GM doesn’t stand for “Genius Minderreader”

Angry wrote about tips for players and they’re almost all decent. (I recommend that players do look at their character sheet as they make a decision, only to figure out if that’s how their character would behave.)

There’s one I’d like to reinforce though:

Don’t Make Your GM Guess. The more your GM knows about what you’re trying to do and how, the better off you are.

AngryGM

The contrary advice for this is “Trick your DM into letting you do something cool.”

I’ve been at tables – and may have even done this myself, come to think of it – where a player is asking probing questions of the DM, clearly fishing for something. Maybe they’ve got Heat Metal trigger finger and are hoping the DM will say, “yeah, I guess they do have a family medaleon on them, what I strangely specific question!”

This comes from a mindset that the DM is not a player, but are actually an adversary.

In reality though, when the Secret Society of DMs inducts another we all take a sacred vow: remember your players are Heroes and let them do cool shit. “No, that doesn’t work” is not a fun thing for a DM to say. It shuts the scene down, kills the energy. It’s only a reasonable thing to say when you’ve asked for something that doesn’t fit the internal consistency of the world.

DM’s love it just as much as the players when a sneak Heat Metal disables The Big Bad. (We can always make a new Big Bad.)

Instead, Angry’s advice should be followed: let your DM know what you want to do. I don’t know if you know this, but the DM can literally make shit up. “I’d like to do a cool freerunning thing to catch up with the bandit – are there any footholds along the buildings?” “Absolutely there are! Do an Acrobatics check for me and we’ll see how you do!”

A quickly receding land

My partner hates it if I fall to sleep before he’s gotten into bed, so I’ve started doing world building things in a journal whilst I wait.

Barren Lands

2,600 miles of roasting desert. It continues further north, but this is the furthest anyone has return from. The came back with stories of populous families of sandworms, vastly more than ever imagined. Presumably, it’s them that churn and digest the land and turn it all to sand. Giant insects have evolved to be light enough to not disturb them. Fire Wyrmlings grow too numerous to reach adulthood, such is their cruelty in their youth.

Duck Patrol

The ducks are huge creatures obsessed with pushing back the sand, northwards. They’re doing a surprisingly good job. Their flat feet do not summon the worms.

They are frequently poached. The Loyal Kindred protect them as best they can, but they have limited resources.

Gywin’s Scar

The wizards of Dirnt had an idea to repel the Barrens and it went badly.

It’s now the perfect home for climbing creatures, and one last expelled family from The Dales.

Loyal Kindred Of Lucian

They believe their god still lives, despite their obvious demise. Magic is powerful here, but not for the reasons they think.

The city is slowly diminishing as they pour resources into holding back the Barrens and appearing strong, avoiding war.

The Lick

The Sopp takes more land each year. These peaceful people had no choice but war when their request for asylum was denied from their neighbours. The choice was the fight to the death or die standing still.

Hapal Kingdom

Shrinking each day from war which they appear to be losing. A recent leadership change might bring peace, but it is not likely. They worship and endeavour to wake the elephantine gods. No one else wants this.

Hapal’s Loss

One farmlands, now salted earth. Thousands of people had to relocate to the “mainland” of the Kingdom.

Plaguelocked city of the Dirnt

They revel in their plague and the gifts it gives them: a sleepless life where the gods can’t peer into their thoughts. They are bat shit crazy and would gladly infect the world. The surrounding countries do all they can to keep them inside.

Vassel

The hierophant lives here, and she is adored by everyone. They all need her whispers from the gods. They’re all waiting for her to convince the gods to halt the Barrens and/or encroaching Sopp.

All countries donated land to her. They all kneel to those in her white robes.

The hierophant has not shared this knowledge, but they have developed technology to stay afloat in The Sopp.

Sinder

The fire tribes whose culture revolve around growth and burning. They claim all the land the fires take, and the other druidic tribes shrug and accept it. Why argue? Some years, Sinder is tiny.

They’re very careful to not let the fires stretch to Vassel.

Wet Ditch

The water druids do not like the taint of The Sopp. They build huge dams and fill their southern-most lakes with concrete and tar to slow The Sopp’s spread. It is not working.

The lakes of the water druids are the most beautiful scenery of any in all the lands.

The Dales

The forest druids. They’re forced to fell their own trees to slow the spread of Sinder. The oldest trees they have are thousands of years old, and their power stems straight from the ever living earth.

They will not fight Sinder, but would not mourn their loss.

Carth

We are rot. Breath in The Sopp and let it reign.

The Sopp has done something to them. They all hear each other over great distances.

They fight against the barren god though have no idea what it is. In a choice between desert and swampland, there’s only one choice, surely.

The Sopp

Mulched earth, rotten to the core. No foundations can be laid. Some creatures have learnt to survive it. One day, they may be all that is left.

Molton clay will often bubble up here and resolidify on the surface. This clay is perfect for homunculus.

Should we be making quest logs?

Some things in video games are only possible there and would become a slog if we had to do them with pen and paper. We should sometimes have a think about features in video games that could be easily ported to tabletop, and see how they impact our games. The one I was thinking of recently was the quest log.

A few reasons why they’ve super useful in video games: If I don’t play the game for a month, I usually forget my objective. They can offer a story recap of previous bits I’ve done, and who for. They let me keep track of multiple goals at once if the story is complicated and weaving around multiple threads.

Well, those perks all seem great on a tabletop game too. In one of the games I play, we typically play every other week. Sometimes we have to miss a week because of reallife obligations, and that’s A WHOLE MONTH between sessions. A reminder and clarification of what we’re supposed to be doing wouldn’t go unwanted. In Lost Mines and more so in Rhyme there are tonnes of side quests. Did anyone take a note on who was looking for the hideout of the Redbrands, you remember, that quest from six months ago?

Players’ should be keeping their own notes. It’s incredibly rewarding as a DM when your players connect two dots – something they won’t do without notes. Not to mention, it’s super useful for players to be a second reference for information. I play with a DM who gives inspiration for offering NPC names before he has time to flick around the book to find them – something which speeds up the game a bunch. However, I think there’s a lot to be said for the DM keeping a list and saying “just so you know, you’ve started on the Blacksmith’s Son questline”.

Part two of this idea is that maybe DMs should break immersion just a little bit more and list what the reward is on this sheet of paper. Not just the gold reward the blacksmith has promised, but a hint at the magic item they might find along the way. If the players ever get stuck on their main quest – maybe they feel they’ll need some silvered weapons before they can take on the werewolf – a sidequest might offer it to them.

Some sidequests would of course be competing. Do you go after the Blacksmith’s Son now, or Root Out The Goblins first, risking the trail going cold? Blacksmith’s Son hints at those silvered weapons, but Root Out The Goblins cryptically suggests there might be a whole box of potions of invisibility available, which would be cool as heck.

Five pointed star faction system

signature scrap princess art ^

scrap was talking about the idea of friends-and-foes, inspired by the MtG colour pie. It’s not something I’d heard of before, and not actually something I’ve done a tonne of research on. (I had a pretty good green-blue Cagebreakers deck back in the day, and I’m not sure how that fits with the colour pie theme.)

What I did like was the idea of using two-friends and two-foes as a framework for factions. Unrestrained creativity can sometimes be exhausting, but wrap a constraint around a thing and suddenly some sort of internal logic starts to appear.

I’m still hoping to make The Rest a fun writing project that people do. Maybe it’ll be fun to take five cards at random and fit them into this structure (which scrap called “five point star faction system”).

Five randomly drawn cards:

  • Strength.
  • The Chariot.
  • The World.
  • The Magician.
  • The Tower.

(Strength; endurance.) Ilwater was better known as The City of Water less than a generation ago, but the siege against it has all but dried up its last wells. News stopped travelling out of their a year or so again. Their numbers have fallen into the hundreds much down from the flurishing streets of yesteryear. The Waterfolk inside still man the walls. They still watch the gates. They still tend to the animals they have left. Whilst some think it’s just a matter of time before the walls crumble against the invader’s machines, there’s no doubt that the Waterfolk will fight til their last.

(The Chariot; aid to warriors.) Ilwater is not alone. The Petty Prince, though expeled from their own country, still has his spies. His might is not as it once was, but what he lacks in an army he more than makes up for it in poisons – curses of drink and of ear – which can cripple an enemy just as well. So long as Illwater stands there’s a chance he can regain his seat and his mistakes forgotten. But, when all is said and done, and the war for the small but holy town is won, he needs it to fall at his feet, and not his sisters’.

(World; as old as time.) The Merchants of Ultima see Ilwater as their last uncollected waypoint to the east. Going around it takes weeks and going through it was impossible whilst its inhabitants worshipped at their ridiculous, puritanical church of Ilmater. The war so far had cost them greatly, but the Merchants could endure for much longer, certainly longer than those pestilant fools inside.

(Magician; unnatural power over something.) Since Ilmater had turned on the Sighted Elders, and refused to offer any help to their cause, the Elders were more than happy to join the Merchants in their crusade. If they should win, Ilmater would be crippled by the loss of his major temple, or else be forced to crawl back to the other gods and beg to rejoin. No one would go to war without the knowledge that the Elders could provide – gossip and thoughts directly from the gods – and so the Merchants entered into this unlikely coalition.

(Tower; bringer of doom.) There are four royal sisters, who in their mother’s illness have wrestled control of the country and ousted their brother. The Queen would never have stood against the Merchants, but the sisters are not quite a like their mother, yet even they are smart enough to not openly fight the Merchants. Instead, they aim to move Ilmater’s holy site, in secret. Then the Merchants can do what they like with the town. Their good allies, the Elders, will be more than happy with a slightly less powerful Ilmater rocking the boat.

It’s difficult to find ways for allies to be friends with their friends’ enemies.

Highlights of some of the relationships:

Royal Sisters and Petty Prince: The Prince was the intended heir but his politics of giving his friends more power didn’t sit well with them. They’re unsure if he’s dead or not, to be quite honest.

Petty Prince and the Merchants: Supposed allies. The Merchants stand to gain a lot by the Prince being in power. They both overestimate they can manipulate the other. However, if Ilwater was to fall it would be the last nail in his political coffin. If the Merchants insist it falls, it must happen in exactly the way the Prince intends it to.

Ilwater and the Sighted Elders: The Elders have the gods by the balls – literally in some cases. They’ve successfully tracked down and captured many relics of the gods which act as their physical anchor to the Material Plane. The Elders, whose only desire is control, became enraged when Ilmater’s relic was stolen. If he’s not with them, then he is against them, and his temples must fall.

“Enhanced Interogation”

As a player or as a referee, I can do without torture happening in my games.

My line goes as far as “lets tie him to a chair, and wave a dagger around to intimidate them”. Anything more than that and it gets kind of icky for me. The immersion is broken and the situation snaps into clear focus: I’m sitting with a group of adults whilst one of them describes ordinarily unmentionable ways of compelling someone to hand over some information, and they push it and push it in the hopes of getting advantage on their roll.

I’m happy to say that this almost never happens. It’s happened a couple of times, and when it has most people have understood and found another route. On one time though, the DM said, “well, you need to find another way of getting him to tell you the information then.” It didn’t feel like there was another way – the bandit was steadfast and cared for nothing but the end of Chult. We didn’t get the information – I expect we weren’t supposed to capture the bandit, but a dice roll got out of the DM’s control.

On a few occaisions we’ve chosen “the scene fades to black as you begin your interogation” method. This is largely fine! (Your mileage may vary.) Nothing is described, other than the character’s intent, and then an intimidation roll is made. This is fine.

However, you still have to journey with adventurers who were willing to do that. (This awkwardness only extends to the character – I’ve never played with genuninely sadistic people, I assume.) In world, I’m not sure how that would sit well with everyone. Rarely are there consequences.

So, as a general houserule for games I run in the future, I have this:

Torture will never yield beneficial results, even in “fade to black” scenes, or off-screen scenes by NPCs. You will only ever hear lies. The lies will be uninteresting. There’s no point in trying. My promise in return is that there will always be another way to find the information you’re after. If it’s not obvious what that way is, talking to another NPC will point you in the right direction.

There are other tools and you should start each campaign by checking in with your group for them. The “fade to black” option is similar to ‘lines and viels’ that is commonly used. It’s not just about super grim stuff like this: double check if your group are okay with fighting spiders, as you don’t want to be kickstarting anyone’s phobias.