GM Approaches

The other day, I talked up using different approaches for NPCs, and while I think that’s a solid idea, it also opens the door on something even more interesting – GM approaches.

Unlike NPC approaches, GM approaches are less about the action and more about GM intention. That is to say, GM approaches are based upon the expected consequences of the GM’s actions. As such, the core GM actions might be:

  • Harm
  • Misdirect
  • Steal
  • Misrepresent
  • Delay
  • Escalate

Harm is reasonably self explanatory, since it comes up in every fight, though anything that might result in PC harm (or certain types of aspects) falls under this.

A successful Misdirect gives the players false information. How you handle that will depend on your table habits regarding secrets, but the result is fairly straightforward.

A successful steal strips a player of a resource. Maybe it’s cash or a weapon, but it might be something more ephemeral, like support or an ally.

A successful Misrepresent changes how the world sees the characters, and comes up in many social exchanges.

A successful delay, well, causes a delay.

A successful escalate makes the situation worse.

Note that one specific approach which could be on that list but is not is stymie – the GM approach focusing on just stopping the players. Why? because that’s the boring outcome. By removing that from the explicit list, the GM is forced to always think about a non-boring outcome.

There’s a lot of room for mechanics in these. They could easily be restricted to explicit outcomes if you want a move-like set of limitations, but I consider that a better starting point than a conclusion. A little more curious is the question of how a GM uses them, and to that end, I see two possibilities.

First, the GM could set these levels at the outset of play (2 +3s, 2 +2s 2+1s) either by her own logic or as determined by players, and then the values are re-allocated whenever you use a +3 – It becomes a +1, bump up a +1 to a +2 and Bump ups a +2 to a +3. Creates a challenge for the GM to balance between outcomes and difficulty, which is kind of appealling.

Second, and possibly more compelling, this allows for the possibility of GM Character Sheets. That is, how would you stat yourself up as a GM? Where do you want to focus your strengths? Heck, throw in some stunts (Because I’m a Killer GM, I get a +2 to harm in the first round of combat) and you could build a whole profile. Write up a few of these and you could have a variety of GM “hats” to choose between before play. Heck, spread them out on the table before a con game and let the players choose the form of the destructor.

Ok, yes, there’s a bit of frivolity in this idea, but as a trick to channel the GM to thinking about outcomes, there’s a lot of utility here.

Also, totally curious what people think their GM sheet looks like.

10 thoughts on “GM Approaches

  1. Rob Donoghue Post author

    Got asked on G+ how this would be used, and I want to capture the answer here:

    If I’m being proactive (because the players need a push), I look at my approaches, see that “Steal” is high, so I send in the thief, and roll Steal vs whatever they’re doing for lookout.

    More often though, I’m being reactive to player stuff. So, fro example, the players want to break into the house of the Bad guy. They are rolling sneaky, and I pick an approach based on the consequences.

    If failure means they trigger a trap, then I use HARM.

    If failure mean the princess is in another castle, I use MISDIRECT

    If failure means they lose a resource (like, breaking their lockpicks) then I use HARM

    If failure means the cops come after them as criminals, then I use MISREPRESENT.

    If failure means it’ll take time, then I use DELAY (which may have secondary consequences)

    If Failure means now the house is on full alert, then I use ESCALATE.

    Any of these is a valid option, so I make the decision of which to roll based on a combination of which outcomes I like, and how difficult I want the roll to be.

    Reply
    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Not sure that one needs to result from a bad roll. Present seems more like part of the broader toolkit.

      That said, I could see “introduce” as an option, though that might be a bit weird.

      Reply
  2. Anders Gabrielsson

    I quite like this! I think I’ll try to steal it for my own multiple-GM game.

    My own GM sheet would definitely be heavy on Misdirect and fairly high on Misrepresent. Both as a player and a GM I take a lot of pleasure from those moments when the player group suddenly realize that things aren’t at all what they had thought, as well as trying to use a misunderstanding to one’s advantage so I like setting up that type of situation when I GM.

    Reply
  3. +1 Sword

    I’m not sure that I would want to see this as a sheet for the GM specifically. That seems just a little too Meta for my tastes. I think it would sit nicely as the sheet for an adventure or campaign however. I’ve used adventure based aspects before to emphasize the genre. This would be an interesting expasion on that idea so that the high concept of a Noir style adventure might be “Everyone is Lying to You.” with a high misdirect while the next adventure could go with “Cthulhu wants your Sanity” and have a comfortably high Escalate.

    Reply
  4. fredhicks

    HARM +2
    MISDIRECT +3
    STEAL +1
    MISREPRESENT +2
    DELAY +0
    ESCALATE +3

    Stunt:
    *Everything You Knew Was a Lie*: After a successful Misdirect roll, make a note. If you are later Escalating by revealing that misdirection, gain a +2 to your roll.

    Reply
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