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The players look to one another with expressions of uncertainty and bewilderment, shaking their heads and shrugging their shoulders as the GameMaster watches silently, expectantly. Character sheets are skimmed front and back, and one hopeful player pages through notes in a futile effort to find something, anything that will help. Seconds continue to tick by, the obvious tension in the room mounting with each one. Finally, someone cracks and admits defeat: “I,.. I don’t know man… what was that shopkeep’s name?”
Not every challenge players face in a campaign is related to the rules, or even the actual events taking place in-game. Sometimes, the hard part is remembering some small detail that suddenly becomes important, or reading between the lines of an NPC’s dialogue because what wasn’t said is every bit as crucial as what was. It’s the kind of thing that rules systems rarely cover because it exists outside the scope of the game proper. It’s a lot like when a character in a movie breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the audience, it happened, but not in terms of the narrative of the story.
As a GameMaster, this is the sort of challenge I like to construct for my group from time to time. I like the idea that it’s purely for the players, and that nothing on their precious character sheets will help them. Usually, the only challenges that reach this sort of “fourth wall” area are riddles – but why limit yourself?
Everybody screws up from time to time. Outside of the proverbial ‘death and taxes’, it’s quite possibly the only guarantee we have for humanity. In terms of the shared reality that is a roleplaying game, the screw ups are generally with respects to the rules. Newer players might misremember the rules due to their fledgling status. Veteran players might do the same because they’ve played too many different systems and have gotten their wires crossed here and there.
GameMasters tend to screw up because they’ve got twelve things going on all at once and they don’t want to slow the pace of the game by thumbing through the books – and none of this even scratches the surface of intentional rules “mishaps” (a cheating player, fudged GM dice rolls, etc..). Ideally these rules blunders are caught when they happen, but oftentimes they aren’t. Myself, I tend to catch them between sessions when I’m evaluating how the players stomped my latest boss far easier than I had planned for…
Rumors abound of a no man’s land trapped between two great empires; where wilderness and ancient battlefields dot the countryside, and provincial rulers rise and fall in their bids for power. You might think to steer clear of such a volatile region, but you’d be wrong… for these are the Unconquered Kingdoms, July’s Campaign of the Month! So come! Gather your boldest retainers as we meet with the true power of this realm SkidAce, the Game Master.
If there’s one thing that players can’t stand, it’s being railroaded through a campaign (or portions of one). The concept of player choice means little when there is only one option available, and as the GameMaster you can pretty much forget about the group having any real investment in their characters, or any genuine excitement about what’s going on in the game. Once the rails have been spotted and the track identified – the only thing you can count on for sure is the players to politely go through the motions until your predictable plot runs its course.
It’s an easy trap to fall into. You have a story you’re trying to tell, and certain events need to transpire in order to get the Party to the grand finale.
Yeeeeahoooo! You’re all clear kid! So grab your lightsaber and dive back into that galaxy far far away with Star Wars: Rise of the Infinite Empire, June’s Campaign of the Month! Search your feelings as we interview GM HumAnnoyed, the Jedi Mast.. er GameMaster at the helm of this action packed campaign using the Fate Accelerated system.
Disclaimer: I was a published author and contributor for Columbia Games Ltd for a limited time, and my name appears in the list of contributors in the HârnMaster Religion book.
Game Concept Synopsis
HârnMaster is a fantasy game designed and published for the gaming world of HârnWorld. Published by Columbia Games and initially written by N. Robyn Crossby; it is in its third iteration. The game focuses on skill-based improvement with a combat system that is generously referred to as “lethal”.
It is difficult to talk about HârnMaster without talking about the background (HârnWorld). HârnWorld is the campaign background for a HârnMaster game. The published regions of Harn to 13th century Europe; and is often described as both realistic and detailed. The world map (and world index) strongly suggest that there are other cultures and a much larger map to explore. HârnWorld is a traditional low magic fantasy setting, but the low-magic limitation is a socially imposed one rather than a limiter within the game system.