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[Cross Post] The Benefits of Game Master Fiat

Started by SlurpeeMoney, October 20, 2004, 04:53:57 PM

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[This was also posted in the Actual Play forum, but I feel it warrants discussion here as well]

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.

"Take 7000 damage from the God Slap, and the Dire Insult disadvantage from being peed on by a dog while unconscious in the gutter..."

Ron Edwards


Please don't post duplicates across forums. This one's closed - let's restrict the discussion to Actual Play for now, then if anyone wants, start up a distinct topic here.