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’ve decided that this year I’m going to run 2 games at RetCon: Long Island’s Gaming Convention. I’ve also decided that this year, one of them will be a “Mage the Awakening” game.
I never tried to convince anyone here that I’m sane. This blog is called ‘A “Mage the Awakening” Game Master’s Descent into Insanity’ after all.
I’m all about truth in advertising like that.
Anyway, so I’ve decided to up the ante by running two games this year. One will be the highly successful session I ran at last year’s convention called “Asylum”. I named it that before I realized that White Wolf published a supplement with the same name. I have since considered re-branding it “Truly Terrifying Tales: The Asylum” to distinguish it from said “World of Darkness” supplement, but it’s already on the schedule and I’ve been a bit lazy about changing it, I admit. Of course, this entire paragraph is really just one more way to avoid thinking about the inevitable… that being the fact that I now have to write up a one-shot “Mage the Awakening” session.
I know what you’re thinking. “You run a regular Mage campaign, how hard could writing a one-shot be?” Silly you. That’s what I thought when I agreed to do this. Those were in fact the very words that flitted through my brain. (Are you sure you aren’t a Mastigos?)
The fact of the matter is that they are two very different animals.
In the campaign I have all the time I want to allow events unfold as they will. If my characters feel like making a stop at their favorite bar, The Hole in the Wall, then I have to do that much less planning for the next session. Win for me! I also get a bunch of new ammunition to use against them in the future. It’s Bi-Winning. I can always pick up the main storyline next session, or the session after that, or whenever the PC’s finally do make a successful sobriety roll. (RESOLVE+STAMINA)
At RetCon I won’t be able to do that. I’ll have one chance to tell the story. That’s it. There is no “next session” here. The pressure is on! I need to have enough material to fill the four hour slot, but not so much that they don’t make it to the payoff. This is a tricky thing with Mages. You just never know when they are going to whip some annoying spell (Postcognition I’m looking at you!) out of the book and completely circumvent the very cool meeting of the Mastigos Minds you had been planning on. It’s all terribly unfair.
Of course, there are also those times when you have the best, most awful, most wonderful thing that can’t be unseen all ready because you just know they’re gonna look at you all smug and say “well I cast Postcognition and see what actually happened”, and they just don’t bother to do it! Royal pains in my arse these Mages be!
And so I’ve decided to run what I like to call a Relic Romp. At the end of the romp is some rare antiquity which the local Concilium has assigned the PC’s to be the acquirers of. Between my hapless players and the Thaumium MacGuffin will be a series of challenges. In theory these challenges will test various attributes to determine whether or not the PC’s are worthy of obtaining the Thaumium MacGuffin. In reality, well I guess I’ll just have to wait until July to see how they do. In any case, the structure of a series of challenges will allow me the flexibility to fit the session to the time slot on the fly. If I have veteran Mage players at the table I’ll have a bit more time for throwing things at them. People who are new to Mage will need a little more time to find the spells they want to cast and I’ll be free to leave out a challenge or two if necessary to allow the end game to happen at a natural pace.
Unless of course they get stumped at the front door.*
Why not stop by to see how it goes for yourself! RetCon: Long Island’s Gaming Convention is in July this year, and Pre-Registration discounts are in effect until June 1st. You know you want to come!
*The Elven word for friend is Mellon.