Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P is for Players, Show Them Some Pity

Well, 'pity' may be too extreme but give'em a break already.

As noted in the past, I love to Gamemaster and hate to play. No, really. I can't stand it. There have been a rare few occasions where I've...I guess 'stood it'...and even a tiny number where I liked it but I think loved it would come down to once.* One campaign in 33 years.

Being a player is tough. You usually have little to no control over your environment and in my experience, sometimes little control over your character and his background. Many modern players I game will make detailed backgrounds but then get a little upset when you add or alter or utilize them. I found this extremely odd. Why give your character a background that involves an enemy organization if you don't expect or want them to show up? Then a friend of mine revealed that the point was the players in question were so used to their backgrounds being ignored they really didn't expect me to use the material. It was just sort of there for the player's entertainment. I found that both interesting and a bit sad.

I can't tell you how many times, in person and on various blogs, I've seen the attitude of GMs who are 'going to teach their players a lesson' or 'punish them if they do X'. More often than not the attitude is the result of developing a trap or monster or something and getting pissed if the players think outside the box and defeat it. You know, like players are want to do. Because why else play?

I've never understood wanting the Players to not be creative. Right this second there are probably a fair number of GMs reading this and thinking, "That's not what we meant! I'm not trying to penalize them for being creative. I want them to be creative."

Really? Do you? How do you go about that?

I deal with a lot of different players from many different walks of life, age groups, enthnicities, etc. While the classic old school player will shrug off the GMs' grudge monsters and after the fact traps set up just because you figured out the first one, newer players get discouraged. And no, not because they feel they can't 'win' but because the incentive to be creative and think of new ways to approach things is too often squashed.

Now let's look are mortality rates. Being a player in an old school RPG is usually best approached by buying stock in Xerox or some kind of paper company since you're going to go through a lot of character sheets.

I agree there should be a threat of death and yes, PCs in my campaigns die from time to time but it doesn't happen really often. Why? Well first, I play in a lot of settings and genres where main character death is rare. Star Trek, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Superhero Comics and the like generally have reoccurring heroes who, let's face it, reoccur. Secondly, I've always felt it more important to challenge the players and their PCs then kill them. Any two bit yokel GM can kill a PC. It takes no creativity, thought or skill. The guy is 5th level? OK, he's attacked by 3 15th level monsters. Dead. The good ol' Blue Bolts of Lightning are always useful in this regard. You are the universe as a the GM. If you say a guy is dead, he's dead. No save. It's the GM's power. And it's boring.

Challenging them to think and utilize all their skills, abilities and cunning is, IMHO, the goal of a truly accomplished GM. This is just my take on it but I've always felt my postion as GM was about entertaining the players as much if not more than being about rules knowledge and refereeing or indulging in my own ego (though that is a side benefit).

A little ranty but you get the picture. Onward...

Barking Alien


  1. *The once I am referring to was my friend Will's Champion's campaign which I have mentioned here off and on. Greatest game ever. I got to play three different characters and I loved all of them. I learned a lot from Will and I've never met another GM like him.

    If you read this buddy, thanks again for 4 years of freakin' awesome gaming!

  2. You sound like the sort of GM whose campaign I'd enjoy. I've watched a few games, but stopped thinking of joining for the reasons you mentioned.


  3. Wise words. I love it when players come up with ideas about the setting I'm running, and when I play I always try to throw ideas into the mix.

  4. @Misha - There is an open chair at my table anytime you want to fill it lovely lady who lives far away. Poo. Why do so many of the lovely gamer gals seem to live far away. New York has a hundred of every kind of restaurant every other block and we can't harbor a few stray female gamers? I know they exist, I saw a couple at RECESS! No really, I did! (Shuffles through the blurry photos and poor quality video while others shake their heads. "Next thing he'll say is he saw Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster...")

    @kelvingreen - Which, if I haven't mentioned it to you folks at home, is much better for the environment then kelvinmagenta - Case in point - My Elves. I get a lot of compliments from my newer players about my take on Elves in my D&D-ish campaign world but the truth of the matter is that I'm really only responsible for about 60-65% of their material. The rest comes from the players who have played Elven characters in that setting over the last 25 years.