When NOT To Meddle With The Affairs Of Players
It has been far, FAR too long since I posted anything here. I want to get in the habit of writing posts again. So here’s one now!
As many know, Live-Action Role-Playing games are a form of collaborative storytelling. They often have a Game Master (or Storyteller, or Dungeon Master, or any number of names) which act as referees and providing things for players to interact with, such as enemies to slay or merchants to barter with or damsels to woo off their feet. This back and forth, of presenting players with a situation that players react to and the situation changing as such, is pretty standard.
However, there are times where players create their own plot all by themselves, using only their own resources and inviting players to participate, with no input needed from the Game Master. This can be as simple as a house party or opening a vegetable stand. Some of these can lead to some great stories and can increase the immersion of the game for everyone attending. However, I have seen many Game Masters interfere with this kind of plot in a negative way in the past, making what could have been a great experience for everyone transform into a bad memory.
Game Masters need to know when NOT to interfere with the affairs of players. Not every thing needs to be a thing.
I have a couple of examples that I’ve observed of a Game Master interfering with player-driven plot to the point where the player just gives up in frustration.
The first is a situation where a character became pregnant. She role-played it up as one might expect for the full period of 9 months, while properly repping the look of her pregnant self as time went on. Now, bringing a child in this world is a big deal for most. In fact, it’s a major highlight in a person’s life, all things considered. What could be added to this situation to make it more meaningful and engaging? A break—up with the father? A terminal diagnosis for the mother, giving the understanding that they’ll never see their child grow up?
No. Death Knights!
When the time came for the birth, the character role-played giving birth, with all the screaming and pain you’d expect from giving birth. In front of a line of the biggest, baddest fighters in the game. Instead of giving birth to… anything, Death Knights appeared, combat ensued, and when it was all over the entire 9 months leading up to this moment were wiped away to make room for a mediocre combat encounter. The pregnancy was never spoken of again.
From the outside looking in, that is a very boring conclusion to a story that had quite a bit of build-up. I have no idea what the Game Masters were thinking, but if I had to guess, they were thinking “BABIES BORING! DEATH KNIGHTS FUN! PLAYERS SMASH DEATH KNIGHTS!” So much potential wasted by concluding a 9-month build up to a straight-forward combat which lasted a few minutes. Such a shame.
The second example I have is when a player at a larp decided that they wanted to hold regular sermons at the chapel that was on the game’s site. This was a great idea. It adds role-play, immersion, and requires no interferences from plot. It can leave a lot open for anything to happen and gives opportunities for other characters, whether or not they follow said religion the character is preaching, to role-play with the player. This player posted notices on the bulletin boards and walked up to other players in-game to tell them about the sermon and inviting them in.
The Game Master’s response? Send in a fire and brimstone preacher of the same faith to shriek over every word the player says.
Players watched as this Game Master all but physically shove him off the stage and repeat the same bullshit over and over, letting no one else the opportunity to even role-play with anyone. The player who wanted to get this rolling didn’t do it again, as they knew that this situation would happen over and over again.
The message was clear. Only the Game Master drives plot forward.
Friends, these are examples of Plot Interference. Players try to do something on their own, and get shut down by Game Masters. I could give examples of why the Game Masters I mentioned did what they did, but in the end, it doesn’t matter what the motivations were. The end result of their actions was player disappointment and frustration. That’s bad. Players don’t like their goals being trampled on by outside forces. It makes them feel like their actions have no bearing on the world, and sends the message that the world acts upon you and you just have to take it.
That doesn’t mean you CAN’T interact with a player who’s pursuing their own agendas. In the case of the preacher, you could have NPC’s come in to listen to the sermons on a regular basis, coming up to the character afterwards to talk about the sermon or other topics with them. In the case of the character giving birth, there’s not much needed there. Give them a baby girl or boy, no surprises. The event of giving birth to your child is a grand event in and of itself.
Instead of giving monolithic obstacles that cause them to give up, give players opportunities. As a Game Master, ask yourself: What can I do to improve the plot this player has created for themselves? How can I make this more engaging and fun for everyone? If you can’t answer that, then don’t do anything.
Send NPCs to shop at a player-run store to barter for goods. Ask if you can join the tea party, and even offer to bring treats. Listen to the player-written sermon. Let her have the damn baby. And if you can’t think of anything that would engage or entertain the players, don’t do anything.
Death Knights aren’t always the answer. Not every thing has to be a thing.