Setting up a game for success

By Cixtian S. Trybe
It is important, in the whole scheme of things, to set up a game properly –before- play begins, so that success (A long enjoyable game life) is possible, and players understand what is to come and what is expected of them during play.

The first thing I advise all Game Masters to do is develop a set of house rules. These are rules of play that the Players should read, and agree upon before the game ever begins. This keeps everyone on the same page, as far as how and when the game is run, as well as what is expected, and what is appropriate for your game.

In some games the House Rules, are called the ‘Play Contract’, and represent a document comprised by both the players, and game master to erect an agreed upon set of objectives and rules. These documents tend to sew a bit of solidarity with the group, and the GM because they are both putting forth effort toward the success of the Game.

Other games have Rules listed by the game master, and are immutable laws that can and should not be broken.

Air, and attitude
The air and attitude that is used to comprise your list of rules is a very important aspect. It is the language, and manner used in writing these rules, and it’s important because it tends to convey the very nature, and attitude of the people who are running or moderating the game.

In general we advise that a list of rules be written in a friendly, non-imposing manner. Stating the list of rules in an empirical, or unbending manner gives the player the sense the GM is himself, empirical, and unbending… a trait that is quite undesirable in a game master.

Conversely, an attitude of silliness, and joking apathy, tends to cause people to wonder at the seriousness of the game master, and thus the game.

To strike a good prose, it’s important that the GM write things as if he understands that this thing he is doing, this master piece of writing, is just a game in most of his players eyes. Make your points, and be direct about them, but don’t be tyrannical, or iron fisted. It’s understandable to want things your way, but flexibility, and openness goes a –loooong- way in a game.

Listing Rules
It’s important to format the rules so that the players understand what each rule is. Write down each bullet point as a single, clear, concise sentence, and then elaborate on them in sub paragraphs. I know this sounds ‘anal’, but a player wants to get into the meat of the game as quickly as possible, so by bullet pointing the main rules, he can, if he wishes breeze through them to get the general ideas… AND when something catches his eye, that he doesn’t quite understand… he can delve further into the ruling.

Adapting Rules to the play group
While it is in no way a mandatory thing, I suggest that a GM grant all players the option of adding rules of their own to the list, or even suggesting changes to the established rules. This serves three purposes:

FIRST… it gets the players involved in the heart of the game. (In another article I talk all about getting good players, and keeping your players in the game, mind body and soul. Read it!) They start to feel like more than just players, because they see that ideas and decisions they have are changing the face of the game.

SECOND… it covers bases you might not initially think of in your own writing. These players are often coming from all over the place… all walks of life, and they are joining the game and dragging their likes and dislikes of other games with them. You want the best game you can have, this is your source of material. Use it.

THIRD… it let’s you know what the players want, and weather or not you are truly up to the task at hand. If your players all think that one of your rules is wrong… LISTEN TO EM… you’ll find it easier to keep good players if you aren’t holding stringently to that ‘You must post in the nude’ rule.

In essence, keep your group in mind through out the development stage of your game, and especially when devising house rules. It’ll save you time, heartache, and possibly save your game.

Content is an important aspect to the House rules list. It’s useful to know that the players understand what you expect as well as –why- you expect it, and it’s also important to get this understanding across in as clear and concise a way as possible.

On a house rules document I tend to place ## Areas of content:

Posting Conventions – This lets players know what I expect to see in a post as I get it. This tells them what to put in the subject line, how much writing they should do, how they should close, and how they should edit the ‘saved content’ in replies.

Characterization – This is the area where I talk about the appropriate ways of interacting in the game. It deals with arguments, player properties (Such as characters, props and NPC’s), and consequences of in game conflicts. One of the first things I push in this section is –I AM THE GM SO WHAT I SAY GOES-. Of course I don’t phrase it so empirically but the point is gotten across.

Taboos – These are topics, and behaviors that are big –no no’s- in the game. It’s important because one players action can completely alienate an entire player base in a game. In Taboos I tend to post
Advancement – Advancement is important, because it let’s players know that they aren’t don’t this stuff for nothing. Put advancement rates, and the likes here.

Making the darned thing available
The main point of this thrust is “MAKE SURE YOUR PLAYERS HAVE READ THE RULES!!!” Some people add the house rules to a packet of info that is sent to every potential player of the game. This is a good idea because it gives the players a chance to read them early, and decide if they can live with these rules.

Below I present a sample of house rules I’ve used for a game I was planning to run. The game calls the Game Master the ‘Holly Hock God’, and there are other conventions that may not make sense, but the general gist is there.

Sample House Rules
Keep in mind that there are several key points to any game that I run. These are things that hold my concern above anything else.

The first thing would be ‘Player enjoyment’. If, at any time, you’re not having a good time, email me privately, and let me know what’s missing. I’ll do my damnedest to supply it for you.

The second thing would be ‘the story’. The game is being run for the sake of the story, so keep that in mind as we play. I want an interesting story to be the result of this game.

To support these ideas I present the following house rules.


* 1 – Post only once per every 2 or 3 posts, or once every 4 hours.
The point here is to be sure that no one is able to highjack, or impede game play, and plots. By only posting every 2 or 3 player posts we insure that everyone gets a chance to post, and respond to your posts. By opening it up every 4 hours, we grant players the ability to move forward even in a player isn’t available to post.

* 2 – Post at least 2 days in the 5 day week.
This rule goes along with rule one, but we should keep in mind that not everyone can post every day, and constantly through out the day. We should also keep in mind that other players may be counting on us, so don’t skip out on us in mid scene, please. If someone –doesn’t- post in a week period, their character will be slept (Moved from the scene, and put off somewhere until you return). I don’t like kicking people out of the game, but don’t be surprised if other players don’t respond so well to you or your posts.

* 3 – Posting is not mandatory on weekends.
Everyone needs rest sometimes. Weekends are best rest times for most of us. This doesn’t mean you –can’t- post on the weekends, but don’t –expect- responses.

* 4 – Please keep post between 2 and 5 paragraphs
This is to aid the Hollyhock god in workload, and posting and keeping from going insane. There’s nothing more deterring than to jump on and find one player who’s posted a 30 page post, and expects some response… imagine that 3 or more players did that… regularly? Who has time to read all that, let alone, reply? The flip side is getting a single sentence post. It’s frustrating, cause it shows a lack of interest in the game.

* 5 – Digests will come once a week, on Saturday evenings.
Digests are quick run-throughs of the action for the week. The HG will plan on doing it, UNLESS some player wishes to make some extra Pips one month, and takes on the task. HG will determine how much such a player deserves every month, but trust me… it will be lucrative. In cases where multiple players do Digests, the situation will be handled in one of 2 ways… player vote… or, in the case of specific digests (IE Diary’s from character POV) separate pips will be awarded.


* 1 – Hollyhock God rulings are law and word is the final say.
Ok, this is basically to say that the HG is the GM, so don’t argue with him/her/it. I don’t like kicking people out of the group, but I will if there is definite undermining of the game by any player. Keep in mind that there is a difference between argument, and debate. Debate if you will, but know that HG is the last word.

* 2 – Players Characters are players property and responsibility
I typically like to run games where the focus is the story, and not the characters. When I have run those games in the past, I instated a sort of ‘Post Editing’ rule, that says that to keep the game moving, a player may make assumptions about other players characters actions, but that at any time the original player can edit that post to what his character actually does. I’m –NOT- instating this rule in this game, unless players agree on it. Instead, players may post –only- for their characters, unless the subject characters player grants permission. Don’t post for other people unless they ask you to. The consequences will be… dire.

* 3 – Props are open for the game
Props are characters, items and things that do not specifically belong to a specific player, or the GM. These are not called NPC’s because Non-Player characters are very different things. Props are normal, average people, spirits, and other minor creatures, and items.

* 4 – Non-Player characters are like Player characters in all respects.
NPC’s are the property of the GM’s or the PC’s, and are listed as such on character sheets. NPC’s are subject to the same rules as PC’s, so keep this in mind during play.

* 5 – Playing the board is encouraged.
Playing the board is the concept of describing an area, behavior, or scene logically, although the HG has given no information. For example, if the HG says “ You stand in a large kitchen”, it’s not unheard of for a player to decide that there is silverware in the drawers, or that the water runs. The trick is to make sure that you’re playing the board so that it makes sense. You aren’t building plot twists, or anything; you are just filling in blanks left by the HG. Similar things can be done with character backgrounds. And the worse that will happen is the HG will say “no, that’s not exactly true.

* 6 – Character death –can- happen.
As simple as this sounds, a lot of people don’t really appreciate this. Take a stupid action, and you could end up dead. Don’t be surprised just accept it.


* 1 – Advancement will happen once a month.
The Date of game start will mark the date each month that advancement will happen. I’ll set up a notice that will alert everyone that advancement is happening. Advancement lasts 1 week, and list of enhancements must be turned in for them to be established.

* 2 – Experience is awarded in character point fragments called ‘Pips’
Each Pip is worth 1/10th of a character point. As such an attribute would cost 30 pips to raise by one, so on and so forth.

* 3 – Characters (not players) receive a pip for every post made during that month.
A Post is considered viable if it follows all the posting conventions (See above), and is between 2 and 5 paragraphs long. Hopefully this will encourage players to post regularly.

* 4 – Hollyhock will supply more pips for other things, such as interesting story, role-play, and game play.
I try to appreciate my players, and when something interesting, unexpected, or well played happens, I’m rather giving with the pips. Be careful though, funny and corny are not far apart on the spectrum, and you get no points for corny. Also running gags give you pips once, maybe twice, but make sure it doesn’t get old. Bad guy characters can win Pips just as easily as good guy characters.

* 5 – Players are encouraged to keep track of their own Pip totals.
I make mistakes, and you may do things that I don’t think of come Advancement. Feel free to remind me, but keep the first characterization rule in mind. If I say no, better luck next month.

* 6 – Characters (not players) my expend Character points during advancement ONLY.
This should be pretty self explanatory. I don’t want people ‘manifesting’ useful powers at crucial moments. They only advance at advancement. And Characters –should- have some explanation for the enhancement that the characters gain during advancement.