PLAY SORCERER 45: The Role of the game Master – Keeper of Tone and Feel

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The Game Master, in the first step of Sorcerer play, creates brushstrokes of setting, defines Humanity, comes up with examples of Lore, and decides examples of what Demons will be.

In this he is creating expectations of tone and the feel for the stories to come. The Game Master retains this role during the Character creation session and during play.

This is a big deal! The Players have complete authority over their Characters, and the action and deed of the Characters is the focus of the story.

But all the Characters exist within the tone and feel that the Game Master pitched to the Players and that the Players accepted.

If I pitch my Players a Sorcerer setting that is, “A mix of HBO’s Oz, Clive Barker and The Wire in a state penitentiary, where Demons are things like tattoos and guns and shivs, and Lore is ritual acts of submission or dominance,” I’m establishing a lot of elements that nail down the tone and feel I’m looking for play.

And that phrasing is important—I, as the Game Master, am looking for that tone and feel. I’m saying I want to swim in those waters.

When I send out the first email discussing this stuff or sit around and talk about it with my potential Players, I’m saying, “Look, this is what I want. You’re going to have help give it to me. Even before you get around to making a Character, is this tone and feel something you want to help make?”

If the Players decide to jump into these waters, then they’re also acknowledging that I, as the Game Master, am the keeper of this tone and feel. When they come up with ideas about the Characters they want to play or actions they want their Characters to try to accomplish, I might just say to them, “No. That… that really doesn’t work.”

But here’s a thing about that: Be elastic. Just because you see the overall tone as serious, don’t be afraid to let a Player arrive with some humor for his Character during Character creation. Know that you’ll be able to influence a great deal of the play with all the characters you get to work with—everything from the bound Demons, to characters the Players create and write down on their Character Grid, to character you come up with on your own after the Character creation session.

Remember that you want to be accepting of ideas from the Players. After all, you’re not putting on a show for them to just simply accept. You’ve gathered to create something together—something you never would have been able to concoct on your own. For the most part, especially once play gets underway, you want to give the Players as much rope as possible. Let them choose to do with their character whatever they want. After all, the only thing they can affect the story is by doing things with their Character, they really can’t affect too much too broadly.

Don’t be too heavy handed, but especially during the Character creation session, don’t be afraid to say, “Can you come up with a different variation on that?” Because Character creation is where you really get to work out, with conversation and brainstorming, lots of ideas and possibilities. The Players aren’t locked into any ideas yet. And if you say “No,” to something they’ll have time to come up with another idea that is just as compelling to them without being the idea that doesn’t work for you. For example, if you’re setting up a game in Feudal Japan, and they say, “Okay, so I’m a space alien,” you can say, “No. You’re a human in Feudal Japan.” And they’ll find, eventually, something that excites them as they walk their brain down that path of possibilities.

In general, remember that the Game Master’s role is not to get the Players to imagine the “right” things. Think of if more like a broad game preserve of the imagination, with the boundaries established by the brushstrokes of color, the definitions of Humanity, Lore and Demons. Let the Players wander this game preserve of the imagination, finding what they find. As long as they’re really respecting the boundaries you’ll probably be in good shape.

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