The GM's Choice

edited April 2010 in Story Games
So, recently I've come to realize one of the things I really dig in gaming is choices. Making them as a PC, setting them up as a GM. Like, in Apocalypse World, you get an awesome toolset for this. The basic moves almost all have choices to make worked right into them, and the MC's moves are all about giving the PCs more choices to make ("Announce Future Badness" and "Announce Off-screen Badness" both prompt a reaction, and "Offer An Opportunity With Or Without A Cost" and "Tell Them The Possible Consequences And Ask" are both pretty much big choices on a silver platter). And Ghost/Echo's system is all about "Is avoiding this danger more important to you than succeeding at your goal?" And recently, thinking about this, I dusted off the old RPG-poem "Hero Caves" and gave it a whirl, and it was pretty fun, and all about choices at its heart, of course.

But, there's a reoccurring theme here: The GM sets up the choices, and the PC makes them. Sure, technically, the GM's got a choice of what sort of choices to set up for the PCs... and the PCs can always do unexpected things that force the GM to figure out how the NPCs would react to... but really, rarely are choices set up for the GM, by the system, if you get what I mean. So I'm wondering, what systems actually give the GM interesting choices to make, or ideas do you have for such a thing?

Polaris is kind of good: the Mistaken has the same negotiating tools as the Heart does in conflict. ("What should I ask for in exchange for what they just asked for?" "Do I want to go further?" "Do I want to give up the last thing I asked for in order to make sure what they just asked for doesn't happen?" Etc.)

Random tables, especially for situation generating, are another good idea: it's a constraint on the GM, how do they incorporate this new, specific thing, into the situation in way that both makes sense in the context and keeps things interesting?

Games where the GMs have limited resources, also. Including, potentially, 'encounter budgets'. ("Okay, I've got 5000 XP worth of bad to throw at the PCs. What do I want to use? Hmmm.") And, of course, games with well-implemented tactical combat, because good tactics is pretty much all about making the right choices in combat when the right choice isn't obvious.

So what else is there? What else could there be?

Comments

  • edited April 2010
    Well, Apocalypse World is really obvious here, not just with the GM Moves, but also the choices the GM is presented with after a player makes a roll. If the Gunlugger rolls 10+ on his aggro, do I make Dremmer cave in or force his hand?

    As I'm moving from the alpha draft to the beta playtest of the game I'm writing, I'm considering putting in something like a prescribed list of conflict "win" conditions for the players, that are offered to the GM. So, the book would have a list of "if they win the conflict they get X". The GM would then have to chose these results and create conflicts for them. I don't know if that counts...

    What else is there...could we say that games that let player make up their own flags (Keys, Beliefs etc.) are a sort of method to present the GM with options? Like, "here's a menu, pick what challenges these guys next".

    The way you create challenges in Agon?
  • Burning Empires - The Scene Budget is pretty harsh to the GM.

    Jesse
  • Whether it's GP, XP, or emo-porn catharsis, players make choices in order to get what they want. Games will often *tell* players what to want.

    But what is a GM supposed to want? A game needs to figure that out before it can give the GM meaningful choices
  • edited April 2010
    If you're feeling play-testy, you can check out my variant of Blood Red Sands, where there are victory points for players to use story components to attack PCs, use their PCs to attack story components, and for the Narrator to nerf the other players. As in Blood Red Sands, players can steal the position of Narrator so they can do unto others. The group also has objectives and if the Narrator can counter an objective, they get the victory points instead of everyone each getting them.

    Here's the doc, if you're interested.


    Bill
  • Posted By: Ron HammackWhether it's GP, XP, or emo-porn catharsis, players make choices in order to get what they want. Games will often *tell* players what to want.

    But what is a GM supposed to want? A game needs to figure that out before it can give the GM meaningful choices
    This is a really good point.

    If the GM's situation-generating powers are restrained enough, maybe we could assume "success and triumph for their favorite NPCS"? Just like what we (often) assume the players want for their PCs? Or just give them the tools to pursue their desires, and let them fill in those desires as they see fit?

    But even more so than just "constrained choices", I mean, look at "Offer An Opportunity With Or Without A Cost" and "Tell Them The Possible Consequences And Ask" as examples. How often does the GM get costly opportunities, or have to consider the consequences of their own choices, instead of being the dude (or lady) handing out costly opportunities or informing others of the possible consequences of actions? What systems are good for encouraging that?
  • I'm a little befuddled by this...the role of the GM "normally" is one in which they are putting opportunities for dramatically interesting choices in the hands of the players via the instrument of their characters (though often not exclusively). Isn't this a little like asking "what dramatic choices did Shakespeare really make in Hamlet?" or "what dramatic choices did Michael Bay make in Transformers 2?" Michael Bay wasn't in Transformers 2. Shakespeare wasn't in Hamlet. Whatever was fulfilling or unfulfilling about their creative choices, it's not based on anything inside those fictions. Is it? A GM wants different things than the characters, because Faulkner wants different things than Snopes.
  • Well, yeah, but the GM is sort of "in the game" in ways that Shakespeare wasn't in his plays.

    I think BE, with its explicit adversarial GM role and the way the GM sort of has three "evil PC's" of his own is a great example of a game that does force the GM to make his own hard choices.

    Matt
  • Posted By: JDCorleyI'm a little befuddled by this...the role of the GM "normally" is one in which they are putting opportunities for dramatically interesting choices in the hands of the players via the instrument of their characters (though often not exclusively). Isn't this a little like asking "what dramatic choices did Shakespeare really make in Hamlet?" or "what dramatic choices did Michael Bay make in Transformers 2?" Michael Bay wasn't in Transformers 2. Shakespeare wasn't in Hamlet. Whatever was fulfilling or unfulfilling about their creative choices, it's not based on anything inside those fictions. Is it? A GM wants different things than the characters, because Faulkner wants different things than Snopes.
    The GM has characters, just like the players. Why should the system give the GM tools for "putting opportunities for dramatically interesting choices in the hands of the players through the instrument of their characters (though often not exclusively)", but not give the PCs (or the system itself or whatever) the tools for putting opportunities for dramatically interesting choices in the hands of the GM through the instrument of HER characters? (Maybe, again not exclusively)

    I mean, I'm sure people can think of good reasons, especially based on different GMing styles/stances/jargon, but what I'm interested in is systems, or even ideas for systems, that DO do that sort of thing.
  • edited April 2010
    Posted By: BenhimselfThe GM has characters, just like the players. Why should the system give the GM tools for "putting opportunities for dramatically interesting choices in the hands of the players through the instrument of their characters (though often not exclusively)", but not give the PCs (or the system itself or whatever) the tools for putting opportunities for dramatically interesting choices in the hands of the GM through the instrument of HER characters?
    Well, on the one hand, normally, it does. Every GM can make a GMPC and have them go along with the rest of the group. Heck, you can put the spotlight on them all the time and make their decisions the only interesting ones in the game if you want! Plenty have! On the other hand, I don't normally associate having a character at the dramatic focus of the game with "GMing" as such. If the game is more egalitarian, it's less like being a GM in a privileged position and more like everyone has similar positions in the system. For example, the Producer in PTA doesn't have a character with Issues and is never, EVER in the spotlight, EVER. If you did a PTA hack where the Producer had a character with Issues and was sometimes in the spotlight, or the Producer position rotated, or there was no Producer and those duties were divided in some other way, that's fine, but that is less, not more, Producer-like.
  • edited April 2010
    Posted By: BenhimselfPosted By: JDCorleyI'm a little befuddled by this...the role of the GM "normally" is one in which they are putting opportunities for dramatically interesting choices in the hands of the players via the instrument of their characters (though often not exclusively). Isn't this a little like asking "what dramatic choices did Shakespeare really make in Hamlet?" or "what dramatic choices did Michael Bay make in Transformers 2?" Michael Bay wasn't in Transformers 2. Shakespeare wasn't in Hamlet. Whatever was fulfilling or unfulfilling about their creative choices, it's not based on anything inside those fictions. Is it? A GM wants different things than the characters, because Faulkner wants different things than Snopes.
    The GM has characters, just like the players. Why should the system give the GM tools for "putting opportunities for dramatically interesting choices in the hands of the players through the instrument of their characters (though often not exclusively)", but not give the PCs (or the system itself or whatever) the tools for putting opportunities for dramatically interesting choices in the hands of the GM through the instrument of HER characters? (Maybe, again not exclusively)

    I mean, I'm sure people can think of good reasons, especially based on different GMing styles/stances/jargon, but what I'm interested in is systems, or even ideas for systems, that DO do that sort of thing.
    What if each player controls a PC and NPCs at the same time (making everyone both a player and a GM), with the PCs as (supposed) allies (like in an "adventure party"), each player playing off and competing with the other players? Can mechanics make it possible to have a good story with that potential conflict of interest, with the PCs still behaving as allies? Are there certain types of story that work well and certain types that just don't work well at all within that kind of framework?

    EDIT: So, to clarify, the system I'm getting ready to play test does this sort of thing. Does sound like the kind of system you're talking about?
  • edited April 2010
    Very interesting, I think this address some of my questionings as a GM during my recent Solar System sessions.

    Since my first story games, I am questioning myself on what I really enjoy as a GM.
    Maybe I want to feel like I am also playing the game. I have the impression that systems are often aimed exclusively toward the players (or their choices?).

    I am recently very curious about game like Burning Empire and 44 A game of automatic fear.
  • The GM is a player too, no?
  • Cheers for playing Hero Caves! I'm glad you had a good time.
  • A bit off topic but, that game of Hero Caves was so quick and fun that after we finished we played it again right away.
  • Posted By: BenhimselfSo I'm wondering, what systems actually give the GM interesting choices to make, or ideas do you have for such a thing?
    "Say yes or roll the dice" is always interesting to me -- especially when I surprise myself with my answer.
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