Being the Game Master

There are a lot of tips and best practices when it comes to campaign development (and, to that end, I selfishly invite you to check as a starting point). The guidelines in these Basic Rules handle much of what PCs will do, but there are elements to game mastering that take some experience. Here are some tips to consider:

Don’t Plan Ahead: It’s easy to get caught up with grand story arcs and scripted adventures. However, PCs are notorious for going in their own direction (particularly if they detect that they’re being “herded” by the GM). When running an adventure, concentrate on the current hook, but leave outcomes open, based on the logical consequences of the PCs’ actions. Don’t worry if you don’t get a chance to introduce a clever plot twist or a cool villain—there will be other opportunities. In the meantime, your goal is to ensure that everyone is having a good time playing, and that means giving your players the freedom to make their own choices.

Let the Dice Do Their Job: When you consult the dice, you’re soliciting random guidance from tiny, plastic oracles. In the context of running an adventure, the dice are your friends because they’ll suggest directions that you might not consider on your own. This is not to say that you must slavishly obey your polyhedral masters, but unless the dice suggest nonsense outcomes, it’s worth considering what they have to say.

As a GM, it’s tempting to fudge a roll here and there, particularly if it means saving the PCs’ bacon so they can continue adventuring. But doing so is tantamount to saying that the dice only matter when you like the outcome. This approach is actually unfair to the PCs—while the players are expected to adhere to die results, the GM suffers no such restrictions.

If you let the dice tell the story, you’ll not only come up with realistic outcomes, but you’ll also challenge the PCs to handle unforeseen situations. In the end, your players will have more fun overcoming obstacles and digging deep when they need to. Your campaign will be more enjoyable for it.

Winging It: Be prepared to abandon whatever expectations you have for how the PCs will respond in a given situation, or how they’ll solve a particular challenge. This is easier if you look at your Adventure Template more as an outline than as a script—the notes are simply guidelines for what the adventure contains, but they don’t predict what will happen or how the PCs react to what you throw at them.

In fact, players are notorious for reacting in ways you never anticipated, and they’ll solve problems with approaches that you haven’t considered. That’s fine and, actually, something you should encourage—after all, the adventure is all about the PCs’ choices within your setting. This unpredictability won’t ruin your game. Quite the contrary—it actually makes it better.

If you know your NPCs’ goals and motivations, and you understand your adventure hook in the context of the larger campaign, and you have a reasonably flexible background, you can easily work with the PCs’ moves, whatever they may be. When the PCs move in a direction you don’t expect, simply default to your intimate knowledge of the setting and adjust your adventure (and the direction it takes) accordingly.

Balancing Encounters: A lot of unnecessary work goes into making sure that a given encounter is matched to the PCs’ ability, and some systems even go so far as to provide “point” based rating systems to help the GM establish equality between characters and the challenges they face.

Unfortunately, such systems are only partially effective, because they have no way to account for tactics or the players’ innovation. Operating under the assumption that your players will respond in ways you cannot always anticipate, develop encounters so that they make sense in the context of your campaign.

Not only will you save yourself unnecessary work, but if an encounter proves too difficult, the PCs will adjust their tactics—perhaps even retreating in the face of overwhelming odds. If, on the other hand, an encounter is too easy, you’ll know to make the next one a little harder.

Challenge the Players, not the Characters: The characters are only vehicles through which the players experience your campaign setting. While every player wants a powerful character, capable of fighting, figuring, or fast-talking his way out of any scrape, it’s the players whose interest you have to maintain. As a result, don’t let players simply rely on their characters’ abilities or dice rolls to carry the day—present them with the opportunity to devise clever solutions, unusual approaches, and personal choices. Remember—Chimera is about making up a story; make sure the players have a role in telling it.

Awarding Experience: While the point of the game is to have fun, character advancement is part of what keeps players interested. Yet advancement in Chimera is not automatic, and despite a player’s best efforts during an adventure, his character might just get an unlucky result when he makes his Advancement Roll (especially if the PC has a high Advancement Cost). If this discourages players and detracts from their enjoyment of your campaign, you can always give them more opportunities to earn bonuses for adventuring goals. Better yet, consider ways to encourage PCs to use their Clutch Situations for more immediately-useful Session Rewards.