27 April 2008

When Players Collide

I didn't post last week. I'm very sorry. Real Life got in the way.

This week, I'm going to look at conflicting gaming styles. Specifically, I think of the reasons that GMs run games, as compared to reasons that players play in those games.

One example: I had a GM once who loved the feelings of power he got from running the game and having absolute control over what happened. He loved the look of shock and amazement when he caused something to happen that the players not only did not expect, but could not reasonably be asked to expect. He was a very dramatic gamer, and loved the exquisite timing and flow of intrigue that came from having players at his mercy. I sometimes felt as if I was a plaything for a dark and cruel god.

Another GM I played under: he was an excellent storyteller. That is, he told excellent stories, and he told them well. The only problem was that sometimes his own strengths would get in the way. He was very good at predicting how people would react to certain situations, and excelled at arranging events in such a manner that the story would go in the direction he planned by giving the players just the right stimulus to nudge them in the direction that he wanted them to go. Unfortunately, after a while, it starts to feel like the players aren't really involved in the story at all; they're just there to serve the needs of the storyteller.In Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering, there is a suggestion that the purpose of the GM is to ensure that all players are having a good time. That means that if they players aren't enjoying themselves, you need to do something differently. All too often, the GM forgets that his players are trying to have fun as well, and he sends the story in a direction that will only please himself.

Granted, the GM should include himself in "the players;" that is, if the GM isn't having fun, he needs to do something new. This usually means finding a compromise between his desires and those of the players, but sometimes it might mean that he needs to stop GMing and let someone else hold the reins for a while.

A great suggestion also to be found in Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering is the "choices" system. That is, if there's a character entering a scenario for which the GM hasn't prepared, he can think of four things very quickly: what would be the obvious result, what would be the challenging result, what would be the surprising result, and what would be the pleasing result? After you've thought of this, decide which would be the best option to go with, and use it. If it's really necessary, you can roll a die.

An example of this in action: The players have been researching a puzzle that, when solved, will lead them to the next part of the story. However, one night, they decide that they're tired of working on this enigma, and they want to go out for a night on the town. The obvious result is that they go out to a bar, have a few drinks, dance a bit, and come home, only to return to the puzzle the next day. The challenging result might be that they get stopped for drunk driving and wind up in jail. The surprising result might be their arch-enemy might be at the bar, and they get into a fight. The pleasing result might be that they meet some new friends (this route may depend on what sort of players you're working with; Method Actors are most likely to prefer making new friends, or other chances to allow their characters' personalities to shine, while Storytellers might prefer some new plot hooks that they can follow up later, and Power Gamers/Butt Kickers/Tacticians might like a drunken brawl to break out for some simple cathartic violence).

Given these choices, you decide not to go with the obvious solution; if they players just wanted to go right back to the puzzle, they wouldn't have set it aside in the first place. The challenging result probably seems a little heavy-handed, as if you're punishing them for taking a break from their task. The surprising result has some potential; however, you're not ready for an encounter with the villain just yet, as it would negatively affect the flow of the story you're telling. You don't see any likely problems from the pleasing result, so you think of a few interesting story tidbits to throw out to your players, and you're off for an evening of light-hearted adventure.

But the important thing to remember is that if someone's not having fun (whether it's you or one of your players), then something needs to change. Of course, if everyone's having fun, then you're doing things right, and you can ignore everything I said above!

So there's some potentially useful advice for you. I hope it benefits you in some way! And until next week, you must never forget to

Game on!


  1. Makes me kind of curious about what you tell people about my GMing.

  2. Actually, I've never discussed my experiences with you as GM to anyone. I haven't had anything negative to say about it.

    I guess that's a good thing.


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