Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Fireside Chat: Run Their Game, not Yours

I have always preferred to run games, rather than play them. I'm a storyteller by inclination, and I've been told I'm good at it. While I can't speak to my own ability, I can say I derive a great deal of enjoyment from running a game. Over the years, and editions, I've learned a lot as a GM, a lot of mistakes that could have, should have, been avoided. These little tidbits of wisdom will be shared in a "fireside chat" format. For those of my audience who have never heard of the "Fireside Chats" a quick check on Wikipedia should bring you up to speed.

For today, I want to touch on a very difficult topic. When you run a game, for a set of players, you're running a game for them, not for yourself. Think of a GM as a server, as in waiter/waitress, you are providing a service. GMs that remember this, run great games, GMs that forget it, don't. It's not difficult on the surface, yet it's a classic mistake I see in newer, and even some "veteran" GMs. When I develop a run I plan for as many factors as I can, and I ad-lib the rest. However, if in the course of a game I stray from what my players want, then my plans must change, and they much change quickly and dynamically. I'm providing a positive playing experience for my group, not for myself. Let me give an example.

I love grenades. Absolutely love grenades and have always felt that in Shadowrun grenades should be a standard piece of equipment for any paramilitary response unit. Now, I'm not talking beat cops, Knight Errant shouldn't pack frag grenades, maybe a flash bang or two, but that's it. However, if you're running up against a High Threat Response team, or a Red Samurai unit, you better believe there's going to be grenades involved. Grenades in Shadowrun, have a massive damage potential, and I've killed several characters using a well placed grenade at the end of a combat turn. They are the ultimate way to deal with min-max'd characters. Nothing says "I don't like you" quite like a grenade.

In some of my groups, where my players are looking for high-threat and highly lethal play my grenade happy mindset is not only welcome, it's expected. However, when I play with a group that isn't looking for the same level of high threat play I have to alter my tactics. It does not, let me repeat that, does not matter that I like grenades. If my players don't, then I have to alter my play style. The same piece of gear, used at the start of a combat turn, adds a level of tension, and drama to a combat, and allows me to describe the combat in greater detail. Plus, it gives a player the chance to be the hero and lob the grenade away before it explodes, seconds later, in mid-air. What changed? My NPC still threw the same grenade, the threat is the same, the only difference is that instead of holding an action to the end of the round, to pop a grenade into the middle of my party, I threw that same grenade at the start, allowing my players to react.

This is the essence of a good GM, tailoring every aspect of a run to meet your players needs, your players desires, to maximize the end experience for your players, over your own needs and wants.

However, with all things there must be balance. Nothing ruins a game faster then having too much fun, too much loot, and too much karma. However, I've found that Shadowrun is the easiest game system to handle the "Monty Haul" problem. Let's assume a character, without the SINner quality simply has too much money. It's relatively simple to have a cop, investigator, or Decker realize that the player's SIN is fake, and freeze all his assets. This also works as a great run hook for the players to win back their ill-gotten loot. Remember, GOD is watching.

For gear-snobs, the availability rules are a GMs best friend. Don't want players to have a certain piece of gear? Make it nearly impossible to find, or if they've already purchased it, brick it as part of a run, or if it's a firearm, make the ammunition so scarce that the player dare not fire a round. This too works as a great run hook, or story arc. One of your players really wants a minigun? Ok, go steal one. Make sure you get enough ammunition too!

I'm not advocating that you take away a players hard-won gear, nor am I advocating that you as a GM give a player everything they could want, I'm merely saying that you need to balance the fun of the game, with the long-term goal of the campaign.

As always, feel free to comment if you've run into good, or bad, GMing decisions, and how they were handled. I'll do my best to respond to the ones I like, and who knows you might even end up the feature in the next Fireside Chat.

No comments:

Post a Comment