GM beginners' guide, part one, first draft (long)

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GM beginners' guide, part one, first draft (long)

#1 Post by AndyStaples » Sun Mar 02, 2003 8:39 pm

This is incomplete, and focuses on (a) the real basics and (b) the Grand Campaign. I plan to add sections on moderate power campaigns and using the background material next.

Comments and criticisms invited.

The Beginners' GUide to GMing Harn -- first draft


This guide assumes (a) you've GMed fantasy games before, but are new to Harn and (b) you own only the basic HarnWorld regional module. You've probably read it and been thinking, "Wow, great detail, but where are the adventures? How do I turn this into something I can use in my games?" These are the questions we hope to answer. We do not assume you will be using the HarnMaster rules, or any other specific set of rules; we aim to give generic advice.

The first thing to understand is that Harn is written with a subtle touch. Numerous adventure possibilities are hinted at within the source material, but few are made obvious, they don't seem to affect ordinary life in Harn and most seem to be held "in abeyance". This brings us to the second important point: the writers and publishers of Harn have made a commitment that they will never publish official material which takes Harn beyond the default starting date of 720TR.

This has a couple of major effects. Harn requires your creative input as GM to turn it into a living, breathing FRP world; you can run pretty much any kind of adventure or campaign you want in Harn; and once you've started the campaign clock ticking, you don't have to worry that some future publication will supercede your own invention.

There's a common misconception that Harn is a low-fantasy world. It isn't. Harn has as many high-fantasy elements as it does low-fantasy elements. It has detailed feudal societies, and it has dragons. It has medieval crop rotation systems, and it has a god, and at least one demi-god, living on the island. Whether your Harn is low-fantasy or high-fantasy is simply a matter of what you choose to emphasise; Harn itself is flexible. The 'default' level in the published material tends to emphasise the low-fnatasy elements because it's much easier for you to add the high-fantasy elements you want then it would be for you to remove them were high-fantasy the default and you wanted to play a low-fantasy game.

Before we plunge headlong into finding adventures, let's consider one last general point: Harn doesn't seem to have a place for the general adventuring party. There are no adventurers' outfitting shops, definitely no magic shops, and there don't seem to be any "adventuring parties" among the background PCs. This is true. Fighters, thieves, clerics and wizards seem to lead very different lives on Harn, so it's rare they come together, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. If your players want to play diverse character types, you can accomodate them easily enough -- and a little time spent thinking about how this unusual band came together may well reward you with some adventure ideas.

Finding the adventures in Harn is really just a matter of getting your eye in (or acquiring the mind-set). It goes without saying that you can run any number of generic FRP stock adventures -- rescue the missing person, find the mystical doo-dad, save the village from attackers and so on -- but here we're concerned about finding specifically Harnic adventures.

The way I do this is to read the source material. When I come across something that catches my interest, I make a note of it (you can use a notebook, or a post-it sticker attached to the relevant page, or just make a mental note). I let these interesting items percolate round my brain for a bit, considering possible ways to use them, and the ones that strike me as particularly fruitful I develop into fully-fledged scenarios. I call these three stages "A-ha!", "What if..." and "The game's afoot!".

I'll give an example: flicking through HarnWorld, we find some pages of introduction on the topography, and cultures of Harn, soem notes on government, rural life and town life. All of this is good background, but hardly the stuff of adventure. There's some stuff on guilds, religions (we're keeping reading the Harn article, not digressing into Kethira or Lythia -- that odd organisation is because Harn's designed so you can cut it up and organise it into folders; some people do, others don't). Hmmm... the kethiran family? Planar travel is an option, then. Let's save that for later. Aha! Mysterious Ancient Race (Harn 21). Ancient artifacts... godstones... scattered ruins... this has potential. It's a little too grand in scale for the opening of a campaign, though, so I make a note and move on (maybe the campaign will turn out to be to do with the Earthmasters eventually, but not yet...), arrival of the elves, dwarves, humans, founding of Melderyn... hang on, it says here that Medleryn has exerted little *obvious* influence on Harn. It doesn't say no influence. Why the qualification? Perhaps there's something covert going on here... that's got potential. Hmmm... Wizards' Isle, occasional visits to the mainland... there's definitely something going on. Let's backtrack a moment -- on the previous page it says some people believe the Earthmasters never left, but withdrew to Melderyn where their descendants live to this day... an idea for a campaign is beginnign to form.

Let's read on: Lothrim the Foulspawner -- hmm, renegade mage from Melderyn (there's those magi again). Hmmm... Lothrim chose an Earthmaster site for his capital... imported the gargun... riegn of terror... Kills every dwarf in Kiraz (note to self: we have a deserted dwarven city out there... Moria, anyone?)... hmmm, Lothrim cast alive into tomb with a dozen starving gargun -- it doesn't actually say he died, does it?

Let's take this Earthmaster/Melderyn/Lothrim thing and move to the "What if..." What if Lothrim was really one of the good guys... that would make these mysterious magi, possibly descended from the Earthmasters, the bad guys, right? And, whatever happened to Lothrim, these mysterious magi are still around, pulling their strings in the background like the Illuminati of old... we need to know more, though, so let's look up "Melderyn" in HarnDex. One of the first things we find is mention of real power being held, not by the king, but a group known as the "Council of Eleven", a msyterious body of scholars... perhaps these are our mysterious Illuminati. It says they have a benign influence on Harn -- but we want them to be bad guys. Well, history's written by the victors, isn't it? Perhaps they just want you to think they're benign...

This has the potential for a really grand campaign. We've blended several story arcs (the Earthmasters, Lothrim, the Council of Eleven) into a big conspiracy theory. There's a long way to go -- we don't know what the Council is really up to, for instance, and we haven't yet got any idea how to turn this into specific adventures, but those are details. A little work and they'll come to fruition. We know our campaign is going to involve exploring Earthmaster ruins, finding Earthmaster artifacts, working out what really happened to Lothrim (and why), and that the party will be opposed by mysterious magi from Melderyn. The backbone structure of the campaign is in place.

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#2 Post by Leitchy » Sun Mar 02, 2003 9:16 pm

Nice.

I see the next section as being the discussion of PCs and how they might come together to participate in the grand conspiracy.

I'd also solicit ideas from the forum on an appendix of ideas from HarnWorld. I mean, off the top of my pointy little head, there's
  • the Kaldoran Succession Crisis,
    Free Jara,
    the rebuilding of an independent Chybisa,
    the Solora Crusade,
    Kanday v Rethem,
    Kanday v Tharda,
    Rethem v Tharda,
    Rethemi Civil War,
    internal Thardan politics,
    guarding caravans,
    merchant adventures,
    Ilviran pilgrimmage,
    ........
And probably many I've forgotten about.
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#3 Post by AndyStaples » Sun Mar 02, 2003 9:49 pm

Leitchy wrote:I see the next section as being the discussion of PCs and how they might come together to participate in the grand conspiracy.
Fair point. I'll work on this next, then.
And probably many I've forgotten about.
Gargun swarms
Yelgri
Hunting the meredragons
The Sindar
Bejist
Barbarian raids

The list, though not endless, is certainly extensive.

There's also the list of adventure kernels from HarnView (1st edition) that never made it into the second edition HarnWorld -- Ridow, Sword of Calsten, the Penultimate Tome, etc.

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#4 Post by Sir Eldaen » Sun Mar 02, 2003 10:23 pm

Although this is supposed to be a document for the GM, I'd yet strongly recommend that there be some guidelines as to how the GM may get his players.

I suppose we agree that this may be one of the major problems - there are quite some GMs out there who'd love to run a game but just don't seem to get enough players together. Personally, I think a section on "How to catch you some players" would be a good thing to have. A short article on how to best convince people to give Hârn a try and to describe the advantages of the world - to tell potential players what they might expect and what they will probably not see. Best would be to even tell why certain things are the way they are on Hârn...

I hope you all catch my drift?

I also think that listing some possible adventures/campaigns is a good thing, but that should be limited to some short paragraphs. Personally, I'd very much like if this document stays as generic as possible.

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#5 Post by Darius » Mon Mar 03, 2003 1:16 am

Interesting stuff.

Am I assuming correctly that this is going to be an ARTICLE (like, 10 pages or so) and not a full publication? Or are we reviewing essentially the INTRODUCTION here to something larger?

I'd be happy to pull all of this into an official-looking Hârn document for you when you're finished.
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#6 Post by AndyStaples » Mon Mar 03, 2003 2:09 am

Sir Eldaen wrote:A short article on how to best convince people to give Hârn a try and to describe the advantages of the world - to tell potential players what they might expect and what they will probably not see. Best would be to even tell why certain things are the way they are on Hârn...

I hope you all catch my drift?
I do indeed, and I think this would be a good addition to the guide. Do you want to work something up? My old gaming group is scattered to the winds, and we meet up once a blue moon to play, so I'm not the best to do an "acquiring new players" piece.
I also think that listing some possible adventures/campaigns is a good thing, but that should be limited to some short paragraphs. Personally, I'd very much like if this document stays as generic as possible.
I agree. I want to do a couple of "work-throughs" -- one Grand Campaign, the other more mundane, low-fantasy -- as examples on how to use the source material. Peter's idea on presenting some common themes and ideas can be done in a short paragraph or two each, leaving people to their own devices on how to develop them.

Oh, I also want to point out in the "work-through" examples that this is just one interpretation -- I know of campaigns where Lothirm's long gone, others where there's a successor (or pretender) to his power, some where Lothrim was a Morgathian priest, and so on.

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#7 Post by Sir Eldaen » Mon Mar 03, 2003 2:13 am

Assumed that you do not expect anything tomorrow, I would gladly contribute. :) I'll work something up ASAP and then post it in this thread for further discussion. This might be a good opportunity to clear up with the widespread rumours and prejudices about the "exciting world of Hârnic chicken-keeping"...? :wink:
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#8 Post by AndyStaples » Mon Mar 03, 2003 3:48 am

Sir Eldaen wrote:Assumed that you do not expect anything tomorrow, I would gladly contribute. :)
There's no particular rush. My own posting is going to be haphazard, ebcause my girlfriend's moved in with me this weekend. The only reason I've posted as much for the last couple of days is (a) I get up around 6am and (b) she gets up around 9 or 10am.

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#9 Post by Keith Mann » Mon Mar 03, 2003 11:38 am

AndyStaples wrote:my girlfriend's moved in with me this weekend.
And we all know what that means, don't we, eh? Know whatahmean, know whatahmean, nudge nudge, know whatahmean, say no more? A nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat! ;)
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Catching Players?

#10 Post by Will Kilmer » Mon Mar 03, 2003 12:23 pm

My game has been running since 1991 and until last August had two of the original players, then Joe moved to Texas and I'm down to the one I'm married to. Meanwhile about a dozen people have come and gone in the game and my current table sits at four regulars and one occasional drop in. People graduate, get married, get jobs, have babies, move etc. etc. Though why any of this should interfere with my game...

That does, howver, bring up a piece of adivice. If you live with people, get them interested in the game by leaving your stuff, especially maps, in view. Explain what they are and how they can be used in a game when you are asked. You will be asked.

If possible, do the same thing at work. Bring in some stuff, maps again, and just leave them on the desk. People will look and they will ask.

Also, hanging out in a game store with in store gamming tables, especially one that carries Harn, with some of your stuff open on the table. You can actually work on planning your campaign, though I bet not for long. Sit where people can look over your shoulder. When you sense a presence say, "Hi, and make nice."

Wargamming has been a source of players over the years for me, and other GMs I know. If you wargame with CGI products (hooked on Bobby Lee/ Sam Grant double game 1861 myself) you have an opportunity to introduce Harn in your table talk. Someone may be interested.

Play a lot. I will play as long as two players besides myself can make it. The fact that people know that I am more likely to be playing than not playing any given Thursday means that if somebody's conflict clears up at the last minute they will check in or show up rather than write it off.

Encourage current players to recruit new players. If you like the players you have, chances are the ones they bring you will be a good fit to the mix too.

Have some NPCs you can throw to a guest ready to go. Also, let people sit in and just watch if they want. But, especially, give them a character to play and get them in the action quick. You can go through generating a permanent character for them if they decide they want one. Though, I have some people a couple of years later still playing the NPC I handed them the first night.

If you have fewer than five regular players, you do not have enough. Keep looking. Someone will be absent. Someone will fall in love or be sent to Seattle for six months. If someone seems likely, or pleasant but unlikely, bring up Harn, it couldn't hurt.

My 2d.

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#11 Post by tdn » Tue Apr 15, 2003 4:17 am

Keith Mann wrote:
AndyStaples wrote:my girlfriend's moved in with me this weekend.
And we all know what that means, don't we, eh? Know whatahmean, know whatahmean,
Yep. No more Harn until Andy has cleaned the dishes and trimmed the hedges.

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#12 Post by Sir Mellestin » Mon Dec 22, 2003 8:21 pm

I really enjoyed this two threats of you, Andy. Will there be a sequel?
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#13 Post by AndyStaples » Tue Dec 23, 2003 5:01 am

Sir Mellestin wrote:I really enjoyed this two threats of you, Andy. Will there be a sequel?
Hopefully, but life is very, very hectic at the moment, and is likely to remain so until the beginning of February.

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#14 Post by hrafn » Tue Dec 23, 2003 6:24 am

Ah yes, life can be threatening... ;)
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#15 Post by Leitchy » Tue Dec 23, 2003 10:04 am

...and, ultimately, fatal. :)
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Finding new players after you move

#16 Post by Hârniac » Thu Feb 05, 2004 9:13 am

The things Will Kilmer lists are very useful. I played Harn since 1988 but after I moved to the U.S. in 1999 from Sweden I have not gotten around to get a game going. I am now starting to take steps to remedy this realizing just how much I miss gaming Harn. So I have a list of about 15 friends/acquaintances whom I will contact this Sat, I expect 0-5 to respond positively. The local game store seems like a good idea. Any more ideas on this topic are very welcome. I am looking for players in the Minneapolis, MN area.

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