jordangreywolf: Greywolf Gear (Default)
[personal profile] jordangreywolf

I suppose that if I'm going to keep a journal on Dreamwidth (after making the migration from Livejournal), I ought to actually write something.

I have had ideas for stories rattling around in my head, but the trouble is that I am very, very bad at coming up with a resolution to them. I like happy endings, yet the natural ends to which my imagination leads me are either: power-gamey and cheap (in which case I feel like the ending is a "cheat" and thus invalid), OR dismal and a downer (in which case I am bummed out, because I like happy endings). Another problem I run into is that my stories often focus on a conflict, and I end up wondering ... how did this dystopia get here? Why are the villains so villainous? Why should anyone reading this story care about the strawman antagonists I've set up to be knocked over?

Well, that's one reason, I suppose, why most of my creative energy ends up going into "gamemastering" for roleplaying games instead. Why should we care about the protagonists? Because the character is your character, dear player, and you wrote up that character's background, so if you don't care enough about him or her or it, that burden is on you. Why are the antagonists so antagonistic? Well, we'll delve into that if the players even care? And how does this end? Again, I'm pushing that off onto the players -- to a certain extent.

My GMing Style
I have a number of principles I attempt to stick by as a GM. (The key word here is "attempt." I don't always succeed.)

  • Keep it honest. Fudging rolls won't wash. I can't very well lie to the players (in my role as GM). For one thing, I'm no good at it. And I've had players who will flat out challenge me, if there's a freakish streak of die rolls, whether I'm fudging the numbers. Therefore, I roll the dice out in the open, with no GM screen. If a player asks me what the target number is for a skill check, I'll say what it is, unless there's a very good reason why the PC shouldn't have any clue as to how difficult the task is.

  • Mysteries should have answers. If I'm running a murder mystery, I'm going to figure out from the outset who did it, how, and why. I feel I am doing a disservice to the players if I have NO IDEA what the proper solution is, and I'm just waiting for the players to do something "clever enough" that I'll go with that and pretend that, yeah, THAT was the correct solution all along.

  • I'm willing to retcon behind the GM screen ... for the sake of making things sensible. However, let's say I plotted out my murder mystery, but as the PCs/players discuss the facts so far, someone points out a glaring problem with the scenario I've set up. "Yes, it LOOKS like so-and-so did it this way, but here is why that would make no sense at all." And sometimes, you know what? I find myself thinking, "Good grief, what an idiot I've been! SHE'S ABSOLUTELY RIGHT! Argh!" In that case, I may very well have to tweak things behind the scenes.

    Simply doing it because someone said "This makes no sense" isn't enough reason, however. I have the sort of player group where there will be someone to argue about just about anything. I've also been in game groups where I suspect a player of "strategic arguing" (i.e., arguing with other players, but really with the aim of getting the GM's ear, in the hopes that the universe will obligingly alter itself to fit that player's desire of how things should be). And I've also been guilty as a player for protesting against a given scenario, to the point of wrecking a GM's plans (when, in retrospect, my character could simply have been wrong, and the GM should have probably stayed the course, even if it made my character out to be a fool).

  • I try to figure out at least one way the PCs might overcome a challenge ... but I try not to be overly attached to that one solution. Consider the stereotypical "puzzle dungeon." The PCs are supposed to get through this passage by solving a logic puzzle involving a balance and a bunch of magical gems. "Zog take it!" protests the barbarian, and he proceeds to take his warhammer to the whole thing, and SMASHES his way through. As a GM, I might simply declare the puzzle to be impervious to harm, and that there's NO WAY AROUND, because, drat it, I spent a lot of work on that puzzle! But for the sake of story and keeping the players entertained, it might just be funnier (and make for a better story) to let the barbarian smash his way through. (Just as long as that isn't the proper solution for every obstacle.)

  • PCs can make a difference. I usually write up some sort of "plot" for the campaign for the way things are expected to play out ... but almost invariably, this will not survive contact with the players. They'll do unexpected things, the dice will fail to cooperate, or maybe as a GM I will just fail to realize that some special ability or spell of some archetype totally shoots holes in the "plot" I had in mind. I have to be prepared to "course-correct" over the course of the campaign. If possible, I do the bulk of that in between game sessions, when I have more time to carefully examine everything and write up new material.

  • Schroedinger's Dungeon is okay ... to a point. The trouble with a "sandbox" game, where players are free to decide where they go and what they do, is that I need to plan for a great many things that will be totally ignored by the players. Sometimes I'll "recycle" some of the unused material for a later encounter. Certainly, if I went to the trouble of kitbashing and painting up some special minis, I want to eventually find a use for them, or else all that effort (and money) was just wasted. However, there's a point where I can overdo this. If the PCs hear of a dungeon with a dragon in it, and they decide, "Hey, ain't no way we're taking on a dragon -- PASS!" and then they stroll down the road and promptly get ambushed by a DRAGON ... well, the first time that happens, I guess it's funny bad karma or something. If it happens too often, it's going to get pinned as railroading. I'm more likely to recycle the dragon encounter in a given campaign ... if the players have no idea that there was a dragon involved at all. Otherwise? I'll just have to save my dragon for a one-shot scenario at Necronomicon, or maybe for the NEXT campaign where a dragon would fit in (but under other circumstances).

  • My job as GM is to entertain the players. As much as is possible, I should try to find opportunities for the PCs to look cool / feel cool. If there's a big rules kerfluffle, I will tend to err on the side of the players, if it's "player vs. world." Where I'll be a hard-nose about it is usually just where I feel that it "breaks" things too much. (Like, I'm sorry, but if I follow your interpretation of the rules, your PC becomes LIKE UNTO A GOD, able to effortlessly annihilate the opposition while the other PCs just stand around in slack-jawed awe, and there's no point in continuing this story any further.)

    I have, in the past, put PCs through "moral tests" that ended up very badly, or ended up destroying things that players cared about, all for the short-term sake of setting up for a new adventure -- without considering that by doing so, I was effectively negating all of that PC's prior accomplishments.

    On SinaiMUCK, if I could go back and totally revisit the travails of Kaela the Savanite, Lakshmi the Naga, Frisco "Azinsan" the Fox-Thing, Jezebel, that "Dragonball Z" Goku wannabe, Chiaroscuro, the "fast-forward leap" that resulted in massive NPC deaths "off camera," and other messes ... I would. Part of my problem was in the "shared universe" nature of the whole mess. Some stories deserved to be told in their own separate continuity, I think. But whatever the case, if a player is entrusting his or her time to me to act as a GM, I am there to entertain. Challenge, to a certain point, yes, but if there's such a disconnect between the style of the player that I simply cannot bring myself as GM to ever let that PC "win," then I need to pass on that. I should never be in the position of maneuvering the PC toward failure, unless that's the sort of horror-game nightmare the player actually signed onto -- such as in a Call of Cthulhu scenario where losing Sanity Points is half the fun.

  • Don't tip the GM screen too much. Want to really KILL the illusion of the story? Start telling your players, "Man, you're doing so horribly, I'm going to put extra healing potions in the next treasure chest." Or, "Oh yeah, I totally didn't know who was the murderer, but Jim-Bob's theory was so cool, I decided to go with that." Sometimes I'll talk shop on game rules because we need to pin down what house rules we'll go with, to address player concerns. But if I go yammering too much with players about behind-the-scenes stuff, it's like reminding them, needlessly, "Oh, by the way, just remember, THIS IS JUST A GAME, and I'm just totally making garbage up, and none of it really matters at all."

  • Time matters. Or, I want the players to think so. In a computer RPG, you might be on a quest to save the world, but you can spend as many weeks as you like in the Golden Saucer, playing mini-games, and it'll have no negative bearing on the game outcome. Why? Because the final countdown doesn't get triggered until you head for the final boss fight location.

    Just as in many games, money is a limited commodity that players carefully manage (to get the gear they want, etc.), I like to give the sense that player decisions regarding time can make a difference, too.

    Zombie apocalypse campaign? Yes, you COULD hole up in this office building until the supplies run out, but we're getting closer to winter, eventually the gas you routinely siphon out of stalled cars is going to turn to sludge, and those canned foods WILL eventually expire.

    Or, if it's a race against the clock to defeat the bad guy before the ritual that summons Megathulhu to destroy the city, it should feel as if it makes SOME difference in the final encounter if the PCs opted to dash STRAIGHT for the final location at breakneck speed, rather than hitting all the "side-quests." It's no fair if, even if they sacrifice opportunities to get straight to the threat, NO MATTER WHAT, they will always only have 6 rounds to save the world when they get there (but by not doing the side-quests first, they're under-prepared and under-equipped to deal with the threat).

    I guess the summary would be, "Make it feel like player decisions and priorities matter."

I regret I couldn't "headline" that a bit more, but it underscores a few of the struggles I've had while trying to find my style as a GM.

It's kind of pathetic that I've put this much time and effort into a hobby like this, and I STILL don't feel like I've really nailed anything. (I'm pretty bad as a player -- perhaps all the worse because I KNOW I'm bad as a player and yet I keep getting swept up in things and doing the stupid things I know I shouldn't.)

On the one hand, I feel like I've at least gotten better in some ways than in times of old. On the other hand, my high points in my "career" of GMing are largely thanks to players -- not anything that I was really responsible for. And since this is really about them, I suppose that's going to be inevitable.

Date: 2017-04-21 08:19 pm (UTC)
tuftears: Lynx with Cards (Games)
From: [personal profile] tuftears
There's nothing wrong with putting time and effort into a hobby, especially when you've been able to entertain many people with it! People spend even more money and time on things designed to entertain only themselves, so this is far more socially redeeming. :)

I've definitely learned a lot about GMing from playing and chatting with you!


jordangreywolf: Greywolf Gear (Default)

May 2017

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