Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Why would you pay a GM to roleplay?

In case you're new here, I've been a professionally paid gamesmaster for over 30 years. I started when I was 13, I was paid to GM some guys, who wanted to play, had the books, but none of them wanted to GM. They paid with pizza. I hated the system, so I wrote my own. Since then I've worked over 10,000 hours as a paid GM, most of it between 2003 and 2013, because I did it full time.

So I think I know a little about the topic, so here's my opinion:

Don't pay your friends, but compensate a Professional.

There are currently about some major thoughts as to why people would/wouldn't pay a GM. Quite a few threads on reddit, roll20 forums and other locations around the web, there are very valid reasons why you shouldn't and very valid reasons why you should be able to.

Most people play RPGs because its an activity, like a board game, between friends. They get together, maybe have drinks, food, break out a game and play it. Just in this instance, its a roleplaying game, and they've been doing it for a few weeks or months. Typically, the GM of such a group, would be using a module, because prep time is limited, but often eventually, they've invented their own little world, and the players come back month after month, until the social dynamic of the group changes.
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Just a round of beer with the mates.. and a DMs guide..
Should people pay for this?

Just like board games night, these people should contribute to the cost of the game, if there is any, you take turns bringing your game around to be played, each player has bought one or two games, so no one individual is paying for all the game.
Yet in roleplay, usually the GM has bought all the core books, used his Uni credit to photo copy character sheets, so its best for players to buy supplements they want to see in the game, or another approach is the players pay for the GMs share of the pizza, especially if he's making up the world and creating all the fun for the group.
Participate in the cost is what I'm saying here, buy and paint your own mini, photo copy the character sheets for them, buy your own dice, buy your DM some dice, make a physical contribution to the group, that's a decent way to contribute, yet consider it a gift, not a payment.

But people shouldn't pay the GM for this. Paying your friends for their time?

Roleplaying has become rather popular lately, the increase of players, due to movies and computer games in the genre, peaks the interest of some, but also like board games, we see the backlash of people being too involved in their phones, they crave being in a room of real people, socialising, away from others who are not of their ilk.

As such, there are a number of people who just don't know where or how they can get into RPGs.. and this creates a market. The vacuum of players with needs to play has outnumbered the people who can run a game, so much so that popular brands have set up cookie cutter plots with GMs to run them at local game shops. The main problem I see with this, the experience of the cookie cutter guilds and leagues is a far cry from what roleplay is really about. Its stale, dry and unrealistic in so many ways. Trying to untrain an initiate of that industrial machine, is so hard. Its damaging the industry as a whole.
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Professional Gamesmaster at work in Calgary

So, we can see a market of individuals who have a genuine need for a Paid GM. This Audience of people, interested to get involved, but not sure how to go about it. Partly because of the standard social stigmatism of trying something new and being bad at it. Partly because you'd like to know what you're getting yourself into before making any kind of commitment and Partly because its cost effective to get someone to teach you the first years worth of experience, in 2-4 sessions. Its why people take classes in something.

Paying a GM "Teacher" is a plausible gig for this audience.

What about when they do join a group, what of the other players. In many social groups, there are people who are there, because their friends are there, they have less interest in the game, the plot and the world, than they do blowing stuff up, having a laugh and disrupting everyone else. If your whole group is just being socialable, as a group of friends, just hanging out, this should be fine for you. Yet there are scores of people who put up with these clowns, because of the same reasons that people who don't play but want to, a further niche are those who want to play, properly, but have to put up with the rest because they don't know how or where to find the real players.

A Paid GM, is like a nexus of core roleplaying. Like a course in Uni, you pay for the atmosphere as much as the information.

Over time, a GM figures out the players who are there for the game, who are there to play vs those who are just there. Often I've seen the GM focus their attention on that player. It unfortunately causes the person who has less interest, now that they're getting less attention, to be more vocal and more destructive, which can drive away the player that's there to play. A better solution is to bring that player to a better game.
I know I've cherry picked players to a special game, they get the real stuff, the good plots and adventures and equipment, because for them, its not just a scribble on a page, its a real cross over to an other world.
People pay to be in those games, I've had 6 hours sessions, where we got more done than normal groups do in months. On the other end, I've had groups play out a single day of events, over several weeks, because of all the cross talk, and off topic banter. 4 hours of roleplay, and all we did was ask the tavern keeper if he had a room and discuss grapple rules incase a bar-room brawl broke out.

People pay to have their sessions at regular intervals with like minded folks who are there to get their game on.

People pay a Gym to get focus on their physical health. They can do it all at home, sure, but with distractions, lack of space, lack of motivation, they just don't. When payment is involved, you want focus, you are motivated to turn up, to be there, to actually play, and get involved in the world you are playing in. and you don't want to be surrounded by chit chat and lolly gagging.

People also pay to avoid the riff raff and the ne'er-do-wells.

Now a problem that comes up, is that its not only the players who are sub-par. Some GMs do so, because they like the power trip, or they want to influence people, or they want to tell 'their' story. As often as not, on any GM site or service, there are GMs that are in it for the money and not the game. They might be very decent GMs, yet their focus is on  keeping their players and their income, more than on GMing a good story, this might lead to an increase in magical items, lower chance of death, any number of immersion breaking flaws.

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So How can you tell if the GM is a decent GM or not. Some websites and groups, such as the Professional Gamesmaster Society has taken point, on a dialog of ideas and thoughts on the subject. The currently on paused Looking-For-Games-Masters site: had a nice ratings system, so you could give your GM some votes if he did a good job, or neutral if on par or sub standard.
This promoted GMs to be a little stricter in their play styles, but I think, given the play styles of the average GM, this is warranted. If a number of poor GMs are out there charging money and providing bad service, it could hurt the industry as a whole.

So yeah, you're also paying to have a decent dungeon/games master.

The Topic of ProPlayers has come up, a Pro Gamer group could try out new GMs, vetting them, so they can't hurt the industry. This is sorta how I see the ProGMSociety working, legitimizing the GMs to ensure a decent group of GMs are improving the industry of ProGMing, so players build trust and more games get played.

So Paying for the right GM, the right group, and a more professional experience, is kind on par with anything in life. You get what you pay for. If you're looking for a roleplay experience.

Now that's a cool roleplay room. I'd pay to play there..
There are some spectrums of the gamut of paid GMing to address:

There is of course the whole "Immersion, Experience and Entertainment" where the GM might have an assistant, colour print outs, maps, sound effects, lighting effects, props, miniatures,  a whole world with backstories and plots ticking along as the players enjoy their little adventure. This of course should be paid for, the extra work and effort to provide such a premium service, is justifiably costly. 

The other given reason people pay for GMs is the scarcity of GMs. While this seems to be the angle of the average paid GM, and I get it, supply vs demand, creates the audience for the paid GM, I think this is where the average "I don't think its right" person rails against. Surely some GM out there is looking for players for free? I think this is where my first point clashes:

"If supply is low, demand is high and people are prepared to pay me to GM, why shouldn't I? My group loves my game, surely other people will love my game and will pay me because I'm doing all this work for them?"

So, yes, if you don't have a local group, and you have a decent enough income, maybe paying a GM will suit your lifestyle.

Yet, there are GMs who should not be GMs, and they shouldn't be paid for it, but the same can be said of any profession. so when the supply is low and demand is high, people are going to pay for anything.

The world is not fair, there are great GMs who don't have the time to be great GMs because they have bills to pay, and either they don't think it fair to charge, and that's fair, yet they probably should, so we can bring the level of quality GMing up in standard.
GMing costs time, prep time, plus game time plus prior experience time. As much as some GMs say that prep time is minimalistic, In my opinion, I can guarantee that their game is so flawed and so broken, that MY immersion would be destroyed within 2-3 sessions.
Good GMing takes years of prep time & sometimes hours before a session, and if you're going to pay for it, might as well get the best. So look for a GM that has that pre-requisite 10k hours behind them (they say, it takes 10,000 hours of experience to be considered a professional)

To Sum Up, Against the idea:

  • You shouldn't pay for the stock standard average "I just started doing this 2 weeks ago" GM.
  • You shouldn't pay your mate to run your saturday games night sessions, but its polite to cover some of the expenses they go through to set up and run the game.
Yet for reasons:
  • If you need someone to train you how to play..
  • If you want to join a serious group,
  • If you want a group that is on-time, always there and pay attention.
Yet in a pinch, and you gotta get your game on, If there are no groups in your social circle, and you abhore the leagues and guilds games...

That said, it isn't for everyone, There are a multitude of negative and positive reasons that people have for everything in life, expecting it to be different for roleplay, is folly.

Hmm, final note.. did the League & Guild system pop up because their respective system didn't want paid GMs and this was their solution?

p.s. apologies if anything has gone wonky.. Blogger has been playing up of late, seems google is slowly discontinuing it.

p.p.s. This is a Blog, its purely thoughts from my head, while I have researched some of these points extensively over the past few months and years, I'm speaking true from my personal perspective, but I'm not being graded by a professor, this is not a paid for journal, its just me, blogging.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Dungeon Delvers Twelve: Cataclyzm

Today, I thought I might just put it in writing, what I'm up to, what I'm developing and what you can see coming out of the EFRGames product line soon:

Dungeon Delvers Twelve: Cataclyzm

When I returned to Australia in 2012, I discovered something unsettling, The Roleplay game that I'd been working on for the last 25 years, had become outdated, outmoded. The Audience and Market for roleplay games had indeed increased, as I understood, but it had also changed.
While I have a few posts about it, <will post links later>, I'm not so stubborn to resist change. If the players can't handle accounting, math, science and are more focussed on narrative, then so be it.
So Dungeonworld, the Roleplay Game for Accountants, got shelved. Later in time, when this generation starts looking for more crunch, I'll dust it off, and print it up.
So Dungeon Delvers Twelve is the core mechanic, the Two-Twelve-Sided-Dice system, with some simplification, tweaking and the like, I trimmed the fat. I got a 1 page, convention set of rules, an 18 page core rules without any fluff, and got a 50 page cut down of the whole system.
So Now I needed a scenario.
Everyone talks about the Heartbreaker Fantasy RPG, So while that is my personal core, everyone else has done it to death, so the likelyhood anyone is going to see my fantasy core rules and even consider buying it, would be bupkis.
If I'm going to trim down my rules, change the core name, I may as well go for a whole nother aspect of genre.. but what?
I like minecraft, bought into it after meeting Marcus, should have invested, but that's another story. The Open world, Crafting gear, building locations, that appealed to me. but you are somewhat alone. This is the part of the game that gamesmaster love, they LOVE to create a world, and then have people walk in it.
The Problem is often that the system used, will reflect how the players are supposed to behave in the game. Most games focus on combat, looting, and the acquisition of power, While this plays a part in any RPG, its only a small part, yet the rules for many system are only focussed on that small part.
So, a wonderful, creative GM, makes up a great world, a great plot, and the players hack their way through it, because the system encourages it.ouch.
I asked myself this ages back.. why can't my players be something else, and I introduced the ability to be anything. Bartender? great! Shop Keeper? Great! The Local Lord, working out the logistics of his kingdom? a Doctor, discovering new potions, techniques or ways to heal people, why not a bard, travelling the land, delivering messages and lifting the spirits of those he encounters, or better yet, the nerd, the ultimate juxtaposition, by playing a nerd in a game build by nerds, for nerds. How about playing as a person who just wants to 'see' everything, and write it down for others to read about.
Add in Crafting, via the local blacksmith, and viola.. finally It seems like all the pieces have come together and I have a game that I feel proud of..

So what scenario would suit that? All of them.. Blargh.. ok.. so I need to focus on key points.

You can't escape combat, anyone doing a roleplay game that had zero combat would be shot down, because at the end of the day, the lowest form of conflict resolution, is win-lose. I hit you, your dead, conflict resolved.
Crafting is only really fun when you lack the final goods. If the local blacksmith sells weapons, why do you need to make them yourself. Sure, there comes a time when you're level is so high, that not even the most accomplished mage-blacksmith is good enough to make the ultimate blade-staff that you need, so you end up making it yourself.. with cludgy rules, tacked into the last chapter of the book.. ug!
So Crafting works better with scant resources, and even less local talent.
Medicine, a form of crafting, but then there is the human body.. Doctors are only useful when there are wounded.. which combat takes care of.. 
So It hit me, the Warrior, The Shaman (medicine man) and the Blacksmith are three characters that could fit together as their own little group.. As long as you have one of each, you can have a group without any need or backup required..

Lost? Stranded? in limited space?   The scenario works where we have : limited resources & technology, yet an abundance of opportunity to gather resources and invent the technology, a requirement to survive means a need for weapons, armour, potions and the like, and of course the need to fight, because the world is dangerous.. which often means young.

So I grabbed out my world building notes, and found what I was looking for. The Beginning of everything.

Cataclyzm, the time when all things began (and ended) A time where all great existing civilisations have come to a catastrophic finish and must start over. Some technologies might somehow survive, but for the most part its all gone.

Numinera and the Cypher system went down that path, they chose post apocalyptic, and look where that got them. Mad Max is very popular again, While I don't want to step on any toes (or risk law suits), there is nothing wrong with structuring the rules in a way that allows the players to choose that plot path for themselves. The Concept of a New beginning is rather Apt.

So Cataclyzm starts with players opening their eyes to a blank charactersheet, like the blank world around them, and are thrown into a situation where they need to make quick decisions. Each decision helps them to create their character, as they fight off an unnameable horror, If they kill it (yes, you can die in character creation) their survival instinct kick in and their hunger takes over.. They ravange the corpse, making their first meal in this hostile environment.

The Characters then work out what they are doing in this world, who they were in the old world, and if any of their skills might match their new lives. They find others in a nearby settlement, join and begin to work together. As survivors of the horro from ouitside, they are revered as heroes, and the support of heroes is the survival of all, as such the viallge itself, becomes a character that the players interact with.
The gamesmaster plays as the village, when the heroes are returned and resting. The GM makes choices for the village and the players now are the GMs of the village. The GM can take on the roles of the Merchant, Leader or Knowledge Keeper, while the GMs take on the roles of the villagers, their needs, their wants are now part of the fabric of the game.

Through crafting, logistics and game mechanics, woven within the story, now the GM gets to play too, and together, they stand a chance to build a new life after the Cataclyzm.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

[quest plot] The Disappearing Few

Every now and then an Idea for a game pops into my head, When I'm in bed or near my desk I have a notebook, I prefer to flesh it out when I have time, yet with a full time job, part time gigs, children, family commitments, etc etc.. Many of these ideas will never see the light of day. Whats the good of all these ideas if they just stay locked in the notebook.
So From now on, as I have ideas, I think I'll just shared them, maybe you'll be sparked for your own ideas, maybe you can use this one. Please, if you do use it, just a shout out that you were inspired from here, so others may come and use the ideas too.

So, for the first Idea:

The Disappearing Few

The Concept is this: You roll up several NPCs for a village, Once done, pick one each as your "group of friends / the heroes, Flesh out their characters, roleplay a small side quest that explains why you think of yourselves as the heroes of the village, and then begin the plot.

Nightmares have begun in the village, no-one rememberes specifics, only that they did not sleep well, witnesses say they tossed and turned, then when people started to discuss this, they realise that two members of the village have not been seen in days or weeks. This is not uncommon, as people on the outskirts might only visit the village once a week, sometimes once a month, but something feels off.

The Heroes investigate the home of the missing person, and nothing is to be found.

Another small quest, rats or bugs or forest creatures imposing on farmland, meanwhile another person has gone missing,

The Heroes investigate the home of the missing person, and nothing is to be found.

Related imageAnother small quest,but this time, the heroes spot a villager wandering into the forest, they give chase, but lose them in some thickets. Returning to the village the partner of that villager asks, have they seen them, they just wandered off in the wee hours of the morning, they haven't seen them since.

The Heroes begin to realise, the village is under some kind of curse, nightmares, people wandering off, never to be seen again. What should they do?

Its the end of the Growing season, its harvest time, the heroes have their daily chores to take care of too, now with missing villagers, its going to be harder, people will need to pick up the slack, else the village will starve next winter.

Players now need to assign the workload to the rest of the villagers, as they continue to dissapear and the villagers depend on the heroes to make decisions.

If they Try to determine where they have gone, they lose precious harvest time, If they stay up late to 'watch' they lose sleep and are ineffective the next day, Each time a new villager goes missing is only when everyone is asleep, or at least asleep on that side of the village.

Stress to the players, people who wander into the forest go missing all the time, its not safe, so trying to follow one of them will as likely lose the whole group of heroes.

The Blacksmith, Leatherworker and Shaman of the village can prepare Armour and or weapons if the players assign them to do so, at the cost of repairs to harvesting equipment, and Protective powers.

Image result for Grimm
This could be the kind of setting I'd put the game in.. 
The Players have to balance the Harvest, Sleep, and occasional defensive measures for normal forest denizens.

Once the Players have armed themselves enough to go into the forest, AND harvested enough food for the village that winter, (incase the heroes never return) then they may do so.

This could be a board game, where the end phase is the players going into the forest, matching stats against the enemy and winning (or losing if they are unprepared)

It could be the 'backstory' for your heroes.

It could be a roleplay scenario for a few weeks,

It could even be the plot of a movie, TV show, Story, Book or something entirely different.

I was thinking of calling it "Grimms Forest: Nightmares" and having it as a Forest Based board game with turns, combat and a final battle. Each round of "forest denizens" could be creatures from the Grims fairy tales or just were-versions of everything like the Grimm TV show,

Image result for Grimm
Maybe its set in the Grimm Universe...?