Despotic or Anarchist GM?

Game Master

A cornelian choice for a GM and/or an entire group, will we have a guiding or a flexible GM?

Complex game systems are obviously well-suited for a guiding GM, while easy systems are better for a flexible one who will prefer to improvise. By chance, Savage Worlds can handle both!

But what can you expect from both ways of playing and how can you customize the rules to play the way you like?


Guiding or Flexible

  • Guiding

Rules

A guiding GM will often create a story like a scenario, it is like a more interactive gamebook. The NPCs and places are already prepared, the GM has in mind some consequences depending on the choices of the group, no real improvisation.

Advantages/drawbacks of such a way of playing:

+ The GM is able to offer to the players a deep and complex story with very interesting NPCs
+ The players can better immerse themselves in their characters
+ It is more demanding for both the GM (at least before the game) and the players, so the result may be better for everyone
+ Everyone shares a strong story and a unique world, it is an experience

– You need some big books or a really keen GM to create such a game
– It can be felt as too strict by some players, or even the GM, after some games
– The players have to choose wisely their characters because they will not be able to easily modify it afterward
– The game can be too complex for the players (for example they don’t think about the right NPC to progress in the story
– The game might be slow and get boring

  • Flexible

NoRules

A flexible GM will have some core ideas in mind or even write them, and then will adapt it according to the choices made by the players. Some important NPCs and places may be well-prepared, but improvisation plays an important role because the players can barely do anything they want.

Advantages/drawbacks of such a way of playing:

+ Total freedom for the players and in a sense also for the GM
+ The game can start faster and the characters can evolve very differently from where they had begun
+ The story can evolve in a lot of different ways, it is like a tree, you can’t know what will be the next step
+ The players feel that they have a greater impact on the story

– It is more demanding for the GM during the game because he/she has to improvise permanently
– It can be less detailed with empty NPCs and places, a lack of suspense and surprise
– The dice might become the GM depending on the game system (critical failures and successes)

  • My own experience

With centuries of roleplaying games behind me (yes I am quite old), I have come to the conclusion that the best is to switch from a way of playing to another in order to get different games.

The boring way would be to always have a guiding or a flexible GM, to always play a scripted adventure or a in an open-world.

An interesting thing is also to try to find the middle way between both. Give some freedom to the players but nevertheless build a strong story.

Now you wonder how to achieve that, and as usual I will give you some tips for the Savage Worlds rules 😉


Savage Worlds

Rules for an open-world

If you like to give freedom to your players and to let the dice decide for their fate, Savage Worlds is surely a very good system to use.
The dice can already explode, there are critical failures et successes, and the players have bennies.
But you always can do more toward total freedom:

  • No bennies allowed to reroll the dice after a critical failure or success
  • Players can share their bennies amongst themselves even without the « Natural Leader » edge
  • What his said is done. « I hit the bartender », ok you do it!
  • Spend experience points to get bennies. 1 experience point = 1 benny. The players can’t use spent experience points, for example once his character is seasoned, he can only spend points between 21 and 24.

For an open-world game, you need more a vision (to know where you want to lead your players) than a scenario. Write some core ideas and NPCs, think about your world, feel it, and then you will be able to improvise on the fly, following your players actions and giving them a lot of power on the adventure. In an open-world game, you accompany the players more than you create for them a story.

Rules for a scripted game

Savage Worlds needs some modifications if you want to have a more serious game with predictable dice results.

  • The dice can ace only one time.
  • You can get only one raise, so kill a dragon with a wooden sword, it’s over 😉
  • A player can’t spend more than one benny on an action
  • As a GM, be stingy with the bennies for your players
  • Don’t hesitate to put very hard difficulty levels (or even impossible ones) when you don’t want your players to do something or get strong too quickly

For a scripted game, you need to counterbalance the lack of liberty for your players by a very interesting scenario. So create complex and deep places and NPCs. Also write some ideas to be able to improvise (you can’t be a GM without some improvisation) if your players make a choice that lead to unexpected consequences. Give them details about the world and the NPCs so they can immerse in the story.

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