Back in May I shared how my gaming hobby was impacted by my being laid-off  from my former job of 13 years. I am happy to let all of you know that I have a new position, and that it is both more challenging and better paying than my previous role was.
Having my job taken away from me was a rough but overall positive learning experience. I was considering how a similar scenario of the PCs being dismissed from a patron’s service might impact a game. The adventuring party being asked to leave the kingdom for some reason by the royal family with very little foreshadowing, or if the game were taking place in a more modern setting having the PCs downsized unexpectedly. Would such a surprise make the game more fun in the long run?
What about other events like an unexpected death (not a PC’s, but an NPC ally)? A natural disaster that destroys a landmark of importance? Things can go unexpectedly wrong in so many ways!
Every story benefits from healthy portions of both comedy and tragedy. A story with both ups and downs leads to great character development. But some players might perceive such a twist as an act of GM fiat that exploits the players’ inability to control certain aspects of the setting. After all, it is not like the GM has to roll for a stroke of bad luck to befall the PCs. Is it alright for the GM to pull the rug out from under the PCs every once in a while?
I am inclined to think that such events are perfectly fine to include in a game. Such events happen in real life everyday to various people in various ways. One day everything is fine, the next your world is turned upside down. Tragedy can happen without warning. My former company was doing well with sales, but a change in upper management and strategy resulted in lay-offs. Sometimes you get blindsided, so why shouldn’t such events happen to the PCs?
For the record I also believe that random events of good luck should befall the PCs as well, since I have had plenty of negative and positive things come into my life unexpectedly.
The flip side though is that real life is composed of many variables outside of our control, but a GM is very much in control of what he or she introduces into the game world. RPGs are attempts to share an imagined reality, but they are also games with rules and limitations. Sure the GM has control of the setting, but the players are allowed to choose how their characters interact with that setting. If the setting becomes “hostile” to the PCs and works against the players’ expectations, does that not defeat the purpose of playing a game?
The answer is probably in the middle of the two extremes, but what do you the readers think? Are tragic twists of fate fair? Do they enhance or diminish the fun of a game? Leave your comments below and let us know how you feel about the matter.