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Author Topic: "GM runs the world/Players run their characters" is only half of the story  (Read 1575 times)

alexandro

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You might have heard this argument, that the GM should be in charge of the game world and the players should be in charge of one (and one only) PC.
The players shouldn't tell the GM how to run his world and the GM shouldn't tell his players how to run their characters.

I'm going to tell you, why this is a half-truth.

So I'm in charge of my character. Great. He's a half-elven Ranger of 3rd Level and invested into the Dodge, Mobility and Point Blank Shot feats.
Thats it.
What do you mean, 'He's supposed to have a backstory?' This isn't covered in the rules. Are you telling me already how to  run my character?
Ah well, just to make you happy: He's from Cheeseville, Cheesehausen and has a skin made of CHEESE!
Still not happy? Now why could that be?
You might argue that the above example is a bit extreme, so replace the cheese with, say, being adopted by orcs when he was very young. Now thats cool with you isn't it (especially since it explains him havin orcish as a bonus language)?... except when you look at your campaign world you suddenly notice, there aren't actually any orc tribes living anywhere near the area the game is set in. So the player can't play the character he likes, even you as a GM would be cool with it...
Aaaah no sweat! You simply create a orc tribe and place it into an empty corner of the campaign world. Done. Fixed.
But wait a moment! The player said "My character was raised by orcs" and suddenly there are orcs in your campaign. Isn't this (*gasp*) Player Empowerment?
OK, you as a GM had to approve the change. And the GM knows what is best for the campaign world, right?
Right.
Except when he's wrong.
Say, I'm having my character have a affair with a hot NPC and this is really giving (in my opinion) making the character shine. The GM, however, thinks it would make for a great adventure starter, if the NPC would be killed (and the group going off to hunt the killer ...blahblah).
Now he might have had the best of intentions, but effectively he ruined what was cool about the character for me. I could continue playing him, but it would
a) not consistent with how I played the character before
or
b) no fun for me
You only way you wouldn't have a problem with this, is if you're buying into the railroader credo "The GM knows what is best for the campaign world AND for the PCs!"
And I'm not drinking this flavor of Kool-Aid, thank you very much!

So divorcing GM-world-control from player-PC-control is really an artificial distinction, no matter from which angle you approach it.

On a more basic level, what are we really talking about?
Something I call "truisms", things that apply to the campaign world, even though they aren't in the rules.
Things fall down. The characters breathe air. The basic stuff.
But who enforces these truisms?
The GM alone? Hardly. Think about it: if you were a player would you want to listen to all the possible situations that can arise in the game, to find out if this kind of GM-style fits your idea of a fun game.
Nope, you just ride along, expecting the GM is operating on the same premises you are. If a situation comes up, that makes no sense whatsoever for you, do you quietly suck it up or do you tell the GM "what the fuck do you think you're doing?"
For me its the latter, including when I GM myself. The art of listening to my players, reacting to their objections, shortly explaining your call or, if you see their point, quickly adapt the game world so that play can continue is are among THE most important techniques for a GM.
To avoid accidental mishaps like the dead-girlfriend above I let my players fill me in (in very general terms) which directions they would like to see the game go down (and, more importantly, which not).

So how does this theory work in games where the players have control over the game world (through Stakes or what-have-you)?
Not much different, really.
In the above example the players already perform a kind of QC-check on what the GM says and if they don't like it, well either be a bastard and force through your version (and lose the group in the process) or adapt and prosper. In the same way the players are checking the content of what the other players contribute and object when they feel its necessary (like the GM any player has the power to refuse a compromise and "run away with the adventure", but for the same reasons as why the GM doesn't do it, the player also doesn't do it).
To make sure everyone is on the same page from the beginning these kind of games often require you to set some basic truisms of the game from the beginning that define what the session/campaign should be like.

This makes the process manageable and fun for everyone involved.
It also avoids PCs being crushed by a random Sperm Whale.
Why do they call them "Random encounter tables" when there's nothing random about them? It's just the same stupid monsters over and over. You want random? Fine, make it really random. A hampstersaurus. A mucus salesman. A toenail golem. A troupe of fornicating clowns. David Hasselhoff. If your players don't start crying the moment you pick up the percent die, you're just babying them.

Arminius

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"GM runs the world/Players run their characters" is only half of the story
« Reply #1 on: October 08, 2007, 04:45:40 PM »
Welcome to the world of playing with a socialized bunch of friends, instead of a group of spastic strangers who need to formally legislate interaction.

Balbinus

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"GM runs the world/Players run their characters" is only half of the story
« Reply #2 on: October 08, 2007, 05:01:57 PM »
Quote from: Elliot Wilen
Welcome to the world of playing with a socialized bunch of friends, instead of a group of spastic strangers who need to formally legislate interaction.


Quite.

Pierce Inverarity

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"GM runs the world/Players run their characters" is only half of the story
« Reply #3 on: October 08, 2007, 05:35:21 PM »
Whenever somebody tries to go all folksy Socratic on me I get totally confused. Which ruse am I supposed not to perceive, again? That Stakes thing he slipped in? Layers within dolls, ah the humanity, the metaness of it all.
Ich habe mir schon sehr lange keine Gedanken mehr ├╝ber Bleistifte gemacht.--Settembrini

Arminius

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"GM runs the world/Players run their characters" is only half of the story
« Reply #4 on: October 08, 2007, 05:52:04 PM »
Well, his last paragraph at least means that the essay cuts both ways, but this
Quote
So divorcing GM-world-control from player-PC-control is really an artificial distinction, no matter from which angle you approach it.
is far less earthshaking than it might at first seem.

Alexandro, it's all artificial until the GM takes a stick and hits you over the head like a Zen master.

riprock

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"GM runs the world/Players run their characters" is only half of the story
« Reply #5 on: October 08, 2007, 06:58:14 PM »
Quote from: Elliot Wilen
Welcome to the world of playing with a socialized bunch of friends, instead of a group of spastic strangers who need to formally legislate interaction.


The problem is that one can have a large circle of friends, and the friends with whom one games can unexpectedly turn into hostile strangers if the game angers them enough.

A lot of friendships are weaker than one thinks.

One turns the shared story to a slightly unpleasant direction -- the friendship cools and the friend dislikes the story.

One says something sufficiently unpleasant -- the friendship turns to dislike.
"By their way of thinking, gold and experience goes[sic] much further when divided by one. Such shortsighted individuals are quick to stab their fellow players in the back if they think it puts them ahead. They see the game solely as a contest between themselves and their fellow players.  How sad.  Clearly the game is a contest between the players and the GM.  Any contest against your fellow party members is secondary." Hackmaster Player's Handbook

riprock

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"GM runs the world/Players run their characters" is only half of the story
« Reply #6 on: October 08, 2007, 07:00:55 PM »
Quote from: alexandro

In the above example the players already perform a kind of QC-check on what the GM says and if they don't like it, well either be a bastard and force through your version (and lose the group in the process) or adapt and prosper. In the same way the players are checking the content of what the other players contribute and object when they feel its necessary (like the GM any player has the power to refuse a compromise and "run away with the adventure", but for the same reasons as why the GM doesn't do it, the player also doesn't do it).
To make sure everyone is on the same page from the beginning these kind of games often require you to set some basic truisms of the game from the beginning that define what the session/campaign should be like.


I think you need to elaborate exactly what you mean by QC -- I'm guessing "quality control" -- it probably means different things to different people.

Also I think you might sketch some rule mechanics for shared world creation.

And ... what do you think of Greg Stolze's "In Spaaace!" in this context?
"By their way of thinking, gold and experience goes[sic] much further when divided by one. Such shortsighted individuals are quick to stab their fellow players in the back if they think it puts them ahead. They see the game solely as a contest between themselves and their fellow players.  How sad.  Clearly the game is a contest between the players and the GM.  Any contest against your fellow party members is secondary." Hackmaster Player's Handbook

Arminius

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"GM runs the world/Players run their characters" is only half of the story
« Reply #7 on: October 08, 2007, 07:09:56 PM »
Quote from: riprock
The problem is that one can have a large circle of friends, and the friends with whom one games can unexpectedly turn into hostile strangers if the game angers them enough.

A lot of friendships are weaker than one thinks.

One turns the shared story to a slightly unpleasant direction -- the friendship cools and the friend dislikes the story.

One says something sufficiently unpleasant -- the friendship turns to dislike.
All true, unfortunately there's no solution to be found in rules; in fact, in a bad situation, rules may simply provide fodder for making things worse.

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"GM runs the world/Players run their characters" is only half of the story
« Reply #8 on: October 08, 2007, 08:16:05 PM »
Quote from: alexandro
And the GM knows what is best for the campaign world, right?
Right.
Except when he's wrong
...
You only way you wouldn't have a problem with this, is if you're buying into the railroader credo "The GM knows what is best for the campaign world AND for the PCs!"
And I'm not drinking this flavor of Kool-Aid, thank you very much!


I play with GM's I'd trust with the vision for the game world. They run the world, I run my character. No railroading involved (and no illusionism).

If one of them created a situation where my favorite NPC was likely to die and she did... I'd trust that they do, in fact, know what's best for the game.

So far I haven't been wrong with these guys.

It turns out the Kool-Aid is flavored with Trust and Rocking GM Skills. I don't recommend trying this with a bunch of jackasses or with someone with a dull or pedantic vision... but if you run into a really good GM, I recommend trying the Kool-Aid.

Cheers,
-E.
 

VBWyrde

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"GM runs the world/Players run their characters" is only half of the story
« Reply #9 on: October 09, 2007, 12:06:59 PM »
Quote from: alexandro
You might have heard this argument, that the GM should be in charge of the game world and the players should be in charge of one (and one only) PC.
The players shouldn't tell the GM how to run his world and the GM shouldn't tell his players how to run their characters.

I'm going to tell you, why this is a half-truth.

So I'm in charge of my character. Great. He's a half-elven Ranger of 3rd Level and invested into the Dodge, Mobility and Point Blank Shot feats.
Thats it.
What do you mean, 'He's supposed to have a backstory?' This isn't covered in the rules. Are you telling me already how to  run my character? ...


The flaw in this argument proceeds from here, goes through some rather convoluted twists and lands here:

Quote

It also avoids PCs being crushed by a random Sperm Whale.


The absurdity is fun.  But I'd like to address the flaw.  When the GM owns the BackStory, that includes the History of the Character up to the point at which the Player starts Playing the Character.  Say at age 18.  

That's how I've always seen it done, and it's never wound up being "You come from CHEESE and have CHEESE Skin", thus far.  Instead, it usually goes more like, "Your Character comes from the peasant/craftsman/warrior/noble house of Such-n-So, and his parents are poor/rich So-n-So's.   On his last birthday his father gave him such-n-such gifts, and now on this fine crisp morning, he wakes up with the World ahead of him..."   or some such.

The rest of the argument derives from the initial wrong turn.   You therefore got lost in the miasma and wound up getting sucked into the 'Infinite Probability Drive' facing off against the Whale.  Tis unfortunate when that happens.   One never likes to be crushed beneath the Whale.
* Aspire to Inspire *
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Kyle Aaron

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"GM runs the world/Players run their characters" is only half of the story
« Reply #10 on: October 09, 2007, 12:33:51 PM »
Quote from: riprock
The problem is that one can have a large circle of friends, and the friends with whom one games can unexpectedly turn into hostile strangers if the game angers them enough.

I would be angry if people's characters had skin made of cheese.

Quote from: riprock
One turns the shared story to a slightly unpleasant direction -- the friendship cools and the friend dislikes the story.

One says something sufficiently unpleasant -- the friendship turns to dislike.

Then the friendship is piss-weak, and was doomed to die at some point anyway, over some more substantial issue such as whether sandwiches should have mayonnaise or not. When it comes to weak friendships and bad rpg campaigns, I support involuntary euthanasia.

I mean honestly, someone comes to you with their character with a skin of cheese, and you decide to never speak to them again, and weep at the loss of that great intimate bond you once shared? Does this shit really happen outside Bizzaro Hypothetical Land?
GAMERS rpg

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"Don't let yourself get too worried about all this talk about roleplaying [...] the ultimate object of all this is for everyone to have fun, not to recreate some form of high dramatic art." - Dungeoneer

Blackleaf

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"GM runs the world/Players run their characters" is only half of the story
« Reply #11 on: October 09, 2007, 01:09:48 PM »
I would be AWESOME to have character's who's skin was made of
Milk and Cheese!!!




RAA!!! :haw:

Blackleaf

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"GM runs the world/Players run their characters" is only half of the story
« Reply #12 on: October 09, 2007, 01:10:38 PM »
It would be AWESOME to have character's who's skin was made of
Milk and Cheese!!!




RAA!!! :haw:

riprock

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"GM runs the world/Players run their characters" is only half of the story
« Reply #13 on: October 09, 2007, 10:15:40 PM »
Quote from: Kyle Aaron

Then the friendship is piss-weak, and was doomed to die at some point anyway, over some more substantial issue such as whether sandwiches should have mayonnaise or not. When it comes to weak friendships and bad rpg campaigns, I support involuntary euthanasia.

I mean honestly, someone comes to you with their character with a skin of cheese, and you decide to never speak to them again, and weep at the loss of that great intimate bond you once shared?


I don't weep at the loss of friendships, but I do get annoyed with games that weaken friendships.

*Many* friendships are piss-weak.  *Many* friendships are short-lived.  

Some leisure activities can take a weak friendship and strengthen it; other activities can take a strong friendship and weaken it.

Any given leisure activity can strengthen or weaken friendships.  Consider two choices: (1) My hobby introduced me to strangers and made them into friends; (2) My hobby took friends and turned them into strangers.

If TRPGs mostly weaken friendships, that partly explains why the TRPG hobby is weaker than it used to be.

If (e.g.) console gaming and LAN partying tend to strengthen piss-weak friendships, perhaps that means they will define the future of gaming when TRPGs have dwindled to a fraction of their current size.
"By their way of thinking, gold and experience goes[sic] much further when divided by one. Such shortsighted individuals are quick to stab their fellow players in the back if they think it puts them ahead. They see the game solely as a contest between themselves and their fellow players.  How sad.  Clearly the game is a contest between the players and the GM.  Any contest against your fellow party members is secondary." Hackmaster Player's Handbook

Kyle Aaron

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"GM runs the world/Players run their characters" is only half of the story
« Reply #14 on: October 09, 2007, 11:18:44 PM »
No. A "friendship" is a bond beyond any single activity. If all you do with them is that one thing, and without that one thing there's nothing between you, that's not a friendship, it's "acquaintance" or something.

If some stranger at the pub vomits on me, I won't want to associate with him, because there's nothing between us and now something crappy happened. But if my friend pukes on me, I won't be happy, but I'll continue to associate with him afterwards.

Just because someone is friendly doesn't mean they're your friend.

A genuine friendship will survive a crap game session. And anyway, a crap game session is your fault, not the fault of the rules.

I've gamed with over 500 people since I began in 1983, and played or run over 50 systems. Every single session that was good was to the credit of me and the other players, and every single session that was bad was the fault of me and the other players. rpgs neither weaken nor strengthen relationships, it's simply another activity together, and friendships are built by diverse activities over time. That's why snacks are so important, because you're adding the "dining together" activity to the "roleplaying" one.

People matter. The common element in all your crap game sessions is you. The common element in all your good game sessions is you. Just as no laws can make men good, no game system can make you a good gamer, or a crap one.
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One of the great virtues of the dice is that they do not come with boxed text.

"Don't let yourself get too worried about all this talk about roleplaying [...] the ultimate object of all this is for everyone to have fun, not to recreate some form of high dramatic art." - Dungeoneer