Thursday, February 10, 2005

Flexibility in GMing

I'm not sure if anyone here Game Masters for roleplaying groups. By now, I do so on a regular basis. Sometimes, players want to do things that are a little hard to simulate in the game system without simply skipping forward or making some arbitrary rolls. Let's say a character needs to win a competition, say, an Iron Chef battle. How would one adjudicate it?The first phase would be the period before the information for the battle is circulated. The characters can do whatever they wish during this time period: Train, rest, plan, research, find money to buy specialized equipment, etc.

During this first phase, the GM should have his concept of the Iron Chefs down, including having some battles in his mind as a heuristic. He should also know the sous chefs that will be used by each Iron Chef. Here are the ways I can consider ranking a chef:

1) Depth of skill: This refers to vertical proliferation of culinary skill: deepening existing talents, knowing amazing amounts about the relevant culture one is cooking in, etc. Bayless v. Flay was a fantastic battle because Flay has a wide range of knowledge due to his New York cooking style, from Thai to Tex-Mex to authentic Latin/Mexican cuisine to Native American ethnic food, while Bayless was simply a master of Mexican food and had an encyclopedic knowledge that bested even Alton.
2) Breadth of skill: If depth is what Bayless had, this is what Flay had. Whereas depth allows one to get the most out of each dish and create something within the ethnicity for virtually any ingredient, breadth allows one to make a variety of dishes (therefore complementing speed) and adapt to various palates
.3) Speed: The raw capacity to move around, micro-manage multiple things at once, and so on. This skill is less important if one focuses on a few dishes and has a tight relationship with one's sous chefs, but it never hurts to be able to leap around the kitchen with skill.
4) Creativity: Depth and breadth defines the arsenal of the chef; creativity defines the tactics and strategy. Even great chefs can get locked into pedantic molds and thus suffer when an opponent with less technical skill but more imagination plays their cards right.
5) Manual dexterity and plating: Both the artistic capacity and the raw technical skill factors into this, though one can have one and not the other. A chef's Creativity rating + their Manual Dexterity rating determines the quality of their plating, whereas their Depth and/or Breadth of skill + Speed + Manual Dexterity go into their technical skill.
6) Aroma and heartiness: This is a more minor aspect, but it helps if a cook can make dishes that smell nice and have some kind of medicinal or aromatic value.

The GM should rank his Iron Chefs in these categories AND have a central inspiring theme for each. For example: I say that Mario Batali's defining attribute is soul, Bobby Flay's is Spice (both the prickliness of it in terms of his personality and the hot competitive nature that burns through him, and the cooking), Michiba is Technique, Morimoto is Inspiration, Sakai is Art, Puck is Serenity, etc.

The second stage is where the players get the list of five possible ingredients and the judges. This is where they will want to both do research (interviews, watch the shows with the judges, read People or other tabloids) and read inbetween the lines. If a player wants to have his fellow players be sous chefs, this would be the time to organize that. The players should write down what they'd prepare in each of the five cases, practice, etc. They should familiarize themselves with each ingredient and do research.

This and the first stage can also be times for the GM to complicate matters by throwing in a villain or by offering opportunities for the players to, say, go on a quest to get money to buy a cooking implement. It's always challenging when a GM makes his players juggle.

The final stage is the battle. Instead of going through, here are some relevant rolls that a player may be forced to make.
Save v. Head Games: Something about the stadium or the other chef is getting to the character. Make a willpower check to see if he can remain focused.
Memory: The character should be able to remember something that either the character's player knows or the GM knows. Make a intelligence or wits or wisdom or similar roll.
Taunt: A little friendly or not-so-friendly bantering to throw off the opponent! Make a charisma check and an opposed Save v. Head Games.
Observation: The player will want to tailor his dishes to respond to his opponent's. If his opponent is using a lot of spices, he may wish to go for sweet, salty, sour, rich (either fatty or oily) and bitter flavors instead. Make a perception roll; if it succeeds, the player can get an impression of what his opponent is doing. (Perception rolls should be keyed vs. the players' knowledge of his opponents' cuisine and ingredients as well as the opposing chef's Secrecy skill.
Secrecy: The flip-side of observation, this involves cooking in a manner that obfuscates one's strategy.
Performance: This roll should only be done to check for criticals (either failures or successes) and only during important actions. A critical miss could lead to someone cutting their finger or burning themselves; a critical success could halve the time to perform an important operation. GMs, if a player screws something up, don't just say "It's done, you messed up", but give them some way to salvage the mistake. In Battle Apple and Chocolate, Sakai tries to put cinnamon sticks into apples and put them in the pressure cooker, but both times the apple gets too squishy and is ruined. He then makes a smoothie with a chocolate rimmed glass and a crepe filled with the apples. Frankly, the smoothie and crepe looked better than what he was initially making. Performance will be mostly the technical manual dexterity and plating aspects.
Fatigue: Cooking under hot lights with cameras and boiling ovens will cause anyone to sweat. Even a Herculean player could tire, especially if the battle is proportionally epic. Make an endurance check here.
Complexity: If a player seems to be wanting to do too many things at once, then make this roll at frequent intervals. Let's say that a player wants to make one more dish than you plausibly think could be done. Make an initial roll (maybe the average of three because it's such an important roll). If the player rolls well, then they'll have integrated the dish into their technique and only occasional rolls to see if they're still doing so well will be necessary. If the player rolls poorly, the GM can give the player the opportunity to not do it; if the player continues, make plenty of Complexity rolls. This simply points up the chaos factor that can happen to anyone.

I think I've proven that you can take virtually anything and, with some creativity, make it into a battle that isn't just "I'll do this and this and this" and also isn't just a bunch of rolls but is instead like a battle: creativity AND the luck of the dice come into play.


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