[Ganakagok] How can I recover as a GM once the players win all the early conflicts?

edited May 2010 in Play Advice
Over the weekend, we played the first half of a two evening game of Ganakagok. Everyone had a lot of fun, but I feel (and some players felt) that I wasn't challenging them enough as GM. I think that I lost every conflict in every scene, actually. This had several causes, including A) bad die rolls for me the GM and B) inapplicable PC Burdens and C) the PCs all teaming up against me and D) me being exhausted when we started play. So I wasn't on the top of my game, and failed to have the sparks of creativity to find interesting ways to invoke slightly less applicable Burdens.

Now, since the players teamed up together and kept winning, they got way more Gifts and Loves on the board than Burdens and Hates. So I'm uncertain how to challenge the PCs in the remaining scenes of the game. I'm going to try my best to angle scenes in the future back to invoke some rarely used Burdens, but beyond that I'm at a loss.

Anyone have any good advice for how to recover once you've lost your footing?


  • Nick -- This is an excellent question! I've been there. Your instinct to angle scenes to play to character "weaknesses" (or "resonant thematic motifs," perhaps) is sound. Here are a couple of suggestions for putting that into practice.

    (1) Take a piece of paper and list each character along with his or her truth-vision, change-hope, and change-fear (along with the Gifts and Burdens, if you can). While you have time now think about how their hopes and fears can be brought into a scene. Practice by throwing a situation card and "reading it cold" (i.e., without any player input) to punch toward a change-hope or change-fear. In play, aggressively frame scenes in this way, driving toward a crux that addresses a change-hope or fear. Use your cheat sheet of Gifts and Burdens as you're thinking about the situation.

    (2) Note where characters have attributes of 1 or 2, and frame the crux so that the obvious course of action falls under a weak attribute. Force the Body 1 character into a physical confrontation where they have to fight or flee, the Soul 1 character into a moral dilemma or spiritual challenge, the Face 1 character into a debate before the tribe, the Mind 1 character into a battle of wits. As long as you respect the intentionality of the characters, the consequentiality of their actions is within your purview. In other words, you are allowed to say, "I think this scene is about whether or not your actions {defeat the bear | please the Stars | persuade the People | fool the cannibal-ghouls}" and establish the relevant attribute as you judge best.

    (3) Get PCs working at cross-purposes. Potential sources of conflict include incompatible change-hopes and change-fears, NPCs with whom they share relationships ("I love you both! But I must choose! Who will be the one?"), and instructions from the Stars, the Ancestors, or the Sun.

    (4) Don't forget to invoke elements on the Ganakagok map as environmental dangers or situational disadvantages. When you get to specify Burdens, maybe add them to the map rather than to a specific character, with an eye toward who goes next and what they're likely to do.

    (5) Split the party! Get characters off on their own in such a way that it does not make narrative sense for other characters to be there. They can still participate in the scene via flashbacks and the like, but they don't get the bonus for their presence in the scene at least. And many players will not want to butt in on a scene where their character isn't there. If necessary, charge them Good Medicine to narrate themselves into a scene into which they weren't initially framed.

    (6) Be firm about the "law of narrative variety" (p. 61) which requires players to narrate Gifts into a scene in a different way each time. This will make it harder for them to beat you over the head with the same Gifts each time.

    Let me know if any of these require elaboration at greater length!
  • I wish I could've been there--my wife's schedule kills a lot of my fun these days. Anyway, I'd wager that D had a lot to do with B. I had a player once take "Color-blind" as a burden, thinking that in a world of snow in eternal night, that it wouldn't come up. He felt particularly sucker-punched when I told him that the early rays of dawn danced in the ice, disorienting him with a world where suddenly his deficiency actually mattered. Point being, most any burden is applicable, it's just that some take more effort than others. So if you're tired when you start, that's probably going to hurt you more than what the other players actually write down.
  • What Jason said! You're allowed to be cruel in your invocation of burdens; your players want to shiver with anticipation and dread when it's your turn to react--don't let them down. By the same token, be prepared to disallow tendentious invocations on the part of the players.

    Ultimately, however, it's okay if the players win as long as you push hard on the narrative. But there's a zen to it; you have to be in a position to be able to listen to the players and really hear them. I can't explain it any better than that.

    Anyway, just relax and you'll do fine; your friends have already told you they want you to bring down the pain, as it were.
  • I got the inside scoop tonight from one of your players, who also plays in my Friday night game of Werewolf: The Forsaken. According to him, you did just fine, and you're too down on yourself. He also mentioned that you missed the rule that gives you more shifts from the situation cards. I made the exact same mistake the first time I tried running Ganakagok. It sure makes a difference!
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