Hey, who put those rails there, buddy?
I run Business Wizards—a polymorph RPG I also co-designed—where players take on the role of powerful magic users trapped in crummy, corporate, office jobs. The GM in Business Wizards is called the “Project Manager” (PM) and their job is to provide structure for the players (just like in real life). The PM does a lot of standard game master things: toss in silly suggestions, harmonize player personalities, making sure everyone is being listened to, creating story arcs, and nudging the adventure toward completion. But the most unique job of the Business Wizards PM is to ensure the game ends in an absurd failure.
The Magic of GMing
I love GMing as a creative act. GMs and players mutually co-create a story through call and response in an ancient oral tradition dating back to the first campfire. One of the best parts about this kind of storytelling is that it subverts the business world dichotomy of “success” and “failure.” Business Wizards is a tragedy for the characters, but a comedy for the players. In fact, if they have crummy corporate jobs it can even be therapy for the players. I’ve often heard it said that there’s no “winning” in tabletop RPGs. That’s not always true! Players usually have objectives and don’t want to be thwarted. But it is true for Business Wizards because both success and failure are desirable!
That’s why I’m bemused when GMs complain about their players “going off the rails.” Hey, who put those rails there, buddy? Prepping material is important, but if the players don’t happen to want to go into the swamp, it’s trivial to reskin the crusty lizardman who tells the party about the lost temple as a jovial ogre who knows about the mysterious tower! The game is a stew produced with ingredients from everyone at the table. If one of those flavors is overwhelming the others everyone needs to work together to fix it. The core question I’m always asking as a GM and a designer is “how does this game feel to play, and what makes it feel that way?”
Finding That North Star
One nice thing about GMing Business Wizards is that we all sit down at the beginning and decide what we’re trying to do. We ask: Who are we? Maybe we’re a design company called Mäze who sells flat-pack dungeons. What’s our company’s “north star?” To design and sell ever more absurd Swedish dungeon accessories, of course! How are we going to go about it? By creating a new magic meatball golem for our in-store restaurant! Because we all chose this scenario, we don’t regard it as something with clear rules for resolution. That means we get to enjoy what happens, if the plan falls to pieces, it does so hilariously. The characters may be desperate, sauce-splattered, and hiding in the walk-in freezer, but the players are laughing uproariously.
Most polymorph games include a step of coming together as a group, and then the rules mostly fade into the background with simple mechanics for random resolution without special cases or modifiers. This focuses everyone’s attention on the current unfolding narrative, and on deciding together what should happen. What I like about GMing is this negotiation.
Play with Pat!
Do you love a challenge? Can you cast legendary spells on time and under budget? Are your illusionary projections actually illusions? Join a magically powered up team with flexible hours and competitive treasure/experience share. Open to brand new players and seasoned "professionals" alike, Business Wizards is pun-tastic corporate horror that will appeal to literally anyone who's ever, you know, worked a job.