Wisdom from The Mountain Witch
Timothy Kleinert published his small press RPG, The Mountain Witch, in 2005. It has since fallen out of print, but in October last year he announced that his is planning to rerelease it. The game, drawing from Japanese myth and fairy tales, and Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai) films, revolves on the dark fates of a group of ronin drawn together to climb Mount Fuji and kill the titular witch.
I have never had an opportunity to play, so when my weekly game group agreed to give it a shot, I was excited. To my frustration I have packed my copy away in preparation for moving house. In it's place I have trawled the internet for related material and advice.
The official site has fallen offline since the game when out of print, but some kind denizen of the web has archived most of the content. Most significant is the PDF copies of the Dark Fates cards and the character sheets with the zodiacs. Clarifications is a must read. The single most significant point:
But however the Witch is portrayed, it is absolutely important that the Witch be loyal and honest. That is to say, he will never promise the characters one thing and then betray or otherwise "trick" them. He must never outright lie. If the characters are to be expected to abandon their fellow company members, it is important that the players can trust the Witch. If the players are worried that the Witch will betray them, it will destroy any temptation to turn away from the mission. So if the Witch makes any sort of promise to the characters at all, it is absolutely important that the GM have the Witch back up that promise with action. (But if the characters betray the Witch, that's a different story.)
Kleinert has some excellent advice for players on the Story Games forum. Of particular interest, and applicable beyond The Mountain Witch:
"Foreshadow your Fate by adding new content — particularly NPCs, events, and facts about the game world."
One of the fun things about Fates is that they add new stuff into the narrative that the GM or the other players can interact with. Experienced players realize this, and thus often foreshadow their Fates by bringing in all sorts of NPCs, events, and facts external to their characters. New players who don't realize this tend to foreshadow their Fate by narrating peculiar actions on the part of their character that hint at a dark secret, but don't bring in much that the other people at the table can interact with.
Also on Story Games Jason Morningstar collects tips and pointers. Great stuff.
Willow Palecek provides suggestions for a stronger GMing approach to structuring chapters:
Something that I have taken and made my own is “chapter requirements.” In the rules, on page 122, it suggests to the GM that chapter breaks be withheld until certain milestones are achieved, but it does not define those milestones. My technique has been to clearly define those milestones, and make the players aware of them.
Milestones can be mechanical, like “someone has to spend all their trust,” narrative-mechanical “everyone has to invoke their Dark Fate narration,” or wholly narrative “the group must split up and rejoin.” I’ll mix and match based on the experience level of the group, and my own whims.
She also suggests a variant on handling death and provides a short list of bangs.