Friday, 13 September 2013

There is Nothing Wrong with Being Told What to Do. (Learn to Love a GM on the Tabletop)

If you dont know who this is i pity you your crappy childhood.

If you read my recent article about the origins of Rogue Trader (below) you would have heard me mention the role of games master. You are more likely to find games masters involved with RPGs than tabletop miniature games. In fact I am hard pressed to think of any miniatures game that required a games master since Warhammer Quest! Players are far more autonomous in tabletop miniature games and most people wouldn’t see the need for a games master even if one was available.

But why not?! If you are serious about your hobby and your gaming then why wouldn’t you entertain the idea of a games master? At its most basic level a games master is an arbiter. They oversee the game and pronounce judgments on rules queries. They allow a game not to be bogged down in petty arguments or misunderstandings as long as they behave impartially. That means a quicker game with possibly more time for another.

At the other end of the spectrum the games master is an active participant in the game. They may have designed the scenario that is being played. They may activate various in game effects that add extra challenges for the players. They may even control a small force of their own that are part of an objective. The possibilities for a games master are only limited by imagination and how much you are willing to let them get away with.
It's not about who wins

Although in their role of arbiter a games master has a role to play in competitive play the games master is really a tool for enhancing your games narrative. They provide an opportunity to shake up your usual play style and offer the chance to try something different and memorable, as long as they are up to the task! 

Allen and I have talked at length about the difference between competitive players and non-competitive players. We are both firmly in the non-competitive camp. Whilst we like to win (who doesn’t?) we don’t believe in winning at the expense of enjoying the game. Some people want to use the hobby as a sport, a contest of one-up-manship which is fine if you can pit yourself against like minded players. Unfortunately for 40k, this is not really practical as 40k is not designed to be a truly competitive game. Codex creep is too prevalent for an equal playing field. The newest army, most likely the newest 3+ armoured army wins. If 40k were a video game Space Marines would be playing it on the easy setting, Space Marines with a special character would be very easy and Grey Knights with Guard allies led by Draigo would be the tutorial level. 

Some of us just like making our toys look awesome then getting a chance to play with them on the table. Why should our models not have back stories and personalities and if they do then why not showcase that through narrative play. Enter the games master!

What opportunities do you see?

So you are thinking about giving games mastery a try and maybe you are thinking you have what it takes. What are your options? Well start small. Choose an existing scenario and tweak it. Have you got a striking or interesting piece of scenery? Perhaps you could theme a board? From there what armies will be playing? Can you come up with a narrative objective that is compelling enough that both forces have their reason for wanting to play? 

Let’s think of an example. A world has recently been freed from the yoke of Ork dominion. The Orks enslaved the population for 30 years Terran standard using them as work fodder where even Gretchin would boss them around. Runt herdz grew rich in teeth and influence on the trade of ‘oomie’ labour. The most notorious of these runt herdz, Manmangler Grotbasher managed to escape the final purge of the Ork’s last strong hold on the planet and escape to one of the many now abandoned mine workings dotting the landscape. A strike force of Space Marines has been tasked with cleansing the mine network and putting an end to the Ork menace.

First off you are going to need a themed board. Lots of rocky outcrops and abandoned mine equipment. Getting together with your friends you could plan out a smattering of terrain projects you could work on to give that extra level of detail to the board. A drilling machine, a rail line with half full ore buckets. Not only will it look great but it will expand your terrain collection.

Next is force composition. Underground fighting creates problems for both forces. Obviously there will be no flyers, jump or jet pack troops or skimmers. Dreadnoughts though walkers could pose a danger of a cave in with their heavy tread. Space Marines would want to avoid this but the Orks might not care so a few Killa-cans wouldn’t be out of place though what you are looking at is mostly an all infantry battle.

Space Marines would want to use scouts to map ahead of the main advance with Terminators being on point as close quarter tunnel fighting is their speciality. Orks would have a lot of Gretchin units as the Runt herdz were the most powerful force on this particular planet. Main lines of advance could be covered by big guns that would need to be charged in order to clear a path.

As if they need any more protection

As this is a special scenario why not introduce some new units to add even more depth? Terminator armour is supposed to be rare so perhaps limit terminators to one unit and bolster their numbers with siege shield armoured marines. The Orks could field squads of ravenous cave squigs which are the only units on the board that can deep strike with a chance to charge on the turn they arrive.

During play as games master you could give each player secret orders they must complete to gain additional victory points and control earthquakes, cave-ins and grumpy cave monsters. Ambulls anyone?

If that doesn't gear you up for some narrative led mischief what will?

And that was just off the top of my head. With some forethought and preparation you could be on your way to really enriching your hobby and play time. Give it a try and let us know how you got on.


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