Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Lost Phone, Object Permanence, and GMing

You’re running a session. Let's say a modern game, you’re not running a module, and there's a mystery of some kind, an unanswered question with some depth.

The players discover an object, one you’ve placed into the game, in this case a locked phone. They unlock the phone.

How do you figure out what’s on the phone?
  • You already have the information on the phone written down in your notes. Alternately you have a hand-out with the details. In either case, the phone’s contents and role in the mystery have been established before play.
  • You choose information from a list you’ve prepared of important clues and details.
  • You roll to determine what’s there based on a list you’ve prepared of important clues and details.
  • You decide based on the solution to the mystery you planned out before the session. (Partial Improv)
  • You decide on the fly based on how the session’s going and the solution you’ve now decided to present as the truth. (Full Improv)
  • You decide based on the flow of the session, possibly going against the solution and/or notes you prepared before the session.
  • You keep the information abstract and allow the players to use the information to support or disprove a hypothesis.
  • You allow the players to decide the information.
  • Some other approach.

Maybe this varies for you. If so, what circumstances shape your choice to handle things in one way versus another?

What got me thinking about this was a question put to me about the specifics of something I’d written. I put together a Dread scenario a couple of years ago- with a lot of oddball threads and objects. But I hadn’t put in what they meant. Someone asked if I had more specifics, i.e. “What’s on the Blackberry?” That’s a reasonable question. But it’s also at a tangent to the way I wrote that material. I don’t know if that makes it more or less useful?

Almost twenty years ago I had a conversation with my friend Juan. I’d been running a Champions campaign for a little over a year. I knew Hero system really well; I’d been playing it since the first edition. After a battle he questioned me about the specifics of a bad guy. I explained that I’d sketched out the rough details of their adversary, but I’d winged the specifics and set them as the fight needed.

“But that’s not fair.” He was seriously irritated.

We went back and forth on this for a while. He believed I needed to have the full stats and details of the opponents worked out. I didn’t. We ended up agreeing to disagree, and didn’t talk about that again. I ran for him for another year or so before he moved away. That conversation stuck with me- when GM discuss exploiting player builds, when they talk about challenge ratings & building encounters, when they argue about fudging dice rolls.

How connected or different are a GM’s feelings on those issues to something like the micro-GM decision above? Is one of those more fair than the other?

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