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Subject: a "Keeper's Guide" - kind of ... rss

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Maddock Krug
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Hi everyone.

During the last couple of days I read through this and the FFG forum about Mansions of Madness. And I heavily focused on the question: "What is the role of the Keeper? And how is he meant to be played?"

Actually this topic may be about to discuss these two question. But the major idea behind this topic is to cross-reference all the various topics mentioned on both forums and also give a small summary and my evaluation about the results, what one learns from reading all this stuff. Feel free to comment on or about what is going to follow now ... This may be especially interesting for "new" MoM gamers.

Besides just an aside: The more detailed article I posted on the FFG board here here.

-----------------------------------
EDIT: + + + + + NEWS + + + + + +
thanks to the many different ideas shared by Dumont there have been slight modifications on the following ideas - these are marked as such. Reason: Although I do not agree to all the details of Dumont, I generally agree with him on most or many thoughts - if not from the beginning, then again right after many of his convincing arguments. Please feel free to comment, as I consider this an ongoing process. And maybe, if a certain point is achieved, there may be a complete new version of this text ... Until then it remains in this "beta-version".
EDIT - END


Basically I drew the following conclusions about the role of or the how-to-play the Keeper in MoM based on the major opinions throughout discussions including the posts up to today:

o The Keeper is a player and has his own goal per game-session to achieve. He should not be compared or even confused with a gamemaster in an RPG, since on the one hand MoM is a boardgame with - due to its nature - very limited game-mechanics and -concepts, and on the other hand an RPG adheres to totally different ideas of gameplay and gamefun. The Keeper should keep in mind that a boardgame like MoM is basically a game about a competition between him and the Investigators.

o The Keeper could play as hard as possible; but it seems to be general consensus often forum-commentators consider that in accordance with the Cthulhu-theme the main idea should could *also* be to scare the Investigators, to use horror elements and to slowly drive the Investigators mad and by that pushing the competition.

o A Keeper should could be flexible about his gamestyle because the game offers plenty of variations throughout each individual game session - due to the setup of the story, the way gamers play their Investigators, and the (small) random effects like drawing Mythos-Cards, results of dicing, and other things to happen. And it would not harm the game itself, if all the gamers talk about gamestyles before they start freaking out at the table ...

o Although this may be kind of an implicitness *and is supposed to the barebone within any gaming*, every now and then people share the idea that the Keeper should always play fair regardless of how hard he plays against the other players. *In this context the reminder appears* that kind of a "gamesmanship" (like sportsmanship) seems to be is a general attribute a Keeper should have in order to play along the competition with the other gamers in MoM. *But "gamesmanship" is not to be confused with giving up on his basic role of being a gamer in a boardgame competing with the other gamers playing the investigators.*

(Phrases between *...* are ammendments the order of these conclusions israndom and does not follow a quantification about validity, importance, annoyance or whatnot ...)

References:
FFG boards:
Keeper neutral ot playing to win
question after 2 games
Crushing the Players Dreams... Can the Keeper be Nice?
Playing Keeper - How to
Victory/losses ratio
BGG boards:
So is playing a keeper any fun
Playing the Keeper
The keepers dillema won the game or enjoy the game
improving as the keeper no spoilers
playing the keeper how to play it right
Game-Master
is the game master playing competitively
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Regardless of what other people think, or how other people want to play the Keeper, or want the Keeper to be played, I object to all but the first item on your "How to" guide.

As you have rightly put in your first item, the game is about competition between two teams - a team of one (the Keeper) and a team of a variable number (of players). The game is constructed that way, and strives to balance out both parties. The consensus, if I remember correctly, is that the game is best balanced when playing with more than 2 investigators. Although some scenarios are better balanced than others, and some (unfortunately) are faulty, even broken.

The biggest problem the game usually has in its beginning is that of different starting points for the players and the keeper. And I do not mean the Keepers advantage of knowing the Objectives, although it plays into it. The Keeper always has the advantage of knowing exactly what he can and cannot do, how the players will most likely behave, and how this relates to both Objectives, whereas the players have to learn to read the game setup, the Keeper Action Cards and the introduction for clues on how to best play the scenario. The problem is the learning curve for the players, and also that the role as Keeper is a lot more forgiving (in case of making mistakes) than that of player character.

However, once the players and the Keeper are on the same level (which can be fast-tracked by the Keeper helping the players in understanding said clues or hints), the game is a quite well-balanced struggle for victory. Chance plays a huge role, in the throw of the die, and the (Keeper's) draw of the cards, and can ultimately decide the outcome. Nevertheless, most of the game is a battle of tactics and wits.

So I ask myself: Why on earth should a Keeper pull punches in the game?
Granted, there is one situation in which I would do so. And that is first game. Meaning first game for the players. It can easily frustrate the players if an investigator is downright squashed by Keeper actions. Ultimately, that is the role of the Keeper, to destroy the players' path to victory, and to heighten his own chances of achieving it. But in the first game this can easily lead to players becoming so frustrated with the game that no-one wants to play it ever again. Which cannot be the intention of the Keeper - or else he would not get to enjoy the next game, for no next game would take place.
However, this should always be in accordance with the players, as players (especially gamers) do not like being handed a victory on a platter.

Fair play, in my opinion, is that a Keeper should do his damnedest to achieve his victory. Because only if the players have fought and won, they have earned their victory. Pulling punches is patting the players on their heads, saying "there, there, its not so bad - soft kitty, warm kitty...". That is not what competition means - that is derision.

You stated that this game provides no RPG situation. Why, then, should the Keeper try to "scare" the investigators if that is not partial to his Objective, or his overall plan? We are not playing a horror story, we are playing a tactical game with story elements. And by playing a board game, any kind of atmospheric elements are out of the window, anyway. Yes, the theme is Horror. But you will not get the players to experience that creeping sensation of dread you can create by reading a chilling story by moonlight, by watching a Horror movie or by playing an RPG in a dark room.

I know how to induce or feel dread or this creeping chill. I like Horror stories or movies, and I have been, for many years now, a Horror RPG GM. But board games are not the medium with which to induce such atmosphere or sensations. The most a board game can ever achieve is a sensation of tension, of suspense and exitement. And only games like Panic Station can induce such emotions. Games like Mansions of Madness, not so much.
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Maddock Krug
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Hello.

Thank you very much. I appreciate your comment - a lot. But I wonder in what way this is an objection to three of the four points I have concluded from the different sources I refer to.

From what I understand in your posting all of what you say is valid as well as covered by the broad sense of this guideline. You seem to propose the "harder way" to play the Keeper, and there is no reason to argue with that.

Again: Please keep in mind that my conclusions are the sum of opinions spread over two different forums in about a dozen different discussions. And yes, I stuck with what seemed to be the major understanding of the Keeper as well as a general understanding of how to approach the game. But my conclusions do not exclude most of the harder or more exclusive understandings of this role - except for this single one: The Keeper is not a gamemaster, because MoM is not an RPG.

Anyway: Maybe my assumptions and conclusions are wrong. Then I would be very happy to see where the flaws are, in order to change "my" understanding or opinions. I don't consider this topic or this kind of discussion as finished (yet).

Best wishes!
Mad
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How do you argue with a summary of other people's opinions? Well, to be honest, there is no basis upon which to argue this aspect. Saying that you "just" compiled those opinions here is like not giving any statement at all. So basically this argument has gone the way of the dodo before it even started. Well, then - I am not argueing with you, I am trying to point out the problems in the items you named being summed-up opinions.

Quote:

o The Keeper is a player and has his own goal per game-session to achieve. He should not be compared or even confused with a gamemaster in an RPG, since on the one hand MoM is a boardgame with - due to its nature - very limited game-mechanics and -concepts, and on the other hand an RPG adheres to totally different ideas of gameplay and gamefun. The Keeper should keep in mind that a boardgame like MoM is basically a game about a competition between him and the Investigators.


No argument here, as can be seen above...

Quote:

o The Keeper could play as hard as possible; but it seems to be general consensus that in accordance with the Cthulhu-theme the main idea should be to scare the Investigators, to use horror elements and to slowly drive the Investigators mad and by that pushing the competition.


I mentioned this above.
The item states "the Keeper could play as hard as possible. It is my opinion that a Keeper who does not do this, hands out scraps to the players. This, then, is not a full-on competition, but a game where the Keeper tries to form the experience the way he perceives the Cthulhu-theme. Because there is no objective perception of "Cthulhu-theme", and never can be.
What's more, the game world is set in a Cthulhu-themed design. The game itself, however, has nothing to do with Cthulhu or the mythos. It is not players against Cthulhu. It is not players versus going insane. It is players vs. the Keeper. Investigators, monsters, and going insane are all game mechanics, albeit thematically interpreted. Heck, this is not a story-telling game - and basically the Mythos and everything that it is about is about telling of fates of protagonists - or storytelling.

Then we come to the Horror aspect of the game. It is nice that the game has this thematic aspect. It makes it that more enjoyable. However, it is not a Horror game. There can never be such a thing as a competitive horror game. Because horror is not created due to parts of a board or card game.
Horror or fear can probably be induced by a computer game, due to suspense, darkness, music, perceived threat to the characters life - the character being a personification of the player at that time.
This is not, and never will be, the case in an abstract board game. Because in this aspect any game is abstract. A player will never feel with his investigator, or try to emphasize with him. He will probably not like to lose the character, as that would be a setback in the game. However, he will never dread losing him, because there is no connection to that abstract figure on the board.
Fear, however, can only be established for oneself or for something cherished. So applying the Horror elements is not an option.

Driving the Investigators mad - now there is a thought. But this is not done because it suits the story or the atmosphere. This is done because it is either part of the Keepers objective, or because it is hugely helpful to have an insane investigator, because the Keeper can do so much more damage to him, or through him.
Again, this is a decision based on usefulness and will to win, not on atmosphere. Applying this term is misjudging the game, or what a game in general can do. Heck, we are playing with some cards, some numbers and a dice. There is a decision-tree, and some puzzle feats. Thats all there is. The game could be called "Mr. Rabbit sells Icecream" - if the thematic was fitting, no-one would complain (with the exception of those who always complain). So there is no "do this because the Mythos tells you to" - the Mythos is bonus, nothing more. And that it is fitting is really cool. But that's it...

Pushing the competition by driving investigators insane - now that is something I do not understand. How does doing what a Keeper should do highten competition? It surely does not create competition between the players (with the exception of "Green-eyed boy", but there it is also not due to someone going insane). The competition is there from the start...

Quote:

o Although this may be kind of an implicitness, every now and then people share the idea that the Keeper should always play fair regardless of how hard he plays against the other players. In this context kind of a "gamesmanship" (like sportsmanship) seems to be a general attribute a Keeper should have in order to play along the competition with the other gamers in MoM.


Yes, fairness is implicit. But the only fairness there is in a board game is to "not break the rules", or "to cheat". Anything else is not unfair in the slightest. There is no clause for not repeatedly targeting one investigator, because that is the best thing a Keeper can do - eliminate the threat, or the competition, one by one. And keep them alive just enough so that they do not suicide their characters, to come back with a new and fully refreshed one. Yes, it is a dirty business. But that is how any game works. Except that in other, fully competitive games this usually means that the player constantly targeting one specific other player catapults himself out of the game. That is why gaming balance was invented.

In MoM, however, this is not the case. If you can cripple the gun-blazing maniac in a way that he is impotent concerning fights, that is exactly the right way to do. If you make the spell-flinger accumulate horror any time he casts a spell, or bleed some of the intelligence of the investigator that is the forerunner for puzzles, go for it. MoM is built to fight dirty. Hence all these Trauma- and Mythos cards. Make the player characters senseless puppets on the board.

This has nothing to do with un-sportsman-like behaviour. The game is for winning, within the rules. Everything that does not break the rules is allowed. It has nothing to do with giving the players a fair chance - the players have a fair chance, from beginning until the end. They are more than just one investigator - they are the whole group, and win as a whole group. So biting off one leg will slow them down, but will not deny them the win. Except when they do not play well.

And there we have the only exception to this - if it is the first game for the players, or if the players are not even remotely on the same level than the Keeper. This is the only instance where I would encourage the Keeper to help the players find their feet, to interpret the signs, and to understand what the best possible way of playing is. Still, I would only pull punches here if there is danger of frustrating players so much that they would never touch the game again. To ensure that everyone is in the right competitive mood next time. And to ensure that there is a next time...

Quote:

o A Keeper should be flexible about his gamestyle because the game offers plenty of variations throughout each individual gamesession - due to the setup of the story, the way gamers play their Investigators, and the (small) random effects like drawing Mythos-Cards, results of dicing, and other things to happen. And it would not harm the game itself, if all the gamers talk about gamestyles before they start freaking out at the table ...


No. Plain and simple - no. The Keeper is no entertainer, and it is not his job to make every experience of the game a complete and utter new revelation. That is the job of the game itself. And it does so by providing the Keeper with different choices during game setup. Additionally, it does so with the draw of the cards, and the roll of the dice, and finally the choices of the other players.
The Keeper has one objective, and only one - to win the game.

Also, it is usually not the Keepers job to provide the players with the gaming experience they would like to have. Heck, the game is what it is, and no cuddly petting zoo. What the Owner of the game (being Keeper or player) should do is to ensure that everyone understands what this game is, and what it is not. So that every player can start with open eyes, and without wrong expectations.

That said, there is nothing in the rules against playing the game however you like. You can play it lightly, as a story telling game, as more of a RPG-based Keeper system, or whatever. That is not what the game ultimately IS. But that is what any gaming group can make of it, if they want.


Okay. I think that should make the arguments agains the other items better understandable. However, bear in mind that I do not criticise you, but the items. As you mentioned, you just did the job of summarizing...
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There are two objectives for the Keeper:

1) Win
2) Facilitate everyone having a good time.

Where these are in conflict, #1 prevails.
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Hi there.

Well, although I agree with you, Dumon, on a general basis, I don't feel abliged to follow you on details. Besides that I am very happy that you share so many more different ideas and opinions that I really miss in most "Keeper"-topics on the BGG-forum.

Dumon wrote:

The item states "the Keeper could play as hard as possible. It is my opinion that a Keeper who does not do this, hands out scraps to the players. This, then, is not a full-on competition, but a game where the Keeper tries to form the experience the way he perceives the Cthulhu-theme. Because there is no objective perception of "Cthulhu-theme", and never can be.
What's more, the game world is set in a Cthulhu-themed design. The game itself, however, has nothing to do with Cthulhu or the mythos. It is not players against Cthulhu. It is not players versus going insane. It is players vs. the Keeper. Investigators, monsters, and going insane are all game mechanics, albeit thematically interpreted. Heck, this is not a story-telling game - and basically the Mythos and everything that it is about is about telling of fates of protagonists - or storytelling.


Different people perceive this differently. Although - from a very abstract or objective perspective - I agree with you, I also consider those ones who play MoM not because of its "objective" or "neutral" game-mechanics, but because of the Cthulhu theme. I know of different people I played with or I recognized on the FFG-forum, who play this game in order to immerse into the Cthulhu theme. That being said:

Dumon wrote:

Then we come to the Horror aspect of the game. It is nice that the game has this thematic aspect. It makes it
*snip*
Fear, however, can only be established for oneself or for something cherished. So applying the Horror elements is not an option.


Due to different approaches and different means of game-immersion this may also mean that people like to imagine the situation of their characters. And I understand that as a valid of playing this game. So why not playing it like that and stressing this kind of gamestyle?

Ok. The problem here would be that people playing MoM with a deeper "horror-" or "Cthulhu-theme-immersion" may run the risk of confusing a boardgame with an RPG. But the game-mechanics prevent this from happening, because the horror is simply being simulated with tokens and the vulnerability to trauma-cards.

Also: NO! The Keeper plays the evil world - the world of Cultists, Zombies, Mi-Gos, Hounds of Tindaloses and whatnot. Therefore the Keeper uses the tools of the game based on the Mythos of Cthulhu. Ergo he is part of the Mythos. Although there is no such thing as the Great Old Ones of the game, the complete theme of MoM is set into this Lovecraftian universese. And by using sanity-effects on Investigators - which is a fundamental and ever-occurring sub-theme of any Cthlhu-theme-game - the Keeper is bound to use the insane weirdness of this game-world.

Dumon wrote:

Again, this is a decision based on usefulness and will to win, not on atmosphere. Applying this term is misjudging the game, or what a game in general can do. Heck, we are playing with some cards, some numbers and a dice.


Sorry, again - no. If it was as simple, people would not choose to play a game with a theme; they would rather stick with any card game, because there you only play along card-values and/ or game-mechanics like Full House, Streets, Canasta or whatever. If gamers choose a game with a theme - regardless, if it is AH, MoM, Betrayal, BSG, even Civilization, Junta or which ever -, they simply wish to participate not only in a game about numbers, tokens and Cards, but also in a game, where the game-condition is to win due to the biggest empire, winning a battle, challenging Sauron or defeating monsters from Outer Space.

Reducing MoM to the game components and game mechanics alone is neglecting the "feeling" to the game. Sorry, I don't follow you here. (And this is not my conclusion from different opinions I read, but simply my personal understanding based on my various game-experiences with different gamers so far.)

Dumon wrote:

So there is no "do this because the Mythos tells you to" - the Mythos is bonus, nothing more. And that it is fitting is really cool. But that's it...


Sorry, no.

Dumon wrote:

Pushing the competition by driving investigators insane - now that is something I do not understand. How does doing what a Keeper should do highten competition?


Using the insanity-game-mechanics the Keeper influences the game-style and decisions of the other gamers. Still they wish to win the game. But in the role of an Investigator seeing that I cannot use my character as powerful as it would be without insanity, the Keeper's interventions or simply "suffering" the damage in sanity and making me vulnerable to different game-effects makes me think harder about what I should do, how I should deal with game-situations, how I may support the other Investigators. Therefore using the means of driving the Investigators into insanity the Keeper hightens the competition, as the gamers of the Investigators need to consider his actions or options as well.

Dumon wrote:
The competition is there from the start...


True. But please consider things farther below...

Dumon wrote:

But the only fairness there is in a board game is to "not break the rules", or "to cheat". Anything else is not unfair in the slightest. There is no clause for no
*snip*
mpetitive games this usually means that the player constantly targeting one specific other player catapults himself out of the game. That is why gaming balance was invented.


Yeah. Nothing new here, and especially nothing to argue about.

Dumon wrote:
In MoM, however, this is not the case. If you can cripple the gun-blazing maniac in a way that he is impotent concerning fights, that is exactly the right way to do. If you make
*snip*
ke behaviour. The game is for winning, within the rules. Everything that does not break the rules is allowed. It has nothing to do with giving the players a fair chance - the players have a fair chance, from beginning until the end. They are more than just one investigator - they are the whole group, and win as a whole group. So biting off one leg will slow them down, but will not deny them the win. Except when they do not play well.


Exactly. Nothing's wrong with that. Again: I agree with you on these ideas.

But:

Dumon wrote:

And there we have the only exception to this - if it is the first game for the players, or if the players are not even remotely on the same level than the Keeper. This is the only instance where I would encourage the Keeper to help the players find their feet, to interpret the signs, and to understand what the best possible way of playing is. Still, I would only pull punches here if there is danger of frustrating players so much that they would never touch the game again. To ensure that everyone is in the right competitive mood next time. And to ensure that there is a next time...


And that is exactly what I am telling you about, when I recall different voices asking for the flexibility of the Keeper.
Which is, why I don't understand why you dismay this idea so heavily by saying:

Dumon wrote:

No. Plain and simple - no.


This is a contradiction I do not understand.

Dumon wrote:

The Keeper is no entertainer, and it is not his job to make every experience of the game a complete and utter new revelation. That is the job of the game itself. And it does so by providing the Keeper with different choices during game setup. Additionally, it does so with the draw of the cards, and the roll of the dice, and finally the choices of the other players.
The Keeper has one objective, and only one - to win the game.


Again - no reason to argue about that. I fully acknowledge this.

But I truely wonder: Since there are so many different gamers with varying degrees of game-experience, gaming-styles, and game-expactiations both on the sides of the Keeper as well as the Investigator, I do not see the "robot" or "automaton" playing the gaming always at the I/O-level. All of them wish to win the game. The one Keeper is going all the way down to simply obliterating the other gamers; if he demoralizes the other gamers, he won't be the Keeper for long; same with the one riding the horse of insanity like a madman; but this may also happen to the Keeper roleplaying like crazy and confusing the MoM game with an RPG, while his gamers expect more kind of a Descent-challenge based on the Cthulhu-Mythos.
This, too, is what the idea behind "flexibility" ist - you as a Keeper should keep in mind who you are playing with. As you say: When there are new gamers around who do not know the game, there is no reason to flail them to death as if the end of the world is nigh ...

Dumon wrote:

Also, it is usually not the Keepers job to provide the players with the gaming experience they would like to have. Heck, the game is what it is, and no cuddly petting zoo. What the Owner of the game (being Keeper or player) should do is to ensure that everyone understands what this game is, and what it is not. So that every player can start with open eyes, and without wrong expectations.


This is actually not what I tell you with the four points I covered as "guidelines".

Dumon wrote:

That said, there is nothing in the rules against playing the game however you like. You can play it lightly, as a story telling game, as more of a RPG-based Keeper system, or whatever. That is not what the game ultimately IS. But that is what any gaming group can make of it, if they want.


My point - again in the point of flexibility.


Dumon wrote:

Okay. I think that should make the arguments agains the other items better understandable. However, bear in mind that I do not criticise you, but the items. As you mentioned, you just did the job of summarizing...


And I highly appreciate it. And what I recognize is that we seem to be pretty close to each other; only in details I see differences which enrich the possible understanding of my points.
But - promised - I will reconsider the chosen words on the "guidelines" - which they are, nothing more.

All the best!
Mad

tl;rd
(Sorry, was late tonight; maybe I will go over the text on Sunday again; now on Saturday I will be moving around a lot ...
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by ronczimmer wrote:
There are two objectives for the Keeper:

1) Win
2) Facilitate everyone having a good time.

Where these are in conflict, #1 prevails.


I will look to consider this a perfect summary of my conclusions from the different sources.

All the best!
Mad
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We come back to the same tidbits again and again. So this is basically a circle song of criticism. But still...

...and this time I will try to be concise, and not quote all the sentences etc.

First of all, I probably have to explain why I criticise your statements in the OP, in general. Well, the main reason is that this thread has the headline "A Keeper's Guide - kind of..." Unfortunately, the OP is nowhere near a Keeper's guide. You mention it yourself - you just sum up how other people seem to play, based on their opinions in two forums. So this is not your take on a Keeper's Guide, and it is not an objective guide, either.

The next thing is that most of your items state how the game could be played rather than should be played. Keepers should be flexible, should tailor their strategy to their players, and so on. This is a nice thought, but the game in general does not support this. Yes, you can play the game in several ways. But you can also play a game of chess with the queen being omitted from the start for both players. This might be quite a harsh example, but it might show that you can play a game any way you want.

Let me enhance this by stating how we play Arkham Horror, which ties in to your argument about atmosphere, and theme, and general Mythos-relatedness.
As a long-time Lovecraft fan, a long-time GM of the Call of Cthulhu RPG (and official promoter for the German publisher), I am of course interested in anything even remotely related to the subject. This is doubly true for related board games, as gaming is the other big hobby.
So it is natural that we play AH aswell. However, we play it differently. Less tactical, or strategic. More like adventuring in a RPG-like manner. A player having an encounter will not read the card before he makes his dice rolls. Another player will read it to him, and present him with choices, without stating the risks and awards. So the player NEVER knows whether it is a good idea to spend clues or not. This prevents the tactical approach towards this game, but it is immense fun for our gaming group.

The game could be played that way. This is our prerogative, because it is our game, and we can create our "house rules". However, this is not the game Arkham Horror , this is just our take on the game. Granted, there is no "the game should be played this way, or that.“ But the game that comes out of the box provides a specific set of rules, a specific setup, and a specific goal. And these corner stones are the basis for how the game is intended to be played.

Now, back to the atmosphere topic, and the Mythos-relatedness. Of course, most players will start playing the game because of its theme. All the aspects of it are well-fitting, and enjoyable. But it is not the only possible interpretation. The game could easily have been conceived as a more traditional "horror" game. Or even an adventure game, with excavations, labyrinths, etc. And even a fantasy theme is not far off.

The only thing that is probably most thematic, and would have to be changed even on a game mechanics level, is the sanity approach. I give you that. It is an essential part of this game, in that many objectives hinge on it, as well as part of the Trauma card mechanic. However, this is a mechanical aspect, based on theme. What makes it interesting is not that the characters are going insane, but that it impacts gameplay. Another mechanic could be designed for another theme, or game, and it would have as deep an impact as this one does.
Would another game be less entertaining, or intriguing? I doubt it. Would it attract a different crowd? Probably.

I am not saying that people are not intrigued by the subject. But, theme aside, how many of the players of this game really have an interest in the Mythos beyond this game? How many come from this interest into Loveraftian stuff? My guess would be less than half of the players. The theme piqued their interest, certainly, and I would never doubt that.
But if you created a similar game with a similarly intriguing theme, the same amount of players would flock to it.

For me, the game was on my radar because I am a Lovecraft enthusiast. For many others in my group, this too means that it is intriguing, or even more intriguing because they can relate to the topic as interesting. But they have no further knowledge of the subject then what goes on in the game, or at least not much. And if I were to show them another game that was as interesting in game flow, mechanic, and gaming feel, they would be as interested in playing THAT game then in playing MoM.

Yes, the game was designed based on the theme of the Cthulhu Mythos. Yes, it incorporates the Mythos in the design. But what you ultimately play is the mechanics. Why? Because there is no creative part in it. Sure, it is all the more enjoyable for it's fitting theme. However, you can only do what the game lets you do as a player or keeper. There is no interpretation, no creativity, no deeper involvement into the playing process. It is decision-making (hence decision tree), chance (throwing die, drawing cards) and applying the effects.

This is the game broken down to its spine. In itself, it would probably feel not that interesting. It needs a theme, to become more interesting. The theme itself makes it interesting for a specific crowd, but the theme is not inherent in the mechanics (regarding sanity, this particular mechanic is inherent in the theme).

You say it yourself, that the interesting part is the feel of a game. But this is only partly because of the theme. And then, do players feel for their investigators? Do they become agitated, frightened, disturbed if the investigators lose sanity? Annoyed, probably. And tense. But this tension is not due to there being sanity loss. This is due to there being a loss. Call it differently, the „feel“ of the game would be similar. The heightened tension emerges because your investigator loses his wholeness, and can become victim to more and more stuff in the game, and the question if, even with this flawed character, the game can be won, etc.
Yes, it is the feel. But the feel is how the game progresses. Not that there is a „Horror“ check or a „Shoggoth“. Those are words, nothing more. Even the descriptions on the cards of a „poltergeist“ attack, or a „broken“ arm give a thematic explanation to the mechanics that occur, but that is it. They are exchangeable.

What the descriptions do is let the players construct a story in their heads, a „why“ and a „how“. Games that deliver such stories are much more enjoyable than games that do not. This might sound contradictory to what I just stated, but in truth it is not. What I am aiming at is not that the game is interesting because it lets the players create a specific kind of „how“ or „why“, but that it lets them create it regardless of subject. It is easier to get „in the mood of the game“, to „experience the feel“ of the game, it becomes partially intuitive. However, if theme is exchangeable, then it is not the theme that creates a certain „feel“, but something else. Granted, theme enhances „feel“. But theme in itself, at least when board or card games are related, cannot provide „feel“...

Why this excursion into thematics and mechanics?
Because that is exactly what I base my argument on that the Keeper does not „play“ the Mythos. He is not obliged to play Mythos. In fact, he never can, and never will, play the Mythos. Because, if we take the original idea of Lovecraft into account, there is no „Mythos“ per se, just different creatures beyond our understanding, and cults and individuals who try to harness their power, for better or worse. There is also no way of understanding what Mythos creatures want. Or how they function. But as the game mechanics are, by default, restricted, and restricting, this can never be incorporated into the game.
Yes, i am a stickler for such details.

So how does the Keeper play the game according to what the theme (Mythos) demands? He does not. He can only play in a way that he thinks would create an exciting, suspenseful game. If he thinks sanity loss is partial to this, he can implement this as an important feat. But if the objective does not carry such an approach, he may be lost in wasting time, effort and ressources. The game, however, usually provides a reason for inducing sanity-loss. The most obvious one being that investigators are more vulnerable to attack, or to ploys of the Keeper, if they lose a lot of sanity. But the interest for the Keeper there is usually the outcome, not the infliction of sanity loss.

Also, I can imagine a scenario where the keeper has to prevent too much sanity loss for the players. Maybe there is a creature summoned in the end that feeds on sanity, and the keeper needs players to have a certain amount of sanity left to feed it properly. This would, however, defy one of the core concepts of the game, and would therefore need a lot of additional tools to still keep it interesting for both, players and Keeper. But it is possible. And this could also be quite Lovecraftian. A funny word – what does that even mean? Because sanity loss is NOT the main ingredient to make something Lovecraft-style – it is just the consequence...

Now, I unfortunately have to quote...

Quote:
Dumon wrote:

Also, it is usually not the Keepers job to provide the players with the gaming experience they would like to have. Heck, the game is what it is, and no cuddly petting zoo. What the Owner of the game (being Keeper or player) should do is to ensure that everyone understands what this game is, and what it is not. So that every player can start with open eyes, and without wrong expectations.

This is actually not what I tell you with the four points I covered as "guidelines".


Unfortunately, this is exactly what you tell us. Like you do with your approval of the following:

Quote:
by ronczimmer wrote:

There are two objectives for the Keeper:

1) Win
2) Facilitate everyone having a good time.

Where these are in conflict, #1 prevails.


I will look to consider this a perfect summary of my conclusions from the different sources.


It is definitely not the Keepers job to make sure that everyone is having a good time. Gaming is a cooperative experience, even if the game itself is competitive. Everyone brings their own mood, their own fun, to the table. And everyone is as responsible to make the game enjoyable for everyone else as every other player at the table.
If it was the Keepers job to „facilitate everyone having a good time“ that means he should pull punches for the sake of a player's mood. This cannot be intended, because it does make the Keeper neither a GameMaster (although, compared with RPGs, it is one of the functions of the GM to make sure that everyone, including himself, has a good time) nor a truly competing player. What this idea does, is make the Keeper vulnerable to the whims of the players, because he would have to react „in order to make sure that they have a good time“. By that, he actually would do what you so insistently claim he would not do – namely give the players „the game that they want“. This does not mean that he presents them with their dream-victory, but that he creates exactly the challenge that they want the game to be, outcome uncertain...

Actually, the statement by „ ronczimmer“ - that if these two are in conflict, then item 1 prevails – is unneccessary. Because they either are not in conflict, in which case everyone is having a good time anyway, and the Keepers prerogative is only to „win“. Or they are in conflict, whereas (according to the statement) the Keepers prerogative is to „win“. It makes the whole statement senseless, I am sorry to say.

To sum it up – the Keeper is just another player, nothing more, nothing less. He has other tools to ensure victory, and he plans differently. Apart from this, the Keeper has no function. There is no function to the Keeper beyond competitive player!

And then, again, to the seemingly contradictory mention of going easier on first-time players. This is only meant to be done if the players play for the first time. Why? Because they do not know the game yet, and do not know what they have to expect. Once they know, there is no reason to do this anymore. And the really egoistical reason for this is to get the players to play the game more than once with the Keeper-player, to get them „hooked“. Because without other players, the Keeper cannot play. However, once the previously first-timers experience how the game works, and enjoy playing it, it is time to play with no holds barred.

What the Keeper should (IMO) do, if he is more experienced than his players, is help them understand the hints they get as to how to play. This means that he helps them with their choice of characters, tailored to story, Keeper Action Cards, possible appearing monsters, and possible Keeper objective. All of which can be concluded from the Introduction story, and the Keeper objective cards, and the Mythos cards available. As well, the Keeper could help during the game, in helping to see different strategies, pointing out options, and understanding clues. This is NOT pulling punches!! The Keeper should still play as hard as he can or wants. He should, however, never mislead players in his helping during the course of the game – such insidious behaviour, which would probably facilitate a guaranteed Keeper victory is truly unfair.

Well, so much for being concise. But I never could explain what I mean by only using a few choice words, as some other people can.

But back to the roots. The main problem here is that this is not a Keepers guide - it is just a summary of possibilities. As such, you could also hav said "Some play it this way, some play it another way. So play it how you feel it should be played. And have ye all a great time!" So please do not call this a guide, not even of sorts...
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Maddock Krug
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Hi there,

Ok, I see your point. Again - in general I agree with you; and with you additional statements I see your arguments from different angles. Thank you very much. Still I think that most ideas and opinions (if not everything) you share are fully covered by the four conclusion I drew from the different forum-threads.

But ... !

Not "but" about what you wrote, but more about what I wrote in the original posting. According to this ...

Dumon wrote:
The next thing is that most of your items state how the game could be played rather than should be played.


... I have slightly amended/ changed the original posting. Because actually the "could" is a lot more what I'd rather like to express then the "should". Thank you very much for all your patience and arguing, which in the end "troubled" me a lot more to think about what I did.

This is not an apology: My personal opinions and expressions do not root as deeply in constrictions with Cthulhu-based topics like yours; I "only" look at it from the perspective of the gamer who enjoys the topic/ theme and discusses things from the point of view of a less professional, but regardless of that equally passionate observer.

All the best!
Mad

Edit: Corrections, clarifications ...
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MaddockKrug wrote:
Hi everyone.

During the last couple of days I read through this and the FFG forum about Mansions of Madness. And I heavily focused on the question: "What is the role of the Keeper? And how is he meant to be played?"

+Words


I thought that was a good summing up of the situation. Personally i find in a game like MoM it works best if the keeper pulls a few punches. Its not a game with great and taught rules, its more a vague and theame heavy game ment for being fun to play with friends. I think you should play it however you want, but I like it better that way. I think its part of the role of keeper to make it fun just as much it is part of the role of investigator.

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Kudos to Maddock.
I like the corrections.
Although I still do not see this (the OP) as a real guide for new Keepers...
Anyway, this, I can live with.
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Hey there,

thank you very much. You make me flush.

And if the seed falls on fertile ground, maybe I will even work on amending this "guideline" in order to make it more then kind of ...

But as of now I am more troubled with thinking about a different project for MoM ...

All the best!
Mad
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