The role of the Keeper is one of those topics in this froum being discussed most - there are at least four to five topics all about how to play the role of the Keeper aside many individual comments in other topics as well; these topics more often hit more then 10 postings/ replies then many others; many postings are very complex and aim at the heart of this particular role in the game; the complexity of the different replies varies a lot. Probably the role of the Keeper belongs to the most heavily debated roles within or ideas of the game of MoM. In order to get a feeling about this role I "analyzed" the most obvious topics about the Keeper in this forum. You will find an overview along with a brief "summary" of those topics in the post scriptum, because I don't want to kill your attention right now.
Basically I drew the following conclusions about the role of or the how-to-play the Keeper in MoM based on the major opinions throughout discussions from the post up to today:
- The Keeper is a player and has his own goal per game-session to achieve. He should not be compared or even confused with a gamemaster in an RPG, since on the one hand MoM is a boardgame with - due to its nature - very limited game-mechanics and -concepts, and on the other hand an RPG adheres to totally different ideas of gameplay and gamefun. The Keeper should keep in mind that a boardgame like MoM is basically a game about a competition between him and the Investigators.
- The Keeper could play as hard as possible; but it seems to be general consensus that in accordance with the Cthulhu-theme the main idea should be to scare the Investigators, to use horror elements and to slowly drive the Investigators mad and by that pushng the competition.
- Although this may be kind of an implicitness, every now and then people share the idea that the Keeper should always play fair regardless of how hard he plays against the other players. In this context kind of a "gamesmanship" (like sportsmanship) seems to be a general attribute a Keeper should have in order to play along the competition with the other gamers in MoM.
- A Keeper should be flexible about his gamestyle because the game offers plenty of variations throughout each individual gamesession - due to the setup of the story, the way gamers play their Investigators, and the (small) random effects like drawing Mythos-Cards, results of dicing, and other things to happen.
(the order of these conclusions is random and does not follow a quantification about validity, importance, annoyance or whatnot ...)
My personal opinion about this? Well ... I generally agree with what was posted in the past; some ideas were "new" to me, some others were simply convincing and changed my personal attitudes, and then again others were already like what was on my mind. And I am pretty happy that I grabbed and read all the different threads mentioned in the P.S.; this may help me to become a "better" Keeper in the future. And maybe there are things in or about it that may be interesting to other new as well as veteran Keepers as well.
I hope this summary and the conclusions help you as well.
All the best!
I. "Keeper neutral or playing to win?" on 05 October 2010
In this first discussion about the Keeper available the majority seems to stick with the idea that the Keeper still is one of the players of the game; and he is meant to deal with the game in a way that he should try to win the game. Since there are a couple of different ways for the Keeper to win the game there is no single strategy available; also different kinds of players, Investigators and scenarios along with the radomizing-factor of Mythos-, Trauma-Cards and mis-/fortune in all the different moves within the game would make it hard for the Keeper to "simply" win with a certain plan A.
The majority in this discussiona seems to agree that the Keeper should not be confused with the role of an RPG-gamemaster, whose role and actions aim at completely different targets of the game. The main argument for this is that MoM still is ONLY a boardgame.
Inbetween a few questions are raised, but not focussed on, which are about the win-ratio of the Keeper and the effect of the Keeper's game-experience gaining him a better chance to win. As MoM was not yet available at the time of discussion (only some playtesting here and there), the debate heavily relies on test-experiences, guessings and (prejudiced?) comparisons with other games like Descent or Doom.
II. "question after 2 games" on 11 March 2011
The OP asks to discuss this theory - quote: "The Keepers task is not to hammer the investigation, but to build the threat and atmosphere of the game appropriately, directing the story like a good film director or storyteller."
This idea does not seem to be in line with the results of the first discussion about the neutrality of the Keeper at first. And not surprisingly the discussion evolves around the differences between the role of the Keeper in MoM as a boardgame and the gamemaster in an RPG, by which the tendencies of disagreement with the OP statement are present; but pretty soon new aspects are added to the discussion, and terms like "gamesmanship" and "game-fun" start to influence and dominate the discussion. Although the majority still sticks with the idea that the Keeper is bount to win as just another player in a boardgame, the discussion turns in a way that a Keeper - although a player with "his" game-mechanics - should not reduce his gameplay to mere game-mechanics, but he should keep in mind to play for the sake of atmosphere and fun. One of the participants offers a complexe description of one of his game-sessions, and he earns a lot of acknowledgements about the way he dealt with the game in the role of the Keeper, because he played "hard" against the other gamers and provided a suspenseful gamesession.
So all in all there seems to be an overall understanding of the Keeper as being the one leading through, moderating and directing the game and not just hammering the Investigators into bits and peaces; and still this does not interefere with his own game-goals to win the game and thus with playing a hard style.
III. "Crushing the Players Dreams... Can the Keeper be Nice?" on 09 April 2011
A month later a very similar topic was published on the forum. Since the OP had the experience of obliterating the Investagors in only two games he was not sure about how hard to play against the Investigators. During this conversation people share their different experiences. And it becomes crystall clear that the players of the Keeper often have different means to achieve their goals. Although this idea is challenged there is a slight majority in favor of it that the Keeper is meant to play cruel - but not in the Maniac's way of slaughtering the Investigators by all means, but to be more in line with the Cthulhu-theme and to scare every sense and sanity out of the Investigators.
Since there are many different game-experiences discussed in this topic it is a very good extension to the second topic from March 2k11.
IV. "Playing the Keeper - How to" on 26 May 2011
About another months later another discussion takes place in which the OP asks about how to play the Keeper. The great things about this particular topic are some:
First of all the topic bases on a conflict between a player of an Investigator who relentlessly tried to slow down the Keeper and press him into the "RPG-gamemaster"-role and neglecting his own game-goals.
Second: During this discussion some very complex and decent descriptions and explanations are preseneted how to play as well to win as to develop kind of a storytelling-atmosphere.
As in the first discussions about the role of the Keeper the differences as well as overlapping parallels between this boardgame and RPGs is mentioned and discussed. This seems to be an evergreen in this kind of discussions. And although most participants in those discussions tend to agree that MoM is a boardgame and does not adhere to the general concepts and ideas of RPGs, it is a valid assumption and conclusion that RPG-elements are meant to be involved into the gameplay as well - by creating mood, describing scenes etc.
During the first answers to the OP people add an intersting aspect to the discussion, which they conclude from the imbalances of the game and the variety by which players of the Investgators may play the game. That is why the player of the Keeper should keep a lot more in mind then just playing the rules of the game and achieving his own goal. This reminds me of the "gamesmanship" mentioned in the second discussion about the role of the Keeper. Also this appears on this discussion as well using the term "sportsmanship" a little later.
Overall this discussion is very rich on ideas and opinions. Maybe this is one of the best topics overall on the "Mansions of Madness" boards.
V. "Victories / losses ratio" on 16 March 2012
This most recent and very young topic I added to this overview, since it is about the hardest way to play the Keeper and the likelihood to win the game. Already in the very first topic about the Keeper there was the question about how likely the "Die Ultra-Hardest: The Keeper" would win this game more often, this new topic is a must. It shows the delicate power or at least potential of the Keeper. The topic gets a little of the main question about the ratio, and the participants in this topic discuss the ways and ideas why they play or don't play as hard as possible. Most assuredly this topic is worth your while.