Wednesday, 18 January 2012

GM Q and A

I owe you a Call of Cthulhu session report, and since I've taken the day off with a cold, I might be able to get that done today. In the meantime, here's a questionnaire from Zak's blog.

Repost and answer. Or, if you don't have a blog, answer in the comments. Or be a big rebel and do neither.

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?

I came up with a starship combat system for Rogue Trader that was both less fiddly than the existing one, and didn't necessitate having a full-sized wargames table to use, but my players seemed to be terrified of getting into space combat during that campaign, so we never used it.

In one Savage Eberron game, I had them fighting cultists during a thunder storm, and had a little tweak going so that when a specific card was drawn from the initiative deck, that player would get struck by lightning. As it happened, the card ended up being drawn about four or five times, so one could say that my little sub-system was a bit broken, but everyone enjoyed it anyway.

2. When was the last time you GMed?
We play every Friday and I've been running Tatters of the King for Call of Cthulhu while Ben -- our usual GM -- recharges his batteries. I wasn't around last week, and the rest of the gang played some board games, so it would have been the Friday before that, the 6th.

3. When was the last time you played?
Ben's Pathfinder game went on hiatus in early November, so that's the last time I played, I think.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven't run but would like to.
1960's Cool Britannia superspies versus the Cthulhu Mythos.

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?
I find it difficult to do anything but sit back and watch and listen. I know I should be making notes and doing secret rolls and all of those underhanded GM psychological tricks, but I get a lot of enjoyment from observing the players' planning. A couple of the more recent Call of Cthulhu games have involved a lot of planning and not much doing, and my players probably think I'm bored, but I love it.
6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?
I find that a gaming group will eat anything you put in front of them, so I try to make sure we have some healthy finger food -- carrots, cherry tomatoes, grapes and so on -- although I've not been very good at that of late.

I've discovered that I enjoy baking, so I have been known to bake cakes for game night, which sort of undoes all my good work with the fruit and vegetables.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?
On rare occasions -- maybe twice -- if I've had a long day I find myself flagging a bit, but that's more to do with the rest of the day than the act of GMing itself, which I find rather easy. That said, I tend towards either rules-light games or games where I know the system well, and I really enjoy playing the NPCs and spinning the plot, so there's not a lot of friction between myself and the game.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?
I had a goblin thief in a D&D game that ran to about eighth level, but I retired him at around level six or seven because he'd got involved in a storyline that had run its course. I've never retired a character for story reasons in D&D, so that was an interesting and fulfilling experience.

9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?
I tend to find that if you try to enforce a mood, it gets broken anyway and it damages the game more than if you're more lenient about the whole thing. We've had funny moments in Call of Cthulhu and serious moments in Pathfinder and it's worked out fine.

10. What do you do with goblins?
More or less Warhammer night goblins. Grinning maniacs hopped up -- sometimes literally -- on magic mushrooms.

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?
I had Lara Croft turn up in Savage Eberron as a NPC, but I think I got away with it.

12. What's the funniest table moment you can remember right now?
I've told this story before, but it remains a highlight of my gaming career. Spoilers abound.

I am about eighteen or nineteen, running Horror on the Orient Express. The vampire Fenalik is on the train, in the corridor outside the players' cabin. The players are inside, with the MacGuffin Fenalik wants. He attempts to charm them, but he's a rotten, haggard old thing, and no Christopher Lee. He gets increasingly angry with them, as they get increasingly amused by his impotent rage. Because, of course, he can't enter their cabin without an invitation.

Finally, his patience gone, Fenalik assures them that though he can't touch them now, he will soon kill them all in the most gory way imaginable. They laugh at him, then one -- caught up in the moment -- responds:

"Just come in and try it!"

There are always laughs at our table, but they're more often off-the-cuff moments that aren't as memorable as the lengthy encounter above.

I also remember Ric's character in my Savage Eberron game, Galaxy Jones, a shameless Blaxploitation pastiche, complete with medallion, afro and boundless libido, except he's a halfling riding a velociraptor. Every time he said or did anything in the game, it got a big laugh.

In our Pathfinder game, one player had a character called Olban -- who we of course insisted on calling All-Bran -- who had terrible luck in combat, more often than not fumbling and injuring himself, to the extent that we often rushed into a fight in order to defeat the enemy before All-Bran could draw his scimitar and kill himself. His greatest moment was perhaps when an owlbear knocked him out, picked him up and used him as a club against the rest of the party. In the end, his player moved to Canada so we wrote All-Bran out of the game by faking his death, givng the all-too-plausible story that he'd accidentally beheaded himself while shaving.

13. What was the last game book you looked at--aside from things you referenced in a game--why were you looking at it?
Probably Carcosa. I haven't read it properly, just looked at all the pictures -- see below -- and skimmed the monster entries to see how all those familiar Call of Cthulhu gribblies have been translated into D&Dish terms.

14. Who's your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?
Ask me again in a month and I'll tell you something different, but right now it's Rich Longmore; his work on Carcosa is inspirational.

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?
A couple of times. One memorable occasion was in the first Call of Cthulhu game I ran for my current group, in which the surprise appearance of an axe-wielding lunatic took them quite off guard. As far as a more lurking fear goes, I don't know if I've managed to get them feeling that, but I may be wrong.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn't write? (If ever)
I'm a bit snobby about pre-written adventures, and certain members of my group have a difficult time not buying and reading everything that's released, so I've not had much experience of running them of late. I ran Death Frost Doom in Rogue Trader and that was fun, but perhaps more because I managed to pull off the conversion than anything else.

Tatters of the King is not the best campaign out there, but I have enjoyed playing it; again though, I've enjoyed the experience of wrestling a troublesome bit of writing into something playable at our table more than any specific incidents during the game itself.

Horror on the Orient Express was a bit of a disaster, but good fun.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?
A big table, comfy chairs, with a pot of tea close at hand, and no time limit.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?
I'm not sure there are any surprises in my gaming library. It's all pretty consistent in terms of mood, rules weight and so on; I don't have Everway sitting next to FATAL or anything.

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?
Like any GM over the age of twelve, my influences come from all over the place. One Savage Eberron adventure was equal parts On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Ocean's Eleven, the Man in the Iron Mask and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?
Someone who's easy-going and doesn't take the game too seriously, but also has enough of an investment to get involved and contribute.

It seems a bit obvious to say "someone who enjoys playing" but I've run into a lot of players who really don't seem to get anything out of the hobby so perhaps it does need saying.

21. What's a real life experience you've translated into game terms?
I can't think of one. Back when I could still remember some of the language, I used a bit of Welsh in a couple of games; one was an alternate setting for Pendragon that I created with a friend, and another was a goblin language.

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn't?
A proper Warhammer 40,000 book for Savage Worlds would be welcome; I love the setting, but the rules system -- which works so well for WFRP -- is far too fiddly for the Grim Darkness of the Far Future for my liking. A conversion would probably be quite easy, but I don't have the time.

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn't play? How do those conversations go?
I have a friend who is D&D-agnostic but is a big Dragonlance fan, but that's not quite the same thing, is it? I don't really talk about RPGs to non-gamers, not because of nerd shame, but just because it doesn't come up in conversation much.


  1. I'm with you on just how much Warhammer inspires my D&D Orcs/Goblins.

  2. that DFD/dark heresy sounds interesting. did you ever write it up? how did the toot thing go?

    1. Yep, the summaries of that episode are here and here.

      They recognised the complex as being a place they didn't really want to explore, but couldn't resist looting it anyway, leading to the inevitable.

  3. I spent some horrid time on the Orient Express myself. Thanks for the hilarious and appalling Fenalik story.

  4. "1960's Cool Britannia superspies versus the Cthulhu Mythos."

    Odd, that's pretty much exactly what I shall be running as an open table at the Railway Club in couple of weeks! Inspired by Stross's Laundry crossed with Bond, the Avengers and Mission Impossible - using Savage Worlds :)

  5. Since you mentioned wanting to run a swinging 60s spy game AND that you tend to play rules-light systems, I am required by law to mention Sex, Lies, & Ultraspies. (You'll have to add your own Lovecraft, though).


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