Heartbreaking Roles

broken-heartI’m intermittently working on a terrible idea of a game, a fantasy heartbreaker which I’ve currently title “NMMDI” or “Nyquil Made Me Do It”. This is the actual working title, on the cover, in Papyrus. I have no better way to insure it gets a real name if I ever finish it.

The idea behind it is to make a pretty standard fantasy heartbreaker with characters, gear, strong GM and so on, but with sensibilities from more recent games. I actually took the D&D Red Book as my template as I started out, though I’ll deviate a little bit by the time it’s done.

The mechanical stuff may be a future topic, but I realized I wanted to share one section from the definition of terms, because it illustrates somethign which has gotten important to me over time.

At the Table

When the rules talk about a player they mean someone sitting around the table (or in the chat) or otherwise playing the game. Everyone is a player, but some players have one or more roles. The Host is the person whose home is being used for the game. Online games and convention games may not have a host, but those situations should be pretty clear. The Organizer is the person who took responsibility for scheduling the game, keeping track of who can and can’t come and so forth. A Proctor is a player who brings supplies for the game, including refreshments. The Game Master, abbreviated as GM, is the player responsible for facilitating and driving play, providing opposition and a great many other things. Other players are Play Masters, abbreviated as PMs[1].

It is expected that there be overlap between the roles. A PM may also be Host and Proctor, another PM may be Organizer, another PM may also be Proctor, and the GM may well have no other roles besides GMing. It’s important to communicate the roles between the players so everyone has a clear set of expectations, but it also has some impact in game. There are bonuses that go along with most roles, and if you expect your GM to also be Organizer, Host and Proctor, then those bonuses go to her!

So, first, yes – there’s a small pool of awards that get handed out at the beginning of each session to reward the players who have helped facilitate the game. If any of those dice don’t get allocated (which is to say, if the GM also has to facilitate the game), then they go into the GM’s pool to mess with stuff. In fairness, that’s not much of a penalty for the players, but my hope is that the rewards both incentivize and normalize other players taking roles in making the game go. I know that in some groups this is taken as a given, but in others, the GM also has to effectively project manage the whole process, which kind of sucks. If the GM has to do more work in play, then it’s too much work, and if you’re playing a game where the GM doesn’t do more work, then why is only one player doing the out of game work?

Overall, the challenge of writing a game with no assumptions has been really fascinating, and it shows up a lot in things like this – the ideas surrounding the roles of the people at the table. It also means writing a lot more than I’m used to. Not sure whether it will ultimately produce anything worthwhile, or if it’s just going to be a sharpening stone. But it should be fun either way.

  1. That PM thing? At first, I felt awkward about it as overly contrived, but as I’ve written more text, it’s proven SUPER helpful for clarity while simultaneously suggesting that everyone is a player, which is kind of a big deal for me.  ↩

11 thoughts on “Heartbreaking Roles

  1. Rickard

    It’s good to make people aware of these duties, but shouldn’t you make the task fun instead of offering dog treats? In MMOs, there are sometimes quests where you have to kill 100 rats to get a magic sword. The task in itself isn’t fun, but you have to endure it to get the reward. I rather do tasks that are fun without having to get lured by dog treats, like magic swords or other in-game rewards.

    Also, it seems like the reward for the game master is more of a punishment for the players.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      Since the purpose is to incentivize player action, yes, it rather is. If there was a way for the GM to reward herself, then I’d be all for it, but I don’t see a practical path to that.

      As to making it fun, I’m not 100% clear what you envision. Given that we’re not trying to make more work for the GM, how are you proposing we make the logistics of scheduling and hosting intrinsically fun? Most any gamification-type solution i can think of ultimately creates more work for the GM than the original task, but perhaps I am overlooking something.

      1. Rickard

        When implementing rewards, I consider the following things:
        1. Does the player has control over when to get the reward? (I.e. no more being judged by, for example, how good someone roleplays by the game master.)
        2. Is the reward instant? (I.e. no more getting XP at the end of the session for things being done at the table.)
        3. Is the reward in the same area of the task being done? (I.e. no more getting XP for good roleplaying. Good roleplaying should be rewarded with more situations that can invoke good roleplaying.)

        Since the purpose is to incentivize player action, yes, it rather is. If there was a way for the GM to reward herself, then I’d be all for it, but I don’t see a practical path to that.

        But wasn’t the whole idea to make things easier for the game master? In the case of being a host, one of my groups had a social contract that the host never had to buy snacks. We also had a rule that when everybody leaved, they should bring one thing (a drinking glass, or a set of plates) out to the kitchen.

        Also consider why someone would, for example, organize the meeting. If I’m inviting people to play video games, do I do that because I then get the chance of picking the character that is slightly better than the others, or do I do that because I want to spend time with my friends? Isn’t the last thing a reward in itself?

        I do agree that the roles that you gave should get attention, but most of the times it’s enough with acknowledgment from the others. If someone bakes a cake, that person wants to know if it was appreciated and not be given mechanical rewards (because the reward in itself has no correlation to the task). You could create a structure where people have to give complements to each role, but after a while that would seem hollow, like most things that you have to do (and that goes with mechanical rewards as well).

        So the reward system you had was to ease up for the game master? Then make a discussion about the role at the end of the session. If you had a role, then you can freely give it to someone else for the next meeting. That person can acknowledge that or give a reason of why that person can’t take up that role and possibly give a suggestion of taking on another role instead. The group can have a discussion, if the latter happens, until everybody feels satisfied.

        If it’s such a burden to be a game master then change the game to involve the others more, much like how the everybody can help the host to bring cutlery out to the kitchen. If being a proctor is such a burden, suggest having a pot that everybody must chip in to every session. That’s sharing the burden.

        1. silverwizard

          People expect GMs (or that one person who hosts everything) to do everything. Once that role is settled, it’s hard to change. By either rewarding that person, or convincing others to be that person, the game is helping.

          Like Apocolypse World, this is a solution to a problem that teaches the answer and then becomes unnecessary later

          1. Rickard

            My take is that you should fix the original problem (“Once that role is settled…”) instead of trying to patch things up to make it work.

  2. Goken

    Rob, I’m confused. I looked up the definition of a fantasy heartbreaker and it seems at odds with your goal of “a game with no assumptions”. Is there a different definition you can point me toward?

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      I’m cheating a bit. I mean it in the sense of form (swords, spells, stuff like that) but that’s just because the game needs to be about *something*. I’ve written generic engines before, and they’re fine, but that’s not the goal here.

      Where I’m trying to upend my expectations, I’m trying to think about all the stuff that goes into presenting that, including how this stuff works. I’m fascinated, for example, buy some of th elanguage differences between D&D editions, and ESPECIALLY at the current model for “starter games” contrasted with the old basic D&D red box (Either version).

  3. Goken

    Thanks for the clarification Rob. As it sounds like you don’t intend to break any hearts by retaining too much old school d&d baggage like so many others, might I suggest an alternate term? As you’re doing the opposite of those other games by challenging everything, perhaps it is a fantasy heart-stealer? 🙂

  4. Sandra

    To me, it’s seems like there are two kinds of people around here.
    1. Those who really, really want to play these kinds of games, and
    2. Those who are more like “Huh, OK, I guess I’ll give it a try” or “I guess I can join for a few sessions, haven’t played in a while”.

    For those in a city or circle of friends with the luxury of many of the more intense game lovers, sure, it makes sense to divvy up these other roles.
    We tried it once for a short campaign but the “Organizer” (in your words) hated me — or, charitably, couldn’t get ahold of me because I’m not on social networks — so I was often not invited. 🙁 I was good friends with the GM so it was weird for me to be left out of one of his games.

    Mostly, I play with people who haven’t got that same “gotta, gotta, gotta play RPGs!” drive as I do. (I hope they’ll like it enough to get that drive, but it hasn’t happened yet.) So I kinda have to work hard for the “Organizer” role. And while I like both GM:ing and playing, I don’t mind being the GM and I don’t see it as such a chore. For example, tonight we’re starting 5e and I’m the one who’s read the rules, followed the discussions online, read the adventure etc etc. So it kind of makes sense that I’m DM, at least for the first few sessions.

    Oh, tl;dr:

    1. I’m very bad at being the “organizer” but I kind of have to because I don’t think there would be any playing at all if I asked someone else to do it.
    2. It’s less that the DM defaults to being the organizer and more that the organizer defaults to being the DM. Or at least defaults to being the one who asks someone to DM.
    3. I’ve had a bad experience with an untrustworthy non-DM “organizer” but that was a bit of a side story.

    Mostly I think the whole “cult of the DM” is something that is thankfully changing. The DM shouldn’t be God. It’s just another role around a table of peers. Especially with story games where the players can pull a lot of weight.

    1. Rob Donoghue Post author

      To some extent, this is also strongly influenced by the fact that my playgroup is almost entirely older professionals with young kids and busy jobs, so the logistics become the real barrier to play for us (though we’re all excited for, say, 5-8 years from now when our kids are old enough to play). I ended up splitting the Organizer and GM roll locally solely because if I was doing both, games weren’t happening. But necessity is goign to take different forms in different places.

      1. Sandra

        I mean apparently you have someone who wants to game so much that they become Organizer. And maybe soon we’ll achieve the same thing over here.


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