Running the Game: Managing Game Sessions

  1. Running the Game
  2. Adventures

In a moment we’ll start talking about how to create adventures, how to determine the outcomes of the struggles and contests the player characters take part in, and how to manage the world in which these adventures and struggles occur. Right now, I want to talk a little about being an Adventure Guide in general.

Organizing game sessions

As the Adventure Guide, you will have your hands full creating the non-player characters and the adventures. Request an organizationally-minded player to organize the game, to make sure everyone is at the right place at the right time, with the right food and other materials.

Normally you will game in someone’s living room, dining room, or basement. You’ll want a table on which you can roll dice and put snacks, and space for everyone to sit comfortably. Often, you’ll all sit around a kitchen or dining room table, but you can also sit on couches and chairs around a coffee table. Choose a setting that is comfortable and that encourages communication.

Reasons and examples

Being an Adventure Guide is not difficult, but it does require paying attention to other players, and it requires a willingness to deviate from—yet stay true to—your pre-made plans. Within your adventure notes, you will have both reasons and examples. Your notes might say that Count Renard is angry at the peasants because they haven’t been able to pay enough taxes to maintain his lifestyle. As an example your notes might say that if someone tries to organize a county fair, he will forbid this, because it wastes too much money.

But other things are also happening, and if the players choose to have their characters do something that invokes this reason, you’ll need to decide what Count Renard’s reaction will be. You’ll be creating your own “examples”. The players might also anticipate Renard’s reaction and try to convince him otherwise. It’s up to you to judge the difficulty of their success.

What is this game about?

Gods & Monsters is about taking on the role of archetypal fantasy figures, delving into mysterious ruins, meeting strange and exotic creatures, defeating them in tactical encounters, solving cryptic riddles, and finding arcane treasures in the hoards hidden beyond these exotic creatures and puzzles. Weird places. Exotic creatures. Battle. Treasure. Riddles in darkness. Every adventure should have at least two from that list.

What happens during an adventure?

There are certain things that each player should be doing at any moment during the game. If these things are not happening, chances are good someone isn’t having fun.

1. Meeting the inhabitants of the world;

2. Seeing the world;

3. Making a choice for their characters;

4. Solving puzzles as players, using their characters as tools;

5. Resolving issues, such as fights, using game rules;

6. Resolving issues, such as calming a bureaucrat, using role-playing;

7. Talking amongst themselves as characters;

8. Talking amongst themselves as friends.

I may have forgotten something in this list but basically, something needs to be happening for every player at all times. These are things that the players should be doing. It isn’t enough that you are presenting one of these to one or two of the players. All of the players need to be doing one or more of these things.

If that something is “talking amongst themselves as friends,” you may want to consider if something game-related ought to be happening. Kibitzing among yourselves is a time-honored tradition in role-playing games. Different groups spend differing amounts of time on non-game-related items. But in general, people are at the table to game. Sometimes, kibitzing is an indication that the players have finished their “turn” and it is up to you to present the next situation they find themselves in.

Describe what characters see, but not what characters do: that’s up to the players. If nothing is happening, don’t spend too much time describing it. There is no need to role-play nothing. If you know, for example, that nothing is going to happen on a seven-day journey, ask the players if their characters are going to do anything in those seven days, resolve those things, if any, and then the journey ends. Move on to the next scene.

Conversely, if the players want to play the whole seven-day journey, you need to make sure that something happens on those days: they need to be meeting inhabitants, seeing the world, making choices, and resolving issues.

Something needs to be happening for every player at all times. Whether fighting toe-to-claw with a dragon or hiding from that dragon behind a rock, you’ll need to ensure that each player has the opportunity to act and react to something in the game.

Even if one of the characters is unconscious, you keep coming back to that player, even if it is only to describe the darkness. There might be a way for the player to bring their character back to consciousness; there might be something in the game that wants to bring that character into the spotlight. And in any case, the player should still be providing advice to the group, and taking part in game banter. If they aren’t, draw them out.

Remember that each character is the main character in the story. Whatever the main character does is the focus of the story.

Choosing opponents

You’ll notice, in the Encounter Guide, that the die you roll to determine survival points for creatures is usually not d10. Combine this with the player characters’ automatic first level survival/verve maximum, and player characters can usually defeat opponents that are equal to their own level.

As the characters rise in level, they’ll be able to compete against opponents that are of higher and higher relative levels. You’ll have to judge how much higher based on their previous experience against such opponents and how much assistance (such as magic items or spells) they have.

In general, the main opponent will be higher level than the characters, but will have lower level henchman and other forces for the characters to struggle against. During the climax of the adventure, they will strive against this primary antagonist that is higher level than they are.

Adventures must respond to player action

Be fair to the players. If they successfully capture the main villain in the opening scene of your planned five-part adventure, don’t fudge the roll. The adventure must respond to the players. If the villain’s capture leaves a power vacuum, use that. If it doesn’t, then the rest of the adventure will be the townsfolk fêting the players.

It follows that you don’t want scripted five-part adventures. Create situations, describe the situation in your notes, and have the situation respond to the characters.

Players care when they have choices and a voice. When they don’t have choices, when their actions don’t matter, they don’t care. The NPC who is going to die “five minutes before the player characters arrive even if they show up early, because that’s the way the adventure has to work” isn’t an NPC they care about. Their actions don’t matter; to the extent they do, the best thing for the player characters to do is stay away. The NPC then remains alive.

When you create these situations, there must be a reason. And since there’s a reason, it is possible for the characters to foil that reason. Is the villain trying to frame the player characters? Then the villain will lure the characters into arriving immediately after the murder. But the player characters can outwit the villain if they figure things out ahead of time. They might even blunder into outwitting the villain. But the situation must respond to the player characters. They must be able to poke the anthill.

Now, there is a bit of a contradiction here: most adventures happen because the characters arrive. The reason teenagers have been being kidnapped over the last several weeks is, in game terms, because the player characters need an adventure now. All the reasons in the world don’t change this. Because of that, however, it is very important for the rest of the adventure to be something they can affect.

Gods and Monsters is not a game of readers discovering storylines. It’s a game of heroes taking action. You are playing to find out what happens.

  1. Running the Game
  2. Adventures