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Safe In The Game Master’s Hands?
Posted By John Arcadian On November 23, 2010 @ 1:30 am In GMing Advice | 8 Comments
Many of my articles are inspired by moments I witness in games that I am running or playing in. Something about a situation catches in my mind and I start to extrapolate on the various reasons behind a player’s action or a Game Master’s way of handling things. This one is different. The idea behind this article came from reading a passage in a book, equating it to a roleplaying situation, and going “Pschawww. That would never happen. The players would be waaaaay too paranoid.”. This one is going to get a mite rambly, but stay with it cause it’s got some pretty good (imho) payoff.
The Very Quick Backstory
So I’m reading this nifty little steampunk novel* and it feels very much like reading about a roleplaying game that the author played in. A situation occurs where the main characters gets captured/rescued by airship pirates and a very civil discourse occurs between the characters and the pirates, ending with the players accepting, without grudge, a very one-sided offer from the pirates. This occurs about halfway through the book at a point that I would consider, if it were a campaign, to be about 6 or 7 games in. Reading this made perfect sense in the context of the story, but my mind, being in deep game metaphor mode, latched onto the situation and started screaming “Wow. That is waaaay more trust than you usually see from players. I bet the GM wrote those pirate NPCs just to help the players get out of a tough spot and to move the story along, but players never trust NPCs introduced like that. Something is gonna happen any minute now on the players’ end…”. It didn’t. The situation proceeded along in a way that made sense for the book, but very little if it were a roleplaying game, at least that is what my brain kept saying. It just didn’t make sense to my GM mind that the players would be that trustworthy and not expect the Game Master to screw them over.
Ok, so that is somewhat of an extreme thought that the players never trust NPCs, but it is based in truth. Despite the fact that I’m a fairly lenient Game Master, my players still have this underlying sense that I, as a Game Master, am out to get them. They know that I am not and usually am working towards a shared story. They also know that my games rarely incorporate do or die elements. However, they feel that I, as a Game Master, might throw them a game ending curveball at any time.
This idea is a fairly ingrained stereotype in our hobby, and yes – Sometimes the Game Master is out to get the players. A sense of challenge or a feeling of danger can only come when the Game Master is willing to let characters die or face dire dire consequences. However, mistrust of story elements, NPCs, or even of the Game Master in general can cause some real havoc at the table. It might make games slow down because players are perpetually paranoid that one wrong move will be the end. It can kill a lot of great game moments or story elements that the Game Master planned.
The GM vs. Player feeling ebbs and flows depending on a variety of factors:
Having identified a few reasons for the GM vs. Player attitude, what can be done as a Game Master to smooth out the player paranoia and make the game go smoother without giving up the ability to challenge the players.
Despite the fact that I’ve provided a few ideas on overcoming the GM vs player mentality for smoother games, I’m left with one major question. Should you? There are many instances where I can see a sense of challenge, despite challenge actually being there, creeping away from a trustworthy GM’s game. I can also see the instances where paranoid players drag down a game because they are worried about the boogie man around every corner. Which is worse? Which one do you see the most? And most importantly, how do you deal with it?
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