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Rules for effective gamemastering

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The Viking Hat Way 1. Bring snacks. 2. The dice are always right. 3. I master the game, the game does not master me. 4. Momentum over perfection. 5. The game must go on! You must bring snacks because gaming is social activity. In every culture and religion worldwide, sharing food is how people bond. You will observe that people who do not bring snacks tend not to contribute in other ways - especially if they never bring, but always take. As with snacks, so with everything else.  The dice are always right because nobody likes boxed text and being railroaded, and gaming like life is meaningless without the risk of failure and death. The dice enhance the creativity of player and gamemaster both.  I master the game, the game does not master me  because no collection of rules can ever anticipate everything that might happen at the game table, and the ideas and whims of players and gamemaster. In other words: " I am the GM, I wear the Viking Hat!"  Momentum over perfection  mea

CT: Outland

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  Cliched? Yes! That's why we like it! Outland is a scifi movie made in 1981, and is of the same vintage and style as Alien and Blade Runner - and Classic Traveller ! As many have noted, it is essentially High Noon in space. A federal Marshal comes to the mining colony of Io run by the interplanetary conglomerate Con-Am, and finds the place violent and corrupt, and the men abusing stimulants to work harder. Scientifically, it falls down in three places: lights inside helmets, explosive decompression, and the composition of Io.  "I can feel schlock crawling all over me!" Scifi films have lights on in people's vacc suit helmets for the same reason medieval films have the hero not wear a helmet at all, so we can see the face of the actor the producers paid all that money for. Explosive decompression, where a sudden loss of pressure leads to people exploding, simply does not happen as depicted; this puts Outland partly in the schlock scifi category. As for Io, in th

AD&D1e: Common men & the shield wall

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  Too often players and DM come to the game table imagining some solitary friendless hero who charges off by themselves. Should the DM not be soft, weak and useless and fudge the dice to save them from their foolhardiness, this would-be Rambo typically perishes horribly sooner rather than later. The wise player realises that they are part of a  party , a team of adventurers who work together to accomplish their goals of gold and glory. As the dwarves in  The Hobbit  put it, Far over the Misty Mountains cold To dungeons deep and caverns old We must away, ere break of day To seek our pale enchanted gold We  must away - not "I", but "we". In the early days of D&D, players often came from wargaming clubs, and so this could be taken for granted. Now when players are coming from watching movies with solitary heroes or playing first-person shooters, it cannot be taken for granted. This is a style forgotten by most, and so we bring in house rules which encourage scout

Game design: life experiences

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I work as a physical trainer, so I try to keep up with the latest exercise science. A study came out about naval special forces climbers. They're surprisingly big compared to civilian climbers. I discussed this with my trainer friend and he pointed out: "Military climbers aren't going up the hardest routes. They're trying to find the easiest." That's a very important insight. In sports we try to make things as hard as possible, in the military and warfare we try to make them as easy as possible. We both have ex-military backgrounds, which will be where our approach came from. This is an important insight for me, it explains why people like me and my friend are so out of the mainstream fitness industry - they're trying to make things harder, we're trying to make them easier. In mainstream fitness you get better so you can do harder things; with us, you get better so you can do ordinary things more easily. The sports climber wants to get stronger etc so

Conflict: other ways to get hurt

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No game is complete without falling damage rules. And there are, of course, many other ways to get badly hurt, such as vehicle collision, suffocation, drowning, electrocution, flammable liquids, poison and disease. Cold, heat, thirst and hunger are also relevant, especially in a game of modern warfare, but we'll leave those till later and deal with immediate violence both accidental and deliberate. These are abstracted with the wounding system, using the hit locations and wound effects .  Falling  causes one blunt  wound to a random location for each 3m fallen onto a medium-hard surface like grass. This may be protected against with body armour, with the falling injury using the "frag" category. A hard  surface like concrete or metal adds a wound. A soft  surface like a mattress subtracts a wound, as does being drunk.  The Athletics expertise has a familiarity breakfall , which automatically turns the first wound from falling onto the back - this always counts as level 1

CT: Skills are a profession

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In Classic Traveller books 1-3, player-characters get relatively fewer skills than later books, and certainly later editions. This is a game design decision which should be reflected in GMing style. There are two basic ways of looking at the skills on a character sheet: inclusive : that which is not listed can be done, even if not as well exclusive : that which is not listed cannot be do ne at all Long lists of possible skills, as in GURPS, encourage an exclusive mentality. "I'm sorry, but longsword use is completely different to shortsword use." Shorter skill lists, as in AD&D1e (a character class is simply a very broad skill) encourage an inclusive mentality. "Sure, you can climb a rope."  Part of the change from an inclusive to exclusive way of looking at skills is a change in Western society. When roleplaying games began in the 1970s, it was fair for a GM to assume that almost all of their players could swim, shoot, climb a rope, start a fire and so o

AD&D1e: Abstractions work

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Bill the Dungeon Delver does a regular livestream which you should subscribe to, and each week I join him to talk all things gaming. If you prefer video, watch - we get right into the guts of it from 22'40" in. This is the text version which is clearer but not as funny.  We talked about how AD&D1e's abstractions just work . You shouldn't mistake  precision  for  accuracy . Just because it's detailed doesn't mean it's right , and just because it's abstract doesn't mean it's wrong . Armour Class and Hit Points are not precise, but they're accurate.  The first thing to say that all game rules must be subordinate to the referee's common sense. If a fighter in plate mail with 100 hit points is tied to an altar to the evil ape god Ollirog, the priest Thulsa Ook need not roll to hit or for damage, still less would they need to strike 30 or so times to sacrifice them to the hungry god. He's tied up and helpless, he will  die. The wis

Conflict: Surprise & Initiative

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  In any game system, one of the more difficult aspects is initiative. Who gets to go first, and why? If they can act, how much can they do in each round? Can the foe interrupt their action? Can they change their minds partway through the round? Every system is necessarily an imperfect abstraction. Luckily, abstractions work - if you do them right. Because Conflict has the aim of encouraging scouting, planning and teamwork, as well as trying to model individual training beyond performance on the firing range, Readiness is key.  The unfortunate truth is that there really only three kinds of combats: Ambush! - all of you live, all of them die. Ambush ed! - all of you die, all of them live. Stand-up fight - everyone dies.  The sensible adventurer will endeavour to ensure they are always ambushing. An ambush is achieved when the attackers achieve surprise . When two parties come across one another unexpectedly, or when one lies in wait for the other, there is a check for surprise. The