The Game Master

Here’s how being Game Master works. You start each session with a number of tokens equal to the greatest number that any player holds. (If you’re all starting from scratch, all of you start with seven tokens.) Furthermore, you get a number of Plot Points equal to the combined Traits of all the player characters. (Plot Points are abbreviated “PP” but I’m going to leave the juvenile bathroom humor as an exercise for the reader.)

Example: It’s the first session of a new campaign, and your three players each build characters with four points’ worth of Traits. You get twelve Plot Points with which to build your plot. Each player, you included, starts with seven tokens.

A few sessions later, one player has been hoarding tokens and has amassed an even dozen of them. The two other players have accumu­lated about five points of Temporary Trait advantages each. This means that when the next session starts, you have twenty-two PP to build adversity (the original twelve for their permanent Traits, plus ten for the temporary stuff they’ve gotten) and you have twelve tokens with which to impose your will.

Example: It’s the first session with three players, so you have twelve Plot Points. You’ve demanded that the players all create characters who work for Categorical Imperative magazine. They’ve been sent for a cruise on the S.S. Bacchanalia, the more luxurious starship in the universe according to its P.R. department. Their assignment is to describe the trip and, if possible, get an exclusive inter­view with the band Buckminster Fuller before their rivals from Playborg magazine do so.

Your plan is that they confront a ticketing problem, then have to put up with the machinations of the Playborg reporters, and also deal with the eccentricities of the band members. With your twelve plot points, you create a Lost Ticket Hassle with Challenge 4. They aren’t in the computer, they don’t have their receipts, and anything they try to do to get on board is countered by four free tokens’ of trouble. Next, you build the rival reporters with broad Traits at rank 2 (one has OBNOXIOUSLY PUSHY REPORTER and the other has LAST SURVIVOR OF A PROUD WARRIOR RACE). (Yeah, he’s a crappy reporter, but he’s been coasting on that Warrior Race cachet for decades. Do YOU want to tell him he’s fired?) Finally with eight points spent, you stat up the musicians – ODIOUS, PUSHY, DRUG-FRIED, ABUSIVE ASSHOLE 2 and ROBOT LIAR 2. (You’ve got a whole backstory for the robot, about how he worked for a law firm until he got hit by a tailored computer virus. He was, quite literally, bitten by the Music Bug.)

Good to go, right? Except one of your players bails out at the last minute, so you only have eight PP instead of twelve. No problem – reduce the Lost Ticket Hassle to 3, and hack a point apiece off of ROBOT LIAR, LAST SURVIVOR and PUSHY REPORTER.

While it’s a good idea to allocate PP before the game starts, Plot Points aren’t fixed until the character or event comes into play. This means that if your players junk your plotline and rampage off in an entirely unexpected direction, you can spend PP on the fly to build challenges and GMCs.

Fair warning: This sort of truancy happens a lot. It is, in many ways, Token Effort at its purest.

Example: You make it exactly ten minutes into your game when the players fold before the Lost Ticket Hassle. “If our editor can’t even get this right, who wants to work for him? Screw this.” They turn and leave the ticket office, completely blowing off the assignment before they even meet the antagonists you’ve planned.


The Plot Points spent on Lost Ticket Hassle are gone, but you can now render down the musicians and rival reporters, using the PP you’d spent to build them for… well, whatever. Asking what the PCs are going to do, they decide to head to a baseball game. Off the top of your head, you have a beautiful alien spy press a strange package into their hands in the stands and whisper – “For the safety of the galaxy, defend it! Meet me at the fifth entrance to Donald Trump’s tomb when the sun sets!” You can spend PP on the spy or the package or to build enemy agents.