School Colors Out Of Space: GMing

The most important thing to remember about GMing is that your players are there to have fun, and if they don't have fun, they won't come back. Maximizing fun for all concerned is therefore a far more important goal of GMing style than any philosophical or artistic point you might want to make, and the following advice is intended to support that.

Every player has a uniquely twisted definition of "fun", but these three principles are broad enough that they will probably apply to most games.

The rest of this advice, although still fairly general, is only a starting point at best: try it out on your players, keep what works, and have no regrets about discarding what doesn't.

Comedy

As the sages have said, "Dying is easy. Now comedy, that's hard.". However, if you have to set yourself on fire to get a laugh, you may wish to consider finding less jaded players.

More helpfully, the advice on running a comedy game in the TFOS book is pretty much all good. It also all copyrighted, so will not be reproduced here. Give R Talsorian some money, if you haven't already; it's a good game.

There are some trivial differences in genre between TFOS and SCOOS, however, which may necessitate small amendments to the TFOS guidelines, or at least more thought on certain issues.

First, Lovecraft's work is full of gory dismemberments, unspeakable transformations, and assorted other ickiness. Although the combat system doesn't permit anyone to die on-screen, it should probably be possible for NPCs to meet horrible fates off-screen, and then be talked ill of. An line like "Of course she doesn't like you! You sacrificed her last three boyfriends to the Outer Gods!" has some humorous potential, but actually seeing the character in question tie someone to an altar and cut their gizzard out probably doesn't. Of course, you and your players could be real sickos, in which case feel free to ignore the above.

Similarly, Howie's writing is full of orgiastic rituals, unwholesome couplings, and miscellaneous breeding, or at least the bits between the lines are. Now, the TFOS rules point out, and rightly so, that sexual frustration is funnier than sex. On the other hand, no one who has read XXXenophile can doubt that sex can be funny, especially when strange alien customs and anatomy are involved ("Eww! You kill your lovers and eat their brains after sex? How do you ever get a second date?" "You don't harvest your mate's RNA? How do you pass on the ancestral hive memories to your larvae?"). On a final appendage, though, Phil Foglio is a professional funny person. Of course, you and your players could be real perverts, in which case feel free to ignore the above.

On a related note, as mentioned in the characters section (which you did read before attempting to GM, right?), romance is an important part of SCOOS, and monster characters should be visually and maybe even physiologically suited for it. Since Lovecraftian monsters tend to be repulsive and terrifying even when not actively dismembering someone, this might take some doing. The obvious approach is to say the character has assumed or been given an essentially humanoid if somewhat peculiar shape (like Masura)in order to fit in; she may or may not be able to resume her true form with Monster Out. Not all monsters have to be this way, of course, especially if they are NPCs just there to be beaten up.

Miscellaneous Advice

Consistency is not as important in a comedic game as it might be in others, since it is accepted that some things will exist or happen for their comic effect. Plus, the genre provides the all purpose excuse for why things are different now than last session: "The stars were (or weren't) right!". However, too much inconsistency erodes the players' ability to roleplay, as they become unable to predict the possible effects of various actions and thus unable to make meaningful decisions, so don't get carried away.

Likewise, the relative power of characters is not as important, since being funny is a better way to get screen time than merely being useful. You should still keep an eye out for players who attempt to give their characters the Perk Get Away With Anything, the Knack Win With Style, the Power Omnipotent, or the Spell Summon Outer God Who Will Do Anything I Want, lest it become impossible to give them any meaningful challenges.

Balancing screen time among players requires social skills that are beyond the scope of this document.

Some will advise you to never give the PCs a chance to discuss or plan anything. This is bad advice for at least two and a half reasons. First, many players like planning. It gives them a chance to be clever personally, and to show off their character's personality. Also, achieving victory by executing a clever plan is much more satisfying than failing around making rolls until the GM thinks one of them is highe enough and hands you the reward. Second, character discussion, and player commentary thereon, is a great source of ideas. If you find yourself in the completely unprecedented situation of not having prepared every detail of the adventure ahead of time, swipe the best idea from your players that fits into the gap, file off the serial numbers, and run with it. Even if you are prepared, you'll need at least one idea, and probably several, for the next session.

However, it is true that you should not let the players bog down in detailed planning or irrelevent discussion. If this seems likely to happen, spur them into action. Sometimes just reminding them that game time is passing will do the trick, other times you will have to have the plot actively assault them. As the old screenwriter's adage says, "When things slow down, send in a mi-go with a mist projector".

When you have to produce a difficulty number out of thin air, the first thing to look at is whether you can legitimately base it on any opposing NPC's (or even PC's) Ability+Knack. That character doesn't have to be present; someone could have set up the situation directly or indirectly. For example, the difficulty of suborning a computer system can reasonably be set equal to the Erudition+Master Hacker of whoever set it up. If this doesn't give you an answer, or the character in question is one you haven't written up, consider the five standard difficulties:

If you're really completely unable to fairly or humorously determine a difficulty number, you can set it equal to the character's action value, giving them even odds (approximately). Excess use of this resort turns the game into Coin-Toss Dungeon, though, which is probably not funny.

Unlike TFOS, SCOOS does not have an explicit When Too Much Is Too Much rule, but the same principle applies. Letting the PCs dig their own graves and then giving them enough rope to hang themselves is definitely funny. It's even better if they carefully survey the site, steal heavy machinery to do the excavation, and braid the rope themselves.

Adjectives are very important to the Lovecraftian feel ("The narrator flees inland, taking his adjectives with him."). Some good ones are: obscene, unspeakable, blasphemous, inconceivable, eldritch, monstrous, abhuman, abnormal, abominable, degenerate, unnatural, and abnatural.

Advancement & Reward

It is important to have a response ready for the inevitable plaintive cries of "Eep? Eep?" at the end of every session, but there are many possible ways to let characters improve.

The traditional way is to allow characters to increase the numbers on their character sheet (Abilities, Knacks, etc). Realistically speaking, the faculties a character has spent fifteen years developing aren't going to be improved significantly by an afternoon of stark terror, but what does realism have to do with SCOOS?

Handing out a character point every session (to be added to the original 55) is simple, but increases character power rapidly: four sessions is enough to raise an Ability from 4 to 6, or buy a new Knack at +4. This is not necessarily a problem, since you can increase the challenges to match, but may undermine the notion that a 6 Ability or +4 Knack is impressively good.

More moderately, you could give out advancement points, which like character points can be spent to increase character abilities, but only in larger numbers. To increase an Ability, Knack, Power, or Perk by one point takes advancement points equal to the new value, times 2 for Perk or times 3 for a Power or Ability (plus a good excuse). Decreasing a Flaw takes twice as many advancement points as its current value.

Or you can just hand out increases directly, when you think the character's actions (including off-screen, between-sessions behavior) warrant: if someone's been training for the football team, it's reasonable that a Knack related to football, or even his Fighting, will increase eventually. This runs the risk of character power becoming linked directly to player blarney, though.

There are plenty of other rewards you can give characters. Spells are good, because they're simultaneously useful, tempting, and self-limiting (due to Mojo and Sanity costs). You still need to beware of the spell Solve All Problems Instantly and its variants, of course.

Characters can be rewarded materially, by getting to keep whatever cool stuff they found on the adventure, or socially, by becoming famous or getting favors owed to them. From your perspective, these sorts of rewards have the advantage that they can be taken away easily if they cause problems: money runs out, toys get lost/stolen/broken/exhausted, fame is fleeting, and favors get used up or forgotten.

And, of course, saving the world is its own reward.

Sources Of Inspiration

The two main sources on which SCOOS is based are the role-playing game Teenagers From Outer Space, now in its third edition from R Talsorian Games, and the collectible card game Mythos, by Chaosium. TFOS is primarily inspired by Rumiko Takahashi's anime/manga Urusei Yatsura (roughly, "Those annoying aliens), available as subtitled anime, and in manga form as The Return Of Lum, from um somebody. Viz, probably. Mythos is the CCG variant of Chaosium's RPG Call Of Cthulhu (now in edition 5.5), which in turn is based on the writings of Howard Lovecraft and those who carried on the tradition after his death. Lovecraft's works are still in print; the Mythos stories by other authors are less available, and typically not as good.

To get the SCOOS spirit, try reading Lovecraft stories alternating issues of Return of Lum (or while watching Urusei Yatsura), or playing Mythos with the sort of people who talk in funny accents when they get to low Sanity, and reading the TFOS rules between turns.


This file was last modified at 1635 on 22Jun99 by trip@idiom.com.