Value Judgments and Free Will in Roleplaying

There are game masters (GMs) who use their personal feelings about what makes a good or a bad game (or roleplayer) to dictate the material that they write or present to their players. Yes, I happen to think that the way I roleplay is great (don’t we all?). But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to go out, find a bunch of players who don’t agree, and then annoy, frustrate, and humiliate them until they magically decide that I’m right and start playing my way. Yet somehow, there are a surprising number of GMs who seem to think that this is a good idea. Try to remember that the styles of play that you consider childish or trite (or melodramatic, or power-gaming, or anything else you can think of) are fun for other roleplayers out there.

Introducing New Ideas

There’s a difference between making sure that everyone in your group gets to have a good time (which sometimes means not giving everyone what they want) and simply forcing your roleplaying preferences on other people. There are better ways to convince your players to try a new way of roleplaying–like calmly talking to them, explaining your ideas, and asking them if they’d like to give it a try. You don’t have to agree with other people’s styles of gaming; you don’t have to game with people you don’t get along with stylistically speaking. And yes, you can use your idea of what makes a good game to introduce your players to new things. There’s a difference, however, between a friendly attempt to show other roleplayers new things and a not-so-friendly attempt to force your own values on others (thus removing the whole free will aspect of things).

Many players would be interested in trying things if their GMs simply asked. Instead, however, some GMs seem to have this weird blind spot. They heavy-handedly manipulate their players and expect that somehow this will lead their players to a wonderful revelation in which they’ll realize that the GM’s way is right. Uh-uh. Some subtle GMs who slowly and carefully introduce ideas without asking first can make it work. Many GMs, however, simply frustrate and annoy their players, who only know that they’re being thwarted–not why.

The next time a player presents you with a horribly trite character idea, or a new character that’s just like his last three characters (to name only two of many possible examples), try gently walking him through some of the ways that he might create something more interesting (like a character questionnaire, or whatever else you prefer). This usually works much better than forbidding the character, killing the character off, or rolling your eyes theatrically. Worst case, let him play it — so what if it offends your sensibilities? If the player’s enjoying himself, isn’t that what matters? Besides, that trite character might grow into something you’d consider interesting during the course of your game, if you play events out right.

“Playing Wrong”

Try to avoid writing adventures that force your idea of the right way to solve a plot on the party — this is one of the other ways in which GMs script plots. Don’t squash every creative idea the PCs come up with that doesn’t mesh with your idea of how things should be done. Let them make their own decisions.

Many GMs (and yes, RPG authors) feel that their way of roleplaying is best and that any player who feels differently needs to be taught a lesson of some sort — or humiliated if they won’t learn. This goes way back to that first free will article in this series, and my assertion that some people have lost sight of the fact that a roleplaying game is supposed to be fun, for everyone involved.

So step back for a moment. Are you allowing the players to have fun? Are you gently guiding them into trying new things, and paying attention to whether or not they like those things? Or are you just forcing your own idea of fun on them and telling them to suck it up and deal?

Talk to your players when you want them to try something you consider better, or when they do something that you consider wrong. Convince them that you’re right rather than using your position to force them into compliance with your wishes. Then help them to do it your way, rather than simply humiliating or punishing them when they don’t get it. I think you’ll find, once again, that it makes for happier players and, by extension, a happier GM.

Posted in Gaming

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