Trust Fall

Welcome to the Gibbering Mouth article for March 5th, 2014. Today’s article is a Wednesday Rave; the topic is trusting your GM.

A few weeks back there was an internet meme that REALLY got on my nerves. I’m gonna try to put a link of it in this blog post if I can. Basically, it is a picture of Boromir (from Lord of the Rings) in his “One does not simply walk into Morodor,” pose. And in big, black and white text on the picture, the meme says:

One does not simply trust a GM. (Note: tried to find this picture again. Couldn’t. If anyone wants to link it to me, I’ll post it here.)

Ooooh, that one makes me angry every time I read it! Let me explain why:

Roleplaying is a Cooperative Sport

Let me state this again.

Roleplaying is a Cooperative Sport

I know I’ve said this throughout my articles on the book. Pathfinder is not designed to be a competition. Sure, you can make it a competition if you really want to, but you lose part of the game when you do so. When you add competitive elements to the game (because I assure you, competition is not an inherent part of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game), you often loose out on roleplaying aspects or character drama because you are so focused on what someone else is doing that you do not have the time to worry about yourself.

This can take several forms. For example, I’m playing in a Wrath of the Righteous game right now where my damage Is consistently beaten by our party slayer by about half. I’m playing a bellflower tiller with a focus on the Vital Strike feats. I’ll admit, sometimes I feel pretty lame that I can’t one-shot destroy enemies like our party slayer can. It sometimes feel demoralizing. But then I sit back and remind myself of all the things he can’t do. He’s horrible at activating spell trigger items. He didn’t take any ranks in social skills. He didn’t invest in the ability to disarm traps. Then I try to remember some things that I can do that he can’t: I can more easily sneak attack enemies (for now). I can outrun him by a LOT fairly effortlessly. The reason that you don’t want to get into what is essentially the character design version of a pissing contest is that there is an inevitable outcome: I feel my character is inferior so I want to design a new character that is better to prove that I’m as good at character building as the other guy is.

But the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t matter which of us deals more damage because in the long run, we share the same goals: beat the bad guys, get the treasure, become awesome legends of the Worldwound.

Cooperation with the GM

Just as something is lost when you focus all of your energy on competing with the players, something is lost when you focus all of your energy competing with the GM. First, its futile. You can’t compete with someone who, theoretically, is omnipotent in the context of the game. It is as laughable as Yakko from the Animaniacs yelling at a disembodied narrator voice because that’s essentially what the GM is to the campaign: a disembodied narrator voice.

Now, there are plenty of tongue-in-cheek stories where the characters go against the narrator’s will. An excellent example of this comes from South Park’s Woodland Critter Christmas. In this episode of South Park, the narrator tries to get Stan to go continue his story by constantly reminding him of what he needed to go. Stan just sits there and watches TV until finally giving in to his narrator’s voice, however.

Now, if Woodland Critter Christmas were a campaign, it would be safe to say that a GM who acts likes this narrator would probably be reviled for railroading or something similar. Let’s remind ourselves of the definition of railroading: the process of forcing the PCs to complete a certain task before continuing the adventure. In this case, is the narrator railroading Stan? The answer, frankly, is no. Stan is not participating in the story at all. He’s completing no tasks. He’s not doing anything, and if Stan is being railroaded to play the game, is he really playing at all?

The fact of the matter is that the GM’s job in a roleplaying game is to provide the players with a situation and to resolve that situation justly. There has to be some trust on both sides of the GM screen for this to work. The GM needs to trust that the players are going to actively participate in the story that he has established while the players need to trust that the GM is going to act as a fair arbiter of the events that follow. A good GM is not out to screw over her players, despite what the Internet culture is telling you. A good GM wants everyone to participate in a satisfying story, and the key word there is everyone. Sometimes the GM is going to do things that are not satisfying for you as an individual. Sometimes the GM might do something that is not satisfying for your entire group. GMs are only human, and I’ve seen plenty of GMs do things that made for a satisfying event for himself. But you have to trust that in the long run, whatever the GM is doing is for the betterment of the story, not for himself, not for you, and not for your peers. When we watch a movie or read a book, we don’t love every individual event that happens in the story. I, for one, hated the very first major death that happened in A Song of Ice and Fire. Absolutely hated it; my favorite character died! But do I hate the entire series for that one event? No, because sometimes bad things need to happen to make the story more satisfying overall.

So trust your GM that he or she is doing everything possible to make each story, but not each event, satisfying for everyone.

And that about wraps up my thoughts on Player/GM Trust for this installment of the Wednesday Rave. What do you think? How does the relationship of trust work between a GM and her players? If you’re a player, how does that relationship look at your table? If you’re a GM, how do you foster a sense of trust with your players? How does the trust fall work for all of you PFS players out there? Leave your answers, comments, and stories below and come back next week to listen to more from my Gibbering Mouth!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long over 90% of his colleagues. Affectionately called a “budding game designer” by his partner at Radiance House, Alexander is the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series (Radiance House) and a handful of other Third-Party Products. Before founding the Everyman Gaming blog, Alexander gained notoriety for writing the GM’s Guide to Challenging Encounters, which remains accessible to this day. His favorite color is blue, his favorite Pathfinder Race/Class combination is kitsune thief-acrobat. No, no its not. I’m not old enough to have ever played a thief-acrobat.

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2 thoughts on “Trust Fall

  1. Fostering trust between players is important thing to do because when it comes time for the players to have a ‘negative’ experience (like in most action movies where the hero loses the fight then comes back for victory), they need to be able to trust that something positive will come along to offset this.

    How to do it is a difficult thing to do, it’s akin to ‘how to make friends’. The only thing, I know of, that helps is simply experience playing with the GM. If you know the GM is generally a good guy and runs good games, you’re more likely to give him the benefit of the doubt. Being friends with all of your players and GM helps matters too.

    As for playing in PFS, that’s more difficult as much of the game is taken out of the GM’s hands. The GM is more of a ‘DVD player’ in that he’s got a story to be told and he should do so with as little variation as possible. He’s not supposed to alter spells, feats, enemy numbers or tactics so every time he runs the scenario, it should be played, roughly, the same. So it becomes a case of trusting the GM to pick good, fun scenarios, and trusting Paizo to write such scenarios.

    It also helps if you know the GM knows or understands the rules well. If you’ve got a brand new GM who is new to the game in general playing using rules everyone is unaware of, it can make people doubt the GM. I mean, if he’s new to the game, and the rules, then how can we trust he’s knows the rules all that well? It’s even worse if the interpretation of the rules results in a negative experience for the players.

    As for GM tips, one thing they can do is try and ask players, in private, how they feel about the game. Get feeback to see what it is each player like to do in game, and try to get a healthy mix of different elements. For example, if you have a primarily combat heavy group of players, maybe tone down the RPG elements some. If no one likes mystery plots, they may get really frustrated if you try and force a murder/mystery down their throats.

    Try and get your players to give you some goals the players would like to achieve with their players, and as the GM, try to make sure some, if not all, of those goals come to pass. If the player wrote in plot threads into the backstory, try to roll with them. See if you can’t incorporate the background plot elements into the story so each player gets to be important.

    Make sure to incorporate each players preferred style of play; even more, make sure that if a player built a character a certain way with certain abilities, that they get to use them. If you have a player who built a character with a certain style of play, but never gets to use it, they can feel pretty disappointed with the character, even feel useless or marginalized. This goes back to finding out player goals. If they are seeking to play an undead slayer in Legacy of Fire, make sure to let them know such a character will probably go unfulfilled in the over-all story as Undead don’t have much of a presence.

    If you involve your players and make sure their game desires are fulfilled, they are more likely to trust you when you take them out of their comfort zone a little. Also, try not to use the ‘bait and switch’ technique too much. Each GM has a certain style, and if your style is always to pull the rug out from under players, they’re going to begin suspecting that and distrust you. Change up your tactics and try not to fall back on any particular trick or they begin to suspect it.

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