Being the Gamemaster
The GM has many responsibilities, such as presenting the conflict to the players, controlling NPCs, and helping everyone apply the rules to the situation in the game.
Let’s talk about the GM’s jobs.
Help Build Campaigns
A campaign is a series of games you play with the same characters, where the story builds on what happened in earlier sessions. All the players should collaborate with the GM to plan how the campaign will work. Usually this is a conversation among all of you to decide what sort of heroes you want to play, what sort of world you live in, and what sorts of bad guys you’ll have. Talk about how serious you want the game to be and how long you want it to last.
- Cat-people sky pirates in flying ships, always on the run from the Royal Navy trying to catch them.
- Magic-wielding desert townsfolk stand against the invading soldiers of the evil Steel Empire.
- Students at a boarding school for magical youth solve mysteries and uncover secrets of their ancient school.
Build Scenarios and Run Game Sessions
A scenario is one short story arc, the sort of thing you might see wrapped up in one or two episodes of an adventure television show, even if it’s a smaller part of a bigger story. Usually you can wrap up a scenario in one to three game sessions, assuming you play for three or four hours at a time. But what is a scenario, and how do you build one?
A scenario needs two things: A bad guy with a goal, and a reason the PCs can’t ignore it.
Bad guy with a goal: You’ve probably figured this out already. The campaign’s main opposition, or one of his allies, is probably your bad guy.
Something the PCs can’t ignore: Now you have to give the PCs a reason to care. Make sure the bad guy’s goal is up in the PCs’ faces, where they need to do something about it or bad things will happen to them, or to people or things they value.
Running Game Sessions
Now that your bad guy is doing something the PCs will pay attention to, it’s time to start them off. Sometimes the best way to do that, especially for the first session of a new story arc, is to put them right in the action. Once the PCs know why they should care about what’s going on, you just get out of the way and let them take care of it.
That said, there are a bunch of tasks the GM needs to perform to run the session:
Run scenes: A session is made up of individual scenes. Decide where the scene begins, who’s there, and what’s going on. Decide when all the interesting things have played out and the scene’s over.
Adjudicate the rules: When some question comes up about how to apply the rules, you get final say.
Set difficulties: You decide how difficult tasks should be.
Play the NPCs: Each player controls their own character, but you control all the rest, including the bad guys.
Keep things moving: If the players don’t know what to do next, it’s your job to give them a nudge. Never let things get too bogged down in indecision or because they don’t have enough information—do something to shake things up.
Make sure everyone has a chance to be awesome: Your goal isn’t to defeat the players, but to challenge them. Make sure every PC gets a chance to be the star once in a while, from the big bad warrior to the little sneaky thief.
Setting Difficulty Levels
When another character is opposing a PC, their rolls provide the opposition in a conflict, contest, or challenge. But if there’s no active opposition, you have to decide how hard the task is.
Low difficulties are best when you want to give the PCs a chance to show off and be awesome. Difficulties near their approach ratings are best when you want to provide tension but not overwhelm them. High difficulties are best when you want to emphasize how dire or unusual the circumstances are and make them pull out all the stops.
Rules of Thumb:
- If the task isn’t very tough at all, give it a Mediocre (+0)—or just tell the player they succeed without a roll.
- If you can think of at least one reason why the task is tough, pick Fair (+2).
- If the task is extremely difficult, pick Great (+4).
- If the task is impossibly difficult, go as high as you think makes sense. The PC will need to drop some fate points and get lots of help to succeed, but that’s fine.
Optional Rule: Approach-related Target Numbers
Sometimes being Careful makes things a lot easier; sometimes it just takes too long. The GM may wish to adjust the target number up or down by 1 or 2 depending on whether you choose a fitting or a problematic approach. This makes things a bit more complex, but for some groups it’s worth it.
When you make a bad guy, you can stat them out exactly like the PCs, with approaches, aspects, stress, and consequences. You should do this for important or recurring bad guys who are intended to give the PCs some real difficulties, but you shouldn’t need more than one or two of these in a scenario.
Mooks: Other bad guys are mooks—unnamed thugs or monsters or goons that are there to make the PCs’ day a little more difficult, but they’re designed to be more or less easily swept aside, especially by powerful PCs. Here’s how you create their stats:
- Make a list of what this mook is skilled at. They get a +2 to all rolls dealing with these things.
- Make a list of what this mook is bad at. They get a −2 to all rolls dealing with these things.
- Everything else gets a +0 when rolled.
- Give the mook an aspect or two to reinforce what they’re good and bad at, or if they have a particular strength or vulnerability. It’s okay if a mook’s aspects are really simple.
- Mooks have zero, one, or two boxes in their stress track, depending on how tough you imagine them to be.
- Mooks can’t take consequences. If they run out of stress boxes (or don’t have any), the next hit takes them down.
Cyclops House Bully
Cowardly Without Backup
Skilled (+2) at: Frightening other students, weaseling out of trouble, breaking things
Bad (-2) at: Planning, studying
Stress: None (first hit takes them out)
Steel Assassin, The Night Is Ours
Skilled (+2) at: Sneaking, ambushing
Bad (-2) at: Standing up to determined opposition
I’m a Shark, Vulnerable Belly
Skilled (+2) at: Flying, biting
Bad (-2) at: Anything that isn’t flying or biting
Groups of Mooks: If you have a lot of low-level bad guys facing the PCs, you can make your job easier by treating them as a group—or maybe a few groups. Instead of tracking a dozen bad guys, you track three groups of four bad guys each. Each of these groups acts like a single character and has a set of stats just like a single mook would:
- Choose a couple of things they’re skilled at. You might designate “ganging up” as one of the things the group is good at.
- Choose a couple of things they’re not so good at.
- Give them an aspect.
- Give them one stress box for every two individuals in the group.
Skilled (+2) at: Ganging up, scaring innocent people
Bad (-2) at: Thinking ahead, fighting when outnumbered
Stress: O O (4 thugs)
Fate Core has a way of handling this, called mobs (see the “Creating the Opposition” section of the Running the Game section in Fate Core). Feel free to use that option if you prefer. Note that it may lead to very strong mobs, unless you start with extremely weak mooks—if you want to give your PCs a serious challenge, that could be one way to do it.