thread: 2009-05-04 : Dice and Cloud, the Death Threats thread

On 2009-05-05, Jono wrote:

Hi Vincent!

In the interview, you said something about how it should be no problem for the "umpire" to make fair judgment calls from the fiction, as long as he/she doesn't have any "conflicts of interest".

I'm wondering if you could elaborate on what you meant by conflicts of interest, because I think that might be the key to understanding why some games that I have GMed have been fun and easy to run, while others have made me feel put on the spot with no good way to make a fair judgment.

E.G. if I'm GMing Dogs then I know exactly what to do (reveal the town in play, say yes or roll dice, etc.).  But if I'm GMing say Spirit of the Century—which constantly asks me to decide difficulties for things the players want to do—then I feel torn between wanting to "challenge" the PCs (by turning up the difficulty), wanting to be fair, wanting them to win so I can see what happens in the next step of their zany plan, etc.  I feel like I should be deciding difficulties purely based on established stuff in the fiction, but half the time the conflict involves something I'm making up on the spot (How many gangsters are behind that door, anyway, and what level of Fists skill do they each have?) so the fictional reason is more like post-hoc justification for whatever numbers I choose.  It feels like a real slippery slope towards "decide whether I want the player to succeed or fail", which is certainly possible with the amount of power Spirit of the Century gives the GM, but is not how I want to play.  (This may be the same worry that your interviewer, and some commenters, are having about the potential unfairness of the un-mechanically-constrained GM.  I'm not worried about that GM screwing me over—I'm worried about being that GM, without meaning to.)

Previously I thought that this problem was because Spirit of the Century gave me too much power as GM, required me to make "too many judgment calls" from the fiction, i.e. too many rightward arrows, and what I really wanted was a game system where I was more mechanically constrained, like in Prime Time Adventures where I would have had to spend Budget to up the difficulty of a conflict.

But now I'm thinking that plenty of rightward arrows are required for the kind of play I want, and there has to be a way to have this without having the slippery slope that I feel when running SotC.

Maybe it's just because the GM has conflicts of interest (make life hard for the pcs! but play fair! But uphold the consistency of the world! But improvise!) in Spirit of the Century that he or she doesn't have in a game like Dogs.  So I'm really interested to hear what you have to say about conflicts of interest.

Thanks for answering our questions!


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