Seith and Sword – A Novel of Vengeance In Eastern Midgard

Posted in Fate of the Norns, Fiction, Norse, Publishing, Roleplaying Games, RPG with tags , , , , on July 22, 2015 by Chall

Four months ago I put this blog on hiatus while I worked on a new novel. Said novel is finished, so I now proudly present Seith and Sword. It has been very gratifying to write, especially since it has allowed me to utilize my knowledge of Norse mythology, the Sagas, the Eddas and add my own particular little twist to FoTN setting. I’d like to thank Andrew Valkauskas, who is a most accommodating publisher, he allowed this story to remain under my control with only a few, minor, caveats. I’d like to thank my significant other Jenny Doleman, who put up with long nights of me using her as a sounding board and nipping away in the evenings to write for hours on end. I’d like to thank all my friends who were very patient with my madness. I’d like to thank our backers, without their support this novel would have never been written.

Cooking awesomeness.

Do you smell what the Chall is cooking?
He’s cooking awesomeness.

What will you find in Seith and Sword? Primarily it’s written to show what kind of adventures one could have FoTN. Think of it as a whirlwind tour of eastern Midgard peppered with adventure, joy and loss. I kept the stakes desperate but small. That way I could avoid solving the major plot points of the setting. I did this on purpose, it has always aggravated me when RPG setting novels change the game landscape so drastically that it wipes out everything the player characters could have done.

Seith and Sword avoids two of the most prominent fantasy meta-plots. The crux of the story is not the retrieval or destruction of a powerful magic item. Nor is t a war story. Instead it’s a tale of a family feud, Nibelung VS Volsung, rekindled. It is a quest for vengeance but told from the perspective of those who are fleeing it. It’s a terribly dark story with little breaks of music, laughter and light, just to remind the reader why those fleeing still struggle not to succumb to their ever growing list of powerful foes.

There are no clear cut good guys or bad guys in this novel. No generic Orcs or evil magicians, just good people struggling for survival and doing terrible things. Morality in this novel is messy. What drives the Volsung is a desire for a life of freedom. What drives the Nibelung is glory, anguish, and rumor. I play a lot with rumor in this book. In fact, if you took the rumor as truth then would Seith and Sword would become a tale of good vs. evil. Which is apt, since such stark contrasts tend to break down upon under deep scrutiny.

If this type of story rocks your fancy,  I suggest checking my novel out. You can purchase it in the link above. If you’re a backer or you’ve already purchased this, thank you. Please tell me what you loved and/pr hated about it. I live for your feedback.

Seith and Sword Is Funded – I’ll Be Incognito For A Bit

Posted in Fate of the Norns, Roleplaying Games, Writing with tags , , , , on March 23, 2015 by Chall

So, good news,

Seith and Sword is fully funded.

A big thanks to my backers, my friends and family. I am very excited to write this novel for this particular game setting. Fate of the Norns is the truest rpg to the Eddas that I’ve encountered. Furthermore, as I discovered while writing the kickstarter blogs, their take on Norse Mythology is pretty much my own. I’ve got the novel all planned out and the rough draft is already a quarter of the way done. I’m so looking forward to getting this novel to my backers. They won’t be disappointed.

I’ll be very busy. While my daily word count is manageable I want to blow away my deadlines. The earlier I finish the more time I’ll have to refine. I’m putting my all into Seith and Sword, and as such, until it’s done, I’ll have less time for blogging. So if you don’t hear from me for a while, this is why.

When Sieth and Sword is complete, you will hear about it, trust me.

"The Wolves Pursuing Sol and Mani" by John Charles Dollman - Guerber, H. A. (Hélène Adeline) (1909). Myths of the Norsemen from the Eddas and Sagas.

I hope to have Seith and Sword done well before Ragnarok.

What I’ve Been Up To Lately – Fate of the Norns Novel: Seith and Sword

Posted in Fantasy, Fate of the Norns, Publishing, Roleplaying Games with tags , , , , on February 27, 2015 by Chall

So, it’s been a while, lemme explain.

Last Phantasm I had the pleasure of playing Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok. It’s a Norse Saga RPG that takes place during the twilight of the gods. It uses Elder Futhark runes in it’s resolution system. The rule book is absolutely gorgeous and a mere 5 minutes after playing I bought the hardcover and a bag of their metal runes.

Given that I’ve been working on and off on The Childe Hel, given that I’ve been stewing in constant Norse Mythology, I rolled the idea that I might be a good person to write something for Fate of the Norns sometime. Andrew Valkauskas, who’d been demoing the game, suggested I roll a submission Pendlehaven’s way.

I did, and, well… this:  

For the past moth or so I’ve been submitting synopses, pitches, character bios, the whole 9 yards. I now have a solid story that I’m very excited to write about. I just need backers.

Seith and Sword is the story of two Volsung siblings fleeing the wrath of a Nibelung hero in the last golden days of Harald Fairhair’s reign. The feud will drag in the likes of Louhi Mistress of Pohjola, Bjorn Eriksson, Gorm the Old and Vargeisa the Fire Wolf. A dark tale of vengeance, survival and family.

Right up my ally really.

So, if you like what I’ve written on this blog and would  like to read an awesome Norse saga, please back! The investment is sound; I’ve already started on the rough draft and have no plans on stopping until the novel’s done.

Since my focus will be 100% on this I’m putting my other projects on hold. This doesn’t mean they’re done, It’s just that I’ve agreed to work on Seith and Sword until it’s complete. I’m tackling an agressive timeline and can’t afford to be distracted.

Still…the payoff will be an awesome Norse Saga that’ll be complete before the end of the year.

Game Master Musings: Player Agency

Posted in Game Mastering, Roleplaying Games, RPG with tags , , , on August 6, 2014 by Chall

A friend of mine quit a RPG group she’d been playing with for years. Her reason?

“One night I forgot my character sheet. They told me it was fine, we’d muddle through. By the end of the night, I realised it made absolutely no difference if I brought the sheet or not. So I left.”

For the past few months, she watched everyone else roleplay. She tried to contribute but was either beaten in initiative  or drowned out by the other players.  Hanging with friends is fine but sitting at a game and not being able to take part, is like sitting at a feast and not being allowed to eat; Aggravating, frustrating, and not something you want to do on a weekly basis.

What she didn’t have player agency. Player agency is the ability to affect your game. This can be done through roleplay, enacting cunning plans, slaying monsters, creating humorous/memorable moments at the table, and so forth. If a player finds herself regaling her old RPG stories then she had agency. If she feels the game would continue unchanged without her, she lacks agency.

This post covers ways players can lose agency and how to prevent such loss.

So without further adieu:

Table Drown Out

I love boisterous players, they drive the game and stage stunning scenes. However, they can also drive less boisterous players from your table.

Some players may be shy, new to the game, or so polite they kindly wait their turn. If you’re not careful said turn may never come. Boisterous players can snag every bit of agency from the quiet ones: At the end of every scene, they’ll immediately pull you into what they’re doing next. If another party member offers a plan they’ll shoot it down for their own. If you run a scene for someone else, they’ll jump right in and steal it.

What’s tricky is boisterous players aren’t aware they’re robbing agency, they’re having a great time and assume so is everyone else. Trickier still, you might not even notice; Quiet players are quiet and as such easily drowned out by the noisy ones.

Granted some quiet players may be fine with just hanging at the table. The danger is assuming all quiet players are like this. In my experience, most are not. They really want to play and find being drowned out aggravating. These players are the types who will leave your game for ‘real life reasons’, which is true because any outside interest has become more rewarding than game.

A further thing to note, boisterous and quite are relative terms. A boisterous player may become quite if introduced to a new game or new group of players, a quiet one might become boisterous if given the chance to shine.

How To Deal With It

Open communication is a good route. Suggest the quiet player talk to the boisterous ones about the issue or ask, in your capacity as GM, if he would mind you speaking on his behalf. Be careful with this option, though, you don’t want to go behind anyone’s back and cause hurt feelings, the goal is to help the quiet player become more comfortable not draw in conflict or ostracise anyone.

As for other techniques:

Keep a mental note of how much time you allot to the group and each player. If someone’s missing out then cut them in. Ask the player what he’d like to do. If he can’t think of anything throw something at him; an NPC needs his character’s unique skills, he falls across a piece of valuable information, draw in something from his character’s background and so on. . .

Just be thoughtful of what you throw at a quiet player. Make it light and fun, suited to his taste. For God’s sake do NOT throw something horrifying at him unless you know he and the group are okay with such things.  We’re GMs not dread bodhisattvas who enlighten through shock and terror.

Don't be like this arse.

Don’t be like this arse.

Finally, some players are absolutely fine having very little screen time. Respect this, and allow them to remain in the background. They key point is, always give them the option to be involved.

Min-Maxing

Min-maxing is not a GM only problem. If your game revolves around mechanics and certain players have broken said mechanics, then not only are you frustrated, but so are the players who haven’t done this. They get to sit and watch other people be awesome while sitting on the sidelines. They lack agency.

How To Handle This

If you’re okay with min-maxing: Give players of lagging characters advice on how to optimise. This way, you’ll be able to up the challenge of the whole group without having to make specialised challenges for two groups that are on completely different cales.

If you’re not: Let your players know before character creation that you won’t stand for these shenanigans. Be involved in character creation and nip any problems in the bud. Be involved with character advancement.  Feel free to be as meta as you want about this; ‘Yes the rules don’t specifically say you can’t make a character who can lift the Moon, but I’m asking you not to.’ Just be prepared to offer alternatives, minmaxers are players too.

 

The Solo Adventurer

Some players don’t like working with others. Every chance they get they’ll go off on their own happy fun me time. They are the thieves who wish to sneak through the entire dungeon (as opposed to just down the hall), they are the matrix cowboys who explore virtual worlds for hours on end, they are the Wolverine who’ll do the job himself bub. While they strike off everyone else at the table… waits, maybe they order takeout or something, regardless they lose agency.

How To Deal With This

A few ways actually:

  • Talk to the solo player and gently point out that you’d like to focus on everyone, not just him.
  • Solo adventures aren’t bad in of themselves, just try to keep them concise and offer all the players opportunities to take part in them.
  • Throughout character creation and the game work with the players to forge bonds between their characters. Many solo players will bring others into their plots if there’s an in game reason to do so.

Rules Confusion

It’s very easy for any player, especially new ones, to be confused with the rules.  This confusion can lead to indecisiveness and inaction. The player doesn’t know if the action she’s taking is smart so doesn’t do anything.  Worse yet, the player does something and the GM slaps her with a mechanics gotchya, stung she decides to play more cautiously aka: not at all.  Lack of agency all around.

How To Deal With This

During character creation explain the basics to everyone so they know what they’re getting into. This will ensure better characters and prep the players for the actual game.

Don’t engage in gotchya moments.  If a new player’s character is about to suffer an attack of opportunity, warn her. If her character’s first fireball will incinerate the party, warn her. If all she’s played is D&D and in your GURPS game her character is about to charge into 4 guys with prepped crossbows, warn her. In short: don’t be an arse to players new to the system. Your laughter will lead to an empty table.

It's not a good thing when Naga's shrill laugh echoes your own.

It’s not a good thing when Naga’s shrill laugh echoes your own.

 

Secondly, as a GM, take the brunt of the crunch. Know your system so well you can recite its grapple rules in your sleep. I ran a successful GURPS game for years with my players only needing to worry about whether their rolls were under their target; I shouldered the damage multipliers, spell costs, and reactions for them; just call me Saint Chris.

Railroading

This one’s on us GMs, if you design/run a game in a linear fashion, where characters have no choice but to follow a specific path no matter what, then all players lose some agency. This is especially a problem with some older adventure modules where generic characters, with no relation to anything in the plot, are the rule. Playing these can feel like being trapped in a computer RPG, you’re forced along the quest path and the results of your actions will always be the same, no matter what.

How To Deal With This

First get player buy in. Let them know the gist of what you’re running and that you can’t do it if they don’t play along. However, even with this buy in, you’re not done.

Know the adventure like the back of your hand. If the PCs go off the rails adjust dynamically. They chose another route to the abandoned keep? Random monster time. They spotted and killed the enemy spy right away? He doesn’t report in, so the main antagonists react accordingly. The characters decide to work for the antagonists? Roll with it, let them stomp  whomever they were supposed to protect.

Finally, roleplay your NPCs. If the PCs did something amazing the NPCs should comment on it. If the NPC was betrayed then she should be gunning for revenge. If the PCs saved the village they should get a free night or two at the inn. Portraying your NPCs as three-dimensional characters will make even a tightly railroaded adventure seem like a living world.

GM NPCs

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The game should be about the Player Characters. It’s all well and good to work on behest of a king, save a space princess (I wouldn’t though, it’s been done) and protect a village. That’s all fine because the PCs get to call all the shots and do all the things needed to resolve the main problem. However, having a GM ubermench call the shots, and do all the things will end up with your players planning a movie night for next game, and you getting back to your novel.

How To Deal With This

Don’t do it, no matter how much you want to. Yes, we all run games we’d love to play in and it’s likely your players will want to play in it too, but they do not want to watch your personal tale of glory. This is why, during character creation, make sure both your players and yourself like the PCs; they should be characters you want to write stories about, plotting adventures with them in mind should be a pleasure.

No, don’t  make a character to save the PCs butts “just in case”, that’s being patronising, it’s annoying.

If you absolutely must have specific characters as an active part of the game make them pregens.

In conclusion

I hope these tips help. If you find even one bit of this advice useful then I’ve done my job.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Game Master Musings – Why Do Players Not Write Backgrounds For Their Characters?

Posted in Game Mastering, Roleplaying Games, RPG with tags , , on June 18, 2014 by Chall

Recently a good friend of mine asked “Why do players never write backgrounds for their characters?” It’s a good question that’s stuck with me for weeks. Since I’m a player as well as a GM I thought I’d give a crack at answering it.

Here it goes:

1) Creating Characters Is Work

GMing will always require more work than playing but don’t belittle how much effort your players put into making their characters. Take standard D20 character creation for instance: There’s rolling and jotting down stats, choosing race (jotting down all the racial bonuses), choosing class (jotting down all the class bonuses), feats, skills, saves and that’s even before  rolling starting coin and jotting down, in pain staking detail, each and every piece of equipment and its corresponding weight.

Remember too that your players may not know character creation as well as you do. Much of their effort will be spent referencing the main book,  asking questions and helping other players create their characters.

Depending on the system character creation can be exhausting; Asking your players to then generate a background, right after their recent struggle, will seem as inviting as homework on a weekend.

2) There May No Viable Purpose Behind It

Every stat serves its purpose and you need to write down equipment in case the GM calls you on what your character has. Background on the other hand? In many games it’ll be something you write once, hand to your GM and it’ll never come up again.

This is a problem.

As a Game Master never tell your players to create backgrounds if you plan to do nothing with them. It”ll be wasted effort on their part.

Another friend of mine uses character backgrounds to drive his entire game. If you put a lot of work into yours then it’ll directly correspond with how much the game is about ‘you’. The family, friends and foes you draw up will show up as major plot elements. On the other hand if you don’t put anything into it, you won’t get much of the spotlight at all.

I trust you can see how this can motivate.

Even if you don’t take this approach, if you ask for a background make sure elements of it come up at some point during game. Otherwise, your players are just throwing their ideas into a vacuum and that’s no fun at all.

Note: Some games, such as Pendragon and Fate roll character background into the rules, therefore there is an immediate insentive to write them up. However, even in cases where there are no special rules why not award some sort of bonus or XP for such extra work?

3) You Will Use This As A Tool To Screw Me Over

If you’ve turned PC backgrounds against players before the y may be hesitant to let you do it again.

Players write backgrounds to compliment their characters. If I make a paladin I expect that I may need to rescue my wayward brother at some point. If I make an assassin I (the player) will relish the upcoming confrontation with my kingly father.

If you twist these in uncomfortable ways that make a character look foolish, it frankly sucks. As a paladin I don’t expect to be served my wayward brother in a meat pie without ever having the chance to save him. As an assassin I don’t want to be drugged in my sleep only to wake up naked to be ridiculed in front the court.

Before you do such horrible things be sure you know it’ll be something the player, if not the character, will like.

4) My Character Will Most Likely Die in 5 Minutes

Incredibly gritty and lethal games can be fun but don’t expect players to make detailed backgrounds for characters that you plan to Gorge R.R. Martin.

If you invest a ton in a character and he dies in the first round of the first conflict, that’s a lost investment.

5) I Don’t Have Any Ideas

It’s quite possible that a player may not have any immediate ideas for his character beyond race and class. Perhaps even a short creative writing assignment reminds him of his asshole English prof. Mr. Withers. Whatever the reason, if a player can’t or doesn’t want to write a background then don’t force the issue.

However, if he’s cool with, it there is a work around. Come up with a background for him. Either write it up on the spot or make up, and document, elements of it as the campaign progresses. I’ve found this technique has worked really well in drawing shy players in. Suddenly introducing the character’s Mother, who just happens to be the leader of the friendly resistance cell, does wonders for helping a player feel involved.

 

And those my answer to this question. I hope you’ve found them informative and helpful.

Dragon Trinity Crash Solo Adventure Book 1 – Call of Cakethulu

Posted in Adventure Book, Dragon Trinity Crash, Fate, Roleplaying Games, RPG, Writing with tags , , , , on June 18, 2014 by Chall

So I’ve been busy.

Work on The Childe Hell progresses. I’ve outlined 43 chapters and have finished the first draft for  up to Chapter 4. It’s going slowly but steady.

While working on said novel I’ve also put together a solo adventure book; Dragon Trinity Crash: Call of Cakethulu. This is a labour of love and as such I’m providing it for free, you can find it here: DTC Book 1 Call of Cakethulu . However, in order to play, you’ll need to be familiar with Fate Accelerated. If you don’t have it you can get it easily enough via Evil Hat for a song, err well actually for pay what you’d like but you get the gist.

This book took me a month or three to write up and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. So much so that I commissioned a cover for it from the spectactuar gNaw.  I think I’ll make more of them, so keep an eye on this blog for more DTC goodness.

In the meantime work on the ADX Anthology continues , once it’s finished you’ll be able to see a full Fate Core hack there.

 

 

 

Chall’s Secrets of GMing

Posted in Game Mastering, Roleplaying Games, RPG with tags , on May 6, 2014 by Chall

A good friend of mine will be reclaiming the GM seat for our biweekly game. He asked if I had any advice. He doesn’t need it, he’s an awesome GM. However, I agreed to provide some pointers. So here they are:

Note: The following assumes you have a solid grasp of role playing game terminology and concepts.

PCs Are Important

Player Characters are the focus of the game. This doesn’t mean the universe revolves around them but it dose mean they must be the center of their story.

For example:

  • In Fantasy: The PCs aren’t Gods, they’re probably not royalty, the fate of kingdoms is not at their whim. However, they are the only ones capable of defending their Orcish village from the Paladins of Lord Genocide.
  • In Space Opera: The Galaxy’s huge and the Celestial Crest is everywhere. While masters of their world the PCs are in no position to take down the despotic Galactic Kings. However, they can make a fool out of their Star Archon and wrest local control from her iron grip.
  • In Steam Punk: The PCs’ air pirate ship is just one of many. They aren’t the most famous buccaneers, yet. They’re pushing for it.

How does one strive for this PC-centredness? Here’s some advice:

Character Creation

Usually players create characters together in the first game session; take advantage of this. The sentiment “Make anything you want.” signifies you simply don’t care. That’s bad.

Ask each player what they’d like to play. Watch for anything that doesn’t fit and offer alternatives. If a player asks what you’d like to see don’t say ‘oh anything really’you’re the GM you should know what you’d like. If a player can’t think of anything offer the types of characters you’d make for this game  as suggestions.

Have the players write out some general ideas about their characters before they jot down a single stat. Where did they grow up? What are their goals? Who do they know?

I highly recommend they also answer: How do I know the other characters? This can really help your game run smoothly. If the characters know each other they have a reason to stay together and are less likely to write problematic PCs.

Most importantly work with the players as to ensure you like each PC, if you don’t the rest of my advice won’t work.

 

Character Backgrounds

If the players have given you backgrounds for their characters don’t simply reward them with extra CP/Xp/Freebie Points; use these backgrounds in your game. Make family members, friends, rivals and foes as key NPCs. Have organizations they mention show up. Take them to places their backgrounds mention.

Your meta-plot doesn’t have focus exclusively on PC history but said history should be an important part of it. The PCs are works of art given to you by your players. Including their stories into the larger one shows that you’ve listened and care.

PCs > NPCs

As mentioned before the PCs must be the center of your game, as such do not regulate them to sidekicks to your NPCs. Taking orders from NPCs is fine, being motivated to help them is great but never put the PCs in a situation where it’s obvious a group of NPCs, who are readily available,  would do a better job. This doesn’t mean the party must be the best at what they do in the entire game world, just that, for the situation at hand, they are the the best choice available.

If you ever get to a point in a game where you’re talking to yourself as two or more NPCs, for more than 10 minutes, you’ve failed.

When writing  NPCs save yourself  time by jotting down only background, motivation, goals and necessary stats. Then, if the players end up liking, or loving to hate this character then you can flesh her out further.

Mortality wise be ruthless with your NPCs, they can die at any moment. Use your parties allies and friends to demonstrate how deadly the world can be. This includes villains, occasionally one-shotting the big bad is exactly what’s needed.

Planning and Running The Game

The following are some simple tips that I’ve found useful for planning and running my games.

 

Know Your Group

Character creation will give you a good idea what of your players want. That being said be sure to keep their tastes in mind and throw in little things that each player will like. If one likes romance, throw some his way. If another likes intrigue, mix some of that in. If a third likes building things, give her a chance to do so, and so on. . .

Also, if you know some of your player’s triggers DO NOT HIT THEM. If you do so knowingly you’re an asshole. If you stumble across one remove it from the game. RGPs are meant to be enjoyable and not destroy friendships.

 

Twenty Point Notes

When I write my adventure notes I simply jot down twenty things. A ‘thing’ in this case is:

  • Plot Summary: The basic idea of what I expect to happen.
  • PC Hooks: Specific notes on why this particular adventure matters to certain PCs.
  • NPCs: Short stat block. Notes. Plan. Motivation.
  • Scenes: A short note on a cool scene I hope gets played out.
  • Clues: If the adventure is a mystery add clues that will enable the party to find a way forward.
  • Troubleshooting: Some ideas on how to tackle things that would ‘break the game’.

Once an adventure is finished I copy my NPC notes to a Rogues Gallery document.

Depending on the game you may need maps.

Finally draft up some screen shots and music that  fit your game and you’re ready to go.

 

PCs > Plot

If a player comes up with something brilliant that circumvents your hard written scheme, go with it. Allow her action to change the scope of the adventure and perhaps even the entire campaign.  It’s scary, yes. You won’t get tell your story the way you wanted to but, it’s not your story, it belongs to the table.

This kind of flexibility is what makes table top games better than Computer RPGS:

  • In table top: Mario could convince the Koopa Kids to join his side and fight against their father.
  • In table top: Link can lure Gannon out of hiding with a clever plan.
  • In table top: Samus doesn’t have to follow her former commander’s orders to not use her armor to its full potential.

Furthermore, if a player comes up with a ‘fan theory’ that blows your actual plot away, change your plot to match. Let the player be right.

 

Setbacks Must Happen and They Must Be Awesome

The flexibility of table top goes both ways.

  • In table top: Mario might get captured.
  • In table top: Link could cheese off the Gorons and get chased away from Death Mountain.
  • In table top: Samus might screw up in such a way that leads to the death of her former troop.

This is okay, setbacks make everything more exciting. Just make sure the PCs can recover.

  • Peach escapes and saves Mario, now they both must fight to regain the Mushroom Kingdom.
  • Link is forced to defeat Darunia and become king of the Gorons.
  • Samus is on her own, but she works better that way.

Setbacks should be interesting and open new possibilities for the game. Allowing your PCs to experience failure increases their investment in the game; as long as you don’t make fun of them for said failures. PC decisions, victories and losses should all matter.

Note: ‘Setback’ can easily mean PC death.  Personally, I never go out of my way to kill a PC, they’re important to my game and losing even one can upset most of my future plots. I’d much rather let a PC live with failure than ice her. That being said, it still happens from time to time, but I try to make such death’s awesome.

 

Challenge

When you run a game do so with the lie that you’re aiming for TPK. You’re not but this lie makes things more exciting.

As for challenges, tailor them to match the party. If you know your PCs and the game system this shouldn’t be too hard.

You should ensure there are several tough challenges. You should also ensure there are one or two easy ones so the party can show off how awesome they are.

Don’t draw up rigid challenges that have only a set number of answers. If a player throws out an idea that you never thought of but would work, then roll with it; even if it turns a difficult challenge into cake walk.

When it comes antagonist NPCs try to err on the side of cunning. The ‘big bosses’ should be tougher than the PCs but only just. If they’re overpowered you’ll wipe out the party and your campaign. If they’re overpowered and you go easy on the party the players will resent you for it. In short make strong (not overpowered) foes and play them smartly.

An addendum:  If the PCs knowingly cheese off someone way more powerful. Someone you had no intention of throwing at them, someone whom you’ve warned is out of their league; then feel free to TPK.

Addendum II: On rare occasions it can be fun to throw uber-NPCs at the party IF there’s a way to deal with or defeat her non-violently. Make sure to give your players plenty of hints of what they’re getting into before they run into this situation.

Finally don’t hang your ego on challenge. Being a GM isn’t about showing how much cleverer you are. It’s far more about imagination and inspiring excitement.

 

Ensure Everyone Has A Part To Play

The initiative system is genius, it forces the GM to go to every single player and ask ‘what do you do?’ then each PC gets the spotlight for one, full round. Take this concept and apply it to the entire game.

There are boisterous and reserved players. The boisterous ones will hog all the game time if you let them; this will lead to the reserved ones getting board and frustrated. A good friend of mine nearly left gaming entirely because of this. It’s aggravating being part of a game that you don’t get to play.

When I run I describe every scene in detail and ask the group “What do you do?” I listen to those who speak  first, pause and then go to everyone else to make sure they participate. If a player can’t think of anything for his character to do I’ll throw something at him to keep him involved.

If the scene turns into a long role play session than I’ll be looser with this rule and  just allow everyone to talk. However, if I see a player doing nothing I will engage them.

The key is to give everyone, whether boisterous or reserved, roughly equal table time.

 

Flow With The Core Mechanics

Be familiar with the rules of your game and use them. Don’t be afraid to teach your players the rules, if they become more familiar with them they’ll enjoy the game more. That being said:

Try not to reference the book constantly.  If you run into a rules snag and find you’re taking over five minutes to look it up/debate make a solid ruling with what you know and move on. After the game  investigate in more detail and let your players know your final decision in the next session.

Keep the mechanics consistent. If the difficulty to lift a car is X in one scene keep it that way in another. Jumping around will only confuse players or convince them you’re railroading them.

Think about working with a problematic roll rather than fudging it. If your villain fails an easy save and gets turned into a chicken, let it happen, either his henchmen will flee with him or the PCs got an unexpected easy win. A critical takes out one of your PCs? Sure he drops but give another PC a chance to save him with an epic first aid roll.

Granted, in cases where a player has been rolling horrible all night you may want to fudge a small amount so he walks away with some victory.

The Plot Must Flow With the PC Decisions

Your NPCs aren’t static bits of code and graphics that respond only in set ways. While not as important as the PCs they should still have personalities, motivations and goals. When PCs do something to aid or stymie their plans have them react accordingly. The King the PCs saved will not just give them a reward and send them on their way; he’ll become a good friend. The supervillain they thwarted will keep them in mind for his next plot. The towns and villages around the PCs will hear of their heroism or cruelty and react accordingly.

In short your campaign should be a living one that enacts its plots on your PCs and reacts to how they deal with them. In that regard, make sure your metaplot notes are loose and leave plenty of room for change.

In Conclusion

Game Mastering is a rewarding experience. You get to craft a memorable stories with your friends. The with part is key; players must know the actions of their PCs are meaningful, otherwise you’re simply forcing them through your own personal novel.  Novel writing is a worthy and wonderful pursuit but it’s not the same as Game Mastering. Make sure the PCs are characters you like, throw them in the center of the narrative and let it all  live and grow based on the player’s actions and the dice. You’ll end up with a tale better than anything you could have created on your own.