Friday, November 21, 2014

Do you as the GM have obligations?

Not too long ago we talked on our podcast with Swedish rpg luminary Anders Björkelid. He and his friends in the rpg club NisseNytt toured conventions with massive well researched scenarios, and published their fanzine where they pontificated upon our hobby. Anders summarized their attitude to scenario design, and their modus operandi as (paraphrased) "every player deserves an experience and a story, regardless of what they do". This I remembered when I read LotFP last week. James Raggi mentioned something similar, but with the opposite intention. He claims the GM have no obligations to the players. If they complain about being bored you ought to say "Yeah, so what are you going to do about it?"

So, do you have an obligation to the players, or not?

I find the idea quite compelling if I go to a con and sign up and pay for a game to be guaranteed a story. If I am proactive and engage I will have fun, but even if I sit back and have a day when I just want to hang out and see what happens, something still happens!

On the other hand, I know that a game where the players are engaged will be more fun, and it will be easier to run for me if the players are there as co-creators. Maybe we even share narrative control, and it will be more of a interactive storytelling.

Interactive storytelling is actually one of the key words for what NisseNytt was all about. So how does this tie together?

I think you as a GM do have an obligation to the players. But, I also think as a player you have an obligation to engage in the game.  Middle of the road, wishy washy conclusion, eh?

Have you, dear reader, read any of the Play Dirty GM advice by John Wick? If you have not, I suggest you do. John is sometimes very polarizing, but he is seldom boring. His way of GMing is all about bringing stuff to the players. But, it's not at all holding hands and telling a story. No, he suggest you hurt the PCs as much as you can, and kick them while they are down. "They will love you for it", he claims. I guess you could say John Wick argues you have an obligation to make life tough for the player characters, so to sweeten the final victory.

Obviously, there are more than one way to skin this particular cat.

Maybe this in one of the reasons role playing games are such a powerful tool too express yourself through. It's adaptable to multiple approaches, and none are wrong. I have played in a NisseNytt scenario where I knew there was a story going on, and for me the big thing was to follow along to participate through the viewpoint of my character. I've also played with James Raggi, where he sat back and watched us squirm after presenting us with a extremely messy situation we as players had to sort out as our PCs. Finally, I've also played a session of Dogs in the Vineyard where the game master put me, the player, under more and more pressure to act with my PC as the situation we had become part of spiralled out of control as it began to emotionally engage us as players just as much as our PCs. I was down, and the kicks kept coming.

I loved all of those situations. So, ask yourself this the next time you sit down behind the GM screen. Do you have an obligation to the players this time?
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