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MoonHunter Sayeth 20180316


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
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Stages, Casts, Major and Minor Characters
A way to distribute the GM's workload and do more gaming, faster. (*3)

It is as easy as 1, 2, 3

One rule I have always strived to follow (ever since my early mistakes):

In every game session, every player should be doing something (game related) as often as effectively possible.

Two things I have always said

1) The GM is just another player, but with editorial controls. The GM can edit what other players do and gets the last say as to what happens.

2) That any gamer can GM to some degree. It is true. Once you have seen how it is done, you can do it.

Three things to keep in mind....

1) There are many stages the game can take place. A stage is a combination of "section of the setting" and "situation". It is where the characters' action takes place.

2) There are protagonist characters (PCs) and non-protagonist characters (NPC) for every stage the game takes place on. Otherwise it gets very boring.

3) The Main GM does not have to run every non-protagonist character.
This last statement seems shocking to many players, but it is true.

Now, putting these six points together, just like I did in one of my favorite game sessions, can expand your play greatly.
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Now I use the terms protagonist character and non-protagonist character. It is closer to their purpose. I also add the terms Major and Minor to PCs and NCPs. Major characters are the ones that only one player or only the GM will be running. It is their runners' major focus of the game. (It is not completely tied to their importance to the chronicle). Minor ones are "other characters" that in most games the GM runs, but really anyone could. Just some clarification that will make some of this easier to grok. (Now... I am not 100% happy with the major/minor modifier... when I find a better adjective set I will modify this post.)

Let me address a term that is new, but at the same time familiar, to most gamers.

Stages (a concept from Convergence Point).
Each character exists on a stage. It is where the action of the game is happening in play. The stage is usually a smaller part of a bigger setting. Some are regular sets (Engineering, the Bridge, and Sickbay on a starship); some are temporary (the rooftops for a chase scene or the planet of the moment).

Many of the Stages are shared, all the characters can be there (like The Bridge or the Hall of Heroes conference room). Temporary stages are there for the characters that are there. They are where the characters are, thus where the action can be happening. (Where we set down on the alien planet, the alien castle, or for superheroes The Bank being robbed.)

Now some characters have characters stages that revolve around them (orbits them). For a Starship Medical Officer, it would be The Sickbay or their quarters. For a super hero it would be their home, neighborhood hang out, or their work.

Now these seems interesting and academic, but all of you are wondering why this is important?

Because there are often more characters on a given stage than protagonist characters.

There is often a cast of characters in the scene/stage, most of which don't do much or say anything. (Mostly because the GM has to play all those characters and only focuses on one or two.)

It is a shame. Sometimes those other people could of been of interest.

It is The Cast of Characters that the Troupe of Players can help with.

Given the conventional way of things, one or two players on a given stage will be monopolizing the GM's time and throughput. (And the GM has to play all those other/ non protagonist characters.) This leaves four to three (or N (number of players) minus the number of PCs on stage) players just sitting around. Hopefully they will be watching the play at hand, engrossed by the game. But usually they are bored, distracted, reading their own material, and so on. Especially if the scene goes on and on or it is a "secret scene" that they will never know anything about.

Now this situation gets even worse for players with their own stages and non protagonist characters in those stages. "I go do some work in Sickbay/ or Work" means either 1) The Game stops for every other player or 2) The character's own world gets ignored. (I have all these plot lines tied to my job, my secret id, and my girlfriend... and they never come up!)

So, The MoonHunter Way to do this is to assign other players to non protagonist characters in the scene. A little stage direction, some character notes/ goals, and these other players are ready to go. It gives them a chance to do something meaningful during scenes their characters are not there. It adds complexity and color to the scene, because the GM is not pressed to do everything all at once (and can distribute the work load if combat occurs).

Plus the other players can get to have fun with it. The advantage of them being NPCs is that nobody is (too) invested in them, so you can trade them around or even not care if they get exposed to the space virus and die. Those other characters will be there for those scene/ stages.

Note: You can give the NPCs character sheets or just a couple of notes, their goals for the scene, and mechanical bits like skill rolls are 11-, except for gambling and lying which are 14-. It is what your group is comfortable with; but remember these are characters you will be playing for all of 5-15 minutes... so do you need a whole sheet? And Yes, you can take people aside from the table and "give them their roles", so certain things can be a surprise. It is up to your GM style.

Yes, the GM might still be running The Key NPC character in the scene. This is not an abdication of responsibility, it is a distribution of it. After all, players can play any character, in the short run, given a nudge.
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Now most roleplay scenes do not need a GM, especially if the GM is not running a character. If you have enough players, you can set up two or more stages at once. This gives everyone some play time and the GM can concentrate on the scene/ stage they need to.

If you need to, you can set up an aGM (Assistant GM) (*1) for any Stage in play. You are not asking someone to take over All the GM duties. You are asking them to step in if anyone needs rules help or combat moderation. (If they are inclined, they can do narration and description of the scene or events.) My combat monster is a great GM in combat situations, better than me in some ways. If the Assistant GM/ Stage GM needs help or wants advice, they can always talk to the regular GM.

If you are all very comfortable with it, The Assistant GM of that stage can move beyond that one scene and follow the action as it goes. YMMV.
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Note: When the groups all return to the table and the central game stage, The GM usually ask for a quick debrief on any scene they were not watching. This ensures that the GM know what actually happens in the chronicle.

I award bonus EPs/ XPs/ skill checks/ drama points for players who take on these side characters. (They are rewards for quality, quantity, and effectiveness of play after all.) The points can be used on any character they played on a given night, but usually are used for their Major characters.

You should too. If they do a good job. It also helps motivate players into playing these NPCs.

For temporary stages, this entire process makes for a fuller game. If certain temporary stages come up again or a specific NPC that they played before The Player might even want to reprise their role. This would upgrade a NPC to a Major NPC.
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For Personal Stages, the Cast of Characters and Stage concept makes the game run smoother. Characters should have their own places and people, their own stages and NPCs (or maybe minor PCs). These are places that fit the character. They may not be used every sessions but they will be handy to have on tap. They can start as notes, then have more details added as needed.

As a GM I love this. Players help make my setting. They provide things that they want to see in the chronicle. (*2)

When setting up Starship campaigns in this way, every player's Primary/ Main character is in a position of power in each section (Engineering, Fighter/Hanger, Medical, Weapons Systems, Command). No matter the chronicle, every primary character needs to have orbit characters... characters that surround the character on that stage. These are coworkers, (crew in a starship game), but they can be other people (buddy, lover, mentor, odd friend, etc). It is best to have that player make up these extras, often with input from the GM and the troupe.

The Medical Officer in a five player group will have "the other doctor", two nurses, the biology lab tech, and that one guy who is always hurt and in med bay. These are all minor characters, unless otherwise determined.

Firemaster has two stages: Station with a few firemen from, plus a fire chief. He has a local bar which is his stage. His girlfriend and a bartender friend.. plus random patrons.

Now sometimes there are personal scenes on those stages, and these characters will either be a part of them or be in the background. Sometimes there are dramatic scenes that will happen in those stages. (So when the Medical Officer is playing out a medical crisis, we have NPCs right there premade and sometimes even preplayed.)

Sometimes, the small world rules will be invoked, and those stage related characters might be tapped for other situations. So the ship hits some weird space anomaly you will have have several stages going at once, with limited characters in each one. (Small world rule means that your friend will be the one caught in the trouble.)

The GM has players who are not involved in a scene run the NPCs in most most scenes. They aren't doing anything else, so it gives them something to do and makes the scenes more colorful and interesting.

Now some players will want to play certain NPCs; or certain players want certain other players to play certain NPCs. (I am only comfortable with James running my girl friend). They will make those NPCs Major. The troupe will need to work out how they want to lay claims to characters.

There are also some other characters which are "heroes" or like the players. They could be a major player character, but are not. They are Minor PCs. The GM and players could make a few of these characters (some might use them as Stage related characters). They could be borrowed as a character for a situation by a player who can't have their character on stage for some reason. Someday they might be upgraded to a major character.
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Stages and Casts of Characters are a great technique to use. It provides more options for the GM and the players.

The number one use is to help speed play along. More can get done in the same amount of time, with nothing lost.

The number two reason, is it ensures that players are always playing. It reduces "dead time" to near zero.

The number three reason is that it provides a useful way to "frame" creating a setting/ chronicle. It makes the players involved in setting creation, ensuring that there are things they enjoy in the chronicle.

See, 1, 2, 3 - it is just that simple.

You slowly pull your players into using techniques... Starting with the temporary stages - playing many stages at once. Then expanding it to regular stages and personal stages. Players will be engaged by all of this. Slowly players will be more comfortable with an aGM in play. Once all the elements are in place, the group begins to play that starship game (or any game) at the Speed of Light...

....more scenes, more action, and more roleplaying in the same amount of time... all with elements the players wanted to see in the chronicle.

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(*0) Yes this article replaces Many Hands and Orbit Characters. Think of it as a more advanced version, with that post a stepping stone to this point.
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(*1) Assistant GMs or aGMs. (Some people call them mini-GMs). These are players that the GM taps to run some aspect of their game. Normally they are assigned a stage or a job. Some will use full GMing abilities (narrate, modify the setting a little, add NPCs) others will just feel comfortable moderating rules. (In some games an aGM might be in charge of magic (keeping track of stars, time of year, and magic modifiers) or Combat (See Combat Monster running combat.) As long as they don't go overboard, it will be fine. The GM is just another player, but with editorial controls. Other players can add little things to the game... items in a room, new places in the setting, extra conflicts, new NPCs - allies or enemies- from their past, and so on. All with the GM's permission of course, but that is just editorial control.
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(*2) You can design your chronicle using The Stage and Cast of Characters Model. (This is still The MoonHunter Way just with different bit requirements and a change in the organizational paradigm). You will have your regular stages. Your Starship Chronicle for example. players in this game would have several characters - Officers would be full characters and their primary/major PCs. Others would be partially created NPCs that the players may opt to run, if that stage is where the action is (Sickbay, Engineering, Fighter/Hanger people, and maybe some others. Each stage would have its key PC, and associated orbit characters.

These Stages could be things you see for the game. However, they could be from the Bits you collect with the MoonHunter Way.

But you can do it for other kinds of chronicles or expand the officers crews. There might be other stages that you can play on. So you can have the official leaders of a place and their stages/ stage NPCs/ Orbits. You could have a teenager stage, with their kids and various kids. You could have another group of the religious or some minority group or the poor. You could have The Gang Stage (who are normally the bad guys of the chronicle). Every character would make up a character for these "stages". The players would make things up for the regular scenes. The GM will probably be doing the work for any temporary stages.
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(*3) Blog Post delayed due to rain and cold blitzing our connections up here on The Hills.
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