Of Gods and Mods: How to run a good nation SD

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As important as making a good nation in an SD is knowing how to run one. While it's possible to have fun in a badly GM'd SD, this is usually more the ironic fun gained from watching a bad movie than the fun gained by say, reading a great book. So, here's some tips on how to GM a story debate.

The Nature and Role

Story Debates are ultimately collective stories, like RPGs, however, unlike an RPG, players control entire nations, battle fleets and armies not just single characters. The role of the GM is similar however: the GM makes the game fun for other players, and as a reward, gets to shape the setting and story.

The difference with a nation SD however is that while the GM defines the context of the setting, a great part of the setting will not be yours, but rather the players, in the form of PC nations. These PC nations should fit into the context you create, but at the same time, your stories need to fit around them and the themes and concepts they explore.

Another thing to remember is the story in story debate. You can have the best rules ever, but without a story, they won't do anything. Thus you should always be encouraging your PCs to tell stories and write posts, and try to do them yourself.

SD stages

In general there are two stages to an SD. SDs don't really tend to end with all plots resolved, they usually tend to just die ingloriously, fading from existence in a flurry of "I'll post tomorrows". As such, there are generally only two stages to an SD.

Early Game

The Early game is the greatest crisis point for an SD. It consists of the first one hundred and sixty or so posts. If you can get past that threshold or better yet, reach the two hundred your gain will have gained a reputation for stability, and people will have defined characters and settings sufficiently to keep posting without as much difficulty.

The big problem of the early game is disconnection where a player feels he or she is not integrated, not really part of the SD at all, or finds it's not nearly as interesting as they thought it would be.

The Second Stage

If you can get your game to run term you can extend it perhaps indefinitely, with multiple threads or thousands of posts. This is the grail of SDs which few really achieve. There are many short cuts to keep PCs interested to the second stage, the easiest is to be part of some established franchise, but perhaps more profitable is to have either a great rule set or even better a great story.

The cause of death in a Second Stage SD is Fatigue and Interconnection Players often slowly get bored and leave, run out of steam or dislike the direction the game is taking. This leads to them leaving. This attrition can cause a knock on effect as, as the game goes on, more and more players are vital to ongoing plots, so one leaving brings the entire thing crumbling to a halt. A GM can mitigate against this somewhat by not being afraid to quickly NPCize missing PCs.

Do's and Don'ts

Here are a general list of do's and don'ts for SD GMs. Some GMs can disobey some or all of them because they're really good at the other aspects of GMing, like telling a story or system design, but even when good GMs do it, they still annoy their players.

Do: Post
The first and most important thing to do as an SD GM is post. You should post as often as you can, and express as much of the story as possible through your posts rather than by telling people in chat rooms and the like. This encourages people to read the thread, and better yet encourages them to read other peoples posts while they're there, which decreases disconnection and encourages players. While devices like sims, chat programs and the like have their place, never forget that the body of the SD is its thread, and the story that's within. Thus you need to do everything you can to strengthen it. Players also love it when you write for them.

There are also a number of ways to reduce the burden of posting. One is to create plots which deal with multiple people at once, so one of your posts can count several times as it affects several players. A second is to find people in your player base who can write stories to spec, and set them to take some of the burden of GMing. This is a tricky proposition however, as it requires a clearly defined setting, and most importantly, writers who can produce to standard.

Don't: ignore problem players
As much as we might wish it, problem players rarely go away on their own. You need to be assertive enough to yell at them, and if necessary eject them when they become a problem. This should only be done on with players who are real problems however, not simply on a whim.

Do: Read the thread and player back story
You should read every post a player makes in the IC Thread, so you know what they're doing and when problems develop. Also because the story and seeing your universe written about are the main enjoyments of the SD.

Also, try to read player back story. Its best to be familiar with this so that they aren't doing stuff you disagree with and to make sure they and you have the same conception of their power.

Don't: Introduce New Elements to the Players back story without telling them
Sometimes you want to introduce a new element to the players backstory (A secret cabal operating there, an ancient artefact they have without knowing it, the actual cause of a giant war they head). There's nothing wrong with this, providing you're respectful of the power in question, and that the player finds out about it almost right away. As soon as it becomes relevant to the plot, you should post about it, so OOC the player knows what's going on with their power. If they don't know that, how can they run their own nation?

Do: Respect your PC Powers
Following on from the last point if Players are making really dumb powers that don't fit the setting at all (14th century knights in a semi-realistic future setting) you should generally deal with this before the thread starts if you can. Unless it becomes disruptive to the game, or is so outside the general game concept it doesn't work at all, you should generally try to respect a PCs concept when writing it.

Don't: Have GMPCs Run the World
Avoid having GMPCs or super powerful NPCs who can easily smash other players running your setting. They are generally disliked by new players and are highly annoying as they shut down many story possibilities. If you do have very powerful NPCs, make sure it's for a specific story purpose like enemies or that they stay out of the PCs business mostly.

Don't: Have rich filler NPCs
Similar to the above, avoid having large NPCs that exist solely to fill up the map, but are otherwise weaker than one or several players. Given the existence of an NPC that is known for being extremely wealthy and having a poor military is like painting a large bullseye on them- encouraging every player in the game to try to get a piece of the pie. This can derail your metaplot, and drag you down under a burden of posts reacting to every player's actions.

Do: Start with a Bang, but not too big
As mentioned earlier, the beginning of an SD is the most vulnerable point in its development. This means you need to start with a major event which the PCs can get posting about. The traditional way to do this is first contact, but that's extremely boring, since posts become samey (Ships enter the system, greet one another and establish diplomatic relations, with maybe a little tension). The problem however is that without any kind of first contact ice breaker PCs tend to feel extremely disconnected and are unclear on what they should be doing. As GM, it's best if you provide them with something to get them through this patch.

You need to start with a bang. A terrorist attack, international crisis, two NPCs fighting a war or whatever. However it shouldn't be too big a bang as this prevents PCs from establishing setting and characters. Your events yield should be picked carefully, and generally it should be something which most, if not all players can immediately interact with.

If your SD concept only works with first contact (for instance if all PCs got transported to another universe of FTL travel only just became possible again) then try to start them off with plots you can build first contact around rather than simple meet and greet. Have PCs meet up around alien megastructurers or investigate strange alien vessels and in doing so make diplomatic contact.

Don't: escalate OOC Conflicts
Deescalate conflicts. As GM your job is to pour water and be calm (if sometimes stern). Don't yell at your players or freak out at them or everyone will think you're an idiot or an asshole or a child. Most people who play in SDs have long since gotten past the stage of ironic worship for their GM, so get past it too. Deal with conflicts or player problems calmly, and try not to flip out or get angry. It's only a game.

Do: Agree Setting Elements with PCs (Even when they're annoying)
If you're making a game with a strongly established setting, you should try to bring PCs into it on their terms, even when they won't shut up about it, unless what they want to do disagrees with a major element of the setting. Most players want to be important somehow, and this is their right, as they are the life blood of the game. If a player won't shut up about a particular setting element then it's probably because they consider it fairly vital to their concept, and you should see if you can accommodate them, or at least be willing to discuss it.

This isn't a license for players to snowflake, but if they aren't snowflaking significantly, then you should try to fit in their back story if you can.