Thursday, 23 April 2015

GMing styles - Storytellers vs Mechanics

Recently I played in a game where my character, a very cute little goblin skald (PF), was killed outright by a single spell, 180pts of damage when he had 90. It was very sad, and had no memorable or redeeming features. In fact it was pathetic in the sense that he was just dead, and achieved nothing in the scene that was evolving. I was quite disturbed by this, partly because I had become quite attached to the character, and partly because it was in my view a complete waste of my time.

All of this devolves down to the old 'do you kill characters or don't you?'  I fall into the "dont, but" group. I only kill characters if they do something really stupid (deliberately), or if they embrace it, heroically.  I will qualify the stupid option further by saying that it has to be stupid ahead of time, not stupid after the fact in review.

But it is more than that argument, it is also a 'Storytelling' vs 'Mechanics' argument. The storyteller is willing to fudge the game to attain a desired end. The Mechanic runs the system as written, to some extent they are a slave to the dice.

My view, as a player, is that I create an interesting character, I put effort into it to make them amusing and fun. Hours of effort usually.  This goblin took me a coupla days as I had to read a bunch of PF books to construct him and I am not familiar with PF.  After all that effort I expect some sort of respect. I dont expect a slap in the face instant death, "you are a piece of meat on the ground, I dont care how you feel about it, its the dice - they made me do it".

I work on running the character to try to some extent to mix with that effort. I bond with my character to a degree, getting enjoyment out of his heroic efforts and failures. I played him for 4-6 months once a fortnight, and then he dies, splat. Its a minor trauma to me, a real one.

The manner of his death was sad, nothing heroic was involved. He walked over a line and splat he was dead.

Plus it was pathetic. There is nothing memorable about his death other than it was sudden and massive. He will be remembered not for dying whilst achieving something great, but as a martyr to random chance and the game mechanic.

There are choices a GM can make in those situations, you have a range of character powers available to you, so you make a choice to kill or not, you might have a mind control spell you could have used for eg. You as GM make an informed choice at the time about what to do, and that choice is 'storytelling'.

This style of GMing, Mechanic, which I obviously don't subscribe to, is cold and fatalistic (to me). It says that your character is nothing to me (the GM) other than an object used to manipulate the scene. It is essentially a game where it is US vs the Mechanic. I (the GM) will not go out of my way to save you from random chance, or to ensure you die heroically, to ensure that you have fun in the game. I will methodically enforce the rules and the rolls because that is the way the system works, if you don't like it you may leave.

But thats not true, Mechanics do make choices, you choose what spells are cast, who your npcs attack, what weapons and actions they will perform.  You may consciously select who gets attacked when players have low hit points, you may shift attacks from one player who was close to down and attack another, when the methodical choice (the one the players would make) would be to eliminate that character. I totally agree with that. Thats my game in action.

To me the GM is there to tell a story, not to run a mechanic. The story should be totally adaptable to the actions of the players, to ensure they have fun. You are not a slave to the mechanic or the dice, it is merely another tool you use to manipulate the story.

If you were a true Mechanic you would set the scene, populate it, then stand back and run a script to resolve it.

I see people say they are a hard, old school GMs, 'I don't fudge dice rolls, my players get what the system deals them', when it is obvious they do not.  In subtle ways they adjust the 'system' to try to bend it toward what they want.

What is the problem with saying "I manipulate the mechanic as I see fit"? You do it already in your action choices, in your target choices.  Its a tool, nothing more, available to you to use as you see fit.

You are NOT a slave to the dice.
You should respect my character as you respect me.
Give me some dignity in death please.

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