Friday, April 30, 2021

GMing Advice: Your Game Should be What it says it is on the Tin

A friend of mine recently had a very amusing experience running Rogue Traders for his group. He presented his group with an assassination contract, meant to disrupt an upcoming vote on who would get to rule some lucrative mining planet.

He was completely floored when his players decided that instead of settling on just doing an assassination, they could rig the upcoming vote so that they would gain control of the lucrative mining planet.

Clearly my friend is blessed with ambitious players. Every single instance of players going off the rails to do something ballsy and epic is a gift that should be cherished by a wise GM.

He summed up the experience by stating:

"In my experience, players will create the type of sessions they want to play through their actions. You just need to follow through once they tell you what they want. Get out of the way."

It's excellent advice, assuming that the game your players have fun playing is a game you have fun running.

This post is largely geared towards readers who are recruiting players blind, and possibly people attempting to coax friends into forming a TTRPG playing group.

Incongruous Expectations

When a GM decides to start a campaign, they tend to have an idea what it will be like. Typically, just choosing a game system is a fairly binding choice right out of the gate. If you're playing in PARANOIA, or Exalted, or the World of Darkness, you have some pretty solid foundations that you can assume will hold true in most campaigns.

But even within the confines of game systems, there's plenty of variance on how each game can be approached. Saving the world quests, hack and slash combat, and political shenanigans are all three distinct campaign styles that you could run in each of the systems/settings above. (If Friend Computer says you saved the world, you saved the fucking world. Happiness is Mandatory.)

With all of that wiggle room and ambiguity, it's easy to see why horror stories abound of people joining new groups, only to discover that what the group considers (fun/acceptable/normal) is completely different than what the new player/gm expected. 

Even assuming some of those horror stories might be attributable to troglodytes and misanthropic assholes, I'm certain that a good portion of them are related to GMs/Groups failing to properly get on the same page about what everyone wants out of the game.

What the GM Wants

I certainly approach a new campaign by asking 'What do I want?'. After all, a GM who isn't interested in the type of game that they're supposed to run is in for a bad time. And so are their players.

Lately some family asked me to start a campaign for them so my goals were loosely:
  • Introduce completely green players to GURPS and TTRPGs
  • Not run a modern action game because I'm already running one
  • Considering that the players are new, whatever I come up with should have some heavy structure to it- I ended up choosing a central heroic quest that they'll hopefully latch onto and enjoy undertaking
Usually a GM's goals will align with the system, setting, genre, and premise that they present to potential players. The better you can do this, the easier a time you will have finding players who mesh well with you and the group.

Know Thyself

The Exalted Guru I know is an expert at weaving storylines together and does an excellent job of balancing the spotlight for players who frequently have extremely different gameplay goals. That said, I can't picture him running a mega-dungeon, or staying interested in a hack-and-slash campaign for very long.

I have another friend whose GMing talents revolve around heavy systemic world-building, coupled with good skill at stringing together missions to form a campaign. Building that world and doing the ground-level prep necessary to set players loose in those settings as a sandbox without firm rails is not really within their GMing toolbox.

I myself mostly run skulky-action games set in the modern age. My attempt at running something closer to super-heroes and every single one of my attempts to run Blades in the Dark have been utter failures.

Clearly, it's beneficial to be honest and aware of what you do well, what you can handle, and what you should recuse from and let someone else helm if that's what the group wants to play.

If you set out to do X, tell players they should expect X, and then fail to do it well because you're actually better at Y and unintentionally running Y, you've set yourself up for problems.

Know Thy Players

Discussion of player motivations and how to categorize them into taxonomies have been going on for decades. Given just how much those motivations can affect the course of a game, it's clear why it's a topic that's always good for sparking long conversations with your local grognards.

When your game allows the players to do the things they find interesting to do in play, you're in for a good time as a GM. Especially if what they find interesting also happens to be fun for you to watch.

Which is why it is so vitally important that the way you talk about the campaign accurately represents what the campaign will be like. If players accurately know what they're getting into, the better the chances that they will self-select OUT if the game wouldn't be a good fit for them.

In Summary:

Games are a blend of both what the GM and the Players want. The closer the premise and style of a campaign matches with the temperaments and goals of the players, the less friction there will be.

The better a GM is able to understand their tendencies, and the more accurately they represent themselves and their games, the easier time they'll have gathering players of a similar mindset.

A GM's capability to execute on what they try to do, their skill at the craft, and their improvisational chops  will determine how well things go when expectations clash, or unanticipated situations happen.

To his credit, my Rogue Trader pal handled the curveball from his players with aplomb. If the players pull off what they're planning, it will be a story they retell for years.

Final Thought:

It's important that you've reached zen acceptance that allowing other people to do things in an imaginative space where decisions actually lead to logical consequences will inevitably lead to the game not looking like the color-by-numbers you had originally envisioned in your mind.

If the emergent dynamics of a campaign freak you out, might I suggest becoming a novelist?

No comments:

Post a Comment