Below is an excerpt from Bibliotecs. These are my thoughts on running games, especially this one. I am unsure if they have distilled properly, so I figured the best way to know if this is what I am happy with is to press ‘Send’. It’s written for Bibliotecs, but I think it could be applied anyway. It may have another, broad version created later. I think it covers a lot of the ideas I picked during the West Marches campaign as well as what I learned from creating Largshire.
The Arbiter supports the players to facilitate the story they are creating at the table.
Their job is not to be boss or to take sides, though they should want the players to enjoy themselves*. They embody the other characters of the world, the weather, the terrain, the narration, and anything else that the players do not, though the players may also embody those things too. In fact, if playing solo or co-op games the players will be the Arbiters too.
The Arbiter’s job is to present a scenario and then help the players negotiate their way through it. That sentence does not give the job its due service, but in essence that is what arbitration is. While that sentence is simple and implies that the job is too, it can be complex and seem a daunting task. Below are some strategies that will help you prepare for and run this game.
Prior reading: The first thing you should do is have a read of this book. You do not need to know the rules inside out, you should have an idea of what this game is about and some of the basics. You will have the book on the table all the time anyway, you can always check a rule.
Session 0: This is your first time getting together with players. This is where you set the boundaries for the game, discuss the expectations, create characters, and start building the world. This book is filled with tables to help spark inspiration so encourage the players to roll as much as they like to get the ideas flowing. You might want to make a character during Session 0 too. Keep your ears open and your pencil in hand, they will be talking and comparing characters and rolling on tables and all of that are threads you can pull on to create stories.
Worldbuilding at the table: In traditional tabletop roleplaying games the Arbiter might spend hours (years?) building a world for the characters to explore only to have them fixate on an offhand comment and never the lore you want. To combat this, don’t create anything. Give the players a map and let them fill it up during Session 0. Have them use The Oracles to build communities, factions, enemies, and motivations. They will be invested in the world, and they will tell you where they want to go and what they want to do.
Prepare, but not too much: You will want to have something ready for the players to run their characters through the next time you play. If it’s your first time you want to keep it simple. Start at the expedition site and get them into confined spaces quickly. This narrows everything down and funnels the players into a contained space. It will help you, and everyone at the table, to learn the rules and reduce the scope of the game.
Let the dice decide: If you don’t know, roll for it, The Oracle is there to help you. You are encouraged not to have everything decided before you play, you should play to find out what happens.
Ask the players to fill in the gaps: You do not need all the answers and you don’t need to know all details. Provide the players with the basics, the essential information required to progress the expedition, and leave everything else up for the table to invent and discover. The players will remember more when they create together as opposed to lore dumps from you. Use their insight and interests to flesh out the world, bring it to life, and guide the direction of the story.
Fairness, and open discussion: Be clear in your descriptions and give information freely. This game is a discussion punctuated with dice rolls and laughter. Be fair with judgments and speak openly with the players at the table.
Reading the room: Check in with the players at the table. You can do this openly through questions and discussion, but you can also do this through subtler means. Scan the room, are the players engaged in the game or are they scrolling through their phones, looking bored, or doing everything else but playing the game? It might be time to check in, and see where everyone’s head is. Do you all need a break, a change of pace, or is it time to wrap up?
The Golden Rule: Ignore the rules if they’re getting in the way. Use only what works for you and your table.
*If you do not want the players to enjoy themselves, you should stop reading this and go and do something else.
If you have any feedback or questions. Drop them in the comments. Below is the current cover on the playtest booklet. I love the artwork by Kiril, not sure if it will be the cover art as yet. But I’m digging it.
Long days and pleasant nights.