Game Masters


Today, I boxed up all my RPGs. They're still in plain sight, they're still loved and memories cherished, but the boxing, for me, means the end of my involvement with tabletop gaming. This has literally been a long-time coming: when I first started Gamegrene back in 2000, my orbit was already slowly decaying, and I hoped that dedicating a site to my love would keep things going.

If there's one immutable law all GMs know, it’s that players love loot. Wizards love that uber wand of disintegration. Fighters want the +12 hackmaster. Street samurai want that move by wire 4. How do you give them what they want without losing game balance? Simple. Present it like an Evil GM.

On June 24, 2009 in Columbus, OH, aethereal FORGE will present the official release of the Vox RPG. This is an admittedly small affair in the grander scheme of things, but for me it represents the culmination of nearly three years of effort. Whether or not you are ultimately interested in Vox itself, the process by which Vox was created is -- at least in my opinion -- an interesting one, and filled with interesting coincidences and synchronicities. I firmly believe that Vox has been published precisely when it was meant to be.

Recent versions of D&D have sought to promote the idea that parties of characters should be presented with a formulaic series of encounters with challenge ratings that are balanced according to their level, plus or minus a little. Here I would like to discuss the value of asymmetric encounters, in which the party are faced with a challenge that is trivially easy for them, or else so difficult they have little or no hope of success.


Violence and the media are so often seen together they have almost come to be taken as being (and it can be argued have often become) the same thing. And why not? The great majority of the stories we love are violent, sometimes in a cinematic, swashbuckling fashion, and sometimes in a dramatic, traumatic bloodbath. In this article I will be looking at violence in fiction, in art, with a particular focus on violence in roleplaying, but still an overall approach. A small caveat before I begin, however. I have no interest in this article in debating whether the amount of violence is a good, bad, or neutral thing. I am here to write about how violence is handled in fiction, and how it can best be handled. Aesthetics, not morals, is my focus here.

For me, playing a roleplaying game should be something akin to reading a great novel or watching a really good film, except that you’re in there amidst the action and able to influence the way the story unfolds. Now, tell me, in how many great books or films does the story start with someone assembling a team of four people, all of a similar level of experience, each of whom has to fulfill a specific role of leader, defender, striker or controller?

When we design something with the goal of perfect symmetry in mind, we invariably sacrifice one form of aesthetics in favour of another. A sphere is the same regardless of which direction you view it from, and is the most perfectly symmetrical three-dimensional shape you can achieve. Is a sphere elegant? Or merely uninteresting?

I’ve sometimes had a challenging experience getting players to “buy in” to a setting or campaign as deeply as I’d like them to. No amount of handouts, props, lighting, or otherwise could get them out of the gaming room and into the experience. Then I realized I could use their foul addictions against them.

It’s easy sometimes to get stuck in the rut of thinking you know what your players want; but what if they don’t even really know what they want anymore? When long time GMs run long term campaigns for the same group, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that what really matters is the building blocks of good story telling.

My name is Joanna Winters; this is the first of a number of articles that will take my real-life experiences and tweak them for your tabletop sessions. Don't think, however, that I've led some illustrious career, some monumental history that sends me enduring the mounts of Everest. I don't work for Discovery or Natgeo: I merely find answers for what I and others find puzzling. Often times, these answers are far more mundane than their circumstances lie.

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