I put an article on this topic up a few nights ago, but it was mostly unplanned stream-of-consciousness rambling. However, a few people have said it had some really useful content, so I thought I’d rework it a bit and see if I missed anything. I’ve ended up padding it out so much that I’m going to do this across a series of articles. Here’s the first!
I’ve been running roleplay games as long as I’ve been playing them. The players have changed over the years, and I’ve learned a hell of a lot, but my key aim has always stayed the same. From the start I never understood games in which the GM did his best to screw over his players, or “win. As far as I could see, this was pointless. After all, the GM wields ultimate authority over the game world, right? Any player who tries to “beat him” is automatically doomed. Now, I understand that there are times when this isn’t the case. The best example I can think of is Dungeons & Dragons, which I’ve never played a huge amount of, but I’ve got a basic grasp of how things work. Having done a bit of reading on the subject, it’s my understanding that pre-written adventures are pretty much the order of the day for a large slice of D&D groups, and they’re followed to the letter. The GM isn’t really creating a world; he’s (at best) an enforcer for the guy who wrote the pack. The players are trying to beat him, and, by extension, the adventure. This is why you get such oddities as “competitive roleplaying” and “D&D championships”. Look them up – they’re real things!
None of that appeals to me. I think it reflects a different type of roleplaying, something that I hilariously refer to as “roll-playing” when I’m writing on the subject. (Never when speaking about it, though; it just doesn’t work as a pun out loud.) This is something that seems to appeal to people who have got into roleplaying either as a result of computer-based RPGs, or at the very least after playing a few of them. It’s character-light and rules-heavy, and the adventures tend to be very rigidly structured, with clear victory/defeat criteria. I use the term “roll-playing” because it’s less about inhabiting a character than it is an exercise in maxing out your character, working out amazing combos and rolling lots of dice. (Incidentally, I also use the term to refer to people who say things like “I’ll ask the bartender if he knows anything about the strange murders that have been happening. I just passed my Fellowship test by 30%,” rather than just playing out the encounter.) If that’s the sort of game you want to play, I don’t think this article will be much help to you.
In my mind, a roleplay session should be a collaborate experience in which the entire group tells a story. Of course, every group needs a leader, someone to hold the rudder and pick a direction; that’s the GM’s job. It’s not the easiest task, though. Every player has his or her own motives, and tying everything together coherently while still getting some story told can feel a bit overwhelming at times. That’s what this series is about. Over the next eight posts, I’ll be sharing my tips and tricks on immersing your players, making sure they have fun, and not having a heart attack in the process…