Can't We All Just Get Along?
The situation stays the same. One minute you're bleeding to death. The next minute you're on your feet, thanking the Gamemaster that you didn't get snuffed. And as your bandages get pulled away, you stride confidently back into the world with a gleam in your eye and a smile on your face. Where you're immediately faced with the one villain you know you can't defeat.
The situation stays the same. One minute you're bleeding to death. The next minute you're on your feet, thanking the Gamemaster that you didn't get snuffed. And as your bandages get pulled away, you stride confidently back into the world with a gleam in your eye and a smile on your face. Where you're immediately faced with the one villain you know you can't defeat. In moments you're back in the same situation, bandages and all, waiting the moment when your friendly GM will pick you up, dust you off, and send you on your merry way. With some new prize or motivation, and no way to win.
We've grown into a culture of Gamemaster verses Playercharacter, where every monster or trap is no longer a puzzle or challenge, but an attempt for the GM to prove his power over the underlings he so willfully tosses about in worlds he alone commands. The goal of the game has changed from story to power.
Now, we all know that challenge is the integral point of a Role Playing game. In the end, whether you prefer a rule-oriented, dice-throwing campaign, or a story-oriented, dialogue-throwing game, one thing will always remain present: conflict. It's the moment of truth in any story. So we need the mazes and monsters to keep things moving along. Nobody wants to roleplay a character by doing nothing more than cataloguing the moments of a mundane lifestyle with no challenges to overcome. (And if you do, I have a wonderful invention to introduce you to: it's called a Barbie Doll.)
However, I have little desire to descend into the discussion of story vs. rule. I instead resolve to rant on the plague running rampant through GM's everywhere.
We all know that Gamemasters everywhere love to lock a dragon behind a door and then tell his players they'll find what they need on the other side. And somewhere, at the dawn of time perhaps, this was the greatest thing about roleplaying. Everyone knew they needed a bag of dice or a good vocabulary because they were going to have to work their way out of some sticky situation. That is the heart of adventure. But there is a difference between placing a sentinel at the door your players must pass through, and placing them in a cage, in the frying pan, over the fire, with only your friendly GM as the way out.
I'll illustrate with two examples:
The first form of meanness comes from a Gamemaster playing more than the PC's. I'm talking about any instance where the party is trapped or faced with a villain only the GM's favorite NPC can save them from. It's the Gamemaster doing for the characters, instead of letting the characters do. And while it's neat to have a powerful or advantageous friend in a campaign, it's belittling to the players when they're never capable of self-preservation without the GM's little friend around.
The second form of meanness comes from a GM abusing the sacred legends of Roleplaying systems. Like throwing in an Antideluvian Vampire against the players when they're out on a stroll, or hiding a Balrog under their bed. Some characters where meant to be impressive just to talk about, not to do battle with. And any Gamemaster that uses the legends of a system for common detail in an ordinary, ongoing campaign is suffering the realism of that game for sake of ridiculous drama. It would be like a campaign of Hobbits just setting up a campfire in a small cave and finding out that they just stumbled on the Dark Lord Sauron's summer home. Only the GM, by weighing things in their favor, or overruling events to their benefit, can save the characters from certain doom. Which undermines the possibilities for the company to win fairly.
Why is it that any time a GM wants to make a badguy seem cool, he does it with a character sheet that's so maxed out it looks like the game representation of Moses?
I used to think this was the fault of the Gamemaster; that their poor ability to structure a campaign was the issue, and not their perspective. It could be argued that the only reason Gamemasters would set you up against an enemy too powerful is due to their underestimating your character (or overestimating the amount of leveling up his adventures should have provided.) This seemed like a good solution, until I hopped into a couple of GURPS campaigns. The situation did not level out as I had anticipated. Instead of a game where the villains were created by my GM's to be the perfect fit for the perfect fight, I ended up pitting a low level mutant human against Gundam Epyon in a room enclosed with spikes. As always, it was by the graces of the GM alone that I survived to fight another impossible villain.
Some would appreciate this style. They would say it's better to defeat an enemy you know you can't defeat rather than enter a fight you know you'll win. It is the opinion of this humble author, however, that there is indeed a better way.
Instead of trying to show off you capabilities at filling out character sheets that look like Jesus was playing your game, try giving the characters what they want. This alone is the key, and so I shall repeat it: give your characters what they want.
In rare circumstances, where the GM has no prior knowledge of his players or has no outside contact with his players, giving anybody exactly what they want is near impossible. But let's face it, the majority of Gamemasters play with their friends, and they know exactly what would make them drop their jaws with sudden shocked joy.
I tried this with a homebrew game of my own concoction, and it worked wonders. I had run several campaigns with the same core group and several peripheral acquaintances. In no time, trends appeared that hinted rather blatantly at what they were looking for in a game. So instead of throwing the campaign into a house of horrors, I outfitted them with weapons that I had seen each of them enjoy in the past. And then I dropped them into danger. However, it was a mixture of challenges they had all talked about, mentioning their heroics with a grin or a frown. I put them back in the places that made them grin. And by giving them these simple thrills, I took them where they were hoping to go. The result was an adventure they still talk about today.
Where is it written that Gamemasters have to deny their players what they want when the goal of the game is fun?
Finally, I posit this, which stories do you tell more often? The ones where somebody saved you from a hopeless situation, or the ones where you attempted something difficult and came out on top?
Nobody wants to talk about how they played a game where the GM bailed them out time and again. But we all want to brag about how we handled the situation on our own. Gamemasters: stop beating up your players. We all know you can color in the dots or dream up big numbers for an NPC's stats. Try giving your players what they want for a change. And we'll all get along better.