A quick thought on roleplaying design

So, Friday night (and into Saturday morning…uh…more than is probably good to admit), Ralph, Keith and I are talking game design. Mostly, we’re discussing Keith’s forthcoming Dream Palace, which is going to be the movie RPG. However, along the way, I discover something that I am doing in A Flower for Mara unconsciously.

Historically, the position of Game Master in roleplaying has been a source of difficulty, due to the various roles that he must fulfill. The two most problematic are that of referee/moderator and that of adversary. As the referee, the Game Master is expected to be impartial in his administering the rules. As the adversary, the Game Master is expected to bring the pain in an enjoyable way.

Imagine if, in the NFL, the guys in the striped shirts were also the coaches for the other team. I trust that you can see the problem here.

There’s been a lot of effort in roleplaying design dedicated to fixing this issue. One option, which I tend to think is underused, is simply this: divide the two roles. Make one person responsible to facilitate the game, and make a different person responsible to bring the adversity. This has been the method used by various GMless games by spreading both roles around. It’s essentially how Dirty Secrets works, for example.

But I realized that this can also work for games with GMs. Looking back to Legends of Alyria, this is exactly what I did. The Narrator is supposed to facilitate and organize. The players bring the adversity by opposing each other. That’s what makes Legends of Alyria work.

And that’s where the insight came for A Flower for Mara.

In A Flower for Mara, the Director is the facilitator, but Mara is the primary adversary.

I knew this unconsciously; I could tell by my reaction to the idea. However, knowing it consciously is very helpful. Now I can give better advice to the person playing Mara. “Oppose the characters’ attempt to move on. Get in the way. Interfere.” Yeah. Be the adversary.

That’s a helpful piece of information for me.


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