I had even heard of Watchmen, which would be closest of more known works to the power level of my setting, or when Heroes , which is closest in themes to what I had in mind, was still just a bunch of paper.

I’ve run a game in that very setting, but it stopped short after two or three sessions. I’d like to run more, but I don’t think I know of people who quite share my interests in that. I mean, yeah, I have a few friends who love to roleplay in almost any setting. But I like to throw in some references to the source materials in my games. And what fun would that be if no one got the references? And, well, low-power “super”heroes aren’t exactly what most people look for in the supers genre.

Hmm, yeah, the power level. I said earlier that Watchmen would be the closest representative of that. Well, closest, but still not quite what I had in mind, what with Dr. Manhattan and possibly Ozymandias. I’m thinking of a world where a “speedster” mignt be a guy who runs 100 metres in four seconds, not someone who breaks the sound barrier. Or a regenerating power can grow back missing digits or close wounds much faster than normal, but it still takes time and leaves scars. And maybe hurts like hell. And a Master of Magnetism would be just that, a guy who can control magnetic forces in some degree, but not stop bullets or crush cars.

On the other hand, Heroes actually captures the theme quite well. The PCs are just ordinary people, who happen to be able to do something nearly no one else can. The problems they encounter might well be something on the scale with more four-colour supers (or Heroes) but the solutions would be more mundane. No rewriting a villain’s psyche to make him good again, no time-hopping to tell someone to save the cheerleader, no blasting one’s way through a military compound (unless you somehow got your hands on a tank).

And now that I’ve said it all, I’m even more annoyed that I haven’t been able to GM more in that world.

“This GM stuff feels like work!”

August 4, 2009

During the, erm, “starting break” of my blog  I took up among other things the role of a game master. You know, the guy that sits at the end of the table in gaming comics? Ah, who am I kidding. If you are actually reading this, the odds are you know about the terms of role-playing games. If you don’t, go check Wikipedia or something.

Anyway, I took up GMing. I decided to start with Shadowrun, and with a powerful plot-like thing. Bad choice.

I’d done a few hours of GMing before, with a couple of small scenarios for a friend or two, and one four-hour “con game”. Well, they were nothing compared to this one, and I noticed I had (once again) bitten almost too much to swallow.

First, it’s hard to keep going and take the game where you want when you have planned it as much (or rather, little) as I. Especially when you still want to avoid railroading. Having close to no prior experience behind the screen doesn’t help. Another thing adding to this is lack of obviously usable character hooks in PCs.

Second, one should really know the system he’s running. I didn’t (and still don’t too well). I had picked Shadowrun as a replacement for Cyberpunk 2020, which, while smooth and relatively familiar – mostly, still has quite a lot I don’t like both as rules and a setting. This was a mistake in two ways: It’s hard to stat adversaries when you’re not really sure what your PCs are capable of, and play (especially combat) tends to bog down when the GM has to check the rulebook every other round.

Third, it takes a surprising amount of work to make up even one game session. And with my condition… Well, I have hard time keeping my apartment tidy or writing here, and those are merely physical work or rather relaxing, in that order. Nevermind the fact that I still have hard time matching power levels of the PCs and their opponents.

Fourth, one should write much more notes than I. It’s often hard enough for me to remember what my own character can do in a given game, let alone three PCs and a bunch of opponents. Being slow to do mental arithmetics isn’t actually helpful in this one either.

Several of the previous points also overlap somewhat and affect each other, and that complicates matters further.

Luckily, the experience hasn’t been wholly negative. I’ve gained new insight into both gaming and myself. I’ve learned more of my personal limits. Through learning about the amount of work required, I’ve learned to appreciate that of other GMs. And finally, I know that most of the points I’ve given can only really be learned by GMing, and that’s what I’ve been doing. Learning was a big reason for me to start that SR game.

Afterwards, I’ve also noticed that apparently I’m not quite as bad a GM as I feel. No wonder, since I tend to keep my expectations on anything I do too high. Both in that specific SR game and other games I’ve since GMed I’ve gotten mostly, if not (nearly) solely positive feedback. It appears people have fun in my games after all, and I guess that’s the most important thing.

I think that I had at least one more point to make on the difficulties, but I forgot it while writing the others… Maybe I’ll add it later.