December 23, 2007
There’s been an ongoing conflict in our group regarding styles and personal preferences. I’m right at the center of it, because the things I’m after are quite a bit different than what people are used to from other players. I’m essentially after “addressing a premise, answering a question” fun, while most of the group members are after “tell a good story, emulate a particular thing, dream the dream” fun.
The perennial argument is about what the responsibility of the GM is in accommodating different notions of what a good game looks like. Because others are used to dealing with each other and have very similar desires, supporting those styles is “easy.” Since what I want is different, that’s “hard” — they don’t have as much practice with it. To them, it looks like I am demanding a lot more from the GM, when really I just want different things.
Yesterday, someone said “But that’s pandering!” when I described my attempts to understand and provide, as much as possible, the kinds of fun that each player was after. I realized that I find the concept of pandering to be self-contradictory. Pandering means catering to other’s viewpoints, and implies that those viewpoints are less valid than the one you already hold. But if your viewpoint is valid without basis, without justification, simply because its yours, then so is everyone else’s, just because it is theirs.
This realization catalyzed a new vision for what a functional group would look like to me: The group members would each take responsibility for providing everyone’s fun, including their own. They would acknowledge that each desired kind of fun is valid, and, in a sense, everyone would “pander” to everyone.
December 9, 2007
To these guidelines for GMing, I would like to add one more:
Instead of planning what the characters will do to the plot, plan what you and the plot are going to do to the characters.
So what does that mean? It’s an expression of the old wisdom “Once players get involved, nothing will go as you planned,” phrased in a way that focuses on what to do about it. And the what is: rather than planning out “the characters will go here and talk to this guy and then go fight whatever,” plan out “this guy will come to talk to the characters and try to convince them to fight whatever he needs them to fight.” And then maybe a fight will happen, or maybe it won’t. Or maybe the whatever will attack them by surprise mid-conversation.
See the difference? Good!
December 5, 2007
How about rewarding the group for collaborative efforts? I don’t just mean in-the-fiction or dictated by the system here either. This could also apply to things like cutting down extraneous chatter, making sure everyone gets spotlight time, or collaborative setting creation. It’s something that can be explored in almost any system, and could be overlaid on almost any game.
December 5, 2007
I have a long-standing disagreement with one of the players in our group, and I’m just starting to make sense of it. We have very different opinions on how to deal with information that either some or none of the characters have a reason to know. One incident that highlights our differing opinions involved a two hour conversation in a separate room in order to keep details of someone’s character background secret form the rest of the group. We had to postpone certain scenes until it was over, and predictably, everyone else was quite bored while this was going on. To this person, the less than desirable effects on the rest of the group were regrettable, but acceptable in order to preserve alignment between in and out of character knowledge. I have never found knowing things out of character to be a serious hindrance to my enjoyment of the game, and I’ve never found “surprising” twists and turns to be critical for me.
It occurred to me recently that one reason for our differing opinions is our differing goals. He prefers to explore the parts of the game outside of his characters, while I prefer to explore the inner life of my characters. So for me, knowing what’s coming up can help me set up situations that explore my character’s motivations and psychological state in interesting ways. For him, knowing what’s coming up ruins his exploration.
On an even more general level, the core of this realization relates to the One True Way. Just as there is no One True Way, there is no One True Goal or One True Technique. Instead, there are lots of equally valid goals, and for each goal, lots of techniques for getting there.