What Is This Game?: Narration

  1. What do I need?
  2. What Is This Game?
  3. Rolling dice

Gods & Monsters is a game. You roll dice to see if your character in the game is successful at doing adventurous things. Your character has resources. You will use those resources to gain more resources. Just like betting chips in poker, if you use too many resources you’ll be out of the game—your character might die. Use too few and your character won’t advance. You’ll use strategy in Gods & Monsters to maneuver your character into situations where their resources are most effective.

One of the cool things about role-playing games is the role-playing. You tell the Adventure Guide, “my character’s going to jump the fence” and then you roll the dice to find out if your character successfully jumped the fence. Or, “I’m going to try to convince the old man to tell us where the xolome went. I’ll offer him a little food first, and I’ll talk softly, and be very comforting.” Then you roll and see if your character is successful, or maybe your role-playing hit all the right buttons and the Adventure Guide just says “yes, you succeed” and describes what happens.

In Gods & Monsters, much of the role-playing comes from your narration of what your character does. There are three kinds of narration:

Describe what your character is trying to do. The most basic narration is when you tell everyone what your character’s actions are. Whether it’s attacking a demon, sermonizing to a crowd, or offering food to a beggar, it doesn’t really happen unless you tell everyone it happens. Also, when you describe what your character is doing, you’re really describing what your character is trying to do. Some things will be easy enough that when your character tries them, they will automatically succeed. Other things are more difficult, and for those you’ll need to roll dice to see if your character succeeds.

When you describe what your character tries to do, you can also describe how your character tries to do it. Instead of saying “I’m going to search for a trap in this room”, you can say “ I’m going to search for a trap behind the tapestry.” This kind of narration can both help and hurt your chance of success. If the trap is, in fact, behind the tapestry, you’ll get a bonus to succeed. If the trap is obvious once the tapestry is moved, you won’t even have to roll. If the trap is not behind the tapestry, however, you won’t find one hidden under the floor.

Explain why your character is doing it. In fiction, there’s only one writer, so actions lead inexorably to the “correct” consequences. But in Gods & Monsters the Adventure Guide doesn’t necessarily know what consequences you’re hoping for from your character’s actions. If you’re offering food to a beggar hoping that the beggar will tell you whether he saw anything out of the ordinary, you need to tell the Adventure Guide this. Or if you’ve decided that the beggar is really the prince your character has been looking for, you should explain how you or your character came to that conclusion.

Describe the success or failure of your attempt. After your character succeeds or fails, the Adventure Guide will sometimes describe how your character succeeded or failed, and sometimes will simply say that your character succeeded or failed. This gives you the opportunity to describe how your character succeeded or failed. You don’t need to do this; it isn’t in any way necessary. It can, however, sometimes be fun to describe how, for example, the nail snapped after your character hit their thumb with the hammer. Brevity is the soul of this stage of narration: the action has passed, and it is time to move on to the next scene. Also remember that when you only lost verve because of the failure, you still looked cool doing it.

Players and characters

You as a player will play your character in the game. Characters in Gods & Monsters advance through a series of adventures. You will begin the game by assigning abilities to your character. Throughout your character’s first adventure you will add further abilities. For the rest of the game your character will use those abilities to defeat opponents, solve problems, and complete further adventures.

Your character will (if they survive their adventures) advance through a series of experience levels. At each new level, you will have the opportunity to assign new abilities to your character’s repertoire. Each new level is a new chapter or book in your character’s story.

As you play the game, you will describe to the other players what your character is doing. During a game session, Sandy, playing the sorceror Gralen Noslen, might tell the group that “Gralen casts a spell of dazed enchantment on the Orcs”. Each player will likely play multiple characters over time, as one character retires, dies, or temporarily leaves the group.

There is also a difference between player characters and non-player characters. Player characters hold a special place in Gods & Monsters. They are the heroes and anti-heroes of the story. The game revolves around them. This doesn’t mean that the game is necessarily going to give them any special breaks—sometimes it will, sometimes it won’t. But the game exists for their players’ amusement. If the players go somewhere else, the game ceases to exist.

Because the game, like a movie camera, focuses on the player characters, it gives them extra chances of survival in the form of survival points, verve, mojo, and reaction rolls.

Here are some sample characters. I’ll be referring back to these characters as examples throughout the rules.

Player: Tony Barlow Sarah Dent Sandy Thompson John Greeley Jim Turner
Character: Toromeen Sam Stevens Gralen Noslen Charlotte Kordé Will Stratford
Archetype: Warrior Thief Sorceror Monk Warrior
Specialty: Dwarven warrior skills raven familiar Half-Elven weapon specialist
Moral Code: Chaotic Good Good Ordered Good Good Good

My character wouldn’t do that!

Sometimes you’ll be in a situation where you know your character has no motivation to be part of the adventure. You’ll need to either come up with a reason that your character does go on the adventure (whether by compulsion or desire), or play a different character. A character should never get in the way of a player’s fun. Never say “my character wouldn’t do that”. Say “I don’t want my character to do that. Can we try something else?” or “I want my character to do that, but it doesn’t make sense. Let’s find a way that works.”

What does it mean to play a character?

Your character is the main character in a story. As a Gods & Monsters player, your part of the game is to find that story, to create it. This is not the Adventure Guide’s story; it is yours. The Guide doesn’t have a story, only a situation. It is up to you to create a narrative out of that situation. You need to create your character’s plot thread.

In any story, what matters is what makes the main character different: their special abilities. So, look at what your character can do, and think up scenarios for how those abilities might be helpful. Some of those scenarios will not pan out; that’s the life of an author. When one scenario doesn’t bring results, think up slightly different scenarios and think up radically different scenarios.

For example, you might be trying to solve the riddle of what happened in an ancient, deserted manor. You look at your character’s spell list and think, maybe see whole would be useful here. Maybe there’s something broken or torn that can be put together. Where would I find such things? How would they be preserved after all this time? Perhaps some small animal took them into its lair to nest with. If that’s your scenario, you look for nests. Or, perhaps they fell behind something that couldn’t be moved. Is there such a thing here? Look behind it.

Take the Adventure Guide’s descriptions into account. If it’s an empty house and you keep hearing rats, you might make the scenario “my character finds a lost item in a rat’s nest”. You then keep an eye out for places that rats might build nests.

Maybe your special ability is to beat things up. Who or what, that you could beat up, would help you further your character’s thread and make your character matter? Where would those persons or creatures be? What signs would indicate their presence? Start looking for those signs, and start asking the Guide about them.

Pay attention to the adventure’s backstory. If your character beats things up and the backstory involves goblin ambushes in this area, you might create the scenario “my characters foils a goblin ambush while we’re traveling through this area”. Start paying attention to places where goblins might hold an ambush.

Sometimes your first attempt will fail. You’ll look in the rafters in the first room of a four-room attic and find nothing. If it was a good narrative, don’t give up. Look in the rafters in all four rooms. If it was a flawed narrative, modify it. If you think of a better narrative, use the new one instead of (or in addition to) the old one. But don’t give up too easily. Characters in stories persevere. There are always false starts and slow starts. Characters become main characters because they don’t give up. They ensure that their special abilities matter.

Your goal is to make your character matter in the narrative. If one scenario doesn’t work, try a different one. Later, as your character gains additional abilities, keep two or three scenarios in mind at a time, looking for the things that would trigger those scenarios, occasionally modifying those scenarios according to what you hear from the Guide.

One tool that you have as a player to ensure that your scenarios make sense is that mojo use must always matter. You’ll find out about mojo later, but if you are willing to spend mojo to be successful, the Guide must tell you if your success doesn’t matter, giving you the opportunity to back out of spending the mojo. If you’re barking up the wrong tree, chasing a red herring, or otherwise following the wrong clichéd path, the Guide must tell you this if you successfully bid mojo on a roll to follow that path.

Ask questions

Whenever your character enters a new place or a new situation, your Adventure Guide will describe what your character initially sees. But what you initially see isn’t necessarily everything. You’ll need to ask questions to find what’s not obvious on a first look. Your Adventure Guide may also describe some things in relation to what your character knows, but they won’t always do so. You’ll need to ask questions such as “what does my character know about…”

Your character knows different things than you do, so you’ll need to ask the Adventure Guide questions constantly. Sometimes the Adventure Guide will respond immediately with an answer: the very act of asking the question means your character knows the answer. Other times, the Adventure Guide will ask you to make an ability roll or a reaction roll (often, for questions, these will be either an intelligence roll, a wisdom roll, a perception roll, or a reason roll).

Ask what your character sees now. Wherever you are, you should ask “what do I see”. If anything in the description interests you, hone in on it. “What do I see in the bathtub?”

Ask what your character knows. For example, you find a painting in the ruined castle. You think it’s important. Ask the Adventure Guide what you know about this painting. Do you know what style it is? When it was painted? Is there anything odd about it?

Ask what your character has seen. For example, you wonder if the king is mad. Ask the Adventure Guide what you know about the king. Ask the Adventure Guide whether you have seen any other indications that the king is mad.

As you approach the gaping black maw, you smell the stench of the dead.

Inside the cavern, the stench is stronger, but not as overpowering as it might have been a few months ago. There are goblin and hobgoblin bodies scattered throughout the wide cavern, some with tatters of flesh still hanging from their bones. Insects crawl about the dead. Broken spears stick out of the bodies.

This irregular cavern is probably forty or more yards in radius.

What do you want to ask about this cave? There are two overpowering features that might be hiding something else: the smell, and the bodies. You might want to ask how quickly you can get away from the smell. On the other hand, you might want to ask what your character knows about goblins and hobgoblins. Do they often fight? What about those spears? They might deserve a closer look. What do they look like? Are they goblin spears? If you can stand it, what’s here besides bodies? Did the goblins have any money? Can you tell what this cave was used for before the fight? Is there an exit from this cave other than the one you came in?

Whatever interests you, ask about it.

  1. What do I need?
  2. What Is This Game?
  3. Rolling dice