"The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable."
James A. Garfield
Over the course of the last couple of weeks since 'officially' announcing I was taking a break from active gaming, I've had several meaningful conversations with the members of some of my groups as well as gamers beyond my usual circle.
Those of the past week were especially insightful, for good or ill, and they've brought me to some conclusions that I truly feel will help my players and I going forward (well, some of them at least).
One overarching 'theme' (for lack of a better term) that I've been struggling with in my games for sometime now is a feeling of GM/Player and Player/Game disconnect. There are players that just don't get me, I them, and there is an undertone of distrust in the whole process. That is to say, the players in question don't trust me to do what is in the games best interest, from story to the handling of their characters.
For example, they don't believe a given approach will work for whatever reason and though I assure them that approach is one I've taken successfully many times, they don't see it as possible so my assurances are meaningless. Their past experiences trump the idea that I might just be able to pull it off.
Compare this to my own approach: I very much dislike D&D but I am always open to try it under a GM who I know is a good Gamemaster in general and who says or implies that their way of doing it is a little different and as such, I might enjoy it.
Sure, it usually isn't and I usually don't but that's just my personal game preferences. I still give the GM, who is a friend I might add, the benefit of the doubt.
When my friend Keith wanted to run Deadlands years ago, I jumped at the chance, even though I don't generally like Westerns or Horror all that much. It was also the first game Keith had ever GMed for me. I trusted Keith and so I gave it a chance.
So what's going on? Why the distrust? Well...
Initially I chalked it up to time. My old groups have known me longer. We've become more familiar and accustomed to each other. My old Art & Design High School group have been friends for over 35 years. My College/Forbidden Planet gang nearly as long. My old NJ crew? At least 25-30 years. We've all seen Marriages, Divorces, Births, Deaths, and all kinds of crazy crap. Of course we trust each other on a far more intrinsic level, we're practically family!
Most of the people I game with on a regular basis today have only known me between 9 and 20 years. Wait...9 to 20 years? That's still a heck of a lot of time! Even with 9 years of nearly weekly gaming you don't get how I do things yet? You don't understand where I'm coming from? Hmmm.
Then there's the fact that I've known my High School group for 35 years but I didn't know them that long during High School. Those guys and I clicked right away or at least within the first few weeks to a month of gaming together.
Another major contributing factor is past experiences; how these individuals treated their players if they GMed and how they themselves were treated by GMs. Clearly I've got some RPG-PTSD on my hands. I've got to wonder though, were they abused by the Old School approach and now assume that's how every GM and game works or did they have a terrible experience with someone who claimed to do things in a new and usual way? Please share with us how and/or where the innovations hurt you.
What does it all mean and what can I do about it?
Some of my conversations have elevated the concerns and hangs up some of the players had or at the very least made each of us more aware of what the other was feeling and thinking. Communication is key. Going forward, I can definitely see one of my groups putting in an effort to be more flexible and trusting with each other and with me.
At the same time I vow to be a bit more open with what I have in mind in future. Sometimes my initial pitches, designed to generate curiosity and allow for surprises, are too vague and cause those less sure of the game, themselves, or me to have more questions than ideas. It's difficult to be sure; I'm both not used to and generally dislike being too transparent with a games specifics prior to playing as it makes it harder to add to or alter the game on the fly. However, if it will ease fears I will attempt to be a bit more forthcoming.
There are, unfortunately, still players stuck in their ways and unwilling or unable to unstick. I am not likely to see much of a change in them as they lack either the self-awareness or commitment to adapt. That too is data I can use however. I know to focus my more creative efforts on others. Perhaps if they see the other members of their group getting more out of the game then they are they'll realize they are missing out and try to comprehend and come to terms with what they're missing.
Anyway, sorry this got a little rant-y in some parts. It's been very hard identifying exactly what was bugging me and even harder acknowledging some issues do not have an easy fix. At the same time, discussing it with various parties has helped somewhat and opened up new possibilities with gamers outside my regularly scheduled programming. I might be able to revisit two of my favorite older games in the new year for one-shots or perhaps short series. More on this as it develops.
Additionally and perhaps most excitedly, I have a solid idea for one of my two new campaigns for 2023. Check back here later for updates.
OK, off to bed. Busy tomorrow.