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Jaganshi (profile) wrote,
on 4-28-2006 at 6:16pm
Subject: New GM Struggles with Existing Paradigms!

I haven't been gamemastering long, so take all of this with the proverbial grain of salt. Make it a big one if any of this offends.

There are two rules I've made that seem reasonable to me but don't seem to have occurred to many gamemasters. Maybe these rules don't work for them because they're working from different base assumptions than I am. This is fair. This is also not about other gamemasters. This is about how I'm learning to approach things.

The characters must be challenged.

A slightly harsher way of stating this would be to say that the characters must suffer, but that phrasing would be so damned easy to abuse. Physical harm to characters is easy to shrug off, as most are adventurers and are used to it by now. More difficult to ignore is an emotional challenge.

Tough choices can be just as interesting as tough battles, provided the characters are well-developed enough to have reactions to things. Most characters I've RPed with or GMed for are developed enough that this rule goes well. Characters can be put in positions to do things they don't like, or be forced to work with people they don't get along with. All fine, all well and good.

The characters should come out of it looking good.

This is the rule that exists solely to temper the first. It's based on the obligation I believe a gamemaster has to his/her players. This is not an opportunity for the GM to bludgeon characters with the "Har har I control the universe you all suffer kthnx" GM-phallus. Some GMs see an RP as an opportunity to go on an abusive power trip whose sole purpose is to wank his/her own ego at the expense of everyone else involved.

I don't hold with that. I feel privileged when people want to RP under me. Players are giving the GM an opportunity to provide a service. They're trusting me to give them something interesting, something into which they can invest time and creativity because they are trusting me that I will make it worth it.

I will probably repay them with some modest quantity of suffering. After all, there's no reason why the PCs should always have an easy time of it. I don't think a fluffy easy plot makes them look good at all. I think that wastes the players' time. No, I will hand people things to struggle with, and I hope that I've been able to do that at least a few times over the course of the RP I'm running.

This is not an excuse to tear players to pieces. If a PC becomes attached to an NPC, the odds are slim that I will use it to absolutely destroy the PC emotionally. I don't think that's how you reward good RPing! If the character has an emotional investiture in what's going on, that is a good thing.

If there's one thing that aggravates me, it's punishing the very things that a GM should reinforce. When a character becomes emotionally involved in a plot or with NPCs, it is not a display of weakness that the GM should exploit. It's an opportunity to give the PCs something more meaningful. Investiture like this should help PCs enjoy their success more... not make the player afraid to RP well lest the GM bring down the wrath of the heavens on their soft and helpless character.

I don't care what you do to your players. As the GM running a plot where the players are opposed by a cult of powerful brainwashed pyrokinetic children.... I can't say my hands are clean of occasional sadism. But no matter what I am not here to make the characters walk away from my RP worse off than they were when their players volunteered.

There's nothing wrong with a GM who has a specific path in mind for the plot or for the player characters. There is also nothing wrong with a more laissez-faire GM who leaves the direction of the plot entirely to the actions of his/her players. What I find mildly abusive is the GMing style which has a specific plot in mind, but wants players to believe they have options because some GMs get off on seeing PCs fail more than they do seeing them succeed.

Fine. These GMs can do whatever they want, but they're not doing their players any favors. Having constant power-gasms does no one any good but the GM.

So yeah. Two rules. Make the characters suffer, but make damn sure you make it worth the players' time. Anything less is a betrayal of the trust they've placed in you. Whether anyone knows it but you and your players... you've failed them.

Respect your players. They're trusting you to show them a good time.

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