Lately my focus has gone towards Werewolf the Forsaken, which has taught me a lot about being a game master (or storyteller, in Storyteller). Mainly how to avoid solving problems for the players and let them do their thing. For World of Darkness has an oppressive atmosphere, and nearly every aspect is poised to bring ruin to the players. Therefore, I’ve been trying to add one problem for every one they fix. Since my players are quite clever (and have read the rulebook more thoroughly than I), they are quite efficient at solving problems, which means I am mostly shoveling more at them.
One thing about Werewolf the Forsaken (and Storyteller in general) is the level of abstraction. The system is quite easy to use and the skills and attributes are loosely defined. Just define an attribute, a skill, and modifiers on top. Then whether the skill is an extended check, an opposed check or a conventional one. I have used the system as a base for a couple of roleplaying games that I’ve played with my standard gaming group.
On the other hand, the system is perhaps a little too loose on the GM side. The Werewolf core book has a lot of errors, and even a reference into a concept that does not exist in this version. At first this annoyed me very, very much. For example, there is a rule which allows Spirits to boost their attributes with the local mana, Essence. But this capability is not defined in any meaningful way. Can they boost them indefinitely? Instantaneously? It was a grand mystery. But after my players read the Spirit rules, the devils, I understood a very profound fact: Knowledge kills tension. One player devised a long-term strategy to defeat a powerful spirit in combat after thinking about the combat system for a while. It felt like the situation lost a lot of its edge. That is when I decided to half-improvise the rules side of many of the more mysterious entities in the game. So that the players would feel as anxious as their characters. I feel that it should work since the game is supposed to be dark and foreboding.
I have also discovered the joy of playing NPC’s. I tasked each player with creating an NPC that is important to their characters at character creation. These NPC’s lead their own lives, and react to the supernatural things and horrors as conventional people would. One of the highlights of the NPC-cavalcade is definitely Maija Puronen, a smart and strong-willed bachelor of finance who is hopelessly in love with her emotionally abusive employer (hence her status as a Retainer). Her slow descent into madness was fun to play. Another one is Martti Manninkainen, a family doctor whose old family acquaintance dragged him to a summer cabin with lots of stolen medical equipment and pretty much forced him to dig out a bullet from an unconscious guy. Their reactions, decisions, and most importantly the things they do behind the scenes, are sometimes pure gold.
So that’s what I’ve been doing.