Game Master Emulators

I half expected Micheal to post this morning, it being Christmas eve. In our house we celebrate a Swiss Christmas today and then do a British one tomorrow as the two halves of the family have different traditions. That has nothing to do with RPGs but I was not going to crash Micheal’s post.

He hasn’t so I will.

There are three emulators I want to look at. The first is the grand daddy of them all, Mythic.

Mythic Gamer Master Emulator

Mythic Game Master Emulator cover
Mythic Game Master Emulator

Mythic Role Playing is actually a game in its own right. The Mythic GM Emulator is just part of the game but it is now a standalone product with its own following published by Word Mill Games.

Mythic is the most feature rich GM emulator I have ever seen. It is based upon multiple D100 rolls. It uses the idea of twists, interrupted scenes, chaos and random facts. The intention is to give the players as much inspiration as possible.

In my opinion Mythic is too crunchy for my tastes. There are too many rolls for each simple yes/no question.  On the other hand something that was unique to emulators is that the full RPG and the emulator use exactly the same game mechanics. What this means in practice is by asking a question like “Can I see any guards?” the perception/observation test and the emulator roll are identical. Obviously the better your observation ability the more likely the outcome of the test is going to be a ‘yes’. In the previous article in this series I tried to align the example GME with the M:YZ style of play as much as I could. The way that M:YZ resolves skill tests was a bit to complex to turn into a  yes/no answer generator but I could reference the  and   symbol dice and the D66 mechanic to keep the M:YZ flavour. Mythic is not just flavoured, it is truly unified with its parent system. Normally everything I reference is either free or ‘Pay What You Want’. In this case Mythic is a full paid product ($6.95) and a platinum best seller on both RPGNow and DriveThruRPG. If you want to try an Emulator and want a really professional product and all the supporting material you need to learn how to use it then Mythic is worth the $7 price tag. For me, as I said, there are too many rolls, too many tables (and that is coming from a Rolemaster GM!) that the rules get in the way of the game. On the other hand though once you grasp how Mythic Gamer Master Emulator works you can easily create a much lighter version to fit any game you want to play.

CRGE, Conjectural Roleplaying GM Emulator

Conjectural Role Playing Game Master Emulator cover
Conjectural Role Playing Game Master Emulator

CRGE is a much lighter affair than Mythic and is also a PWYW product. You can grab a free copy and see what you think before going back and making a contribution. CRGE is based around a table called the Loom of Fate that is your basic yes/no generator but with different probabilities for different types of questions. It breaks things down to ‘towards knowledge’, ‘towards conflict’ and ‘towards endings’. The Loom of Fate is a d100 table so there is ample scope for tweaking probabilities. One of the nice things about CRGE is that it is modular. There are different add on products such as a random NPC generator called UNE, The Universal NPC Emulator and BOLD that creates backgrounds, legends and adventures.  There are more bolt ons as well but I have not tried them. As I noted above, I don’t want too heavy an emulator as I feel it gets in the way.

CRGE is a lighter option than Mythic. The Loom of Fate is d100 and the twist part of the system runs off a d20 roll. If you don’t want to risk a whole $6.95 then I would recommend that you download CRGE and soem of the bolt on products. These standalone so even if you do not end up using the emulator the NPC generator, for example, could be useful.

ABS12 Flexible Solo Game Engine v 1.0

ABS12 stands for A Basic System D12 but it actually supports most common dice systems. In addition it also has a number of complimentary products such as a random fact generator and character generators. Of the three emulators here this is least professional, by which I mean you do not get a lot of hand holding and supporting material. You need to be pretty comfortable with GM emulators to understand what is going on. I have included it as it is feature rich and crams everything into just 5 pages. Something else that makes ABS12 stand out in this lineup is that ABS12 is primarily a solo engine. Ken Wickham, the writer, uses ABS12 as a writing stimulation tool on his own blog, World of the Fifth Sun. The blog details the development of the ABS12 solo engine and Ken’s super light RPG where characters have just a single stat. Ken’s rpg has the same ABS12 name as they were designed in tandem.

The advantage of ABS12 is the speed of use. Ken had the advantage of trying many other emulators before building ABS12. This emulator includes more options on the yes/no table for conditional answers. As another PWYW product it is worth downloading if you want to see another alternative system.

The last product I want to look at is something a little different. Rather than being dice and table based this is card based.

ALONe: A Solo Game Engine BETA

I like the way that the income from the PWYW BETA is being used to fund the development of the full products. Each deck of cards costs $9.99 and includes all the information you need. So, although this is pitched as a solo game engine it works really well as a collaborative social game. ALONe gives you half a deck to play the BETA with which is more than enough to get a feel for how it works. There are loads of decks of cards and expansions. ALONe itself is a Silver best selling product so it is certainly popular.

All of the above products are available to try for free, with the exception of Mythic, and they do a better job of illustrating how they work than I ever could. If you find yourself with some free time in the next week why not download a couple and see what they are all about?

Finally, I hope you all have a great Christmas.

How to GME

This is part two of my mini series on Game Master Emulators [GME].

I want to talk about the actual mechanics of how to use a GM Emulator in this instalment. To give this a go you will need. 2d6 of different colours or more correctly a D66. The rules below are heavily based upon Tiny Solitary Solders but also tweaked by me to create a system in the style of Mutant:Year Zero.

In the same way that if you were playing a traditional board game you would pass the dice to the next person when you have finished your turn; the same thing happens with the GM Emulator. So in this way everyone takes their turn running the emulator but only for a minute or couple of minutes at a time.

There are two core functions of the solo system and they are question resolution and plot twists.

Question Resolution

You reach a point in your story where one of the players wants to ask a question about the scene or their options. To use the emulator you need to phrase that question in a yes/no format. Once you have your question you then need to decide how likely the answer is to be yes or no. Some questions are just 50/50 so no modifiers are needed. Others you can make a subjective call based upon everything that has gone on up until that point, the world and the story you had in mine.

It is important not to ask too many questions and not to try and break the system by asking impossible questions.

If you ask too many questions the game just bogs down. Most of the time the first question is important, a second question might be necessary and all the rest can be dealt with by logic, common sense or gut feeling. What I mean by this is, Are there any guards? Is an important question. Are they armed is a perfectly valid question in a modern setting. I live in the UK and most police are not armed, museum security are not armed but some are, some carry semi automatic weapons, some have tasers. In a different game, storm troopers are always armed so the question doesn’t need answering. If the answers you got for those questions were both yes and the game was a modern game of espionage set in London then you can imply a whole load of additional information. You do not need to ask if they have radios as all the armed police have radios. You do not need to ask if they have bullet proof vests as they all have bullet proof vests. Too many questions bog the game down into a dice rolling fest and add nothing.

Impossible questions should carry a suitable penalty to the point that the best possible answer is ‘no, but…’ So if you ask “Do I have a vorpal sword in my back pocket?” is likely to met with “No but the assassin behind you has one.” at best to “No, and… your family is cursed so that magic never works for them.” at the other extreme. The question part of the system is there to help advance the game not break the world so do not ask world breaking questions!

With that in mind roll think of a question and roll a 2d6 (2d6 one is the for the answer and one is the twist dice). In this system to make it a bit more M:YZ flavoured roll one Skill (Green) dice for the answer and one Base (Yellow) dice

1-      No, and…
2             No
3             No, but…
4             Yes, but…
5             Yes
6+      Yes, and…

Virtually impossible -3, highly unlikely -2, unlikely -1, likely +1, quite likely +2, definite +3.

Also roll a Base die and if you roll a  (6) then there has been a twist in the story. Continue reading How to GME

Truly Collaborative

I am starting my reading up on Corolis but this is going to take a while so I thought I would give you a mini series based around GM emulators.

With the discussion last week about making money from blogging and RPGs I was conscious that cycle of read a game, plug a game, post link to game could seem a bit mercenary. So I thought a few posts on something completely different before Christmas could be interesting. So with the preamble out of the way…

I have noticed a fashion with newer games where the emphasis is tending away from the GM designing the setting, then the world, then the adventure and then presenting it to players. The new, to me, way seems to be that the players and GM get together and make collective choices about the world. The FATE Core System book says “Both players and gamemasters also have a secondary job: make everyone around you look awesome. Fate is best as a collaborative endeavor, with everyone sharing ideas and looking for opportunities to make the events as entertaining as possible.” The bold is added by me.

So what if everyone and no one was the GM?

A GM Emulator is a method of getting GM-like decisions without having a GM. The emulator is actually a set of rules with tables and dice which is pretty much how we all solve every problem in RPGs anyway. This is not really any different to when you ask the GM a question and the GM rolls a quick D6 to come up with a choice. You want to know if any town guard are patrolling the market place and the GM had not intended any real action to happen here so he rolls a d6, One to three for yes and our or more for no.

So here is a really quick and massively over simplified example. Three goblins decide they want to play a game tonight. They are called Stargazer, Sunglar and Peter. They possess one copper piece between them with a severed head on one side and a scorpion on the other (it is a goblin farthing obviously). No one can be trusted to be GM because that is not the way goblin society works. So they are going to use the copper piece as a GM emulator.

First we need a setting or a world…

Stargazer Goblin asks “Is this a fantasy game?”, tossing the coin it comes up scorpions (tails) for ‘No’. He then passes the coin to Sunglar Goblin.

Sunglar Goblin asks “Is there magic in this world?” tossing the coin it comes up severed head, ‘Yes’. He then passes the coin to Peter Goblin.

So we are in a modern or Sci Fi universe but there is magic, Peter Goblin asks “Are we rebels fighting an evil empire?”, severed head, Yes.

Finally, Stargazer Goblin looking at the questions already asked and the current buzz in the media asks “Is this the Star Wars universe?” the answer comes back as a heads/yes.

So now everyone hopefully has enough information to create a character.

Getting just yes/no answers would be a bit dull and GM Emulators are much more sophisticated than a tossed coin.

These goblins get everywhere!

What has an emulator ever done for us?

Emulators all pretty much give you a yes/no answer each time so that is how you have to structure the questions. In the same way that a GM rolled a d6 to see if town guards were patrolling the market place. The more trouble the PCs had caused in the town in the days leading up to today the GM could add a plus or minus to that 1-3/4-6 roll. So the emulator is going to take into account how likely the answer is to be a yes or a no and it will skew the results accordingly.

Emulators also normally come with a technique for changing the story or introducing a plot twist. Think of them as picking a card in Monopoly which could just as easily say “Go straight to jail.” as “Collect £20 from every player.” Without plot twists the questions you ask could become really predicable.

Whatever answer the emulator gives you it is the person currently acting as GM who has to decide what would be the most fitting and common sense interpretation of that yes or no. If Stargazer, Sunglar and Peter ask if there are guards then they are likely to be storm troopers because this is the Star Wars universe. We have magic but it is likely to be The Force for exactly the same reason. If we can manipulate The Force then chances are we are Jedi or training towards it. Each yes or no has consequences and the setting colours most of those.

Many or most emulators also give you little random words or ideas that it is your challenge to try and work these into the scenes as they unfold. This could be a random colour, sound, texture or material or an adjective. These frequently come in pairs. It is a bit like playing a word association game, it the emulator spits out “increasing” and “purple” how do you work that into the story? Maybe you looked for guards in the market place and you spot a storm trooper hitting a vagrant in the face with the butt of his rifle? The increasing purple in this instance will be the bruising from the vagrants black eye.

Sometimes an emulator will tell you to introduce an NPC. That is just as open to interpretation as everything else. What ‘NPC’ means could be anything from an innocent bystander, the sort of NPC that doesn’t even have a name through named recurring individuals to entire organisations such as guilds or agencies.

So when it is your turn to be GM you describe the scene in the game for the characters and advance the story. As soon as a question come up you pass the emulator to the next player and they roll for the answer and continue the story. The basic mechanism for an GM is “Describe the scene” and ask “What do you do?”, that doesn’t change it is just that the GM Emulator is an outside influence and can take the story in completely new and unexpected directions.

In the next instalment I will show you how an emulator really works and to make it more interesting I will create an emulator specifically for the article. It will be based around the d66 as a nod to all the time I spent reading up on Mutant:Year Zero!

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