GM Stance In Old School Sim Games (AKA How would you run Runequest?)

edited September 2011 in Story Games
This might be the wrong board to ask this, but here goes. . .

There's been a good amount of discussion on the role of the GM in old school D&D but I'm curious if anyone here has thoughts on GM stance in the slightly later old school fantasy rpgs such as Runequest, Rolemaster, and C&S.

Specifically I'd like to hear your thoughts on:

What is the role of the GM in these games assuming we play the games as (mostly) written?

Are there distinctions between the role of the GM in these different games? What are they?

How does that role vary from D&D? Does it?

Is their GM stance vastly different than more recent games like The Riddle of Steel or (maybe) Burning Wheel?

How would you run these old school rules monsters?

(If you need me to specify a particular set of rules--I'm most interested in Chaosium's Runequest 1st and 2nd editions.)

Comments

  • Does Runequest say anything about what the GM does?

    (Not joking, I actually never played those editions.)

    I would start there.
  • I know Tnraveller has some surprisingly excellent advice on how to run it, and OD&D and AD&D have OK advice if you know how they're 'meant' to be played. Greg Stafford, the creator of Runequest, was always one of the more clever guys of the old guard, his Prince Valliant is often credited as one of the influences on 'story gaming' so yeah, I bet classic Runequest has some good advice.

    And always, when in doubt, steal liberally from Apocalypse World, it's what I do when I run more 'trad-style' games these days.
  • I'm looking at my copy of Runequest right now. The only section in the main body of the rules that gives explicit instructions about the role of the GM is a small three paragraph section on the first page of the Introduction chapter called "Purpose of the Game". Here are some of the relevant bits:

    "The title of the game, Runequest, describes its goal. The player creates one or more characters, known as Adventurers, and plays them in various scenarios designed by a Referee. The Adventurer has the use of combat, magic, and other skills, and treasure. The Referee has the use of assorted monsters, traps, and his own wicked imagination to keep the Adventurer from his goal within the rules of the game."

    This sounds adversarial, but the most important part, it seems to me, is the "within the rules of the game" part. The Referee can't fudge things or bend them in his favor. I'm sure there's more buried in these rules but that's the most obvious section that addresses this issue. It sounds largely similar to D&D with the exception of the ostensible larger goal of joining a Rune Cult and becoming a Rune Lord.
  • edited September 2011
    Captain Thark--btw Greg didn't write the game! It is by Steve Perrin and Ray Turney. Greg created Glorantha the world in which it is set.
  • In old-school D&D the DM creates the setting, then runs it impartially (so non-adversarially). It's supposed to be dangerous, yeah, and risk vs reward is supposed to be somewhat balanced, but it's not the DM's job to make sure there are obstacles between the PCs and their goals, necessarily. If the players find a way through the dungeon that lets them retrieve enough treasure to level up without fighting monsters, hey good for them. This isn't what's typically thought of as adventure gaming, though.

    The paragraph you quoted sounds more like adventure gaming, what newer D&D has pretty much drifted over to. It's not purely about exploration through dungeoncrawling of wilderness hexcrawling--it's about overcoming obstacles in order to achieve a specific (and usually pre-determined) goal. (By which I mean "let's go into this cave and see if there's treasure" is unspecific, but "break into the castle and steal the crown" is specific.) If you set up goals and define what the obstacles are (and what the rules and stats are for them) beforehand, you can still run that impartially, even though it's still essentially adversarial. And even in pure exploration, players are going to start devising their own goals once they've explored a certain amount and have enough stuff to interact with. Or, even in exploration games, the DM might have NPCs give the PCs missions to undertake. Even so, that's not necessarily an excuse to devise obstacles.

    A lot of new school D&D does this: DM gives players a goal, DM puts obstacles in their path, PCs beat obstacles, PCs achieve goal. (Adventure! Yay!)
    Burning Wheel has essentially the same "GM stance," except the players are supposed to decide their own goals and communicate them to the GM through their Beliefs.

    Does that make sense or help any? I'm not actually familiar with Runequest, and I don't remember anything from Rolemaster except the brutally awesome critical hits.
  • Johnstone--that does make sense and that's exactly the sort of observations/advice I'm interested in.

    In the appendix to the rules I discovered a section on Refereeing Runequest.

    The advice there is more elaborated than the earlier section on the specific sorts of prep that's required in a scenario or a full campaign.

    Interestingly here's some of their advice on creating adventures:

    "An adventure area, whether it be a section of forest, cave, old ruin, river etc. should provide the players with the following opportunities:
    --experience in the use of his skills
    --opportunity to obtain treasure and thereby purchase further training
    --the chance to die in pursuit of the above
    --enjoyment while doing all of the above"


    That's actually not bad advice, and I think it strengthens the "adventure gaming" idea Johnstone mentions above.
  • edited September 2011
    Huh. That sounds pretty close to the old-school open sandbox style of running games, just with nudges in the direction of player-directed or PC-directed scenarios.

    Here's where I think that advice probably lies, on a spectrum from pure exploration to pure adventuring:

    When you start a new old-school D&D campaign, or you're writing a tournament module, you're designing an environment without regard to who the player characters are going to be and what they can do. So you draw the maps, you stock them with with monsters, traps, and treasures, write up random tables, all that. And then whoever shows up to game makes characters and you run them through this environment as-written, impartially.

    But then, much later, you're well into a D&D campaign and maybe you've exhausted all the stuff you wrote before you started the campaign. And now you've got the PCs consulting sages about where they have to go to get this magic doodad that cures whatever horrible curse and what monster they have to kill to get whichever components they need for magical research, yadda yadda yadda, and so you start writing new wilderness maps and dungeons and environments that specifically cater to these quests they want to undertake. And naturally, because you've been playing with these characters for a while, you end up designing encounters and puzzles and locations and NPCs and monsters that cater to what the strengths and weaknesses of these characters, and to the interests of the players involved. And then you run these new modules, and everybody loves them to death. Obviously, because they're the intended audience.

    This is where I think that second quote is located (and so probably Runequest). That first quote suggests either this style, or the more directed adventure gaming that isn't about exploration, but that second quote makes it clear that there's still exploration.

    The pure adventure style is where the PCs have goals and the DM/GM just puts obstacles in their way in the form of situations, but the PCs don't really wander around on a map, exploring this and that and having encounters as they do so. It generally proceeds from obstacle to obstacle with room for the occasional down-time and exposition scene, and pushes the exploration of locations to a secondary aspect, or takes it out entirely.

    But it looks like the game is telling you to start with that mid-campaign style, where you are building a module, or an environment for the PCs to explore, but that you build it to suit the particular PCs. In another thread a month ago, johnzo posted a technique he uses where he takes all the skills that the PCs have and makes a random table out of them and rolls on it each game. Whatever skills come up, he tries to work in opportunities for those skills into the game session. This game is basically telling you to do the same thing.

    Essentially, this is what that quote says to me:

    Draw up a map. The PCs are going to explore this area. They can go wherever they want, whenever they want, as long as they're willing to deal with the consequences and whatever they encounter. But the GM doesn't give them any goals or railroad them at all. Now you need to stock that map with 4 things:

    1. Look over the character sheets and make note of their skills. You need to provide a bunch of opportunities to use those skills on your map. One dude's a really good swordsman? Okay, throw in a town where there's a judicial duel and the defendant is somebody useful to the PCs or somebody who is obviously innocent. Now the swordsman has a reason to fight that isn't just murdering monsters! Maybe another character knows falconry. So you add in either giant birds that you need to know bird psychology to communicate with, or maybe there's a noble here whose prize birds have been loosed and have disappeared. Now you have opportunities for this character to use her falconry.

    2. Treasure. So maybe there's loot hoards in monster-infested dungeons, or maybe there's just financial rewards for being a judicial champion or recovering falcons. In D&D it's usually stuff you find underground, but there's also rewards you can collect for getting rid of bandits and monsters, recovering kidnapees and lost or stolen items, and fixing stuff.

    3. "The chance to die," of course means danger. You need some deadly threats. Monsters, traps, villains, and any other sort of deadly obstacle. But here's some more of the adventure creeping in: It says "in pursuit of the above." So you need to deliberately place those dangers between the characters and the successful use of their skills or acquisition of treasure. Never leave it lying around! If the characters want to get rich, they need to brave danger and defy death.

    4. This usually goes without saying, but I like that it's called out in the text. Put in fun stuff! Try to make exploring this map and pursuing treasures and other opportunities as fun and exciting as possible.

    I think what this system is supposed to achieve is that players will get the experience of an adventure novel without the GM beginning every session with "your mission, should you choose to accept it..." Because the map is built to cater to their characters, they will naturally find a variety of goals to pursue, aside from simply looting the dungeon, and then will confront the built-in obstacles around those goals, thus creating that adventure feel while preserving the players' freedom of choice.

    So ideally, you would be starting with an old-school hexcrawl ("here's the map, where you wanna go?") and ending with some Indian Jones-style adventure climax, that the players themselves chose to pursue.
  • The character advancement cycle works like this:

    GM presents challenge >> Players overcome it >> skills improve as they are used successfully >> conflicts allow characters to collect COIN (which I will use for cash, treasure, valuable objects, or adventurer-created outcomes that will be rewarded in coin or which have cash value (like freeing a captive) >> characters take things and buy improvement from communities

    That's a very simplified version of it. But to become a really advanced and capable character you must take this path:
    Adventurer1.0 overcomes conflict for COIN >> Adventurer1.0 buys improvements from generic organization (e.g. Thieves' Guild) >> Adventurer1.1 (the upgrade) overcomes challenge for COIN >> Adventurer1.1 approaches cult for particular skills and battle magic >> Adventurer 1.2 overcomes conflict for COIN >> Adventurer1.2 joins cult for really specialized skills and potent magic>> Adventurer2.0 (an initiate) overcomes conflict for COIN >> Adventurer2.0 commits to cult and can borrow Rune Magic >> Adventurer3.0 (a devotee) overcomes challenge for COIN >> Adventurer3.0 becomes a Rune Lord or a Rune Priest with access to divine gifts and stupendous Rune Magic

    You can get slow skill increase through use but to get anywhere, and to get really cool skills, you have to engage with cults and temples. Gaining skills and treasure is just the first step to character advancement.

    What is the reward cycle?

    Players overcome GM challenges >> They have interesting interactions with the Gloranthan world and people >> they associate their characters with fictional agents (from animal to the divine) >> they gain power from and responsibility to those GM-controlled fictional agents (cults, communities, gods) >> they work to have their characters become shapers of Glorantha themselves.

    This is not the approach of anygame. It's not even the approach for all BRP systems (Call of Cthulhu, Mongoose's genericized versions). It's for running that lovely little game I have carried around for the better part of 3 decades. It is also the product of someone who has realized this with the benefit of hindsight and sporadic and disappointing engagement with the game. Ignoring the logical implications of the character advancement cycle and the implicit reward cycle will lead to heartbreak.

    You can play Runequest like anygame.

    But the rules, the beautiful supplements (Cults of Prax, The Big Rubble, Borderlands, Griffin Mountain) all depend on this framework, and the legendary campaigns discussed on fora etc. grew out of it, consciously or not.

    The reward cycle involves challenge but involves so much more: exploring, interacting with, and shaping a detailed a consistent fictional construct called Glorantha. And doing it better than Stafford or Perrin did -- if you can.
  • Johnstone wrote:
    So ideally, you would be starting with an old-school hexcrawl ("here's the map, where you wanna go?") and ending with some Indian Jones-style adventure climax, that the players themselves chose to pursue.
    That fits with many of the other things included in the game--especially a cool two page map of the Kingdoms of Sartar and Prax which, although not on a hex grid, is exactly right for exploration style adventures.
  • epweissengruber wrote:
    The reward cycle involves challenge but involves so much more: exploring, interacting with, and shaping a detailed a consistent fictional construct called Glorantha. And doing it better than Stafford or Perrin did -- if you can.
    The original rulebook has some wonderful Gloranthan details but its still largely undefined. Now, in contrast, I find Cults of Prax pretty f****ing initimidating! I may have to try to digest that next.
  • Posted By: Kropotkin"The title of the game, Runequest, describes its goal. The player creates one or more characters, known as Adventurers, and plays them in various scenarios designed by a Referee. The Adventurer has the use of combat, magic, and other skills, and treasure. The Referee has the use of assorted monsters, traps, and his own wicked imagination to keep the Adventurer from his goal within the rules of the game."
    I don't see anything wrong with these stated goals. But this would also fit into Dogs in the Vineyard (with two small noun tweaks "monsters" and "traps" to "townsfolk" and "sins" - the GM is a strong adversary, but the rules of the game are also tightly controlled, the GM can't power game to gain an advantage), so I don't see anything that makes this old school. The idea of GM as referee/adversary/adventure designer is the assumed role of the the majority of games, new or old. Many of them use these components in different mixes, but it's not something that's been abandoned generally.

    The difference between "new school" and "old school" games, isn't that the GM stance has changed. It's that the newer crop of designers are actually designing the game holistically and (trying) not to take anything for granted. So, if the GM's role is "old school" (as it often is - in FATE, Dogs in the Vineyard, and many more) they take more time explaining what that should mean and look like, and often giving rules to give additional guidance or strict boundaries about what it means. For example, D&D 4 (maybe 3) is the first game I know of that gave extremely strict bounds on how hard the DM could make the game. In AD&D 2, or Exalted, there is nothing against the rules for the GM to have an opponent that could wipe out the party in a single die roll.

    How does Runequest work as a system that can't be handled just as easily (if not better) by a computer game? In my mind, most sims focused on exploration, discovery and skill mastery are better handled in cutting edge, open world games like Grand Theft Auto/Red Dead Redemption and Elder Scrolls. Can the GM wield that wicked imagination on the fly, instantly adding new monsters and traps? Does "monsters" included humans or other intelligent species that allow the players to explore nuanced social traps and complex cultures? What bounds does the system place on the GMs roll as adversary and designer? I'm guessing the limits on player power are really tight. Does the GM also have limits?

    What is it about the old school game GM role that you want to capture? Or are you more interested in capturing the setting of Runequest without going into something too different from the familiar player-GM structure?
  • Now, to take my advancement cycle view and fuse it with Johnstone's advice and your comments.

    "The original rulebook has some wonderful Gloranthan details but its still largely undefined. Now, in contrast, I find Cults of Prax pretty f****ing initimidating! I may have to try to digest that next."

    That's why I love the original! I am not proposing that you take a dive into Gloranthaphilia! You don't have to know all of Stafford's fictional world to play the game. Look at the text: there are 2 cults and models and a description of 1 or 2 guilds. All you need is to do as Johnstone suggests: make a map with neat spots. Now come up with 2 positive cults, 2 weird cults, and 2 evil cults for your bad guys to worship. Make up details about initiation and Rune Lord/Priest status as needed for your characters. Put their temples on your map and bang! Your players can choose to react with those however they wish. Let them set goals in this fictional space. Do NOT have the temple of truth COMMAND them what to do. Religion and magic are ways to advance characters and have fun NOT for the GM to railroad.

    "That fits with many of the other things included in the game--especially a cool two page map of the Kingdoms of Sartar and Prax which, although not on a hex grid, is exactly right for exploration style adventures. "

    Exactly. This is all you need. Look at that 2 Page History of Glorantha! That is all you need to set up a little campaign space and make an adventure area as Johnstone suggests. Look at the runes. All you have to do is look at the rune as say "humh, what rune-related stuff is there?" or "what opposing rune would want to mess around there" or "what would this guy way over here find of interest in this opposing rune way over here?"


    1. Look over the character sheets and make note of their skills.
    - set challenges high to make advancement hard
    - set challenges low to speed up skill advancement
    - given them communities there to help them advance their favoured skills IF they do such and such or IF they will join up. But give choices.

    2. Treasure. So maybe there's loot hoards in monster-infested dungeons, or maybe there's just financial rewards for being a judicial champion or recovering falcons.
    - financial rewards are all you need for the game mechanics
    - to reinforce the fiction have communities approach them for their good deeds OR have opposing communities take them to task
    - at least have the characters see the responses to their actions -- you don't always have to present them with drama every time they take an action

    3. "The chance to die," of course means danger.
    - Or crippling! Beginning characters in Runequest are fragile. Limbs get chomped all of the time.
    - That means that characters need help from communities/organizations/temples/guilds. You want healing spells, you have to make nice with the healer cults, and make big contributions if you want resurrections. You need to get relics that contain healing spells and into which you can devote your personal power. (The idea that you cathect your own personal drives into magical items is very close to the psycho-anthropology of magic).
    - To have real heroes there has to be real danger. Keep death meaningful in Runequest.

    4. This usually goes without saying, but I like that it's called out in the text. Put in fun stuff! Try to make exploring this map and pursuing treasures and other opportunities as fun and exciting as possible.
    - And meaningful.
    - And hooked to reward and advancement.
    - Advancement: skill use possibilities, items of special interest to temples and guilds that could get you skills and spells, COIN
    - Reward: seeing your character get to use specialized skills successfully, interacting with allied magical powers (followers of the god of principles that the character follows), interacting with enemy magical/mythical forces, and CHANGING Glorantha. That can include participating in initiation ceremonies, undertaking the great challenges that one must pass in order to rise to higher levels like devotee, Rune Lord, and Priest.


    Do all of this on your own. Do NOT try to wade through Gloranthaphilia to get your answers. Make stuff that will engage players. And provide POSSIBLE routes of progress, not railroads.
  • Epweissengruber--Thanks pulling all that together and for talking me down off that Gloranthan ledge! I'd heard other folks in various places say that the original box set is all the Glorantha you need, but somehow that had gotten away from me during my thinking about all this.

    I might still look at more Gloranthan stuff, but I won't be doing it in the context of thinking I have to learn all this to run the game or whatever.
  • Erik, that is the very definition of expert advice. You are so awesome!
  • Alvin--I'm not really one to speak to your observation about sim rpgs and computer games as I don't really play computer rpgs. I'm more of a Dig-Dug or Galaga guy when it comes to video games.

    Monsters and people are statted exactly the same in Runquest and while the game is full of monsters its just as easy to set up societal or human antagonists/allies for the characters to get involved with. In fact, those sorts of situations are probable essential as Erik points out above (especially with the Guilds and Cults).

    There doesn't seem to be much in the way of limits put on the GM. So it is really left to the GM's own sense of what are appropriate or fun challenges for the Adventurers to face.

    I guess in the original post I was interested in figuring out what GM techniques would facilitate my running of the game with the rules as written.
  • Warning:

    Multiple-antagonist combats in Runequest take a loooooooong time. Especially with high-level customized magic. Geeze, at least you don't have to deal with the nightmare that is RQ 3 Sorcery!

    Don't have more than one knock-down drag out fight per session!

    You cannot bang through them at the 4-encounters per session pace of a D&D 4.0 dungeon delve.

    Give the characters chances to use their skills and magics on their own. Characters need mythico-religious goals to fit into the fiction so those "chances" should relate to them.

    Runequest has a couple of famous "dungeons" like Snakepipe Hollow or The Big Rubble (a colossal city now reduced to a huge walled-off outdoor dungeon).

    Try to put your players into a city, or exploring a landscape, where there is a chance for a few solo or duo scenes.

    Let them come up with a plan to overcome some obstacle, divide up the task, and then come together for a big mega resolution. Don't punish them for "splitting the party."

    I read how Dave Arneson ran his campaigns: your gold didn't mean anything as XP until you spent it on something important to your character! If you're a warrior, build a fortress! If you're a thief, kit out your lair with ultra-luxe swagger. Stafford and early RQ players figured ways to link player exploration of the setting with character advancement and the fictional world.
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