Creating the Scenario with the Character Sheets in Front of Me

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Judd:
When I first started GMing I had no idea what I had to have prepared in order to have a successful game.  It drove me nuts.  Sometimes I would have pages and pages of stuff written, names, places and ideas but the game would fall flat and I wouldn't know why.

Other times friends would gather and I'd run soemthing off the fly, entirely improv, making it up as I go and the game would rock.

Usually, during those improv-off-the-fly games I would write down a notebook page's worth of notes.

One of those off-the-fly games was set on the under-side of the Spelljammer setting's Rock of Bral, a place I was enamored with.  I decided it was a prison and the game would be set there.  The only guidance I gave the players during chargen was that they were in the Rock for a crime and they weren't framed.  Whatever it was, they did it.

I filled a notebook page with the guards' names, the warden and other prisoners.  Of course these other prisoners, all Drow, Yuan-ti, a Ronin Space Captain from the Imperial Navy were all bangs.  I didn't realize what I had to have down until years later but I had to have bangs, situations the players felt compelled to react to and deal with.

I think I capitalized on the real positive energy of those one-shots when people didn' t expect to game but were really excited to do so, a happy surprise and the chatter during character generation was how that notebook paper's worth of notes was compiled.

Fast forward.

Now I don't have to read minds.  I've got Kickers, Descriptors, Spiritual Attributes, Beliefs, Instincts, Keys, Secrets, Drives, Passions, Traits, Relationships and such.  What excites the players about the game is written on the character sheet.  I can take everyone's sheets and come up with the game right there and then.

My first really successful use of this was The Riddle of Steel.

When you first play TRoS there is a tendency to keep your eye on the combat mechanics.  They are filled with charts and seem daunting but for the GM, that isn't what is really important at all.  What is important are the Spiritual Attributes.

More worried about the combat, I set up a series of judicial duels with pre-made NPC's so that the players could take these NPC's and whack on each other without risking their PC's lives in the brutal combat.  Two farmers broke each other's collar bones with staves.  Two ship captains whacked on each other in heavily armored maul vs maul combat until one got his hip broken from a good shot.

Two excellent swordsman, professional judicial duelists dueled to the first blood, a brillian back and forth ending with one taking a gash on the leg.  Nice stuff.

Then, for whatever reason, I threw in this odd duel at the end to show how combat worked two-on-one.  I put in a shit-hot duelist who was hired to duel two men who had raped a young girl who was well loved in her community.  These two men were sons of prominent nobles.  The duelist did well but then flubbed a roll and got stabbed in the face.

The PC's were watching these duels too, we had decided.  They looked at their SA's concerning justice and such and could not let this duel stand.  They stepped up and challenged the young men again.  The young man accepted.

The PC's, with their SA's firing, mopped the floor with them.  One was killed and the other was given the option to jump off of the bridge after his sword hand was maimed.  This encounter set off the entire adventuer, a long conflict with the noble house they so offended.

Accidentally, I had tripped over the players' SA's.  They looked at me like I was a mad genius for planning it that way but I hadn't.  I didn't know that the lone swordsman would die and I didn' t at all realize that the players would look at hteir SA's and step up to right the wrongs with their swords.

Neat.

Another story about the Riddle, I was remaking a D&D character for a Midnight solo game.  The player was struggling over Spiritual Attributes.  We had been playing for a few months and he had around ten so far.  He was talking about how his character found X importand but Y to be more important.

I was watching this one SA, "I hunt creatures of shadow," fall lower and lower on the list, even though I knew that JJ loves hunting things in-game.  He and his whole family are hunters and his house, during the deer season, is a hunting lodge where all of his dad's buddies hang out.  I had my epiphany about SA's right there and then.  "JJ, this isn't about what is important to your character.  This is about what is important to JJ about this character."  The list of SA's was trimmed down right there and then to an easy five that made for good game because JJ was into 'em.

This brings us to Sorcerer.  When you hand the players a list of descriptors, you are, in fact, handing them a list of things from the setting.  The players get to look at the parts of the setting and tell you right there, what parts interest them by writing them down on their character sheet.

No shit.

I don't have to write a long history of the world beginning with some hackneyed world creation myth.  I don't have to write much at all.

When I ran Sorcerer a few years ago, the Sorcerous Month, I saw the process go again and again.  I would go to the group with 2 or 3 ideas.  They would pick the one they were excited about.  We would meet to make up characters and there would be this lovely silence as I handed out the descriptors and everyone read them over.  Often someone would mention how there should be an extra one and we'd add it.

They would begin to choose their descriptors.  If there were people who choose the same ones, it often was an excuse for their characters to know each other.

But then, the players get to set the tone for the whole shebang via their Kicker.  "Here are your toys, Mr. GM, but here's how I want to use them."

This brings me to Burning Wheel.

The Beliefs are your sign-posts.  I go into the game with one or two bangs per PC's belief.  Usually I only use one or two and the rest of the players riff and get into the conflict caused by one player's reaction.

Example:

Kolja's character has an Instinct: When I am someone I am not supposed to be, I sneak.

This says to me, he wants to be in places where he isn't supposed to be.  He had set up a meeting with a Baron's nephew but the kid was standing him up, not giving the information like he said he would when threatened at knife-point.  So Kolja's sneaky sorcerer stalked him.  He failed his Stealth roll.  It became a cat and mouse game through the back-alleys as the sorcerer set his trap for the evil knights of the baron.

The nephew's bodyguards began stalking him and after a brutal struggle they captured him.  The rest of the group spent a few good hours of solid dramatic gaming getting Kolja's PC back from the Baron's dungeon.  Fun stuff.  Hours of gaming from one off-the-cuff bang written next to an Instinct.

This brings me to The Shadow of Yesterday.

The players were very much inspired by Fafrd and the Grey Mouser.  Hell, one of them was even a ratkin hired knife and the other was this S&M barbarian with the Key of Unrequited Love for this cute ratkin barmaid.

When the S&M barbarian was captured by the Church of the Leviathan, the ratkin knife took, The Key of Vengeance, swearing to get back at the church that stole his friend.  And the adventure was ON as the ratkin sneaked in and the barbarian broke out.

What is neat about keys is players get to tell you which NPC's excite them right then and there.  "Damn, those pirate worshippers of the Leviathan are bastards; I'm taking Key of Vengeance on them!"  And the GM has his road-map for the game.

TSoY's GMing advice is pretty neat too.  It also asks the GM to throw in some stuff the GM digs too, just because.  I dig that.

I was also shocked to find that when I was writing up a Planescape mod for TSoY, alignment worked really well for me.  It was always a kind of proto-SA, a strange way to tell the GM what kind of moral conflicts you were interested in but with Keys they just shined.

Life is easier since these parts of the character sheet have been around.  I don't have to write up a world, just enough so the players can tell me what excites them.  All of my GM muscle goes into chargen, making solid bangs, setting cool stakes, setting up fun conflicts, and making sure the players are having fun.

Those notebook papers with ideas and places and names were my bangs but I had no real way to say how I used them or what they did.  I only know I needed them and a few of each were aimed at each player.  I didn't understand why some would get thrown out onto the table and ignored but it was simply because the players didn't care.  The players didn't care and I had nothing on their character sheets, or very little, to tell me what they cared about.

And to conclude with a BW game I am setting up now, kind of a medieval A-Team type of deal.  One of the players was saying that he wasn't sure what kind of skills to take because he ewasn't sure what kind of mission it would be.  "I won't know either, until I take a look at everyone's Beliefs and Instincts and Traits."

I won't know where the adventure is going to go until I know what you give a shit about.

Judd:
I had been thinking about this for a while but a few recent blog entries forced my hand:

Deep in the Game:In Plain Words

Heads or Tales: Mother Head Scratchers

Bankuei:
Hi Judd,

Yep, I'd been doing this for some time, calling the various things "Flags" or "Markers".  My recent post was pretty much the realization that the GM should not have the option to NOT hit on one of those- it might as well be a menu and you can only pick the items there for setting up scenes.

Chris

Judd:
Quote from: Bankuei on December 20, 2005, 12:20:34 AM

Hi Judd,

Yep, I'd been doing this for some time, calling the various things "Flags" or "Markers".  My recent post was pretty much the realization that the GM should not have the option to NOT hit on one of those- it might as well be a menu and you can only pick the items there for setting up scenes.

Chris


I am uncomfortable with that kind of limitation, Chris but I hear ya..

I feel like players also set up markers and flags in game through their actions.  Sometimes they beg for a scene or a conflict through the game and a scene is inspired by their action and a bang on your sheet becomes tweaked or twisted or entirely changed to accomodate this change in the game's setting via the players' choices.

Flags and Markers are great terms for them.  Thanks.

Bankuei:
Hi Judd,

I can understand the "uncomfortableness", but if you look at actual play, I bet it's not a restriction at all.  I mean, few people consider it "limiting" to play a single character- as a GM, you're probably going to get at least 3 or 4 ways to push thematic buttons for each player- which means we're talking 9 or more options for every scene, and assuming you have normal rights to frame scenes and conflicts- that's not very limiting at all.

In a way, its a reversal of traditional play- instead of players looking to the GM for signals on where to go next, the GM is looking to the players for signals of what to frame next.  It makes your job easier, not harder.

Chris

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