How to host a Mafia Game guide by SirDantetheFancy.
This post will discuss hosting a game. Its goal is to ensure that hosts are able to easily identify what is and is not balanced in a setup, as well as the proper etiquette expected of them. In this post, we will cover three major stages of hosting a game: initial design, specific design, and running the game.
Initial design is the stage of creating a game in which you consider the theme, size, and rules that you intend to use in this game. It is important to have a good idea of these three things before you start crafting roles, conditions, or anything else, because it is around these three things that the game is designed.
Theme is probably one of the most important things to consider when designing a game. While a very simple game can be forced into just about any theme, anything even remotely complex will need to be crafted around the theme, rather than forced into the theme. When considering a theme, you should ask yourself some important questions:
What theme should I use? It might seem obvious, but this is easily the most important question. A theme can be any number of things. It can be as broad or specific as you want, as original or as derivative as you please. A theme can reference a specific source material, such as a novel, movie, or show. Consider a game based around a particular arc of the One Piece manga. Such a theme is going to carry certain expectations, both for the host and players, regarding how familiar they are with the theme. You'll be selecting from a set of relevant characters, generally trying to give them abilities that fit their personalities and capabilities, designing mechanics and conditions which lend themselves to the theme, etc. A theme can also be based on an original story. You can make up the names of the characters, craft their personalities and capabilities to suit your roles, and craft the narrative to suit your mechanics and conditions. The down side is that there will be a larger burden upon you to provide original flavor for the players, so that they can properly grasp the theme. But a theme can also be broader than that, such as an abstract concept. Consider a game themed around fast food restaurants. The characters aren't really people so much as the charicatures of massive corporations to whom you can assign roles that are really only loosely relevant, and the concept is abstract enough that you can probably fit in all sorts of interesting mechanics and conditions.
To what sort of factions does this theme lend itself? This is especially important for determining what kind of Anti-Town or Independent factions you might use in the game. You don't need to make any final decisions, but it's good to have some idea, going in, as to what kind of factions are viable. Consider a game themed around Mario. The conflict between Mario and his various adversaries is generally much too straight forward to support a proper Cult. Now consider a game themed around The Call of Cthulhu. This is a theme that demands a proper Cult, but doesn't really have room for a Mafia. As you can see, some themes fit certain factions better than others, and this should be taken into consideration.
How many characters have to be in this game? A common trap a new host falls into when crafting a themed game is using all of the obvious characters. This leads to a Town advantage, where a Mass Claim can break the game due to character confirmation. When deciding what characters to include, and what characters to leave out, it is important to include some minor characters and to exclude some major characters. Consider a game themed around The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. This is a theme that has nine major protagonist characters, the eponymous fellowship. In a game where the protagonists are the Town, it is tempting to include all nine. However, this is a trap. With all nine characters included, Scum are left with no truly viable Fake Claims, while a Mass Claim allows the Town to form a huge nine-man bloc of unlynchable confirmed players. In such a game, the mafia would need to be incredibly powerful to balance the flavor advantage offered to the Town. Now, consider a game themed around A Song of Ice and Fire. There are scores and scores of characters, with maybe twenty or thirty characters important enough to be considered main characters, and with all the shifting perspectives, it is difficult to clearly define all of them as protagonists and antagonists. In such a game, it is less necessary to exclude major characters (albeit not completely unnecessary), as the allegiances of the various characters are not immediately identifiable, due to the theme.
Which faction goes with which set of characters? It is important to remember that the Town is not inherently good, nor is the Mafia inherently bad. Protagonists can be Anti-Town, and antagonists can be Town. This is another trap that new hosts commonly fall into. Instead of arbitrarily making the protagonists the Town and the antagonists the Anti-Town, consider which set of characters fits each faction the best. Consider a game themed around the Left 4 Dead franchise. We are presented with eight major protagonists and maybe two minor protagonists, and then eight major antagonists and a myriad of minor antagonists. A host might be tempted to make the protagonists the Town, but this is a trap. There aren't enough protagonists for Anti-Town to have viable Fake Claims. However, reverse the situation, and suddenly, there is a clear Anti-Town, and plenty of antagonists both major and minor to leave the Anti-Town with viable Fake Claims. Now, consider a game themed around Bleach, which (in general, though subverted in various specific arcs) has a high number of recurring protagonists and a fairly limited number of recurring antagonists. This is a theme that is better suited for a protagonists as Town setup, in most situations.
Once you've decided on a theme, the next important step is to decide on how many players you're going to design the game around. There are three major factors in this decision.
How many characters does the theme you've selected reasonably offer you? It is important to remember that, in most themes, you need to leave some characters out so that Scum have viable Fake Claims. In a theme with eighteen characters, it is not appropriate to have eighteen players, unless the theme does not allow for a clear determination to be made on which characters will be Scum, even late into the game. As a general rule of thumb, try to leave at least as many characters out as there are Anti-Town. If you're only leaving that many out, you may also want to consider providing Anti-Town with some of the characters left out as Safe Claims.
How many players can you reasonably expect to sign up? I know this sounds obvious, but sometimes the place where you're hosting limits how large a game you can run. You can't exactly run an eighteen-player game when you only have twelve players, after all. Especially if you want the game to be active. It's tempting to try and fish in a lot of new players, but this has historically led to an overall poor experience for everyone involved on most occasions.
How many players are you comfortable hosting for? Again, this seems obvious, but a lot of people don't realize the burden hosting a forty-player epic game is going to put on the host. Resolving Night Actions with that many players is a nightmare, and tracking votes is far worse. Just remember that bigger is not always better, where mafia is concerned. If a host can't handle the burden of a game and neglects the game, it can really ruin the game for everyone else. And that's not to mention that larger games require all players to be more active, because they are generally going to have more posts overall.
Finally, you need to consider what rules you're going to use. There are a variety of different rules you can enforce in a mafia game that lend themselves to different styles of play.
By default, players are not allowed to communicate outside of the game thread unless otherwise specifically stated in their Role PMs. This is called a Closed Communication game. It is intended to maintain the Town's status as "uninformed" by ensuring that everything the Town collectively knows is in the game thread, as well as making it easier for the host to enforce rules, since it is very difficult to monitor what is said outside of the game thread. However, it isn't the only way to run a game. The alternative is called an Open Communication game, in which there are no restrictions on players communicating outside of the game thread. In an Open Communication game, it is important to ensure that the Town does not have any roles or characters that can easily confirm themselves early in the game, as such roles allow the Town to form powerful blocs of confirmed players too early for the Mafia to counter them. Open Communication is best used in a theme either where it is difficult to discern which characters will be Town and which will be Anti-Town, where the flavor lends itself to individual detective work, or where accidentally revealing one's self to Scum has serious repurcussions. The inbetweens for these two are Semi-Closed Communications and Semi-Open Communications. In a Semi-Closed Communications game, players are generally not allowed to communicate outside of the game thread, but under certain circumstances may be on a limited basis. In a Semi-Open Communications game, players are generally allowed to communicate outside of the game thread freely, but might not be under certain circumstances. For example, if members of the Town are allowed to communicate outside of the game thread during the Day, but not at Night, then this would be Semi-Open Communications.
By default, players are normally provided with only cursory universal knowledge. This is called a Closed Setup game. In a typical Closed Setup game, all players will be informed as to the theme of the game, how many players are in the game, and what rules the host expects players to abide by, but nothing else. Providing additional information should be carefully considered. A fairly standard practice, for example, is to provide the default Town win condition that appears in Town-aligned Role PMs to all players to prevent them from trying to nitpick wording to confirm players. It is important to consider the consequences of any information revealed. For example, in an Open Setup game where the host reveals exactly which characters are present in the game, a Mass Claim will effortlessly reveal all scum. In such a game, some rule or mechanic must prevent or otherwise discourage a Mass Claim to balance things out. A game which reveals more than just the basics, but not everything is considered to be a Semi-Open Setup game.
By default, the only restriction on what a player may or may not claim is that it is expressly forbidden to quote messages the host sends to players privately. This is to prevent players from nitpicking the host's alleged wording or formatting to try and confirm players. Further restrictions on what players can claim should only be used when necessary, as such restrictions can heavily hinder the Town's ability to discuss and scum hunt. As such, restrictions on claiming should only normally be used if the Town is already very powerful in the setup and needs to be weakened in order to balance out.
By default, there is no hard deadline on Day. This is to allow the Town as much time as it needs before making a Lynch. However, hard deadlines can be used to great effect to create tension in a game where the Town might otherwise be too powerful, and the threat of soft deadlines is a typical method of fighting inactivity as a host. It is important to consider how a deadline, be it hard or soft, will affect a game, before putting one into effect.
By default, a game of mafia is Majority Lynch. This is to ensure that the Town truly controls the Lynch until the Mafia outnumbers them. Plurality Lynch and Monarchy Lynch should only be used in games where the Town is significantly larger or more powerful than the Anti-Town faction(s), and there is a need to weaken the Town's control of the Lynch.
By default, a writeup should provide flavor hints as to what actions might have taken place, and which characters might have performed those actions. In a game with a strong Anti-Town faction or particularly weak Town, a host might consider including hints regarding the identities of Anti-Town players in addition to the normal flavor. On the other end, in a game with a strong Town or particularly weak Anti-Town faction(s), a host might consider limiting the flavor hints.
Once you've decided on a theme, size, and the general rules you intend to use, it's time to actually craft the setup. This stage is called specific design.
A Mechanic is something that will affect every player, typically by either altering a fundamental element of mafia, or by adding an additional element to mafia. Games with Mechanics are often built around those Mechanics. For the most part, players are normally aware of Mechanics going into a game. Not all games need Mechanics, but they can be a fun way to keep the game fresh. The important thing is to really think about the consequences of a given Mechanic, how it will impact the various potential Roles, and to build around that. A Mechanic is only fun when it isn't abusable. Mechanics can have a wide range of effects, so there's not really much else I can explain to prepare you for balancing them.
Having considered what factions a theme might lend itself to, you now need to decide exactly how many and what kinds of factions the game will include. Typically, you'll want to consider the Anti-Town factions first, and then move to Independents. It is important for each Anti-Town faction to have an equal chance of victory, not only compared to the Town, but also compared to one another. Steps need to be taken to ensure that no one Anti-Town faction is clearly more powerful than any other Anti-Town faction. After determining which factions will be in the game, you should divide up the total number of players you intend to run into the various factions. Generally speaking, in a game with a single Mafia, there should be one Mafioso for every two to three Townies, depending on how powerful you intend to make the Mafia. When dealing with multiple Anti-Town factions, remember to try and assign at least half of the total players to the Town. In a game with multiple Mafias, the individual Mafias should generally be the same size, unless you intend for a particular Mafia to have stronger roles than another, in which case the Mafia that will have stronger roles should be smaller. Cults should generally be smaller than Mafias due to their ability to grow by eliminating members of the Town.
Once you've nailed down factions, it's time to start crafting individual Roles. Balancing during this stage is as much an art as it is a science. I'm going to try and explain this, but it's something that you'll pick up with experience. As a general rule, the Town should have at least one Investigative Ability and one Protective Ability, while a Mafia and/or Serial should have at least one Destructive ability, and a Cult should have at least one Conversive ability capable of modifying alignment.
Consider how quickly each faction can achieve victory. Generally speaking, the average length of a game is a number of Phases equal to one plus a half of the total number of players. A 12-player game should generally take around seven Phases, while a 20-player game should generally take around eleven Phases. For the Town, look at how quickly they can have every player investigated (count weaker Investigative roles like Trackers, Watchers, and Thieves as half a player per Night rather than a whole player per Night). In a balanced setup, the Town should generally not be able to investigate every player before the average length of a game of that size. For an Anti-Town faction, consider how long it will take for said Anti-Town faction to be the same size as the Town if the Town mislynches every Day. In a balanced setup, an Anti-Town faction should never be able to be the same size as the Town in half the average length of a game of that size.
Next, consider the overall strength of each faction. I like to give rough point values to Abilities to get a feel for a faction's strength. Generally speaking, Investigative, Protective, Destructive, and Manipulative Abilities are worth 4 points for the faction they're most useful to, or 2 points for the faction they're least useful to. Meanwhile, Preventative and Creative abilities are always worth 4 points, and Conversive abilities are always worth 8 points. Strong Abilities are considered for full point value, while weaker Abilities are counted as half point value. Finally, I add 1 point for every positive Passive Ability, and subtract 1 point for every negative Passive Ability (certain Passive Abilities are worth more than 1 point, but they are special exceptions). Generally speaking, using this method, you'll want each Anti-Town faction to have roughly the same point values as one another, and roughly between half and a third the total point value of the Town. Moreover, you should try to avoid any individual Role having an overall negative point value, as such Roles may not prove very fun to play.
Finally, look for individual loopholes that might be abused. For example, consider a game which features a very major character, one that is highly unlikely to be Lynched after Claiming. If this character is made Iron, he/she would be a major obstacle to the Mafia, but more importantly, he/she would make winning nigh impossible for a Serial player. If the Town has a Noble and the Mafia has a Politician, they could potentially grab the Noble's doublevote, which could allow them to Speed Lynch and win before the Town is at Lynch-or-Lose. Just consider how all the various roles might interact with one another to try and work out the quirks and kinks a full setup is bound to have.
Conditions are little special exceptions meant to make a particular setup properly unique by more accurately reflecting the flavor. They are minor modifications to existing mechanics that players are generally unaware of. They are generally also used to fine tune balance. A condition might say that a certain character's action will always fail against a particular other character, either for flavor or balance reasons, or both ideally. Or, a condition might outline how a particular character's ability is slightly different from normal, perhaps a Manipulative Ability that also allows the target to self-target, even when the target is otherwise not allowed to, which is normally explicitly prevented. Like Mechanics, Conditions can cover a wide range of things and are generally used to spice things up, so there's not a lot else I can say about them here.
Running the Game
A lot of new hosts don't realize the burdens that actually running a game entails.
It is important to craft clear and concise Role PMs, as they are often the only direct interaction you will have with each player. A good Role PM should include some flavor about the character, typically justifying the abilities assigned to the character or hinting at conditions that might be specific to that character, as well as a breakdown of what alignment and abilities the player has been assigned. Moreover, it is important to give a detailed explanation of exactly what a player's victory condition is, as well as how each ability specifically works. While we have somewhat standardized the terms used for alignment and abilities, they are not perfectly uniform, and it is not uncommon for a player to make an incorrect assumption about what a term means. However, probably the most important aspect is for the flavor and mechanics portions of each Role to be separate and distinct from one another. Flavor is nice, but when it is confused with mechanics, it can seriously mislead the player as to what their abilities are within the game. A well crafted Role PM should leave as little as possible to interpretation.
As a host, you need to be very careful what you put in Writeups. In a lot of ways, a Writeup is like a Role PM. It should have a section of flavor explaining what took place, followed by a section breaking down what, mechanically-speaking, occurred.
Flavor should center around things that every character might have seen or been aware occurred. In most cases, this means framing the writeup around the discovery of a dead body or bodies, so kills will take center stage in these Writeups. It should be clear which character died, and the nature of the body should give some hint as to how they died or perhaps which character killed them, but should otherwise be left somewhat vague or open to interpretation. The writeup may also hint subtly at other actions that may have taken place, especially failed kills, at the discretion of the host. The mechanics explanation should include which player died and what Role that player had, and may also list which players were targeted by failed kills. As such a Writeup marks the start of the Day phase, it is also typical for the mechanical explanation to announce the new phase and any conditions related to the Lynch, either how many players represent a majority if Majority Lynch, when Day will end if Plurality Lynch, or the identity of the King if Monarchy Lynch.
Flavor for these writeups is normally a bit shorter. Generally, they should reveal what character is being lynched, and what alignment that character was. This can be framed as a lynch followed by finding evidence of innocence or guilt, if the theme is not overtly clear on which factions are innocent or guilty, or it can simply state that the character was lynched if the theme is clear. The flavor can additionally allude to the flow of phase it follows, making references to major arguments or periods of inactivity/indecision, but this should be handled with care so as not to reveal anything about the still living players and their possible motives. The mechanical explanation should reveal which player was lynched and what Role that player had. As such a Writeup also marks the start of the Night phase, it is also typical for the mechanical explanation to announce the new phase, as well as note when this Night will end if a hard deadline is in use.
-Hosts are expected to behave in a specific manner in their role as the moderator of a game. These are some general guidelines that a host can follow to minimize player disputes and the like.
-Hosts should never discuss game balance while running a game, even if it does not necessarily pertain to the game being hosted. Moreover, they should never comment on what characters or roles may or may not be in the game, unless the game is Open Setup and specifically calls for such statements.
-Hosts should never allow themselves to be dragged into a debate in the game thread, nor should they ever appear to side with a specific player in any such debate. Hosts have knowledge regarding a game that players do not, and so may be biased by such knowledge in their opinions, and disputes regarding a game should always be held until the game has ended. This includes liking posts or revealing their thoughts to a player in private.
-Clarification should be given on a need-to-know basis, and hosts should always try to avoid clarifying on a subject if doing so would directly confirm or contradict a player's claimed alignment or role. Players should be focused on what other players are saying, rather than what you as the host are saying. A player needs to know how their own Role works, but does not necessarily need to know how another player's claimed role would work, for example.
-Any rule that constitutes a modkill should be clearly outlined in the topic post of the game thread. Players come from a variety of communities and may have played mafia differently, so a host should never just assume that every player is aware of unstated "common sense" rules.