Oh, hello. I almost didn’t see you there from high atop my ivory GM throne. It has come to my attention that a ruling I made in a recent episode has caused quite a stir amongst the fandom. First of all, thank Desna! I was beginning to think you didn’t care anymore! Not since a certain cleric was feeble-minded into oblivion has there been such a public outcry and call for my neon green scepter. Heavy is the head that wears the crayon, as a certain illiterate fool from Philly might say, but I can no longer sit idly by, hideously laughing at the angry mob and fiddling while the subreddit burns. It’s time to set a few things straight.
Now listen, I’m no fool. I know the vocal minority is going to stick to their beliefs on the matter regardless of what I say. That’s cool. But give your old buddy Troy a listen just for the hell of it and maybe we’ll both learn a thing or two about this game we love so well.
If you’re not caught up to the Glass Cannon Podcast Episode 186, then stop reading right now. MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD: In 186, a creature known as a Devourer casts Bestow Curse on Barron. Barron then fails his save and I, in my infinite wisdom and benevolence, create a curse from scratch that I think will really spice things up. Shortly thereafter, our friendships dissolved and the Glass Cannon Network closed up shop and declared bankruptcy, or at least that’s the sense one would get from reading the subreddit.
As someone who prides himself on playing by the rules, my interpretation of Bestow Curse would seem, at first glance, quite hypocritical to the rules-following ethos I tend to preach. Bestow Curse clearly states, “You may also invent your own curse, but it should be no more powerful than those described above.”
“I don’t know, Lavallee, that seems pretty cut and dry to me. The curse YOU chose was WAY more powerful than a 50% chance to act normally or a penalty to ability scores. You purposely took Barron out of the game. You have it out for him and it’s ruining my enjoyment of listening to your show. You’re a bad person and a terrible GM!”
I agree with you! Well, at least the parts about it being more powerful than written and taking Barron out of the game. BUT allow me point you to another quote from a little book known as the Pathfinder GameMastery Guide. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? This is from the Introduction to the book, which I encourage all GMs AND all players to peruse. If you read nothing else, dear players, read the one page of the intro that talks about “Defining the Game Master,” how they play many roles as a host, world builder, storyteller, etc. It also speaks on the GM’s role as a Game Designer saying, “Even with the vast range of options available, only GMs know what threats their players might face or powers they might come to control. Just as GMs arbitrate the rules within their games, so can they manipulate, repurpose, and wholly invent new rules to improve their games.”
Part of my job as GM is – beyond making sure the guys are having fun – to challenge them in new and interesting ways. I also have the added wrinkle of playing to an audience that downloads our shows half a million times per month (#humblebrag). Listen, there’s nothing wrong with doing what your character was built to do. I’m also not doing my job as a GM if every single week Barron is getting up close and deadly to shoot four times against touch AC, Pembroke is summoning fifteen monsters and shooting thirty quickened magic missiles, Fairaza is wild shaping and raining down spells from the ceiling and Four Bears is going total defense and not using any of his abilities correctly. Snoooooozefest. It’s far more juicy in my mind if I can throw a wrench into that from time to time, put the players in seemingly impossible situations and force them to come together to get creative with new solutions to a problem.
What goes on behind the screen is the GM’s business. How encounters get modified on the fly to either penalize or ease up on the players is the reason that there is a GM screen in the first place. I told the players it was Bestow Curse. You, the listening audience, can read the Adventure Path or look up the monster and see the spell is Bestow Curse. But ultimately, all I have to say to Grant is “roll your save, you failed, you now misfire 1-9.” End of story. Is it abuse of power? That’s one way to look at it – if Grant and I weren’t good friends playing pretend together while putting on an improvised show for other people’s entertainment!!! But contrary to what many listeners believe, I don’t “have it out” for Barron. Trust me when I say that if I really wanted him dead, I could have killed Barron many, many times over by now by the rules of the game, without any shenanigans. I constantly talk about how “OP the gunslinger is” because that’s what my character “GM Troy” does – he shits on the stupid players and their stupid characters. After almost four years, it still amazes me so many people listen to this show and forget that what we are doing is much more than a game. If I always played things to the letter of the book, shadow rats would have TPK-ed the party long ago, Barron would have been blind for weeks after the Vault of Thorns, and don’t get me started on what the Birelu and Aurumvorax could have done to the crew. Where were your torches and pitchforks then?!
At the end of the day, I knew what I was doing was over the top, but, as always, there is a method to my madness, because I have the benefit of knowing the big picture. Sure, Skid forgot that Break Enchantment required a roll, but it was still a curse that would have lasted a very short time, forcing both Barron and the party to think up new strategies that would bring their characters to life in new ways. And if they couldn’t break it, then you can be sure there’d be a wild role-playing scene where Barron would have to visit some high-powered witch doctor and go through some crazy ritual to remove the curse while changing him inexorably forever. When characters in a story are challenged in new ways, they discover new things about themselves and each other. That’s storytelling 101, baby. That’s the Glass Cannon Network.
As a player, it can often be a lot more interesting for the story to just go with it. Make your case and then move on. Without being spoilery at all, in today’s episode of Raiders of the Lost Continent, my character, Colonel Luther von Hildebrand, casts Sanctuary on Matthew’s character, Gavrix. A construct goes to attack Gavrix and Skid rules that Sanctuary doesn’t work on constructs. I know that it does, so I eventually enlighten our fair GM. He decides he doesn’t like the rule as written, I say, “Cool!” and we move on. The moral of the story is: I think we could all learn a lot from this open-minded, understanding and handsome player.
For those casting aspersions, walk a country mile behind the screen in my gold-plated, whalebone GM shoes, then MAYBE I’ll allow you to clean the spittoon next to my throne while permitting you to pick my brain about GM theory. Until then, just take a leap of faith into the imagination sphere with us once in a while. My players freaked out just like you did when I made the ruling. They were angry and then I got angry at them for getting angry. Ten minutes later, we were all laughing about it. You the listener have the right to get fired up as well. Get mad. Get angry. Send a tongue-in-cheek angry email. But ALSO have some trust in your old buddy Troy and laugh with us once in a while. Or at the very least at us.
If nothing else, laugh at Grant.
Also, buy me a spittoon.