If you have never played in one of my games before and particularly if you are new to pre-cast freeforms, it is probably worth your while reading this section. If you have played in one of my games, you should pretty much know what to expect. Similarly, if you are used to playing in pre-cast freeforms, you can probably skip this section.
This section contains a discussion of what you can expect from one of my games and also what we (the referees and your fellow players) expect of you. If you do find that this section is stating the obvious, you will have to forgive me. However, I think that we (as players and referees) can get complacement and what's obvious to us is not always obvious to someone new to this type of game.
There are three areas discussed here:
What you can expectThe first thing to note is that my games and the games that I run (with the exception of Nepenthe) are rich in detail, which means that they have detailed game materials. All of my games are pre-cast and all the characters are pre-written. As a player, you have a choice of characters (see below) but you do not play any part in writing the character.
There are two elements to the game materials. The first is the game background and rules, which are available to all the players in the game. When I started running games 10 years ago, the background and rules for each game were available as part of that game's web pages. However, as time has gone on, I have found that this is a cumbersome way of providing this information. Now, I provide the background and rules in booklet form. This is e-mailed out before the game, either before casting, or with the character outline as a .pdf file or files. Printed copies are also provided in the character packet at the game itself.
The second element is information that is specific to your character and, generally speaking, is for your eyes only. Your character sheet will contain all the character-specific information you need to play your character. This includes your character's background story, motivations, goals and links to other characters, including what you know about them. It also gives detailed descriptions of any rules that are specific to your character (whereas the rules in the booklet are those which apply to all the characters).
To give you an idea of the size of the matierals involved, a typical character sheet for the game House on the Hill is between six and twelve sides of A4 (between 2,000 to 5,500 words). The background booklet for the game is 17 A5 pages and runs to 7,400 words, most of which is the rules. In contrast, a typical character sheet for The Man in Black is between eight and fourteen sides of A4 (between 3,000 to 6,000 words). The background booklet for the game is 29 A5 pages and runs to 11,600 words. Just over half of this is background material and the rest is rules.
All the game materials are provided electronically prior to the game and in printed form at the game itself. All of my communications are carried out via e-mail, with the exception of casting which is done via an on-line form.
What is expected of youGiven the rich level of detail in each game, you are expected to have read the background material, rules and your character sheet thoroughly prior to the game. Please keep the character-specific information in your character sheet to yourself prior to the game. You are also expected to have discussed any issues you might have with the referees in good time prior to the game. Not only will this aid your enjoyment of the game, it is also a simple courtesy towards your fellow players.
Not reading and understanding your character sheet and the background material can seriously impair your fellow players' games. Imagine approaching your character's long-lost brother in a game only to find that he doesn't recognise you because his player hasn't bothered to read the character sheet. Imagine seeking a vital piece of information you need and failing to find it because one of the players didn't read the background material and thus failed to understand its significance.
Before The Game
What you can expectThe game's web pages should be available before sign-ups open for the game. This will give you a chance to read about the game and its background so that you can see if it is for you. The time-line for each game is as follows:
Generally speaking, I try to cast my games one to two months before the game and look to get all game materials, including the character sheets, to the players between two weeks and a month in advance of the game. This gives the players plenty of time to read their character sheets. Once you have signed up for the game, you will be given a timetable of events, including a deadline for when you must fill out the casting form.
In an ideal world, I like to cast after the game has filled and once I have received all the casting forms. However, sometimes this isn't possible and it is always a balance between giving a small number of individuals as much time as possible to fill out the casting form and giving the majority of the players as much time as possible to prepare for the game. Where one or two players repeatedly ignore requests to fill out the casting form, it is not fair to delay casting for the rest of the players.
The casting form is an essential part of the game. It is the means by which you, the player, tell me, the writer/referee, what type of character you would like to play. What you can expect from me is fairness in casting. By that, I mean that I will do my best to cast on the basis of the information you provide for me on the casting form, rather than on the basis of my pre-conceived ideas of the sort of character you may like to play.
I will also not reserve what are sometimes perceived as the "best" roles for friends or known players who have played my games before (although I maintain that all of my characters are equally good and I try very hard not to write peripheral characters). I also try very hard not to let my preconcepts of gender dictate what character you should be playing. Therefore, if you come up as a good match with a particular character, I will do my best to cast you as that character, regardless of gender. Obviously, since this entails re-writing the characters
there are limits to what changes can be made.
The other thing that can happen prior to the game is that people sometimes have to drop from the game, usually for perfectly unavoidable real-life reasons. If you do find yourself having to drop from the game, or suspect that you might have to drop, please let me know as soon as possible. The more notice I have, the better I and the game will be able to cope with your absence.
As a general rule of thumb, the earlier you drop, the fewer problems it will cause. Dropping before casting has taken place causes very few problems, while dropping after casting has taken place is much more of a headache. Once I have sent out the character sheets, dropping becomes a major problem. Dropping on the day of the game has happened and is sometimes unavoidable due to illness or emergency. It is something we plan for and make contingencies for, but it does cause a lot of problems for the referees and your fellow players.
During The Game
What you can expectOnce the game is running, our job as a refereeing crew is to do our best to ensure that the game runs smoothly. Our role is to provide you with information and to run the mechanics. Our role is not to tell how to play your character or to guide the game to a specific outcome that we have in mind. You can expect us to be polite, to deal with your requests in a timely manner (although "timely" will depend on our work load) and to be fair in our rulings.
By fair, I mean that the referees will not attempt to thwart your actions or impose a specific course of action or outcome on your character or on the game. Once the characters have been handed over to the players, they very much belong to the players. In that respect, you can't play the character "wrong". However, as referees, we have a duty to the wider game and we do reserve the right to make judgements on the basis of what is right for the game. If we do this, we will explain as clearly as we can what we are doing and why.
To give a concrete and extreme example, if your character comes up with a novel way of crashing the airship the Royal Victoria ten minutes into a run of Intrigue in the Clouds we will not allow it, no matter how in-character your actions are! Ending a 4-hour game 3 hours and 50 minutes early is not acceptable!
Another aspect of refereeing is the consideration that all of my games are primarily roleplaying games rather than mechanics-based games. You are encouraged to solve your problems and achieve your goals by interacting with your fellow players. As a rule of thumb, cunning plans which give you an advantage on the basis of manipulating the rules or interacting with the referees as non-player characters (NPCs) are much less likely to succeed. Again, in making any such judgement, we will explain as clearly as we can what we are doing and why.
For example, in The Man in Black, your character may have the goal of stopping another character leaving the planet. Using your power as a UFG agent, you go to the spaceport and bribe an NPC technician to sabotage the character's space ship. This is unlikely to succeed and you would be given an indication of this (eg "those spaceport technicians can't be trusted", or "there are a lot of people around; you suspect that your man would be spotted").
This is an unsatsifactory approach to solving the problem on two levels. Firstly, it is unsatisfactory because it doesn't involve any other characters. You are simply using a mechanic to solve your problem. Secondly, you are not using a specific skill. Rather you are using your role (a UFG Agent) to order an NPC around.
A much better solution would be to find another character who has the ability to stop the ship from leaving. For example, you could approach the System Governor to use his authority impound the ship. He, in turn, may require something from you in return for the favour. This is much more likely to work, since it involves using another character's specific skill (impounding spaceships) and it involves you roleplaying with the System Governor and attempting to pursuade him to help you. Similarly, you could attempt to use your position as a UFG Agent to intimidate one of the Locals who has access to the space port and get him to carry out the sabotage for you.
There are no hard and fast rules about this, but the more we, as referees, feel you are manipulating the rules rather than roleplaying, the less likely we are to allow you to succeed. However, we will always explain as clearly as we can what we are doing and why.
What is expected of youFirst and foremost, please remember that this is a game and that it is supposed to be fun for both players and referees. Please (as players) be polite to and considerate of your fellow players and the referees. If you have a disagreement, be it with another player or a referee, resolve it amicably.
Please do not argue with the referees. We will do our best to be fair and open, but in the final analysis, whether you agree with a referee's decision or not, you are expected to abide by it. By all means ask for clarification, particularly if you do not understand a decision, but please do not argue with the referees.
Almost as importantly, you are expected to play honestly. Most of the mechanics in my games are based on self-administration by the players. If you have an ability that you can only use three times and which requires you to tick off a box each time you use it, forgetting to tick off the box after a use of the skill is a mistake. Mistakes are okay. Deliberately deciding not to tick off the box is cheating. If you cannot tell the difference between the two, please do not play in my games. If you do make a mistake, please rectify it as soon as you reasonably can.
You are also expected to costume to some degree. If you have an issue with costuming (eg limited wardrobe, time or budget) then please say so on your casting form and we will do our best to accomodate you. The referees and your fellow players may also be happy to loan you items of costuming for the game, but we can only do so if you let us know in advance.
Please understand that many players go to great lengths to costume for my games. While I do not expect the same level of dedication from everyone, you are letting your fellow players down if you just turn up in jeans and t-shirt (unless the role calls for it!). If in doubt, please discuss costuming with the referees prior to the game.
If you are having a problem during the game, please talk to the referees about it. One of the most infuriating things as a referee is hearing about problems after a game, when we can't do anything about it. If a plot's not working, or you're not happy about something, or whatever it is, please talk to us. I can't promise we will be able to do anything, but at least we can try!
You are expected to play your character as best you can. While the character is yours and you will never hear me or another referee tell you that you are playing the character "wrong", we do expect you to try to remain true to your character's nature. You are also expected to not deliberately ignore other characters or plots for out-of-character reasons (eg not liking another player).
There are times when you will have to ignore certain elements. For example, you are faced with three conflicting aims and only have the time to achieve one of them. That's fine, that's called a dilemma! Looking down your list of goals and deciding at the start of the game not to have anything to do one of them because you don't fancy it is not fine. It will have a detrimental effect on your fellow players and it's just not fair on them.
Finally, we do ask you to balance your character's actions with a consideration of what impact this will have on the game. While you are not expected to go against your character for the good of the game, when faced with choices, considering what impact they might have on the game (and choosing the action which will lead to a better game) is fine. It might be more appropriate for your character to sneak away quietly at the end, but it would be much more dramatic for everyone concerned to have a showdown with your arch-rival.
Me and Freeforms
What's a Freeform?