From Castles & Catacombs: The Gamemaster’s Guide:
Hail and well met! So you have decided to assume the mantle of Gamemaster. It is not a charge to be lightly undertaken. You will devise and govern an entire world for your friends to explore. While each player becomes one character, the Gamemaster, or GM, not only creates his world but assumes the role of everyone else, each hostler, slattern, blacksmith, and foppish dandy; each goblin, wraith, ghast, ogre, and dragon.
If you are not daunted, read on!
From The Player’s Guide:
Usually your GM relates the story and you the player, in the role of your character, respond when you can take action. The GM may call on you to make a decision, or you may see an opportunity arise and announce an action out of the blue. The actions you can attempt are limited only by your equipment and your abilities, which you write on your character sheet according to the rules in this book. What happens then is up to your GM, and to luck as represented by the dice.
Your character prospers by solving mysteries, outwitting or slaying monsters, and acquiring greater treasures, more powerful magic, and larger fame. To represent your personal growth, your successes also gain you advancement points to attain higher rank and take on greater challenges. The higher your rank, the greater your skill and luck, which means the lower the numbers you need to roll to succeed at some action, like to climb a wall, resist a spell, or leap a crevasse. Your foes become easier to hit; likewise, you become a harder target for your foes.
The Lakebridge adventure was underway, and Steve had his audience Curt and Rei on the hook. He said, “As the door to the inn closes, you hear the guy make a surprised yell outside. A weight thumps the door, and dust puffs around its iron bands. Something hisses.”
Now the table was scattered with character sheets, in addition to the polyhedral dice and lead figures. Steve hid his story notes behind a cardboard screen printed with the image of a rearing dragon. Though hunched in on himself, Rei still towered over Steve and Curt. His Japanese mother had lent him her features, gleaming ebony hair, and nervous energy. His height he obviously owed to his Finnish dad. He was not merely tall but awkwardly tall, in contrast to his undersized character, Dirk the thief. His name, too, was an odd East-West compromise, spelled Japanese but sounding like it was short for “Raymond.”
Between Steve and Rei, the upholstered swivel chair sat empty, in anticipation of the new player. It was the most comfortable chair, but Rei hadn’t complained when Steve made him use one from the dining set.
Rei finished his Coke and slammed down his empty can. “Dirk draws his magical daggers.”
Steve said, “You hear a wet crunching, really nasty.”
The other player in attendance, Curt Jones, huffed and rolled his eyes. He sat right in front of Steve. Curt was a delicate auburn-haired kid with red cheeks, a stub nose, and glasses. He wore an expression of tense exasperation. A year older than Rei and Steve, he openly prided himself on knowing the game rules to the letter.
“Arslan strides in front, draws his scimitar, and throws the door open,” said Curt.
“Okay, there’s nothing there.”
“I step outside.”
“A ragged figure jumps around the corner. Arslan almost runs him through. It’s the drunk. He’s slack-jawed and wild-eyed. He starts to gibber, ‘They killed the guard; they took him.’ ”
“Who did?” said Rei.
Curt said, “We don’t know yet!”
Steve thought he heard a sound upstairs. He balled his hands, and his palms felt damp. He looked up, but by the plodding footfalls, Steve could tell it was just his dad in the kitchen. They had about forty-five minutes till eight o’clock.
Curt and Rei were both frowning at him.
Rei said, “Dirk slaps him to get his attention.”
From The Player’s Guide:
Though his word is law, the GM will often cede authority to The Dice. The dice are those five polyhedra known as Platonic solids: the four-sided pyramid, or tetrahedron; the six-sided cube, or hexahedron; the eight-sided octahedron; the twelve-sided dodecahedron; and the twenty-sided icosahedron. The Platonic solids have been the marvel of sages for thousands of years. There is magic in them to capture the randomness of a living world. Each of their sides is the same length, and each of their points is surrounded by the same number of faces; therefore, the chance that any given side will come up on a roll is equal.
The GM uses the dice to resolve conflict. There are tables to match the character’s skill against some obstacle. One type of skill is the combat score. A character’s strength, speed, and experience rank determine this score. Using the combat table, the GM references a combat score against an opponent’s armor rating, and rolls a die to determine a hit . . . or a miss.
From The Gamemaster’s Guide:
The dice should not rule your game. Used with the various tables, they can suggest an interesting development, but they should not be allowed to break your story. Sometimes, you make a show of rolling the dice while actually ignoring the result.
“Okay, the drunk blinks, and then he claws weakly at your armor like he’s trying to get support. He says, ‘Red eyes! Red eyes and mist!’ ” Steve dramatically rolled a die behind his screen and pretended to look at it for guidance. He paused a moment before saying, “Meanwhile, you notice that on the outside of the door, there’s a head-sized circle of blood, just beginning to run and drip onto the floor of the inn.”
“Uh oh,” said Rei. He wiggled in his seat and scratched peevishly at the side of his crewcut.
Steve said, “The drunk points back into the dark before squeezing past you into the inn. Two man-sized shadows appear and begin to advance. Their eyes glow red.”
“Ah, shit,” said Rei. “Not vampires!”
Curt picked up the miniature figures representing his character Arslan and Rei’s character Dirk and put them down side-by-side near the edge of Steve’s cardboard screen where all of them could see. He then selected two generic peasant figures and set them facing Arslan and Dirk a short distance away. “How’s that?” he asked.
Steve nodded. Miniatures could help everyone visualize where combatants were, but they rarely needed them. Placing miniatures was typical of Curt until he got so immersed in the game that he forgot to be fussy.
Curt said, “Arslan swings at the one on the left. He gets a favored-enemy bonus of plus two; with strength, agility, and magic, that’s plus six.”
Steve said, “We need to figure out who goes first. The vampires, a man and a woman, gray-faced and bald in rotting burial clothes, rush in. Roll for attack order.”
Curt and Rei scooped six-sided dice and rolled. Rei moaned at his result.
From The Giants Campaign, a novel
Arslan had no time for a proper swing. He managed to interpose the scimitar between himself and the male vampire and caught it right through the torso. Dirk was borne back into the wall by the frenzied woman vampire. As she thrust her snapping fangs at his throat, he stabbed around her and up, both magical daggers sinking into her back. Meanwhile, Arslan’s vampire worked its own body up the blade to reach him. Arslan kicked it away, out into the dark. With the brief reprieve, he turned and decapitated the lady vampire trying to bite Dirk. Dirk pushed the corpse away. It landed just past the boardwalk, next to her still-rolling head. As the male vampire crept back, Arslan recovered from his swing. The monster paused, uncertain.
“Stake the body while I deal with him!” Arslan roared, making feints at his opponent.
After a few seconds the vampire hissed, then turned into a bat, and flew away. At the same time, the female vampire’s corpse and head dissolved into a shiny mist that whirled off into the night.
The companions caught their breath and eased back into the inn.
Curt said, “Okay, that’s a good break. I gotta take a leak.” He got up and as he walked off said, “Arslan’s going to clean his scimitar.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet,” said Rei, and Curt shook his head.
When Curt had gone, Rei picked up a book he’d been reading, a novelization of the new Star Wars movie that was coming out next week, The Empire Strikes Back. “So when will this new guy show up?” he asked, pretending to scan the pages. He’d been working on the book almost a month now.
“About half an hour,” Steve said.
Rei set the book aside and glanced back at the window, where sunset lit the city and mountains beyond. He turned back to frown at his character sheet, and then abruptly got up and went to take in the view. He was always twitchy, and Steve measured the quality of his game mastering by how much Rei sat still.
“Damn you’ve got an awesome place,” Rei said.
He said this every week.
Rei breathed into his hands and rubbed them together, though the room wasn’t cold. Curt returned from the bathroom, sat down, and began to pore over the Creature Codex, the third volume in the core rules set after the player and GM guides. It cataloged the monsters usually encountered in the game. Curt had on a blue velour shirt with wide lapels and a V-neck that exposed too much of his scrawny chest, probably to show off the cheesy gold choker he wore. Rei and Steve had once discussed whether he was gay, and his attire recalled the question to Steve’s mind.
“Check this out,” Curt said. His voice was actually deep but he had an embarrassing nasal chortle. “This picture of the succubus is pretty hot.” Rei drifted back to the table as Curt giggled through his nose.
Rei and Steve exchanged looks and started laughing.
Curt tore away from the book. “What?”
Steve shook his head. Rei went to the refrigerator for more Cokes. He brought back three and elbowed aside miniatures to plant the cans on the table. After he sucked down one in a protracted gulp, he pointed at the remaining two and nodded to Curt, who waved him off. So he helped himself, again.
“Okay,” said Steve, “let’s get back to it.”
“Why are we here?” Rei asked.
Curt said, “We heard that giants were going to attack the town and we came to offer the baron our services.”
“Yeah, right. Why is it always a reward thing?”
“It’s not just a reward thing,” Steve said, a little irritated. “You’re following rumors of an ancient underground city, and you want to find it.”
“Is that where the giants are coming from?” asked Rei.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out!” said Curt.
“Why would they have a town out in the middle of nowhere with giants all around?”
Curt rolled his eyes, exasperated, but bringing Rei up to speed several times was a ritual Steve had come to expect. Patiently Steve explained: “The town is the baron’s fiefdom. He maintains a garrison to defend the frontier. The king wants him here.”
Rei said, “Where do you learn words like ‘fiefdom’ and ‘garrison’? You must be the smartest guy I know.” Steve thought this was probably true, but the flattery was also a formality — Rei’s signal that he was ready to concentrate.
This time, however, Steve had something on his mind. “The new player who’s coming is smarter,” he said.
“Really?” said Rei. “Who is this guy anyway?”
“Actually it’s not a guy. It’s a new girl at school, Tess.”
“What?” Rei stopped poking dice with his finger, and sat up. “When I asked, you said it wasn’t a girl.”
“No, I just asked if you knew any girls who play.”
“Oh, man,” said Curt, and shook his head.
Steve explained how Tess had embarrassed Mrs. Isobel with the math problem.
Rei frowned at the table, and began to stir dice with his finger again. Before Steve could finish talking about Tess’s math diagram she’d put on the chalkboard, Rei said, “She sounds a little stuck up. Is she hot?”
“Yeah, and cool. She dresses punk. She’s got long black hair, with lots of liner around her eyes.”
“Now you’re making her sound scary.”
Steve shrugged. “She stood up for me.” He explained the argument over his name. “We got kicked out of class together. Man, Mrs. Isobel’s a real bitch.”
“Yeah, you’ve said that before,” said Rei.
“Oh, get this: Tess’s foster dad is the principal.”
“Foster dad? She’s probably a juvie then. Maybe she got kicked out of juvenile hall or something.”
“I don’t think so. Her mom’s sick, and her dad isn’t around.” Steve glanced over and saw Curt brooding.
“Why didn’t you prepare us, though?” said Rei. “She sounds interesting, but having a girl in the game’s kind of a big deal.”
“I just don’t know any girls who play, is all, and you sound like you’re in love with her or something.”
“Are we gonna play, or what?” Curt said. Steve was grateful for the interruption.
“Yeah, sure,” said Rei, and stopped fooling with the dice. “Dirk goes back into the inn. So how about the drunk guy?”
“He’s inside, like I said, with the dwarf hostler.”
“ ‘Hostler’ — that’s the owner right?”
“Yes!” shouted Curt.
From The Giants Campaign, a novel
Dirk and Arslan found the inn barred against them. Dirk shouted that they had driven off the vampires. The bar was lifted, and they burst inside to confront the innkeeper. The drunk cowered by the fireplace.
“Maybe you’d better tell us what’s going on here,” said Arslan.
The dwarf returned the bar to the door and said, “Take a seat.” When they did, he went and banked up the fire while he spoke.
“No one’s allowed up at the keep now. Men have been turned away on different excuses, even the supply wagons. A few of the baron’s guard went to scale the walls with ropes this afternoon. We saw them go in, but no one’s come out. We think it has to do with the young man.”
“What young man?” asked Dirk.
“Some foppish stranger rode in the other day, throwing word about that he got the baron’s daughter pregnant and expected to marry her. The rangers here in town say that the boy is lying, the lady’s not pregnant, but what he’s up to, no one knows. Most men wouldn’t even look at the baron’s daughter.”
“Ugly?” asked Arslan.
“No, not a bit, but fierce. Zadrian, she’s called. Few men have seen her, but she’s trained up as quite a fighter. The rangers don’t talk about their work, as a rule, but one got drunk after a nasty battle in the hills. He said she took apart giants like steers at the butcher stall.”
Arslan said, “Spreading lies about the lady seems a dangerous game.”
“Dangerous, aye, but this man was reckless, like he had a trick up his sleeve. He got friendly with the serving girls here. Soon the baron’s personal guards came for him, werebears according to rumor. No one thought they’d see him again, but two days later, he’s free in the streets, riding a horse! Last night, he went back to the keep. A few people who questioned him in public went missing this morning. Now we know why, I guess. He’s got vampires.”
Arslan said, “We need to find a priest. We’ll need crosses, holy wafers, holy water. . . . But right now, we need to secure the room.”
“Right. Just tell me what to do.”
The dwarf brought garlic out of the pantry and put it over each doorway. He built makeshift crosses with kindling and string. They took turns at watch, gathered around the fire, all except the drunk, who snored the whole time.
Aside from a few distant screams and bumps in the night, morning arrived without further event.
Someone knocked. When the dwarf opened the door, a breathless teenage boy informed him that the priest and acolytes in the chapel were missing. Dirk and Arslan left with him to investigate, but they found the altar and crosses desecrated and the holy-water fonts smashed. In the street several men saddled horses, their families standing by to leave town.
The adventurers took a break for provisions. Steve went for corn chips and salsa from upstairs. He checked the clock above the stove and saw it was now quarter to eight. When he came back, he found Rei replenishing the table with Cokes. They resumed.
“What’s ‘foppish’ mean?” asked Rei.
Curt said, “It means being obsessed with fancy clothes. It’s used in the rulebooks. Is that girl going to play the baron’s daughter?”
Steve said, “I don’t know what Tess is going to play.”
“We need a priest,” said Rei, then caught Steve’s eye. “Or priestess, I guess.”
“So let me get this straight,” said Curt. “A drifter came into town and started saying that he got the baron’s daughter pregnant, but she’s a badass. So why would he do that? Seems kinda dumb.”
“Right, it does,” said Steve. “That’s a mystery, isn’t it?”
“Should we go to the keep?” said Rei.
“First let’s go back and see if we there’s news at the inn,” said Curt.
Steve leafed through his notes, and read the setup to the next scene: “As soon as you arrive, the dwarf whispers that there’s someone in the private dining room who wants to talk to you. You go in and meet a cloaked figure wearing leather boots and gloves. He identifies himself as a ranger who was out on patrol. He tells you that he just came back to the keep. Scheduled visitors and delivery wagons were crowded at the gates. The baron came up on the wall and told everyone to go away for a couple of days. The baron seemed oddly stiff and blank-faced.”
Curt said, “Probably charmed or something.”
“Could be,” said Steve. “The ranger says, ‘What’s more, my scouts have spied giants sneaking toward the town.’ The ranger pauses to let this sink in before he says, ‘I’m impressed by what you did here last night. I’d be in your debt if you could help me.’ ”
“How?” said Curt, speaking for Arslan.
“ ‘I know a secret way into the keep,’ and he pulls a map from his cloak and hands it to you. ‘Maybe you can learn something. I need to get back to my men in the forest to head off the giants. I’m sure the undead are part of a coordinated attack; however, I have no choice but to leave them and the mystery at the keep to you. Good hunting!’ ”
Rei had both hands around his can of Coke and seemed to be contemplating another swig. “What time is it? Shouldn’t she be here?”
“It’s pretty close. I think this is a good place to stop for now.”
Curt buried himself in the player guide. Rei picked up his Star Wars book and intermittently read it and paced the room. Steve felt excited and apprehensive and thought maybe Rei was too, but then that could be Rei being himself.
Another twenty minutes passed. Steve was anxious. Why hadn’t she called? He’d give it till eight-thirty and then phone her.
“Where’s this chick of yours anyway?” said Rei. “She’d better be worth the wait. I’ve only got till eleven.”
“Yeah, no kidding,” Curt said, a little forced.
Steve sighed. “Both you guys, be cool, okay, when she comes? She’ll tear you a new ass if you mess with her, and it’ll piss me off.”
There was the distant sound of knocking at the front door. Both Curt and Rei looked up, startled. Rei half stood, but when Steve gained his feet, Rei sat down again. Steve crossed to the stairs, where he heard the door open.
His father said, “Hi, you must be Tess.”