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Saturday, October 20, 2012

How to Win an RPG: the GM's Side

Before reading this, you probably want to read the preceding post, which is about the same topic, but from the player's side. I'm continuing from there, outlining what Tenra Bansho Zero has to say about winning the game on the GM's side. It's a bit of a different objective list, and it combines lethally (in a good way) with the players' objectives.

The GM Victory Conditions
These are the six victory conditions, from the rulebook, for the GM. The game tells you that you should consider a game won when half of them are fulfilled. (Incidentally, it says the same thing about the players' victory conditions. I just didn't bother to mention it.) They're listed in order of importance, as with the other set.

  1. You helped the players have as much fun as humanly possible.
  2. You help bring the characters to life in a way that the players say, “I want to play this character again someday!”
  3. The players tell you the session was interesting and enjoyable.
  4. You helped each of the players take the stage, and show off or express themselves
    in their own ways.
  5. The players thank you for your effort in doing all the above.
  6. You helped create an interesting story.

As to be expected, the first few points are about helping the players to have an enjoyable experience. There's some interesting emphasis, though. There are concrete markers of feedback in this list, namely the idea that the experience was cool enough for players to want to repeat it, and that it was noteworthy enough to bring player remarks. The players' sole concrete condition (you got the GM to say "that was cool!") is a lot more ephemeral; the GM's victory conditions are far more focused on a long-term picture.

It's also crucial to note that balancing the spotlight is an explicit objective here. It's something that many GMs try to do, but it's seldom set out as an explicit goal. You're there to make sure that all of the characters get strong moments, among other things.

One other thing that sticks out to me, although this probably has a lot of roots in Japanese culture: the fifth victory condition. We don't often think of player gratitude as something we strive for. Yet, if you think about it, that's a very important goal. You not only want to be playing with players who are polite enough to thank you for what you've also want to do such a good job that they feel like thanking you!

Finally, I point something out again: creating an interesting story is a win condition, but it's the last win condition. Trying to come up with an uber-awesome story is a noble aim, but it often gets in the way of a good game experience, especially if the GM has a specific idea for the story.

Cut loose, have fun, and the story will come.

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