Game Master Theory

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Yancey
Often, though - the min/max player will move to address the easier parts, which leads the group to be dominated by the larger threat.

I've experienced this issue a few times. More often, the tactic is to win by attrition by taking out the easiest opponents first so there are fewer distractions while fighting the main threat. This is often the best tactic.
My way of handling min/max is to present challenges that highlight non-combat traits. Testing knowledge skills or dealing with political situations, etc.. This rewards players who build more balanced characters.
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Jonathan
Game Master (Dungeon Master) Theory

I just wanted to start a thread that discusses some of the more abstract styles and techniques for running a game. It seems that regardless of game mechanics, setting or genre, there are certain aspects to RPGs that are ubiquitous. I'm going to go ahead and posit that there are probably several dimensions that could define them, but that the two most important are: Roll-play (Crunch) vs. Role-play (Fluff), and Sandbox vs. Railroad. Here is how I define them:

Crunch: Roll players enjoy the challenge of tactical combat. There is a satisfaction to defeating enemy combatants in a physical confrontation. Roll-play also covers non-combat application of the game mechanics: Skill tests, table rolls, etc..

An extreme example of a purely crunch game is the D&D minis game: Two groups on either side of the board, with no context and no motivation beyond defeating your opponents.

Fluff: Role playing is everything that happens outside combat and without game mechanics. The second part is an important point. In my opinion, if the rules dictate outcome, you are no longer role-playing. For example: If my character is trying to influence an NPC, I can describe to the GM what my character says (going into as much detail as necessary, or even speaking in character). That is role-playing. If the GM says "nice speech! I'll give you +2 to your persuasion roll", once the dice come out it stops being fluff, and starts being crunch (Not that this is a bad thing! I'm simply trying to define the boundary between the two concepts).

An extreme example of a purely fluff game is the Once Upon A Time storytelling game. While there are rules as to how the group tells the story, there are no rules governing takes place within the story. This isn't technically an RPG because the players don't just control a single protagonist, but it serves to illustrates how pure storytelling can still result in an enjoyable experience (assuming that's how all the players want to play).

Sandbox: This is a world where the PCs are able to go in any direction and interact with any part of the world they with. This world feels realistic in that if the PCs choose not to interact with it, events will play out without them. On the other hand, some events or plot points may wait until they are triggered by the PCs. In a sandbox campaign, there shouldn't be any pressure on the PCs to follow any particular adventure hook or plot line. If they do, great. If not, there are a dozen others they can pursue.

An extreme example of a purely sandbox campaign is the Forgotten Realms source book (without the use of any published/pre-planned adventures). The setting book is peppered with cities and dungeons and forests each filled with plot hooks just waiting for curious PCs to investigate. A very experienced and agile DM could (theoretically) whip up an adventure on the fly as the players decide they want to search this dungeon or investigate that rumor.

Railroad: A railroad campaign is one where there is a sequence of events planned out ahead of time by the GM. If the players take an unexpected turn, the GM may often rework events to try to get the story "back on the rails". Many published adventure modules are written in this format. Some give the illusion of a sandbox by allowing the PCs to go through some of the events out of order or even make some of them optional. However, if no matter what decisions the players make, the outcome (or final sequence of events) is predetermined, then it's not a sandbox.

unblocked games: happy wheels

An extreme example of a purely railroad campaign is a dungeon crawl. The PCs must get through a dungeon with only one way out. Whether that is to fight room after room of monsters, solve some complex puzzle or even role-play their way past NPCs, there's still no choice for the PCs as far as plot goes.

Bottom Line

The point of these games is to have fun. As the Game Master (Dungeon Master), it's my job to optimize the overall fun the group is having. This has a lot of implications with regard to what I wrote above. Different players have different preferences and interest along each axis. GMs have different interest, ability and time to prepare adventures and campaigns as well, which effects where a campaign ultimately lands on each axis. A crunchy railroad campaign might be easier to prepare than a fluffy sandbox. From my experience, a fun campaign doesn't land in any extreme. Fluff and crunch are interleaved, and the story is neither a railroad or sandbox.

The fluff gives the crunch context. It creates the story and motive for winning battles beyond immediate survival. Crunch adds excitement and competition. It challenges the players both tactically and strategically. Sandbox aspects of a campaign create a sense of realism and involvement with the plot. It helps the players feel that they are influencing the story. Railroad aspects make it easier for the GM to prepare events in the plot and develop a rich story. They can also give the players a clear course of action when they're not sure what else to do.

Of course, the tricky part is the proportions. Not just on the campaign as a whole but in any given game session. How do you decide what to do? Or do you just go with the flow? I'm still playing around with the proportions in my own gaming group, of course. I tried Paizo's Adventure Paths, but that seemed to be too railroad-y. I'm considering trying Pinnacle's Plot Point adventures format for my own campaign, but I'm worried that it's going to end up too sandbox-y.

I welcome any thoughts or opinions on this subject!


Will it be possible to use the tools with more than one IP at a time? Such as a VTT on the PC and the compendium on the laptop?
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