Emrys Ternal (GM)

I should probably describe what kind of game I run.


I like to run a fiction game, in this case a hybrid of science fiction and science fantasy . In short, a fantasy story primarily springs from the internal struggles of the main characters, where a fiction is a universe in which the characters act upon it and the universe reacts. What I mean by a hybrid is that I want to use the myriad fantastical elements available in the Dungeons and Dragons ruleset to ask questions that lead toward the players (and myself) exploring fundamental truths.

GM’s Note: Matt Colville discussed the difference between fiction and fantasy here . Extra Credits discussed the nature and history of science fiction in this playlist .

I used D&D 3.5e to create this setting because that’s the system I know best. I was drawn to D&D 3.5e because of how thoroughly-designed it is as a simulation of a fantasy world. I built a futuristic setting on top of it because I like futuristic settings, and I found the idea of a D&D 3000 years later with a different cosmology (while being compatible with all of that raw content) to be neat. You don’t need modern technological advancements with gunpowder and electrical engineering to get guns or cyberspace when you can skip those prerequisites using magic.

I run a game…

…that is challenging, meaning…

  • where I give the players every reasonable advantage if they ask the questions needed to acquire them,
  • where I give out metagame benefits (inspiration a.k.a. “bennies”, “awesome-marks”, etc) like it’s candy but it’s important for players to use them smartly and frequently,
  • where as a GM my job is not to solve your character’s problems, it’s to solve their solutions so that when reasonable they work,
  • where encounters are by-default a little harder than normal,
  • where “Challenge Rating” is kind-of nonsense but I err on the side of letting the CR being a bit too high,
  • where PCs can and will likely die (usually because someone wasn’t tactical and ignored all warnings, or the party didn’t respect their healer or vice versa, or they didn’t have a medic on the team at all),
  • where the villains want to win and so they very likely want to kill you,
  • where the villains express their timetables in days instead of weeks or months,
  • where to succeed you need intel and you need to “change the conditions of the test”,
  • where a party might have 8 to 16 encounters in a given in-game 24 hour period,
  • where the players are in charge of how something will get done, and the GM just determines broadly what needs to be done,

…that is going for a specific feel, meaning…

  • where there is a degree of moral ambiguity to it, and that I don’t assume that all the PCs are going to be heroes (but in this setting “evil” doesn’t mean what you might think it means),
  • where NPCs have their own motivations, biases, and misunderstandings, and can and will sometimes lie to the PCs (“you don’t think he’s lying” doesn’t mean he’s telling the truth or that he even knows the truth),
  • where funny stuff could technically happen, but funny stuff isn’t the point of the game and the rule of funny should be avoided (for example, if a player could chuck the final dungeon castle into the sun, I don’t let them even though it’d be hilarious),
  • where super-powered abilities are limited by in-universe justification,
  • where Action Points are allowed because they add a great cinematic feel to an otherwise dry game,
  • where getting many circumstance bonuses to your roll is often more important than long-term bonuses,
  • where a PC is not allowed to physically own any one thing (or group of similar things) more valuable than a certain amount of GP, based on their character level (including how expensive any one of the PC Wizard’s spellbooks are),
  • where the players roll most of the dice the GM would usually roll and sometimes vice versa,
  • where players can only find a seller or buyer of an uncommon item if they roll for it,
  • where there are level-independent XP rewards for encounters (similar to Pathfinder’s approach),
  • where there is both room for roleplaying and lots of combat,
  • where (because real people don’t always control their feelings so PCs shouldn’t be able to either) on very rare occasion I might tell you how your character feels about something (because I’m trying to give you a hint) and ask you how your character reacts to realizing they felt that way,
  • where a PC refusing to sleep takes its toll over time,
  • where most NPCs don’t have complex backstories,

…for responsible adults, meaning…

  • where I expect you to communicate with your fellow players and GM like adults (especially regarding scheduling and showing up on-time and ready to play), such as
  • I am an authority about the game’s rules, world, and the characters in it, but I am very much not an authority or mediator over the players at the table,
  • I expect you to whenever possible practice self-care to address your physical, mental, or personal issues before you come to the table (It’s okay to have those issues, but it’s not okay to awkwardly surprise people with them. If you refuse to take medicine beforehand to handle a major migraine you had before arriving, or refuse to address your emotional needs like an adult, causing it to come out during a game as a surprise, then this might not be the table for you. If you can’t be honest with the table that something outside of the game is affecting your ability to play, then that lack of communication is a problem. Basically, don’t play when you can’t adult.),
  • where there might be unusual or uncomfortable subject matter (the specifics are negotiated during Session Zero),
  • where you don’t wait for your turn to start figuring out a plan for what you want to do next,
  • where you know your own character’s rules and use your character’s descriptive document on GDrive as a notepad for that,
  • where I’m okay with a little chit-chat at the table but only when someone has to briefly leave the table for some reason,
  • where in order to prevent a “hive mind”, I might in some cases forbid players from discussing tactics once a battle starts, but highly encourage the players to come up with a plan before battle,
  • where you don’t just roll open-ended tasks, but say how your character does that task (such as persuasion or lying; this isn’t roleplaying, it’s giving the GM context),
  • where “bad metagaming” is forbidden (your character acting on knowledge that they both don’t know and couldn’t intuit from life experience),
  • where I might secretly relay information to a player that they should only relay to the other players by paraphrasing in-character,
  • where I as GM rigorously keep track of exactly how much in-game time has passed for everything,
  • where if I as GM get caught in a plot hole or unavoidable logical error, I usually will admit it and ask to back up a bit and redo it, BUT might just make up a secret reason for it,
  • where the Rules as Intended always trumps the Rules as Written (such as my Clarifications on Light and Darkness),
  • where if your PC dies I’m not going to tell you what you could have done to prevent it (there’s always something you could have done differently),

I most-value (but do not require) players…

  • who are motivated, have their own ambitions, and want to achieve things in the world,
  • who take good notes (but during the game only jot down things quickly),
  • who are consistent about acquiring good intel,
  • who are respectful to the game by not having their phone out at the table unless I tell them to get their phone out,
  • who have their own laptop to manage their character information (and don’t have irrelevant stuff open on it during the game),
  • who are very familiar with the rules that are relevant to their character,
  • who are somewhat familiar with the rules otherwise but defer to me as the final rules authority for my game,
  • who remember their character sheet, especially what languages they know,
  • who remember what languages the other PCs share other than Common,
  • who watch the table to make sure they know roughly what everyone’s doing,
  • who come up with clever ideas, roleplay their characters especially well, and, frankly, entertain the group,
  • who will take the initiative to say the five magic words: “MARINES! WE ARE LEA VING!”,
  • who will rely on their Passive Checks and Saves, especially when there might be a no-win scenario, and
  • who will trust that if it’s a no-win scenario, that I’m not trying to kill the PCs (or any particular PC).

I’ve run this setting a few times but I’m still a relatively-new GM.

I also love board games, and prefer to use cooperative boardgames to verify that the players can work together and are mature adults before I have a new player join the game.

Emrys Ternal (GM)

Hyperion Voyages Ternal Ternal