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Running The Game

GM, Framework, and Prep

Game Master

The Game Master (GM) is responsible for everything outside of the PCs: the world, its inhabitants, and the rules. They also:

  • Provide a framework for play
  • Prepare the base of a session’s content
  • Run the game and adhere to principles
  • Make rulings on actions and outcomes


The GM plans a series of sessions, one or more of which make up an adventure (sometimes called a module); multiple adventures constitute a campaign.

The GM prioritizes their attention by focusing on sessions, then adventures, then campaigns.

The centerpiece of any OSR game is a charged situation with opposing forces and conflicting goals. The PCs are the agitators and their influence should be felt.

The GM is responsible for producing this scenario, but not responsible for its solution or the PC’s involvement in its outcome. This template can be applied to any level of the game (from sessions to campaigns). The story and narrative will naturally emerge from its tension.

The GM’s job is to hook and pull the PCs into this conflict, but not through brute narrative force. The PCs need a few obvious entry points that require little analysis; the session and adventure should only become complicated as it progresses and evolves from their influence, not at its onset. In other words, make it easy for them to get involved, and hard to get out.


Each session starts with one or more dramatic situations that demand the party’s immediate involvement.

The GM defines the below elements for each session:

Incitement: the hook, the first threat, the thing that breaks the ice and gets the players in the mindset of their characters. A quick scene with a few checks, a weak combat encounter, or something thought provoking that makes them pay attention and leads them deeper into the session’s content.

Fork: once they’ve crossed the threshold, the party should be given an obvious fork in the road: a time-sensitive choice that compels them to go down one (potentially) irreversible path. Do they join the lawless rebels or the cruel knights? Do they take the slow and safe path, or the dangerous one? Obstacles: one or more passive blocks, an environmental or external impediment that makes their goal more difficult to achieve. Weather, terrain, time, resources, etc. Threats: who directly opposes the party’s goals? The active threats that will violently pursue or reject the PCs? What do they want? When and how do they strike? Climax and resolution: how can the session dovetail to a satisfying conclusion? What’s the final confrontation or challenge that the PCs must overcome that leads to the gold? Importantly, what happens if the party doesn’t achieve this end? The players, if not their characters, should see the impact of their efforts (or failures).

The GM has the idea of using a recently deceased Titan and its scavengers as a set piece for this week’s session. Incitement: the PCs will observe a dark cloud in the distance. As they travel, the cloud approaches. First the sound of buzzing, and then a swarm of (usually harmless) flies. The flies clearly follow a path of stench toward a lake.

Fork: following the flies to the lake reveals the corpse of a Titan, a behemoth creature valuable in harvest and magical components. Several small camps are forming at the lake’s banks.

One camp has fewer than a dozen, and emits noxious clouds of fulvous yellow smoke into the air. Another camp clear cuts a swath of forest and builds boats and barracks with militant precision. The third camp is less noticeable, more a series of small stone structures and interconnected tunnels, too small for even halflings to fit through. Obstacles: the flies, the intense fumes of the corpse, the dozens of other scavengers and beasts that come to feast. Threats: will the PCs side with one of the three factions? Will they try to cut their own path? Others might view them as interlopers deserving death.

Climax: the PCs discover what caused the Titan to get stuck and drown in the lake, a force of great magical gravity that the locals call ?the Heavy.? Can they dispel it and free the giant body?

GM Principles

This game is assumed to be played and run by following a series of principles which help the GM to make rulings over rules.

A Fair Challenge

This game is as much, if not more so, about challenging the players as it is about creating a shared story. Rather than collaborating to tell a tale, you’re inhabiting the minds of characters who believe their world to be very real. In turn, their universe behaves with cold hard impartiality.

The GM must be brutally fair, even to a fault. Their job is not to protect or challenge the PCs in some kind of plotline, instead the GM presents a challenging world full of threat and consistency, and lets the PCs die if they don’t treat it with the respect it deserves.

Impact & Ingenuity

The PCs want to feel their impact on the world, the scene, the session. As they act, things should naturally and rapidly escalate. If the players are clever and ingenious, the GM should reward them. Give them plenty of opportunities to have an influence, to solve a problem, to approach a challenge with many different methods.

Meaningful Choices

The PCs? decisions are all that really drive the story of the game. There’s no metaplot, no three-act structure. There’s simply choice, action, and reaction. Making sure choices are meaningful demands complex and dramatic situations. There’s no right answer or single solution – everything comes at the expense of something else, nothing is for certain. Saints can exhibit evil and cruelty just as despots can demonstrate great acts of kindness. Likewise, how the characters solve a problem or approach a situation is just as important (if not more so) than the problem or situation itself. They want to feel clever, they want to win. A hard-fought, bloody victory is sweeter than a preordained one.

Internal Consistency

To make those meaningful choices, the players have to understand the world through their characters. Fill their senses with practical details, realistic and ugly truths. Let them immerse.

Fundamental truths of your world should mean something; breaking them should be even more meaningful.

The GM must strive to maintain this sense of consistency. Only if things are consistent and cogent are they able to be leveraged in interesting ways.


The characters are adventurers. There’s a certain assumption that they?ll be transients, nomads, freebooters on the frigid frontier. FTD doesn’t assume what your game is actually about, but it does insist that the game has a sense of exploration, discovery, and wonder. Play to find out.

That exploration could be navigating a single region, even a single dungeon. But it should be able to be explored, delved into, examined. And not simply as an excuse to kill monsters and take their stuff, but to examine what it means to inhabit that world. How did these bizarre creatures come to exist alongside the familiar? How has society managed to scrape survival together in this harsh and unforgiving landscape? More simply, the lessons learned in the earlier sessions should be able to be applied and leveraged later. As the players continue to explore the world through their PCs, they should come to understand it, and hope to push farther, dig deeper, and uncover even greater and greater secrets.

Facilitating Play

The GM is often the host, the ruleskeeper, the one who provides the means to play. They need to be aware of each of their players? preferences, their goals in and out of the game, and their level of experience. As a social construct, the game is often interrupted by social issues; and the GM has to step in as arbiter to resolve these issues. While not an obligation, the GM is seen as a figure of authority in today’s play culture. Use that authority wisely, and attempt to develop a table contract of mutual respect, fun, and equality.

As always: ask your players questions, listen to their answers, and adhere to their requests for content safety.

Adventure Generator
d12 Thing Action Fallout
1 Deity Destroy War
2 Mage Build Disease
3 Monarch Bond Famine
4 Warlord Steal Upheaval
5 Monster Corrupt Summoning
6 Horde Control Growth
7 Kingdom Protect Cataclysm
8 Plane Empower Desecration
9 Artifact Move Slavery
10 Stranger Weaken Tyranny
11 Cult Seal Isolation
12 Landmark Discover Resolution


GMs can use these inspiration tables as an adventure or landmark generator. Roll 1d12 for each column on the Connections Table in order: Thing > Action > Thing > Fallout. This creates a threat or entity that wishes to act upon another entity; if successful fallout occurs (e.g. a warlord [4] wants to seal [11] a deity [1] which causes growth [6]).

The GM can assign descriptors to each element. The Descriptor Table has abstract words that are meant only to fuel the GM’s thought process in creating the adventure.

Descriptor Table

Roll 1d20 one or more times for each element from the Connections Table (such as a Purified, Dancing, Lodestone, Remorseful, Pulsing warlord from the previous example).

Connections Table
d20 Nature Action Material Emotion Sensory
1 Aberrant Biting Polished stone Ecstasy Brilliant
2 Infernal Stabbing Raging fire Admiration Prismatic
3 Cruel Running Choking smoke Terror Gloomy
4 Predatory Climbing Jagged obsidian Amazement Void of light
5 Corrupted Flying Rusted iron Grief Noxious fumes
6 Primordial Marching Lodestone Loathing Rotten stench
7 Extraplanar Seeking Frozen crystal Rage Wafting rust
8 Mercurial Chanting Fractal geode Vigilance Rain on stone
9 Dominating Weaving Warm wood Joy Rustling
10 Selfish Dancing Fluffy snow Trust Shrieking
11 Selfless Binding Gentle breeze Contempt Pounding
12 Liberating Collapsing Ancient antler Surprise Chiming
13 Axiomatic Healing Woven silk Sadness Pulsing
14 Natural Lifting Green loam Disgust Aching
15 Fledgling Burying Wispy veil Remorse Paralyzing
16 Purified Enrapturing Oiled leather Apathy Invigorating
17 Nurturing Worshipping Cut gemstone Serenity Intense hunger
18 Kind Loving Glowing bronze Aggression Deathly thirst
19 Sacred Hating Rotten flesh Hope Blinding
20 Divine Fearing Creaking bones Love Deafening