In any role-playing game, Game Mastering can be the most challenging – and rewarding – role a player can accept. The GM’s job is to oversee the storytelling, keep the scenes engaging, and ensure that everyone has fun. GMs are leaders, but their mission should be to lead alongside the players – more like a guide – than to rule over the action with an iron fist.
As a Game Master, it can not only be difficult to know where to start, but where to draw the line as well. This section is devoted to Game Masters of all skill levels, but particularly aimed at new GMs who need a little bit of help getting started with interactive storytelling and role-playing.
- 1 Where to Begin?
- 2 Adventure Crafting
- 3 Plenty of Planning
- 4 Free-form Storytelling
- 5 You Don’t Have to Choose
- 6 Knowing and Using the Rules
- 7 More on “Fudging It”
- 8 Running a Game
- 9 Creating Characters – Individual or Group Creation
- 9.1 Creating the Setting – Group Creation
- 9.2 Getting Adventurous
- 9.3 Adjudicating Skill Checks
- 9.4 Lacking Appropriate Skills
- 9.5 Setting Difficulty Levels
- 9.6 Glitches – The GM’s Luck Points
- 9.7 NPCs and Villains
- 9.8 Contacts and Other Important NPCs
- 9.9 Hostile NPCs
- 9.10 Powerful NPCs
- 9.11 Wonderful NPCs
- 9.12 Phenomenal NPCs
- 9.13 Extraordinary NPCs
- 9.14 Astonishing NPCs
- 9.15 Other Notes
- 9.16 Non-Human NPCs
- 9.17 Powerful NPCs and Luck Points
- 9.18 Spoils of War
- 9.19 Death and Dying
- 9.20 Raising the Dead
- 9.21 Near-Death Experiences
- 9.22 Lucky Breaks
- 9.23 Tough Luck
- 9.24 Alternative – Permanent Death
- 9.25 Miscellaneous Tips for Good Game Mastering
- 9.26 Research
- 9.27 Introducing New Rules
Where to Begin?
Before accepting the role as Game Master, ask yourself these simple questions:
- Do I like to tell stories?
- Am I comfortable in a leadership position, especially with my peers?
- Am I a good multi-tasker?
If you’ve answered “yes” to these questions, chances are you’re well-suited for taking on the role of the Game Master.
Even if you answered “no” to one or more of them though, it doesn’t mean you have to relegate yourself to the role of a player for good – it just means you may want to work on bolstering your skills. In short, if you have the desire to lead a game – maybe you’ve dreamed up an interesting plot or encounter and you want to show it off or maybe you prefer to be actively engaged in everything that happens at the table – you can be a successful Game Master.
Once you have made the decision to GM a game, commit to it – at least for a little while.
You don’t have to be the GM every time your group gets together – many groups prefer to rotate GMs so that everyone gets a chance (it’s really quite infectious) – but you should devote enough time to the craft and ensure you have a sufficient amount of interest in the material you will be presenting to your players. In some cases, this may mean you plan a single game session, while in others it means you plan an entire campaign, lasting months or even years.
Being a Game Master means not just telling a story, but also presenting it to your players in a manner that is consistent, cohesive, and fun. You may have a grand adventure planned for your players, but even though this game encourages free-form rules, you should present it in a manner that is consistent with whatever game mechanics you settle upon. This way players know how they can expect to interact with your story.
As a GM, you should familiarize yourself with the rules. These rules are not set in stone, and you are free to alter them as you wish, but make sure that your players know what changes you make and stick with them, writing them down if necessary, so as to stay consistent. We’ll talk a bit more about game rules later, but for now make sure that you’re comfortable with the core mechanics.
One of the first things you should consider as a Game Master is the story you wish to tell. Psi-punk offers a brief history of the world’s events and a lot of freedom to choose what else you wish to include. Remember: this world is as much yours as it is that of the authors (intellectual property notwithstanding, of course!) Perhaps you wish to tell a story about an evil corporation trying to flex its muscles and take over the world and you want the players to rise up and stop them. Perhaps, instead, your goal is to have the players form a corporation powerful enough to challenge Magicorp’s dominance. Or, perhaps, you would rather tell a story about some mercenaries living on the mean streets who are just trying to get by in a cruel world. The choice is up to you, but we’ve included a random adventure generator in the Appendix to help you get some ideas if you don’t have any already. Don’t forget that you can also call upon your players to help decide what kind of story they wish to play; collaborative storytelling doesn’t have to start with the first roll of the dice.
After you’ve settled upon a general story goal, you can set about determining the details.
Some GMs find it helpful to have the entire plot planned in advance, complete with detailed maps and pre-determined antagonists, traps, and other perils. Others prefer to simply “Fudge it,” making it up on the fly and running with ideas that players bring to the table. Neither style is better than the other, but they each have their advantages and disadvantages. Only experience can help you determine what’s best for you, and as usual, you may find that the best option is a balance somewhere in between the two extremes, but we’ve outlined a few things to consider.
Plenty of Planning
Planning takes time, effort, and forethought.
It can be a lot of work, but it brings with it a lot of rewards. When you plan at least a session or two in advance, you’re sure to be prepared for questions the players have about the story you’re presenting them. It’s helpful to know the names of NPCs, the security level of a corporation’s electronic locks, and the layout of a building.
While it takes time to set all of this up, it’s rewarding and makes for a more streamlined play session.
Some people find it fun to plan out all of the details while others might find it tedious.
If you’re into making lists, taking lots of notes, or writing novels, you may consider planning a bit more than the average GM. On the other hand, if you prefer to just take things as they come, find lists and notes boring, and don’t care to write a book, you may prefer to just draft a few quick ideas and be done with it.
When you plan a game session, the simple rule of thumb is to write down the most important details of the adventure first – what can the adventure simply not function without? If you’ve planned for the PCs to fight an evil corporation, you may need to at least know which corporation they are facing, what the corporation’s motives are, and what techniques they employ. Having this written down or even just stored in your own brain bank, is important for ensuring that you have a story to begin with. If you wish to plan more detailed events after that, feel free to do so. Just remember that players may not always do what you’re expecting them to, so try to remain flexible to avoid “railroading” them through the story.
If you’re not interested in the details of fine-tuning an adventure, free-form storytelling may work for you. You should consider planning the basic overall plot for a story, but after that you may wish to make up everything else as you go. If you’re good at thinking on your feet and don’t have any strong ideas about the way a story should go, this method may work for you.
With free-form storytelling, you have the luxury of allowing your players to enter your world and just go crazy with it. You may even go so far as to allow the players to start telling the story from day one while you act as an arbiter. Perhaps they all agree that it would be fun to be a mercenary band and they just need you to come up with the missions they’re going to perform.
If you’re going to attempt to free-form a game, be sure to ready yourself for some real curve-balls. Players are known to have all sorts of wild and crazy ideas, and it is up to you to either run with them or temper them into something more productive.
The biggest problem new GMs tend to have is letting their players drive too many story details at once, and eventually nothing gets accomplished. This isn’t necessarily an issue if you’re all in it to just have fun, but it may not lead to the sense of accomplishment that some GMs (and players) cherish.
You Don’t Have to Choose
Remember, these story planning styles are presented here to give you some ideas and spark creativity. They’re designed to reinforce your goals as a GM and adventure crafter, not to feel restrictive. You’re not expected to choose between the two styles – indeed, there are dozens more styles you could come up with that don’t fit into either of these categories – it just helps to be aware of yourself and know that there’s no wrong or right way to plan for and craft an adventure.
Knowing and Using the Rules
We mentioned before that it is important to know the rules of the game. As a Game Master, you are the final arbiter when it comes to conflict resolution, disputes, and so forth. You don’t have to memorize the entire book, but be prepared to answer basic questions and have an idea of where to locate the information you’re not certain about.
Don’t let the minutia of the mechanics get in the way of a good story, though; if you’re not certain of an answer to a question you don’t always need to stop the gameplay to find an answer. Instead, just “Fudge it” for now – make a decision and stick with it for the time being – and look up the answer later, when it’s not game time.
Try to be consistent with your answers, but realize that everyone makes mistakes.
If you decide that a ruling you made earlier ends up making things unbalanced or less fun, don’t be afraid to change your mind, but try to make these situations the exception and not the rule. Your players will appreciate knowing that when they sit down to play the game, they don’t have to re-learn it.
More on “Fudging It”
One of the greatest strengths of the Fudge system used by Psi-punk is that it is designed to be modular and alterable. The rules presented in this book are a cohesive set of game mechanics designed to make picking up and playing the game as painless as possible; we put together the rules so you don’t have to.
With that said, many GMs like to edit the rules, add various subsystems, and generally tweak things to suit their own tastes. This often happens when a GM becomes experienced with a system and world-building and feels like changes are necessary to add to the flavor of the setting he is creating.
This is perfectly fine; we encourage you to build upon the rules presented herein and make the game as complex or simple as you would like.
It is especially common to add new subsystems of rules to handle different types of encounters. Not all social encounters need to be handled in the same way, for example, and some groups prefer to use ammunition rules (and keep track of individual shots fired) instead of using the abstracted ammo rules presented in Playing the Game. Whatever works to make your game more fun for you and your players is the perfect system and you’re encouraged to change things up – just make sure your players understand the changes you make to the rules that are printed in their copy of the book.
Running a Game
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the rules and have considered what type of game you’d like to run, it’s time to put together a group of players and sit them down for their first session. When gathering players, try to get everyone to agree on a time and date that will work for them not just for the first session, but for the foreseeable future; having a regular time and meeting place will help the group stay together and remain consistent despite the interference of their daily lives.
If you haven’t already put a copy of the rules into your player’s hands and asked them to get familiar with them, your first session is as good a time as any to do that.
Make sure at least one copy – a “table copy” – of the rules is available that you and your players can reference as the need arises.
Since you’re already familiar with how to create characters and play the game, you can walk your players through the process without having to wait for each person to read the rules individually.
Creating Characters – Individual or Group Creation
When it comes to developing characters for a new campaign, there are two methods that often get used: individual creation or group creation. Individual creation means that players sit down and develop their characters without input from other players or the GM – they decide what they would like their character to be, how their character should act, his/her role in society, etc.
Group creation still allows for players to decide these things, but it allows for players to give additional input and create characters as a team, rather than a group of individuals.
As usual you don’t have to select a single style, and you don’t always have to stick with a given style once you’ve selected it. Still, it’s important to consider how you would like your players to design their characters for your first session. Many times individual character creation arises from the individual time concerns of each player; perhaps they are already familiar with the rules and want to create a character at home while they have time, then show up at the first session ready to play. If you are fortunate enough to get everyone together for a group character creation session, we suggest you give it a try and see what results; often times a whole session can be dedicated to character creation and everyone will have just as much fun as if they had run through a whole mission or scenario!
Creating the Setting – Group Creation
Bear in mind that your world is like a character of its own, and you don’t have to create it all by yourself. You can apply the group creation method to your setting as well. By allowing players to offer input about what types of locations they will visit, what types of encounters they will have, and what types of people they will meet, you are ensuring that they have a vested interest in the game. If you have some time to spare after characters have been created, you may wish to ask for their input about the world as well – even if you have a setting in mind already.
You have characters and a setting, now what? If you already have an adventure planned you can sit down with your players and begin. If you don’t, fear not; we’ve included a sample adventure in the Appendix for you. Even if you don’t want to run the adventure on its own, or if you want to modify it heavily, that’s okay; the goal is to give you some idea of what a typical adventure might be like. There are other published adventures for various games – some free, others not – that you can use to gather ideas as well. Just having an idea of what an adventure looks like from a GM’s perspective is a great start and a lot of inspiration.
We have also included a random encounter seed generator to help spark some creativity.
Using random adventure generators is a great way to get the creativity flowing, and sometimes the results are nothing if not amusing. Use these resources to help you get an understanding of what your options are and then break the mold by remembering that your options are unlimited!
Adjudicating Skill Checks
As the Game Master, it is your job to let the players know when they should be making skill checks and when they can simply expect to accomplish a task. You should already be familiar with how skill checks work (if not, read Chapter 4: Playing the Game) but simply knowing the mechanics behind the skills doesn’t give you guidance about when or where they should be invoked.
From a mechanical and dice-rolling standpoint, the goals of Psi-punk are simplicity and speed. The game should run smoothly and without too much dice rolling getting in the way of the story. With that being said, it is important to only ask the players to make skill checks when absolutely necessary. So how do you know when it’s necessary?
As a rule of thumb, if the task is so easy that a normal person could do it as part of his daily routine, it doesn’t deserve a dice roll. For example, driving a car to work is routine for most people, while performing medical surgery is routine for many ER doctors.
Unless pressed for time, stressed, or otherwise hindered, these sorts of routine checks aren’t necessary.
Another good rule of thumb is that a character who is at least Fair at a given task shouldn’t need to make a roll for it unless opposed by someone or something else. A gourmet chef doesn’t need to make a skill check to cook a fancy dinner unless he’s in a contest against other chefs to see who can make the fanciest dinner, for example.
In game terms, this means that skills such as Language aren’t necessary to roll against unless a character is trying to decode a message or understand spoken dialog in a language for which he has only a Mediocre comprehension, or to communicate to someone with only a Mediocre level of understanding.
Likewise, driving or piloting a vehicle is considered a simple task for most people (especially since nowadays most cars drive themselves) and characters can really only screw up when circumstances are out of the ordinary, such as during a chase, along a windy road on a stormy night, or when piloting a very technical craft such as a helicopter or tank.
Many GMs have a particularly difficult time determining when to call for Notice checks. We feel some other games often use Notice or Perception checks far too frequently (at least compared to their Psi-punk counterpart) so keep the following in mind: when in doubt, don’t ask for it. Notice, in any of its forms, shouldn’t be used as a precursor to divulging information to the players.
If a character says he is searching the room for clues, you should give him everything he needs to know – unless, of course, he is trying to quickly scan the room for evidence while under suppressive gunfire.
Ordinarily, Notice skills should only be employed when actively searching for targets that are being actively hidden from them (e.g., a Spot check made to notice a character using Stealth or a Taste check used to notice chemical ingredients too subtle for the average human to detect).
Allowing characters to do things within their normal range of skill without making dice rolls will not only speed up the game, it will help players feel like their skills actually matter. Nobody likes to try doing something that they’re Great at only to randomly fail for seemingly no reason. It is, however, understandable that even a Great artist make something that is only Mediocre compared to the talented craft of a Superb artist. By calling for skill checks only when necessary, you will actually add depth to your game and may be surprised at how much more creative the players will try to be.
Lacking Appropriate Skills
When a character lacks the skill appropriate for a given situation, they may still attempt a roll as if they had a skill level of Poor (-2). In most cases, characters will not be able to succeed using this skill level unless the task is very simple, but allowing them the option to roll helps them feel like they can meaningfully contribute.
Remember that the skill system in Psipunk is flexible. Sometimes a character has a skill that could logically be substituted for another (especially when it comes to the use of Social or Manipulation skills) so consider allowing these substitutes. Try to interpret skill names in their broadest sense to allow for maximum flexibility in their use, and allow Specializations to enter play when a character attempts to do something very specific.
Setting Difficulty Levels
When asking for a skill check it is important to bear in mind the difficulty level of the task. When not clearly defined by the rules, you may need to make up a difficulty level on the fly.
When a roll is opposed this is simple: the difficulty level is always equal to the opponent’s check result. Remember that there may be a minimum required to hit though; even if the attacker beat the defender’s Poor check result, the attacker may still miss if he didn’t roll at least a Fair result himself, for example.
For unopposed actions, setting difficulty levels can be a bit more tricky, but this is where the simplicity of the Fudge Trait Ladder works to your advantage. Difficulties are described by adjectives on the trait ladder, such as Fair, Good, Extraordinary, and so forth. If you’re having trouble deciding on how hard you think a task should be, simply ask yourself: “Is this a Good challenge?” or “Would a Great driver have an easy time with this?” By choosing difficulties in terms of these adjectives, you simplify the decision-making process and remove the stress of focusing on smaller details.
Glitches – The GM’s Luck Points
Recall from Character Creation that all players receive 5 Luck Points at the start of each session. These Luck Points (LP) are designed to give the heroic players some amount of control over their own fate. Some of your Powerful NPCs (see below) also receive a limited pool of their own LP, but where does that leave you, the GM? Game Masters receive their own special pool of LP, known as Glitches for their ability to put a wrench into the players’ plans.
These Glitches work in a similar manner to the player’s Luck Points, but have a few of their own unique uses.
At the start of each session, GMs gain a number of Glitches equal to the total number of players present during that session.
If more players show up later, feel free to retroactively add a Glitch to your pool.
Additionally, you may pass out Luck Points to players as meta-game rewards; if a player does a particularly good job at role-playing a certain aspect of his character or does something that makes the rest of the group go “Wow!” then he probably deserves a Luck Point. Any time you pass out Luck Points in this way, add a Glitch to your own pool, to a maximum equal to your starting number of Glitches.
You may use Glitches in a number of ways. Each time you trigger any of the following actions, behaviors, or setbacks, spend one point from your Glitch pool.
- Force a player to activate one of his character’s Faults. Remember their Faults should come up organically during play (meaning you won’t necessarily have to spend a Glitch each time a player’s Faults trigger), but when forcing a character’s Faults against him to improve the story, you should consider spending a Glitch. This includes Glitching a character’s gutterware, psionic Faults, or other character Faults.
- Reroll a check made by one of your non-powerful NPCs. Powerful NPCs gain their own limited pool of Luck Points, but occasionally you want them to make a bigger impact than they otherwise would have. By using a Glitch you can allow one nonpowerful NPC to reroll all of the dice for a single check, taking the better of either result.
- Force a player to reroll. You shouldn’t exercise this option very frequently, but occasionally it’s just fun to watch ‘em squirm. By spending a Glitch you may force a player to reroll all of his dice and take the worse result. You may not use this Glitch if the player has already spent Luck Points to reroll a result, and you should consider allowing players to spend LP to counteract this Glitch.
- Create your own use. You’re the GM and it’s up to you to make the decisions, but try to keep them in-line with some of the examples we’ve provided. It can be tempting to use Glitches to completely run the show, but you shouldn’t abuse that power or you may run your players right out of town.
NPCs and Villains
A major consideration in any game is what non-player characters your players will meet, whether in the local cyber café or on the mean streets. NPCs are one of the most important aspects of any story because they help drive the plot by providing player characters with information, distractions, complications, motives, or a face full of lead.
In most cases NPCs will be non-hostile; they don’t necessarily want to fight your characters and will probably back down when provoked. These are the average citizens the players will meet or perhaps they’re the character’s superiors. In almost every case, these sorts of NPCs don’t need to have any in-game statistics written down; you may just want to give them a name and scrawl a brief line in your notes about where the PCs encountered them and what the results of the interaction were. You may not even care to give them a name – some NPCs are only in the player’s lives for a fleeting moment, just long enough to drop a rumor, a clue, or something else that is applicable to a scene.
Contacts and Other Important NPCs
Many characters fall somewhere between the generic bouncers or gangers and the more powerful leaders that the players will encounter throughout the course of a session. These types of characters may not need in-game statistics but, if they are recurring characters, they should at least have a name by which to identify them.
For example, if the players have a contact in the military who can get them military grade munitions, that contact isn’t just a generic NPC. He should have a unique name that the players can use to discuss him, but he doesn’t necessarily need to have a list of skills, Gifts, and Faults unless the occasion calls for them.
Say the players need to contact Corporal Smith for some combat armor. You don’t need to know what his combat, technical, knowledge and athletic skills are just to run a scene in which the players ask him for assistance. Chances are, if he’s just in the game to make something happen, you won’t need to know any of his skills at all. It is nice that you’ve given him a name so that the next time the PCs need to contact him they know who to refer to.
Hostile characters – NPCs that actively attack the players – are not much different than contacts. You don’t necessarily need to spend any time on developing the skills of hostile characters or making character sheets for them. Many times it is only important to give them offensive and defensive damage factors and have an idea of what powers or abilities they might use in battle.
Psi-punk makes it simple to whip up hostile NPCs on the fly. Simply determine how difficult a challenge you want to make them and pick a couple of numbers to use for their combat values. You can use the same Trait Ladder to help you determine their combat statistics. For example, if you want the fight to be a Good challenge, simply set the skills and powers of the NPCs at Good (+1). This means that you will add +1 on their attack rolls and they will have total DDFs of +1.
This system works well for minor encounters and chance-met hostilities; perhaps the bouncer at a bar is ready to throw out your rowdy players and they choose to fight back. You didn’t have that planned, but you can decide that the bouncer is Great at his job and therefore has a +2 to his ODFs and DDFs. As a generic citizen, he’s unlikely to have any special powers, but who knows? Perhaps the bouncer is a telekinetic; simply give him the telekinesis power and a key attribute of Mediocre (-1) to go with it.
To determine how much of a beating the NPC can take before going unconscious, use the same generic system. Is it a Good challenge? He can sustain just one Scratched wound before the next blow knocks him out, while a single Hurt wound will be enough to drop him. If the challenge is Fair or worse, a single hit of any level might take him out (and if the PCs are using lethal force, will likely kill him; be prepared to let them suffer the consequences of their actions!) On the other hand, a Great contender may be able to suffer two Scratched wounds and one Hurt wound while a Superb contender would take three Scratches, one Hurt, and one Very Hurt wound before flat-lining.
Challengers of Wonderful difficulty or better are special; if they’re powerful enough to receive large bonuses, they likely aren’t just some schmuck the players encounter on the street. Generally speaking, generic NPCs shouldn’t come with difficulties of Wonderful or greater. NPCs that do are the type that you may wish to flesh out a little bit more.
Powerful NPCs are those whose challenge levels are Wonderful or better. These NPCs are often recurring villains or masterminds, and often have large numbers of weaker goons at their beck and call. Though you may wish to put a bit more planning and effort into these types of NPCs, you still don’t necessarily need to create them as if they were player characters; instead, consider the following.
Powerful NPCs with a challenge level of Wonderful have the following skills, ODFs, and DDFs:
1 skill at Superb, with a single skill specialization.
For example, Superb Combat (Melee) with specialization in Pugilism.
2 skills at Great
3 skills at Good
Offensive Damage Factors of +4
Defensive Damage Factors of +4
1 Gift and 1 Fault
Key attributes of Good (if applicable) Full wound track (as a player character) If the character is designed to be a difficult combat challenge for the players, consider putting their specialization in a combat skill (as in the example above). Remember that not all encounters are combat encounters, though; if the NPC is intended to be a politician, for example, he may have Superb Manipulation with specialization in Oratory.
NPCs at this challenge level are the most common major challenges as far as character vs. character interaction is concerned.
They are the gang leaders, lower-level corporate management, and mayors of the world. Your PCs will probably face these types of challengers as they begin their careers and start to work their way up the chain.
Most Wonderful challengers also have a bevy of followers. They can show up at any time and don’t necessarily hang out with their leader all day long. Followers can be gang members, security guards, public officials, and so forth. Use the NPC guidelines for challengers up to Superb difficulty as a basis for the Wonderful challenger’s followers.
Powerful NPCs with a challenge level of Phenomenal have the following skills, ODFs, and DDFs:
2 skills at Superb, with a single skill specialization.
3 skills at Great
4 skills at Good
Offensive Damage Factors of +5
Defensive Damage Factors of +5
2 Gifts and 2 Faults
Key attributes of Great (if applicable) Full wound track (as a player character) Phenomenal challengers are on par with player characters in terms of power. By the time the PCs meet these characters, the players may have already worked their way through the rank-and-file goons under their control and possibly even a Wonderful NPC or two. It isn’t unheard of for Phenomenal NPCs to have personal bodyguards on the Wonderful scale of power.
Powerful NPCs with a challenge level of Extraordinary have the following skills, ODFs, and DDFs:
3 skills at Superb, with specialization in two of them.
3 skills at Great
4 skills at Good
Offensive Damage Factors of +6
Defensive Damage Factors of +6
4 Gifts and 2 Faults
Key attributes of Superb (if applicable) Full wound track (as a player character) with an additional Hurt wound level Extraordinary NPCs are truly exceptional.
They are more powerful than starting players and represent a severe challenge.
These are criminal kingpins, corporate bigwigs, and top government officials such as presidents, sheiks, and dictators. They certainly have hordes of underlings of all varieties and challenge levels and it may be next-to-impossible to even get close enough to one of them to have a physical encounter.
Characters at this level may have multiple psionic powers, multiple Superb level magic devices, or special cyberware that gives them unique special abilities. A personal encounter with any one of these characters should be a truly memorable and momentous occasion, perhaps even the turning point in an entire campaign. Do not take these challenges lightly.
Powerful NPCs with a challenge level of Astonishing have the following skills, ODFs, and DDFs:
3 skills at Superb, with specialization in each of them.
4 skills at Great
5 skills at Good
Offensive Damage Factors of +7
Defensive Damage Factors of +7
6 Gifts and 2 or more Faults
Key attributes between Superb and Phenomenal (if applicable) Full wound track (as a player character), with one additional Hurt and Very Hurt wound level Who is more influential than a president, criminal overlord, or the CEO of Magicorp?
Only the most truly incredible NPCs in your world should be considered Astonishing challenges and are likely once-in-a-lifetime encounters for the players. Only after slogging their way through an entire criminal organization only to find an even bigger lurking threat, or some other pinnacle event, should Astonishing characters be revealed. Their presence should be just that – Astonishing! Feel free to go nuts with these encounters.
If this were a video game, these would be the “final boss” characters – often possessing insane and perhaps otherworldly powers the likes of which the players have never dreamed. Use the extra Gifts to give them more or stronger psionic powers, cybernetic enhancements, or just plain supernatural affects that are otherwise undefined by the rest of the system.
Astonishing NPCs are the largest and most powerful threats your characters will likely ever face. Try to ensure that the characters have some means of dealing with them; that doesn’t necessarily mean filling them full of lead — you can choose to make an encounter with an NPC of this sort into a puzzle. Perhaps the players need to find this character’s Achilles heel in order to defeat it and would never be able to win in a “fair” fight.
Though the above examples are good for generic, on-the-fly creation, you are, of course, free to design encounters however you desire. If you notice that your team is a bit more (or less) equipped to handle a certain challenge, you may alter it as you wish.
Additionally, these guidelines make no assumption of what type of equipment the NPCs are carrying. In general, it’s recommended that you leave ODFs and DDFs as-is, but you may choose to give them weapons and armor of various sorts to make things interesting. These changes may modify the numbers up or down slightly, but remember that the more time you spend agonizing over the finer details, the less time you have to spend on other things.
If you wish to give a Wonderful NPC an SMG, for example, you should of course remember that it has various rates of fire to choose from which will alter the character’s ODFs as he changes selections. Use his power level as a baseline and modify the results as normal, but assume that the SMG’s base damage rating is already factored into his ODFs.
If you envision a character that is more offensive than defensive, simply trade modifiers at a one-for-one basis. For example, a Wonderful NPC may have ODFs of +5 but DDFs totaling only +3.
Also, don’t hesitate to give your NPCs magic devices, cyberware, or other equipment that would make them more interesting or more balanced. As a general rule, supernatural powers such as psionics and magic should have key attributes or Power Ratings three levels lower than the NPC’s challenge level. For example, a Wonderful NPC with a magic telekinesis device should have that device at a PR of Good (+1), not Wonderful (+4).
Finally, you may decide that you don’t want to bother detailing all of the available skills that an NPC may have. That’s okay – if a particular skill is never going to come up in play, it’s not necessary to have it written in your notes. When creating one of these characters on the fly, you may choose to simply make the first skill he uses Superb and work your way down from there.
For example, if a Wonderful character uses his Combat (Melee) skill first you may choose to roll it at a level of Superb. If he then needs to make a check to drive a car while being chased, simply make that one of his Great skills. Only define the skills which you actually need to use and save yourself the time and hassle of defining characters.
Not every character the players will meet is human. Some might be cyborgs, artificial intelligence, astral beings, or even animals.
Because the guidelines listed above are generic, you can apply them to encounters with any sort of creature that the characters might interact with. Feel free to add or remove skills, Gifts, Faults, or other traits as you see fit in order to create the encounters you desire.
Powerful NPCs and Luck Points
Powerful NPCs are supposed to be closer to the level of player characters in power, and as such, they should be given Luck Points to use. There are some important things to consider when using Luck Points with NPCs though, since these characters are not necessarily designed to last longer than an encounter or two with the players.
Though Player Characters get five Luck Points at the start of each session, the LP they receive is designed to last them throughout the entire session. Most NPCs only appear in a single encounter, so they should not be given as many LP to spend unless you envision the encounter being particularly challenging.
Start with giving only one LP to any single Powerful NPC with a challenge level of Extraordinary or lower and two LP to an Astonishing character. If you envision the character being particularly powerful or lucky you may give them the Lucky Gift, but allow it to add only one additional LP unless they are an Astonishing NPC. By following these guidelines, you will ensure that the characters aren’t getting to reroll dice for every single action they take (they still get to reroll a dice any time they use a specialized skill).
Remember that you did not define attributes for these NPCs either. Since Luck Points are designed to grant additional dice rerolls based on linked attributes, you may handle this situation in one of two ways, depending on how cinematic you wish the encounter to be.
1. If you have a good idea of what the character is like, it’s easy to know which attribute is their best. For example, a bouncer probably has a high Strength attribute while a powerful mentalist probably has a high Focus attribute. When using LP to reroll a skill that is likely to be linked to the character’s high attribute, set that attribute at a level of two lower than their challenge level. For example, a Wonderful NPC would have a Great Strength while an Extraordinary character would have a Wonderful Strength. Reroll the appropriate number of dice accordingly.
2. Ignore the attribute rule altogether. If it’s hard to determine what a character might be particularly good at, or if you don’t want or need this particular encounter to be over-the-top, just reroll a single dice as if the character had no high attribute. This saves a lot of mental calculation and doesn’t detract from the game.
Spoils of War
When players defeat hostile opponents, they often search the bodies (whether alive or dead) for gear. In most role playing games, the old adage “to the victor go the spoils” is a driving force for character and many players expect to find something of value on just about every opponent they defeat.
It is up to you to decide the laws that govern the “acquisition” of spoils, but in general, it is assumed that much of a player’s earned Wealth comes from fencing the goods they gathered from defeated opponents.
You don’t necessarily need to treat every possible item as a piece of loot, but consider mentioning the things that would be of most interest to a player.
For starters, consider what that NPC had used openly during the course of the player’s interaction with them. If they fired an SMG, activated an antipsi device, or tried to gas the party with a smoke bomb, those are the items that should definitely be uncovered.
Note that the items may not always be in perfect condition and that some items, like smoke bombs, may be single-use and therefore become worthless if they have been used.
Since ODFs and DDFs can come from many sources, it isn’t important to assume that all NPCs with +3 DDFs were wearing armor for the PCs to loot. You don’t need to assume that all non-player characters were carrying both a weapon and wearing a suit of armor, though if you described them as having such equipment you should consider making that available to the players.
You may discover, after a while, that the players are collecting a huge cache of guns.
Since firearms are the most common form of attack, the players will be collecting a lot of them. If you don’t wish to allow them to sell off every piece of equipment for its full price – which could have a huge impact on their Wealth levels (not to mention the economy) – consider that weapons registered to other owners may not be legally sold on the open market. Players may need to find a black market fence for such goods and they may have to accept prices for them that are well below market value.
Additionally, Wealth gained from the sale of goods should be spread equitably amongst all players. If a weapon sells at a Good value and there are four players on the team, they may each only get a Mediocre payout once it has been divided.
Death and Dying
It’s assumed that many of your NPCs will be killed at some point during play, especially if they are designed to be antagonists.
When such an event occurs the players generally “loot the bodies” (see Spoils of War, above) and the story progresses. You may decide whether the character’s death has far-reaching consequences (especially if they are a particularly Powerful NPC) or if it is easily glossed over without another mention.
When player characters die, on the other hand, the story changes dramatically.
Players put a lot of time and thought into designing their characters, their backstory, and their role within the party. Sometimes they become emotionally attached in a small (and sometimes large) way. Though the rules don’t make it easy for players to die constantly, it is a real possibility.
- Should a PC be killed during play, consider the following:
- The control animate power has the ability to restore life to a character, but it is an Astonishingly difficult check and the availability of such a skilled animator is rare; only well-connected PCs have any hope of hiring someone to restore life to a body (unless the group possesses such a skilled character).
- Death is permanent, but near-death experiences happen with some degree of regularity. Characters who are killed in combat may be resuscitated if they reach a hospital quickly and can afford to pay for their medical bills.
Even permanent death is negotiable in a cinematic story; consider movies, television shows, and comic books in which characters appear to die, only to return later in the episode/season/show/series with a story to tell their survivors.
Raising the Dead
Using the control animate power to raise the dead requires an Astonishing (+7) check and the expenditure of a Luck Point to activate the Astonishing result. This is exceptionally difficult to do for most characters, but it is possible. If the PC or his team are owed a favor by powerful NPCs you may hand-waive this check (at the cost of the favor), but otherwise the team may need to hunt down an appropriately-skilled individual.
Feel free to charge the players some amount of Wealth (or other non-monetary price) for the service. As a baseline, someone with such a skill should charge a Wonderful amount of cash for the act of raising the dead (it’s a grisly task no matter who you are) or require some dangerous or difficult favor in return.
If the players manage to hire someone to raise their ally, there is no need to make the skill check to activate the control animate power; simply allow the check to be successful. If the party has a character capable of using the power, however, you are within your bounds to request a check be made, especially since they are not paying anything for the privilege. Note that the result isn’t even possible unless the character has at least a Superb key attribute.
Characters who receive appropriate emergency medical treatment within an hour of their death may be able to return to life. The experience may be traumatic or spiritual, depending on the character’s outlook on life and may leave the character with a great story to tell later.
This great story comes with a cost, however; medical bills are costly even in the year 2096. Characters must pay a Wonderful amount of Wealth to the medical facility, payable before services are rendered (either out of the nearly-departed’s pockets or the pockets of their allies). If the payment isn’t received up-front, the character doesn’t receive treatment.
A character who receives no medical treatment may have a “lucky break” at the GM’s discretion. You (and/or the player) may come up with any suitable story to fit the reasoning behind his narrow escape from death, but it should fit the method he was killed. For example, a bullet he took to the head may have just missed a vital spot but left him unconscious for days or he washed ashore before he drowned.
Whatever the case may be, the character isn’t dead and he shows up within a few days to the surprise of everyone who knew him to be deceased (sooner, if the story calls for it). However, this Lucky Break causes him to lose a little bit of his Luck for good; he gains the Unlucky Fault permanently. If he already has the Unlucky Fault he gains it again (receiving an additional -2 LP per session). If he doesn’t have at least 2 Luck Points to permanently lose, he may not benefit from a Lucky Break.
Sometimes, characters just don’t have what it takes to rejoin the mortal coil. If a character or team cannot afford to have the character returned to life or if the character lacks sufficient Luck Points to pay for a Lucky Break, he may be dead for good.
If this is the case, you may ask the player to create a new character and attempt to weave that character into your story going forward.
In most circumstances, the remaining living members (if there are any) of that character’s team will be able to retrieve the deceased’s gear for later use. If this is a possibility (the body is not permanently lost or destroyed, for example) you may tell the player that his new character does not gain the full amount of starting Wealth and instead give that character some of his old gear (or the selling price of it).
Depending on how many Build Points your players have received since the campaign started, you may decide to offer the new character more BP than what his original character started with. This can help ensure that a new character isn’t too far behind the curve relative to the other players and the challenges they will be facing in the future.
Alternative – Permanent Death
Some GMs prefer a grittier, more realistic, and much more permanent approach to death. You are perfectly within your rights as a GM to decide that death is permanent no matter who you are and no amount of money or luck may bring a character back to life.
If you decide to choose this option, consider the guidelines in the Tough Luck section above. Players should be allowed to continue playing the game even if it means bringing in a new character or you may find that your overall campaign size will diminish (sometimes disproportionately to the number of characters who have died).
Miscellaneous Tips for Good Game Mastering
- Everybody has a different style when it comes to running a game, but it’s often helpful to learn from the experiences of others. The following bullet points include helpful advice cultivated from a variety of sources, mostly from GMs with years of experience. Not everything will ring true to you, but if you can find a few relevant bits of information and use them to your advantage then our job is done.
- Just Fudge it! If you don’t have the answer for a rule or even a minor detail about something, just improvise. If it matters enough you can always look it up later, but don’t stop the gameplay to look for an answer if you can make one up on the spot.
- Don’t let the rules rule you. This goes along with “Just Fudge it!” If developing new rules or forcing dice rolls doesn’t make the game more fun, don’t bother. There isn’t a need to debate the laws of physics when you’re playing a dice game, especially one in which fantastic situations and supernatural abilities are the norm.
- Believe in your world. You don’t need to get completely absorbed and immersed, but make sure that the setting you have developed or are working with is one that you enjoy; your players will be able to tell when you enjoy the setting and when you don’t.
- Make a database of names and places. After each session, update the database with new names and places that your players have encountered. Reference it regularly when developing new plot hooks and adventures. Keep your descriptions to a single meaningful sentence when possible.
- Watch lots of films, documentaries and TV shows and read lots of books. Mine these for NPC’s, descriptions and plotlines.
- The game isn’t just for the players. Remember that you’re there to have fun too. Though you’re not the players’ enemy, you’re not their guardian angel either.
- Make name lists. It can be difficult to come up with names on the fly, so make a list of appropriate names for the setting and refer to it when you need to name someone new. You can keep it simple or divide the names into groups based on NPC race, religion, archetype, etc.
- Use all the senses. Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and intuition. When describing new areas, NPCs, or events, use the senses to give your players a true feel for their surroundings. “You enter a large, dimly-lit room; the stench of decay fills the air and you can feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end” is a much better description than “You enter a big, dark room. It smells bad.”
- Make notes of complex rules you know you’ll need. Though you can “Just Fudge it” when necessary, if you know you’re planning to do something that depends on a complex subset of rules, make sure you have those rules spelled out in your notes. Copy and paste whole blocks of text if necessary, make short-hand notes where possible, or at the very least write down the page number of a specific mechanic. This way you can run an event the way you envisioned it without slowing the action.
- Listen to your players. Pay attention not just to what your players are telling you, but what they’re doing as well. If they appear bored, step it up a notch. If they really wish to go one direction, roll with it and take them there. Make note of any off-handed conspiracy theories (especially ones made in jest) and surprise them next session when it turns out they were right all along!
There are a number of great websites and resources that offer great GM advice. Even if you’re a seasoned game master you can learn something from the wisdom of others, so do your research and surprise your players when you bring a new idea to the table.
Introducing New Rules
One of the great things about the Fudge engine is its portability. There are a variety of resources available that offer alternative means of handling certain game mechanics. If you don’t like the way something is done, or you think you would prefer to use another option, that’s certainly encouraged. Moreover, if you would like to introduce a new subset of mechanics that makes a specific facet of gameplay more interesting to you and your players, feel free to do so.
We suggest discussing the changes with your players before adding anything new to the game, especially if they’re working with the same book of rules as you are. They deserve to know how and why things are being run differently, how it will affect their character decisions, and so forth.
Commonly, new rules and subsystems are added to an existing game to add more “crunch” to a specific type of action or interaction.
For instance, you may import a new Martial Arts system, complete with detailed mechanics for various martial styles, maneuvers, and supernatural powers, in order to make the game more cinematic in regards to hand-to-hand combat. Alternatively, you may draw up rules for Giant Robot Combat if you decide that your game needs enormous battle suits to drive action over-the-top.
The Fudge 10th Anniversary Edition rulebook by Grey Ghost Games is a great resource for subsystems that can be easily imported into Psi-punk, since the mechanics are already built using the Fudge engine.
There are a lot of options, and this is your game, so alter it as you see fit.
Psi-punk Copyright 2012, Accessible Games; Author Jacob Wood