GM Information

GM Information


The Game Master (GM) is the person running a BESM campaign (or most any other RPG campaign, although the official title depends on the system in use). The GM's responsibilities are many, but generally include providing the setting and details of each element of the campaign, and ensuring that all players have an equal opportunity to participate in a meaningful manner. These tips will help to achieve these goals.

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  Additional Voices | Attack Detail | Blood Type | Called Shots | Character Creation I | Character Creation II | Character Knowledge vs. Player Knowledge | Combat Turns | Dice | GM's Dice Rolls | GM's Role-playing Abilities | Maps and "Blueprints" | Pencils | Rules | Stopping a Gaming Session | Truly Knowing the Characters || BESM Site Links


[Image of Azusa holding her staff]Additional Voices
Sometimes, a fresh voice is quite welcome. For example, during Summer 2000, I was a GM for an ongoing campaign based on the Sailor Moon RPG (also by The Guardians of Order). For one adventure, a friend who was not a participant in the overall campaign but who knew a lot about the Sailor Moon universe played an NPC for me, Sailor Ghetto, drawing upon his background to present a convincing character of an origin I was personally not familiar or conversant with. When I relinquished the GM duties to another player for one Sailor Moon adventure, he brought in several others not involved with the campaign to play other NPCs (a set of Negaverse lawyers).

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Attack Detail
During game play, more detail in combat can add an exciting twist to the adventure. If a player is hit, instead of the character simply taking the appropriate damage, the GM may determine (by the attack/position used or by a die roll) that damage the attack was to a particular area of the body, and then using modifiers if necessary. If rolling 1d6 to determine the body area affected, a potential roll table might be the following:

  1. Lower leg; roll another die (odd = right leg; even = left leg)
  2. Upper leg; roll another die (odd = right thigh; even = left thigh)
  3. Lower torso
  4. Upper torso
  5. Arm; roll another die (odd = right arm; even = left arm)
  6. Head shot (GM may wish to double damage)
This is a moot point if a player (or the GM, acting as an NPC) announces a Called Shot before rolling the dice. See pages 224-225 of BESM second edition and Called Shots below.

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Blood Type
While note necessarily an important aspect of the BESM system, the 20-page character sheet in the BESM Character Diary does provide an entry for Blood Type, many Japanese people believe that blood type is an indication of a person's character and personality. Companies have even launched an odd range of blood-type products, including drinks and condoms. According to Mark Schilling's The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture, blood types carry the following traits:

While Blood Type is really not necessary for character creation, the GM may wish to have this information on hand, just in case a player asks about Blood Type.

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Called Shots
To add more detail to a campaign, the GM may wish to strongly encourage all players to implement the "Called Shot" rule, detailed on pages 224-225 of BESM second edition.

Modifications to the Called Shot guidelines can be made. For example, should a player's attack be unsuccessful, the opponent may still be hit, but elsewhere on the body, especially if the attack was a ranged attack (shooting with a riffle, etc.) from a significant distance. In this case, roll 1d6 to determine the area affected; if the die roll indicates the place initially targeted and misses, roll again. A potential roll table might be the following:

  1. Lower leg; roll another die (odd = right arm; even = left arm)
  2. Upper leg; roll another die (odd = right arm; even = left arm)
  3. Lower torso
  4. Upper torso
  5. Arm; roll another die (odd = right arm; even = left arm)
  6. Head shot (GM may wish to double damage)
Similarly, if the attack is successful and the defense is also successful, the type of defense may actually angle the attack to another area of the body. For example, depending on body positioning, a knight's shield may cause an opponent's sword to slide down the shield and slice into the hip or upper leg.

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Character Creation I
In character creation, some players have truly novel ideas. Unfortunately, some such concepts produce characters which are extremely difficult to role-play as originally intended. In these cases, the GM may wish to give one or more bonus character points if such a "difficult" character is truly role-played as initially intended.

Optionally, during character creation, the GM may wish to discourage a player from creating a character which is extremely different from the player. For example, an extreme extrovert might be discouraged from playing an extreme introvert. This requires that the GM previously know the player quite well, which in some circumstances may not be possible.

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Character Creation II
The best way for a player to create a character is to already have a general character concept in mind. This makes the selection of attributes, defects, and skills much easier, and the player and GM spend less time haggling over the appropriateness of a selection.

Perhaps the best method for character creation is to start with a character concept, then immediately begin selecting the character's defects and special defects as appropriate. I find this easier than selecting a number of attributes and special attributes, then adding bonus points from defects and special defects; in other words, this allows the player to start with the largest possible number of character points.

Similarly, if the character has access to one or more mecha, the mecha's defects, special defects, and mecha-only defects should be selected first. Again, this provides for the maximum possible number of mecha points for the selection of attributes, special attributes, and mecha-only attributes.

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Character Knowledge vs. Player Knowledge
In an adventure in which the action takes place in a real-world location with which one or more players are already familiar, players may occasionally confuse what they actually know about the location with what their characters know. For example, in a campaign based in Chicago, the characters may find a clue to go to Watertower; a player who has lived in Chicago will likely know that there is both Watertower the office building and Watertower the shopping complex, and that they are a significant distance apart (on foot), and may immediately make mention of this fact. The GM should always be aware of this and simply make a gently-toned comment to remind the players of the different types of knowledge ("Is that you talking or is that your character talking?"). Further, all players should be encouraged to remind each other of character knowledge vs. player knowledge.

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Combat Turns
Combat in RPGs is inherently turn-based. While players are awaiting their turn in combat (or any other action-intensive situation), they should be planning one or two possible moves or attacks for their next turn. Especially if there are a lot of players (five or more), this will give each player plenty of time to consider what to do next. If a player needs to check the character sheet or gaming manual for details, that can be done during this time while other players take their turns, so that the overall speed of the gameplay does not suffer. However, novice players may have some difficulty with this, as they are more likely to focus complete attention on the actions of the GM and the more experienced players than they are to plot their next action/attack during such "down time."

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Dice
The BESM system officially uses only two six-sided dice (2d6). However, the GM - as well as the players - can also benefit from having other dice on hand. Specifically, I suggest having at least 2d4, 4d6, 1d8, 3d10, 1d12, and 1d20 on hand for all gaming sessions and character creation meetings. This can be useful for a variety of reasons:
  • If four players are fighting an NPC and the NPC's attack is successful, rolling a 1d4 can randomly determine which of the players must defend or suffer damage. The beauty of this is that the players cannot potentially accuse the Game Master of unjustly targeting someone in particular or favoring a player (but a good GM never does this anyhow).
  • Having two ten-sided dice (2d10) can be useful for percentages; for example, what is the chance that a particular player will meet a familiar, non-celebrity person (not one of the other players or major NPCs) in a large foreign city? The best way to perform percentage rolls is to have one die which counts by tens and another which counts by units. However, if the only two d10 availabe both count in units, make certain that they are of different colors, and assign a particular color as the "tens" die.
Gaming stores and some comic stores sell gaming dice, both singly and in sets. Recently, several businesses have been selling sets of gaming dice on
eBay.

It is also extremely important for the GM to know when to roll dice and when rolls are not appropriate. See page 201, "When to Roll Dice."

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GM Dice Rolls
[Image of San riding Moro]While this view is perhaps controversial, I personally do not believe in the GM rolling dice out of the view of the players. Nor do I believe in the GM explaining every dice roll, especially when it would interrupt the flow of the adventure or when an explanation would ruin a surprise or a trap. If a player watches a GM roll the dice and figures out what is going on, then the adept GM can make mental modifications to the results of the dice. Similarly, I do not believe in the GM always using the values given in a particular dice roll; modifications for the sake of the adventure should always be considered. Of course, simply rolling the dice for no apparent reason or for humor purposes is always an option :-)

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GM's Role-playing Abilities
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the GM's duties is role-playing not just one, but many characters in the course of the campaign. This obviously requires advance preparation on the part of the GM: creating character sheets (often only with skeletal information for each character, or character type), planning how each NPC (Non-player Character) will interact with the players and with other NPCs, and "memorizing" all this information so that there is little time (if any) spent combing through notes during the course of the campaign. In some cases, if the GM has also been a player within the same campaign (comprised of multiple adventures featuring the same cast of characters), the GM may also play his or her own character, along with all the NPCs.

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Maps and "Blueprints"
In a campaign based in "real-world" locations, maps may be necessary or simply a kind reminder. If the location of action is a city or region which everyone involved in the campaign is very familiar with, maps are likely unnecessary. Returning to the Sailor Moon campaign as an example, everyone involved was intimately familiar with the Sailor Moon universe as shown on television in 1995-1996 in North America (the approximate time period in which the campaign was based), so maps were probably unnecessary. However, I did provide several maps of both Tokyo and Japan, taken from travel guides, The Sailor Moon Role-playing Game and Resource Book (also by The Guardians of Order), and online sources. The players seemed to appreciate the extra effort on my part, and the maps helped us all to better visualize the action taking place.

Many anime film, OAVs, and series take place in Japan; most of these take place in and around Tokyo. Large used bookstores (such as Bookman's in Arizona) may have old maps of Japan and/or Tokyo; these may be "outdated," but can still be used to give the players a sense of where the locations of action are in relation to each other and to important places in the country or city (such as the Imperial Palace or Mount Fuji). Some potential Japan/Tokyo-based maps on the Web:
Fortunately, if the players are all quite familiar with anime in general, they will likely already have a good notion of major Tokyo landmarks and locations. In this case, maps and other visuals may not truly be necessary, but the players can always use and appreciate a kind reminder on occasion.

For imaginary locations, such as cities on other planets, the GM may wish to provide an original map. Such maps can be made by hand or on a computer, using a graphics creation/editing program. These maps need not be extremely detailed, depending upon the information the GM wishes the players to have at their fingertips during the course of the adventure/campaign.

Even more specific to a location, a GM may wish to provide "blueprints" for a building or spacecraft. However, in this instance, the GM may prefer to draw each area of the building or spacecraft as it is explored by the players; of course, the GM needs to have a completed "blueprint" for personal reference. If the "blueprints" are for a spacecraft or building which the players will be using extensively, the GM may wish to make enough copies to distribute among all the players.

One benefit of using maps and "blueprints" is that players can mark where they are in relation to other players, NPCs, and important objects or features in the area (such as a support pillar, which can provide cover in combat). This is especially useful to allow everyone to better visualize exactly what is happening and where events are taking place during a combat or other action-intensive situation. Using this method, the GM should also mark or otherwise indicate where NPCs (friendly and otherwise) are, if they can be seen or somehow detected by the players (perhaps via infrared scans).

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Pencils
As with all role-playing games, pencils are a must!!!!! In my opinion, a good GM has numerous pencils on hand for each gaming or character creation session. Preferrably, these are mechanical pencils, unless a pencil sharpener (electric or mechanical) is easily accessible throughout the session; if using mechanical pencils, extra lead is also important to have on hand. While I have seen gamers use pens during an adventure, the number of changes which can potentially be made to character sheets (such as modifying the available number of Health Points, or how many arrows are left in the quiver) render pens impractical. Having a lot of pencils available may seem like a small thing, but players do appreciate the extra "effort," especially if a player breaks his or her only pencil and needs to make changes to the character sheet.

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Rules
As some say, "rules are meant to be broken." That does not necessarily mean that every rule in the BESM sourcebook is immediately obsolete. However, the GM should feel free to modify or eliminate any rule as best fits the campaign; similarly, new rules can also be implemented if they benefit the campaign.
  • BESM includes a derived value for Shock Value (Body Stat + Soul Stat). While Shock Value can add more realism to a campaign, it is also one more thing for the GM and the players to be concerned with, and may be easily forgotten by those who have never used the BESM system before. Therefore, the GM may wish to dispense with Shock Value.
  • Similarly, much of the information in Chapter 5: Expanded Game Mechanics (pages 219-232), can be "discarded" and, if necessary during an adventure, be implemented using common sense on the part of the GM. When reading this chapter, much of the information is impressive, but is likely far too much to remember, especially for a beginning GM within the BESM system. Some elements of this chapter, such as Ramming, will likely never occur anyhow. Others, such as Acceleration and Deceleration, follow simple rules of physics and common sense - it takes time to accelerate to top speed and to slow down. Others, such as the "Called Shots" details, logically require some sort of penalty, which the GM can decide upon for the given situation.
  • One major rule modification I have used in Sailor Moon campaigns (which also use the Tri-Stat System) is to shift any bonus or penalties of dice rolls to the target number under which a character needs to roll for success. This was initially done largely so I (as GM) would have less to think about, especially in combat situations. However, this also made the Tri-Stat System easier to learn for the players, none of whom had ever used the Tri-Stat System before the campaign began.

    Applying this to skill checks in BESM-based campaigns, a character with Skill Level 1 would now be given a +1 bonus to the number initially needed for success when the dice are rolled, or a +2 bonus if the task falls within the character's specialty. Thus, for example, if a character needs to make an Electronics Skill Check and has Electronics (which uses the Mind Stat) at Level 3, the character must roll at or under (Mind + 3) to succeed (a roll of 2 is always a critical success; a roll of 12 is always a critical failure).

  • A potential rule addition is to allow each character to choose one sub-specialty for any one skill (if skills are used in a campaign). The rules presented on pages 57-71 and 197-199 of BESM second edition still apply; plus, if a task falls within a character's chosen sub-specialty, the character receives an additional +1 bonus to the skill check. Returning to the example in the previous point, a character with Skill Level 1 would have a total of a +3 bonus if the required task falls within the character's sub-specialty.

    [Image of Sailor Lace]The sub-specialty should be extremely specific within the specialty. For example, a character with the Computers skill may specialize in Programming. If the character has worked extensively as a Webmaster in Silicon Valley, he or she may take a sub-specialty in JavaScript to reflect the innovative work done on the company's Web site to create an impressive interactive experience for the site's visitors.

    If a character can make a convincing argument, the GM may allow two sub-specialties on a case-by-case basis. However, the two sub-specialties must be very closely related. In the example of the Webmaster, a second sub-specialty might be taken in HTML, as many Web pages incorporate JavaScript within the HTML documents. However, if a character needs to accomplish a task for which both sub-specialties can apply and thus provide a benefit, only one sub-specialty can be used for the dice roll modifier.

    The GM may also impose a restriction that a sub-specialty may only be taken at Skill Level 4 or higher. At Skill Level 4, the character is a veteran with the skill, having had extensive training and practice. With this restriction, characters cannot use a lower-level skill sub-specialty for something which is not likely to be used on a regular basis or for which insufficient training has been completed to obtain a sub-specialty, especially for skills at Skill Level 1. The GM may raise or lower the Skill Level restriction as best fits the campaign

    Other examples of sub-specialties include:

    • Animal Training: Specialty in Canines/Dogs, sub-specialty in Pit Bulls (for a character who trains animals for television and film appearances, commercials, etc.)
    • Artisan: Specialty in Woodworking, sub-specialty in Antique Restoration (for a character employed or retained by a major auction house)
    • Cultural Arts: Specialty in Occultism, sub-specialty in Tarot (for a character working as a fortune-teller)
    • Disguise: Specialty in Make-up, sub-specialty in Horror (for a character working as a make-up artist for a horror-genre film director in Hollywood)
    • Forgery: Specialty in Paper Documents, sub-specialty in Passports (for a character providing or selling illegal passports to illegal aliens, criminals, etc.)
    • Gun Combat: Specialty in Pistols, subspecialty in Kahr P-9 (for a character who relies almost exclusively on this particular weapon for self-defense)
    • Linguistics: Specialty in French, sub-specialties in Medieval Language and Medieval Literature (for a character conducting serious research, well-published and respected in the field, and teaching at a major university)
    • Mechanics: Specialty in Aeronautics, sub-specialty in Spacecraft (for a character working as a repair mechanic at a major spaceport)
    • Navigation: Specialty in Urban, sub-specialty for Tokyo or another modern or futuristic major metropolitan city and nearby suburbs (for a character working as a taxi driver)
    • Performing Arts: Specialty in Drama, sub-specialty in Shakespearian Theater (for a character who is a famous actor or actress)
    • Seduction: Specialty in Females, sub-specialty in Young or Young-looking Teenage Girls (for a character - typically male, but not necessarily so - with a lolita fetish)
    • Social Sciences: Specialty in Sociology, sub-specialty in Race Relations (for a character in or closely connected with Academia and/or a foundation for social change)
    • Sports: Specialty in Auto Racing, sub-specialties in NASCAR Winston Cup and IROC (for a character driving in both series in the same season)
    • Urban Tracking: Specialty in Underworld, sub-specialty in Drug Trafficking (for a character who is a member of a local, state/provincial, regional, or national police-based orgainization specializing in combatting the manufacture, trade, sale, and use of illegal drugs as defined in the game's world)
    • Wilderness Survival: Specialty in Mountainous Terrain, sub-specialty in the French Alps and in winter survival (for a character working as part of a Search and Rescue team for a ski resort)
    • Writing: Specialty in Politics, sub-specialty in Speeches (for a character employed as a speechwriter for one or more major politicians or aspiring politicians)
  • Dice rolls of 2 constitute a critical success, and dice rolls of 12 constitute a critical failure. What occurs as the result of a critical success or a critical failure is largely up to the GM. Some suggestions:
    • Critical Success of an Attack: The opponent(s) may not defend, and all damage done is doubled or multiplied by 1d4.
    • Critical Failure of an Attack: The character completely misses with impressive results. For example, a critical failure of a grenade launcher attack might mean that the character suddenly lost his or her footing when pressive the trigger, and instead sent the grenade in the wrong direction.
    • Critical Success of a Defense: The character defends well enough to halve or completely avoid the incoming attack. Depending on the type of defense used (if specified by the character before the defense roll was made), the character may even end up in a positive position in relation to the opponent(s), potentially including returning the attack back on the opponent(s).
    • Critical Failure of a Defense: The character receives double damage, or the damage is multiplied by 1d4.
    • Critical Success of a Stat Check or Skill Check: The attempt is successful with impressive results. However, depending on the nature of the Stat or Skill Check, the attempt may simply be "successful," as in successfully withstanding a loud noise or being able to safely remove a jammed tape from a VCR.
    • Critical Failure of a Stat Check or Skill Check: The attempt fails with impressive results, such as a massive electrical shock emanating from the VCR, a severe earache as the character cannot withstand the loud noise, etc.
    If the GM decides to use 1d4 to multiply the damage received on a critical success or critical failure, the GM must allow characters to choose Divine Relationship if they wish, as multiplying any damage by 4 is likely to either cripple or obliterate many characters, especially if the attack normally carries a high amount of damage. Also significant on a critical success or critical failure, a roll of 1 (on 1d4) for multiplying damage may be interpreted as multiplying by 1.5, to better reflect the "critical" nature of the success or failure.

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Stopping a Gaming Session
Often, RPG sessions are held at night... often late into the night. Once the session goes on past midnight, the players and/or the GM will likely begin to succumb to fatigue. The GM needs to be aware of this and begin to bring the gaming session to an end. Sometimes, there will be a "natural" break in the campaign, such as the end of an adventure, or the discovery of an item needed later in the adventure. Perhaps the players have just met their next opponent(s); this would be a good time to stop, and also allow players (and the GM) to think about how to proceed with the combat once the next gaming session begins. If there is no good point at which to end the session, at least allow everyone to take a break for about ten minutes, to refill on caffeine, take a quick walk outside, etc.

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Truly Knowing the Characters
Players should be strongly encouraged to spend at least 20 minutes alone before gameplay begins simply learning the intricaties of their characters. (This may not be as necessary if the players are playing the actual characters from anime series and films they know fairly well: Rick Hunter, Fuu, Gene Starwind, Subaru Sumeragi, Lina Inverse, etc.) This will reduce the time needed to look up information on the character sheets to a minimum during gameplay, providing a better gaming session overall for everyone involved. Similarly, the GM should be as familiar as possible with all NPCs needed in a given campaign or gaming session.

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