When you take on the role of the gamemaster you are in charge. The rulebook is a guideline to help you out but ultimately it is up to you to craft the game world for your players and define the rules to them. This will mean being as descriptive as you can be to your players. They will only know what you have laid out to them in the world so you will need to convey the details to them. You may make maps or diagrams to help with this process. You will also work as the judge over any disputes that may come up within the group or with you and the group. This may take a lot of patience and might not be the best fit for you if that is something that you are in short supply of. For those of you who do believe you are up to this challenge the best advice to be given is to relax and plan.
Planning ahead can be one of your most reliable allies when running a game. Walking into a gaming session with nothing prepared for your group is a grand way to confuse the masses and yourself at the same time. When you plan out your sessions just relax and keep what you can simple. The players may take actions that completely throw your plans out the window anyways. You will need to be flexible in your session crafting and create new avenues for your players as the gaming sessions progress. Keep in mind where you planned to take the story may never happen the way you planned it.
Now if dealing with this headache seems like an appealing time to you then use this section of the rulebook to help guide you down the path. Go find you some angry little malcontents to suffer with you as you drag their characters through hell after hell in pursuit of whatever overpowered entity you wish to torture them with. Because, what is the point of a story without some well-placed drama and comedy? Life is full of both; just because you can throw a lightning bolt at your problems doesn’t change that.
Story is the most important part of any role playing game. It is what drives the players onward and what keeps them coming back for more. It is the gamemaster’s job to weave a compelling and challenging story to keep the players interested. There are many places where you as a gamemaster can pull your stories from as well as many reasons for your individual party members to go along or stay behind for different quest lines. If you are a compelling enough storyteller you could make chasing a butterfly an amazing quest for your players. Here are some sample story/quest line ideas.
Class Assignments: Some classes such as Order of the Blade and Serpents of Kinja have a hierarchy that distributes missions to their members. It will be highly common for them to receive these missions throughout the game. While the player who received this mission may be required to go off on this mission the others in the party may choose to join or decline and either wait or go off and get into their own story.
Profession Jobs: All professions have jobs that need to be completed to move up the profession ranks. Sometimes these may be main storyline points or they may be used as something for a player to do while they are not involved in a storyline at the time. Such as if most of the party goes off on a class assignment and a pair of thieves stay behind. This would be a good opportunity for them to take on a heist while the rest of the party is away. And if it permits you could also drag them back into the story with the rest of the party by having the job connect into the story the party is on.
Call of the Nation: All characters have a nation or land in which they hail from. Those characters with loyalties to their nation may be called upon to serve their country. This can be a source of conflict for the party if they hail from nations in conflict as they may be called to opposite ends of a battlefield. All of a party could be called to a nation storyline or not and they may not be on the same side of the issue.
Relations: A player’s family history can become a good source of storylines for your party. Distant or close relations to your characters can bring you urgent family problems that need a characters attention. As with a class assignment quest, not all of your party members may go with the character. Some may choose to go off and do other things instead and meet up again later.
Animosity: Characters within the party do not always get along or maybe never have. This can cause rifts between the party as other characters may choose sides in the internal conflict of the group. You may want to resolve these issues between characters or you may drive them further apart depending on how you are weaving your story. If things break down between the characters in the game you may end up with two parties going different directions or the same direction from different angles.
Morality: The party and its characters’ morality will come into play throughout the game. Conflicting moralities within the group can be a source of animosity and could cause the party itself to be on both sides of a conflict. Giving the party moral choices to make and their responses to them at an early level can shape the makeup of the characters and the story. This will in some cases also determine which factions may accept the individual party members.
Prestige: Meeting the factions of the world can be a valuable tool for your characters. It can give them contacts, safe houses, allies, and equipment that they are not able to find elsewhere. Gaining prestige with these factions can be important to your characters in the overall long run of the story if not just in the immediate time. Gaining trusted prestige points will make you an ally while gaining feared prestige points will make you an enemy.
Conflict: Characters brought into conflict storylines are headed for the battlefield. These story points are usually tied into a character’s morality or prestige. In a mixed party it is easy for the characters to be on multiple sides of a conflict.
Escort: Someone or something needs to get somewhere and they are the target of someone. All gamers know how hard it can be just to get someone down the street safely. Normally this quest is for those parties of higher morality. These quests are usually morality or prestige based.
Bandit: Someone or something is being escorted and your party is hired to stop them or steal it. Normally this quest is for those parties of lower morality. These quests are usually morality or prestige based.
Defense: The party is called to aid an ally in the defense of some location or people important to them. These quests may be based on surviving waves of attack or giving the non-player characters time to accomplish a goal. Defense quests usually come from prestige or call of the nation storylines.
Assault: The party is called by an ally to assault a location or group of enemies. These quests can be a counter point quest to defense or escort and are accomplished whenever the players take the location or enemy out. Assault quests usually come from prestige or call of the nation storylines.
While playing throughout the world characters are faced with decisions that are designed to test their morals. It is up to the gamemaster to keep track of the party’s moral compass and the game based on their moral outlooks. If you had planned for the party to help defend a defense force but they’ve been robbing every traveler along the road, the defense forces will probably be looking to arrest them instead of seeking their aid. The gamemaster should keep track of both the character’s individual and party morality. As a party the group may have a different morality than an individual.
Different morality levels within a group will cause conflicts among its members. Decisions within one morality difference are generally accepted amongst the members of the group. Two morality differences from the decision level and the character is able to be swayed into going along with the group. If this happens enough the character’s morality will be affected by the group. Morality levels that are higher than two levels of difference are automatically denied by the character.
A character’s initial morality level is determined by the gamemaster and is based on the back story the player creates for the character. The gamemaster may monitor the character’s morality closely or loosely based on their discretion. When a character’s morality shifts the gamemaster may reveal it at the time or wait to surprise a character when a morality based storyline occurs.
High: Defenders of the weak and the righteous. They are up standing citizens and looked at as pillars of the community.
Moral: Those of average moral fiber. They help out others when they can but not in a sense that they go above and beyond for others.
Neutral: Those of a morally gray nature. Usually they are more concerned with wealth than other issues. This is common morality level of bounty hunters and thieves, those that toggle on both sides of the law.
Low: Those of a low moral fiber. They are commonly on the wrong side of the law and act selfishly.
Immoral: Pillars of self. Generally sociopaths that are fine with the world burning as long as their goals are accomplished.
Sample Morality Altering Actions
Moral Shift: Some character actions that can pull a character toward a moral personality are as follows. Aiding those in need, whether it is a wandering traveler needing an escort or a village plagued by bandits will increase a character’s moral standing. Generosity is another way to improve your morality, giving up rewards and doing things out of the goodness of one’s heart or because it was the right thing to do. Sacrificing one’s self for the safety of another is a very noble gesture, though it can get a player in over their head.
Immoral Shift: Some character actions that can pull a character toward an immoral personality are as follows. Extortion or kidnapping, whether the character is holding an item, person, or just muscling someone for money will increase a character’s immoral standings. Becoming a bandit or performing unprovoked assaults on peaceful people in the world is both good ways to increase a character’s immorality. Murdering others in cold blood for the sake of killing or selfish reasons, assassinations do not apply to this as they are simply business contracts.
Swing Shift: Some character actions can go either way on the morality scale. A character’s allies will affect the morality of a character. If a moral character befriends several low morality factions their morality will be affected by the actions they must perform for those factions. When playing an infiltration styled storyline the character’s morality is not affected by actions required of the job. Defense and assault missions can also swing morality either way. They just depend on the morality of the side you are aiding.
Neutral Shift: Some character actions could have no effect on the character’s morality. Profession jobs are an example of this type of action. A thief will not gain immoral standings if they sneak into a museum and steal an artifact. They will gain immoral standings if they breaking in and kill all the guards on their way to the prize though. This goes the same for class assigned missions. Following the assignment will not affect the character but additional actions may shift the character’s morality one way or the other.