Players: Opportunity Or Obstacle?

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0930

“I pull my trained hunting monkey out of my trench coat and it attacks the ghost.”

That’s how we ended our Blades In The Dark game at IntrigueCon: Fellowship of the Spring on the weekend.

I had a fantastic time at the RPG convention. My second time attending IntrigueCon. Thanks to Daniel, Clint, Nathan, and the other organizers for running a well-oiled machine that was inclusive and fun for everyone.

Friday I played Fiasco for the first time. Saturday I played Blades In The Dark and FATE.

All the games were fun, for different reasons.

And when Jordan, who was quiet most of the game, took us all by surprise by unleashing a pet monkey we didn’t know his PC had, it was a total riot.

A Different GM POV

The FATE game was the most interesting to me, from a GMing perspective.

A great guy ran us through Ghostbusters meets Harry Potter. We were agents tracking down a demonic infestation while trying to keep the muggles oblivious, while also trying to stay one step ahead of our bureaucratic rivals, The Cleaners.

The GM was really nice and set things up well. He created a cool adventure, too.

However, the game was a bit of a railroad. Scenes progressed no matter our choices or results of the dice. Sometimes the GM took control of our characters. And sometimes he was actually playing by himself.

For example, the players were talking about the meaning of the clues and our next move. The GM intervened and told us we figure out everything is happening in patterns of three and by that logic the next step was an event triggering in the province to the east.

So we were whisked back to headquarters, reamed out by our boss for botching the job, and then re-deployed to the next scene.

All this was narrated, and we just listened.

One part of the issue was his homebrew adventure could not handle PC defeat or foe defeat well.

The key creatures were too difficult to beat to ensure they could make it to the next scene.

And if we failed then the railroad kicked in.

All this wasn’t that bad. Like I said, I had fun experiencing the story as it unfolded.

What Role Do Players Have In Your Games?

My aha! moment was seeing the different GMing perspective at play. The GM explained to us his thinking sometimes, and it was so interesting to see the wheels clicking.

In essence, the GM had a story to tell. He was gaming out his story. That was the game, in his mind. And the players were the obstacles to his story.

Compare that to sandbox play, for example. Unless totally locked down, in a sandbox game the players make choices the GM needs to react to and further gameplay with ad hoc creativity.

In sandbox, the players are an opportunity to extend gameplay.

In our FATE game, the players were obstacles to extending gameplay.

In sandbox, if the players do nothing, the game halts.

In our FATE game, the players could do nothing so the game could proceed.

These are opposing GM viewpoints.

Is that mindset difference clear to you?

See & Be The Opportunity

I believe most of us GM somewhere in the middle with pendulum swings in either direction.

As with Fiasco, when you get a strong idea you want to run with it to see what happens. So the others at the table are potential obstacles that could make you change your idea.

And with Blades In The Dark, with its deep teamwork mechanics, the people at the table are there to pitch in with their characters and ideas to reach a goal co-created at the start (the Score). Like trench coat monkeys, the players are opportunities to take the game in awesome directions and we GMs try to keep up and facilitate even more ideas.

Another way to put it is previous Musings’ advice on creating obstacles for the characters so the players can use their ideas, character skills, and roleplaying to get the reward.

That’s perfect.

But you want to avoid seeing the players as obstacles to your ideas so that you don’t get your GMing reward.

The next IntrigueCon is in the fall. Hopefully I’ll see you there!