The name of the dashing green fellow in the picture to the right is South. He and a bunch of his friends showed up at a game of The One Ring that I ran at Origins this year. South showed up just like this, in full Orc makeup from a larp he was involved with earlier. Joking around, he played up his Orcish character and joked around with the other players both known and unknown to him. As I went around the table and gauged my audience, I asked two questions.
How familiar are you with The One Ring and what games do you usually play?
- Player A: Somewhat. I usually play pathfinder.
- Player B: Not at all. Pathfinder.
- Player C: I run pathfinder for these two. Thought this looked ineresting.
- Player D: I’ve played in it in a home game.
- Player E: I run it at home.
- South: I’ve played it and really like it.
Ok, cool. What did everyone come here for? Do you like Tolkien? Do you read the books, watch the movies?
- Player A: I watch the movies.
- Player B: Movies, read the Hobbit.
- Player C: I’ve read a bit and love the movies.
- Player D: I love Tolkien! I’ve read everything.
- Player E: I read a fair amount, but I’m not going to call you on not getting names right.
- South: <In a gruff voice> I came here to kill humans and eat hobbits!
- Me: Step into my office for a minute.
I pulled South over and asked him how well he knew the system and if he wanted to make this a PVP game. I’d run the narrative and he would play out the BBEG and a few key underlings, running the combat with prompts from me. I’d cover his game cost and he would get to keep acting in character. He jumped at the chance and we ran the game together. The other players bought in and were looking forward to taking on their friend in the game but not seeing him as the Game Master.
For my part, I modified the story greatly and on the fly. I added a monster character based on what South said he would like to play and he on the fly fleshed out the Mountain Troll Tuskmaw, asleep for hundreds of years and just now awakened to terrorize the Riders of Rohan. He controlled Tuskmaw in the introductory flashback that the players retold/played in to get used to the system.
Then, he played the lieutenant’s of Tuskmaw, goblins on Wargs, the leader of the savage tribe Wulf, one of the PCs, had to wrestle to gain favor from and make a peace deal with, and finally came back to playing Tuskmaw for the final, epic battle.
I ran the narratives and prompted him on what to prepare and expect. He pawed through the monster stats and used his focused attention to use the monsters to their utmost ability, making sure the Fear effects and points were used appropriately and readily. These were things I would have forgotten about while trying to navigate all the other enemies and move the story into the next arc.
The other players rose to the challenge, doing epic things in combat and the narrative elements. They seemed to rise to the challenge and want to be as awesome and epic as South was playing up his characters. I got to maintain my neutral position as the Game Master and story moderator, handling the other situations and letting the players focus on their enemy who was suddenly alive and in green – Tuskmaw.
The game ended with the climactic killing of Tuskmaw by Wulf the barbarian, wielding a spear whose blade was stained with the blood of a creature of darkness. The group let out a huge sigh, everyone had a great time and South gave a meaningful death speech in character.
This experience reinforced a few key ideas that I have about GMing. If I hadn’t been open to these concepts, the game would have been good, but not the epic masterpiece it became.
- Always be willing to modify things on the fly, based on what the players bring to the table.
- Whatever you’ve got written down and ready to go pales in comparison to what is happening in front of you at the table.
- Nobody knows you’re winging it if you don’t tell them and act confident enough. (So many elements of this game came up on the fly.)
- Telling your players you are winging it rarely raises any ire or annoyance, and players have more fun knowing their choices matter.
[pullquoteright] Be willing to ditch whatever you’ve got planned to follow up on one of those “Gift Orcs” and make the game super epic. [social_warfare] [/pullquoteright]If you’re ever approached with a situation like this, run with it. If a player brings props to emphasize an aspect of their character, make those props super important to your story. If the players try to gain entrance to an auction by declaring war in the name of the Elven kingdom, let them make their roll and go with it. Never look a gift Orc in the mouth, no matter what form it takes. Players always have tells about what they find important and fun, even if they aren’t as obvious as showing up in green makeup. Be willing to ditch whatever you’ve got planned to follow up on one of those “Gift Orcs” and make the game super epic.
Have you ever had a “Gift Orc” show up to a game? What form did it take? How did you incorporate it? What tells do you have that are “Gift Orcs” when you are a player?