Notes For Games Masters
The following is a list of guidelines which I hope are helpful in writing plots and games.
- DON’T introduce anything new without consulting the Keeper of the Rules (this includes rules, monsters and classes). This is very important for game balance and development and world balance and development. Please note that this is not intended to discourage discussions on the rules and is in fact meant to have the reverse effect. If you would like to see something new or modified you must talk about it first. New creatures can be used, but should be statted from the existing tables.
- In theory, creating balanced games is easy as every NPC type has a table describing their skill costs. So, when statting a game:
- Decide on the average level of the party.
- For each encounter, decide on the level of the NPCs. Usually this is a little bit lower than the average party level for the first encounter and steadily increases throughout the game.
- Use the various skill cost tables for the NPCs, spending points in the normal way (ie: 10 Character Points per level).
For combat encounters, create several different types of NPC by spending the points differently. This allows tailoring of the encounter, which might be necessary due to the weapons available in the monster kit or to present a bigger challenge to the PCs. For example, if statting an Orc encounter, create a “Warrior Orc with a 1H Weapon”, “Warrior Orc with a 2H Weapon”, “Scout Orc with Daggers and lots of Dex”, “Scout Orc with a Chaos/Death Miracle”, etc, etc.
- Bear in mind that writing a combat encounter with a single opponent without making him either too soft or too hard is fairly difficult (as he’ll normally be greatly outnumbered). Note I say “usually” because games don’t necessarily have to follow this rule of thumb, though they commonly do.
I’ve tried to make the rules balanced across the board, with no one class/race having an overall advantage. If you use the tables to create your NPCs rather than just put together a load of combat stats, your games should be balanced (and if they’re not, you can blame me).
- At the very least, write down the encounters in the scenario, including the important NPC statistics, and make it accessible during the game. That way the Monster players can prepare for the next encounter while you’re busy (playing in the previous encounter, watching the battleboard, etc).
- Plan for party wipe out. Even a perfectly balanced game can’t take into account player bad luck and/or stupidity. Its wise to have a “healing” encounter in mind, even if its never used. At the very least, consider what will happen if the party fail in their mission.
- On the other hand, avoid too many “helping” encounters. Players feel they’ve achieved more when its their own skills and points that have allowed them to succeed (rather than the massively high level ritual cast by the mad mage in the second encounter combined with the Amulet of Ra they found on a dead Goblin in the first).
If you find that the game you are writing requires such deus ex-machina to allow the party to survive, stop writing it and start a new game. Keep the original plot idea, though, as one day there’ll be higher level characters who can play it.
- Personally, I try to have at least 1 in 3 non-combat (friendly/roleplaying) encounters, though this obviously depends on the scenario and personal taste.
- DO NOT put in monsters just because they are “cool”. For example, Liches, Vampires, Greater Demons, etc. They either wipe the party out or are so crocked as to make the entire thing laughable, discrediting the monster type.
For example, if you’re writing a game for a party of Rank 8 average and the plot calls for a Lich, stop writing it and start a new game aimed at Rank 8. Once again, keep the original plot idea as one day there’ll be Rank 30+ characters to play it, but don’t crock the Lich just so you can put one in the game.
- Similarly, DO NOT put in spells and miracles just because they are “cool”. You’ll either wipe the party out or have to introduce some way for them to survive which, apart from making the entire spell/miracle pointless, leads back to the previous note on “helping” encounters.
- The Through, Undodgeable and True Strike attacks are extremely powerful and should be used sparingly. For further information on these attacks, see the Advanced Skills Chapter. In particular, note that these skills can only be used a certain number of times per hour.
Some creatures may make natural Swift and Piercing attacks, but only the most powerful of creatures make natural Through and Undodgeable attacks. There shouldn’t be more than one of these in any encounter, and they should usually be the most highly statted creature in the encounter.
How to Break the Rules
One of the jobs of the Monster Ref is to make sure the player characters are challenged, and sometimes this means bending the rules (this is especially annoying/disconcerting to rules lawyers).
- Hero Abilities
- Higher level NPCs can be awarded Hero Abilities, just like player characters. Very high level NPCs can have multiple and/or powerful Hero Abilities.
- NPCs that belong to a particular group or faction should belong to a Guild. Care must be taken to ensure that the Guild is reasonably balanced, but at the very least NPCs can have equivalent Guild bonuses/restrictions as given by the PC Guilds.
- Use rituals for unusual and/or powerful effects beyond the standard spells/miracles.
- Magic Items
- Legendary/Artefact items are a standard way for introducing unusual and/or powerful effects, though care must be taken to ensure that the item either does not fall into the hands of the players or to have a plan in place to handle this event.
Note that all the above are also available to player characters.
The goal of any game is to challenge the players and their characters, which basically means that a game should neither be too easy nor too hard. The challenge does not necessarily have to be aimed at the character’s combat abilities, though that’s the usual approach, but can also be aimed at challenging their roleplaying skills or their deductive skills. I generally avoid focusing on a single one of the above, as doing so will mean that some of the players will not enjoy the game.
A lot of the stresses and hassles of running a game can be reduced by preparation and planning. However, no scenario survives contact with the players.
As mentioned above, it’s worth thinking about healing encounters ahead of time so that they fit as seamlessly as possible into the game. This will help keep the game on track when the players, both PC and NPC, do something stupid (and believe me, at least one will do something stupid!).
Be prepared to modify encounters to take account of the players and characters abilities. The idea is to challenge the party, not kill them or give them a walkover (neither of which is much fun). Some players are not as good at combat as others, so you might need to make the monsters a bit weaker to compensate (or vice versa). So when statting a combat encounter, its a good idea to have a few monsters which are slightly understatted and overstatted by one or two Ranks.
Hmmm…. enough rambling for now. I hope the above, which I mostly learnt the hard way, is of some assistance.