It has recently occurred to me that some of the folks reading this blog may be of the impression that I have some great wisdom to impart. Some of you may have convinced yourselves that by reading my blog you will become better GM’s. You may be right about that, but not because I have any idea what I’m doing.
The most important thing to remember about GMing is to make it look like you know what you’re doing. When a player asks what color the bad guy’s curtains are you can:
- stammer because you never considered that antagonists might have curtains
- yell at the player for being a royal pain in your ass
- smoothly tell your player how their character was hit by a meteor that happened to sail through the window just as they were walking over to get a closer look at the lovely paisley pattern on the curtains.
- Both 2 and 3 (not necessarily in that order)
It’s easy to get caught up in planning a thousand niggling details for every session in case the players happen to ask. I have found that if I do that much planning not only will the players not ask those questions, they will ask other questions that are far more annoying and niggling! This problem is compounded in a game like Mage by the player’s abilities to interrogate ghosts, talk with the animals, and use Post-Cognition. For example, you you might have every member of a victim’s family and workplace fully statted out and given a personality, and instead of actually trying to make contact with any of these potential leads the PCs will instead wander around aimlessly on the college campus where this victim was a teacher, poke their head into a classroom full of students this teacher didn’t teach, and ask if any of these hundreds of students that never met the victim in question have supernatural markers in their auras. They also might ask you what the foundry marking on a bell is… or the ISBN number of a book. It doesn’t matter what detail you didn’t bother to come up with, the players will find it! They will find it, and they will ask it, and you WILL hate them for it. You will hate them all!
I have often found that the best thing to do in these situations is really to do nothing at all. Practice the slow spread of an evil smirk in the mirror while you’re getting ready to head to the game. There is nothing that will freak out your players more than a nice long pause after a question that they have asked… if it is accompanied by that evil, maniacal grin. They will assume that they have just stumbled onto an important fact. They will say something like “Oh noes.. there is no ISBN number on that book!” Whatever is the worst possible thing that they can think of in that moment will come flying out of their mouths, and if you’re smart you will just sit there and keep grinning at them. Let it sink in. Let them say more. Don’t try to stop them! Whatever they are saying right now is probably their worst fear come to life!! And you didn’t have to come up with any of it.
The downside of this is that the players will think they were so smart that they figured out what you had worked so hard to plan. They’ll convince themselves that they have outsmarted you and maybe get a little smug about it too. That’s OK though. We know better. We know that in reality they were dumb enough to do all the heavy lifting for us. Let them have their moment of glory.
If they get out of hand you can always whip out the meteor. Then they’ll know who the smart one at the table is.
I’m finally taking some time to read through my “Hunter: The Vigil” book. I have to say, I wish I’d read this one sooner!
Yes, this is partially because I might have decided to run Hunters instead of Mages and as a result saved myself a large quantity of sanity points. Mostly though, it’s because Hunter works so well for any World of Darkness Chronicle. It’s possible for Hunters to have unique abilities based upon what Hunter conspiracies they belong to (if they belong to one at all), which allows them to be powerful enough to go up against a group of supernatural PC’s as effective antagonists. They can also wind up with the advantage of numbers if your PC’s have been running amok in your setting and causing all types of weirdness like, say, casting “Platypus Whirlwind” in the heart of mid-town Manhattan. Not that a Mage PC would ever think to do something like that, of course! I speak purely hypothetically.
No matter what skills they bring to the table however, Hunters make great antagonists because when you come right down to it, they’re just ordinary people. Once upon a time they were normal folks just looking the other way and trying not to lose their minds – to quote “A Shoggoth On The Roof“. They are the people your PC’s might have been had their own encounters with the supernatural gone only slightly differently. Wielded properly this can lead to all sorts of mayhem for your troupe.
Take for example a recent session of mine in which a Cabal of Mages and a Pack of Werewolves, who have become friends despite my best efforts to the contrary, wound up almost TPKing the entire campaign! All my co-GM and I needed to do was allow them to capture one poor, defenseless, unconscious Hunter. Some PC’s shout “Kill him! He’s a Hunter! He’d kill us if he was conscious!” Other PC’s say “But wait! He’s just a squishy mortal person, you know, like we used to be. He doesn’t know any better. One day he might become one of us!” It isn’t long before a knife gets thrown, an Acanthus Mage starts bleeding (even before she can suggest using Post Cognition to find out why he became a Hunter in the first place), sides are drawn… we haven’t gone near any of the GM’s carefully laid plans (which in this instance is fine because the GM’s got to kick back and eat chips for a change) and people are calling for initiative rolls on each other.
This, loyal readers, is what I like to call “GM Win!”
It doesn’t happen often enough.
And then there is the glorious entire section of the book that tells you how Hunters trick out their homes with booby traps. I found this section most inspirational! (Yes, that is a tear of joy sliding down my cheek as I type this.) Of course, I like to go the extra mile and dump a few dozen acid-spewing zombies on my PC’s to go along with the traps, but if you’re looking for some decent rules regarding pit traps and the like “Hunter: The Vigil” is an excellent resource! In fact, I have to admit that it’s an excellent resource for pretty much everything in the World of Darkness. It’s well organized, well edited, and clearly well thought out. As a GM or a player I highly recommend it.