Wow. Boy when it rains it really pours. Been many many weeks since my last post and this was largely due to issues piling up in the so-called “real world”. However, the sun has finally come out and I’ve found some breathing room. Time to upload another silly ramble about the joys of paper and dice!
As a GM I put relatively little planning into my games compared to most other GMs I’ve gamed under. I don’t keep timelines or binders full of notes or lists of NPCs. Mainly I trust the PCs to remember the bits that are important to them and treat them as my flashlights in the dark. If they aren’t pointed at something, then it probably isn’t important enough to deserve my attention. I’d be lying if I said that nothing ever goes on in the background of my games, but the big things aren’t hard to remember and the little things, well, I think a wise person once advised me not to sweat the little things.
So that’s one end of the spectrum. On the other we have Gilbert. Gil is false name for a GM that I played under once and was vented to a lot by others I knew who played under him more than I did. Gilbert planned so much that there was nothing left for his PCs to do. Whenever the PCs encountered something that looked at first like a problem for them to solve, a little investigation revealed it to be a completely self-contained ecology down to the smallest detail with no good and no bad and no resolution necessary. That doesn’t make much sense so here’s an anology: An alien comes to earth and sees a lion kill a gazelle. They are horrified at first because of the cold blooded murder, but with a little investigation they see that the lion is only doing it to feed itself and its cubs and that the gazelle in its turn kills and eats the grass which are also living things so there’s an ecology going on here with no right or wrong.
Gilbert’s games were so front loaded with tons of planning and scribbling in notebooks and whatnot that there wasn’t anything left for the PCs to do. Their only responsibilities were to wander through his world Ooooing and Ahhhhing like they were in a museum. I found Gilbert’s approach to be unique and fascinating to hear about and mind-numbingly boring to play in. At least with your normal over planner GM you get a story to be tour-guided through and which you are prevented from touching. Gilbert’s world didn’t even have a story. It was a landscape painting; lots of pretty colors, but no subject matter.
Another unique approach to poor GMing I’ve encountered was the lazy over planner, Milton. Milton wanted to run us through a plot that we would, at every step, be prevented from modifying or even participating in, but he didn’t want to bother writing that plot himself. Instead he took the plot/setting that came pre-packaged with the game we were playing and set the whole thing in that setting’s past. That’s right. That bit at the beginning of most White Wolf books which tells you the story so far so you know the history of the world you’re going to be in? We got to have a guided tour of that. We, as the PCs, got to experience the thrill of being in the drive through waiting for our order when Captain Mustache saved the world and knowing that we’d be able to tell our fictional grandkids about how long it took us to get our burger because everyone in Wendy’s was watching Captain Mustache on the television. It was bizarre.
I suppose the point I’m getting at here is that most GMs follow one or the other of these two scenarios to one degree or another for various reasons and you really shouldn’t. Maybe you’ve hatched (or blatantly stole) such a neat idea for a world or plot that you don’t want your PCs to mess it up so you don’t let them. Or maybe you’re terrified that if you wing it, a PC will ask you a question you don’t know the answer to and you’ll freeze and your game will therefore suck so you spend hours and hours thinking of every scenario you can imagine trying to cover all your bases. Listen up people. It won’t work. The PCs will mess the world up and they will ask you questions you don’t know the answers to. They will. I promise.
That’s fine though because a good game is the product of collaboration. Remember that word: collaboration. You and the PCs working together. The more time you spend on the game all by yourself, the less collaboration is involved and the more the game will suck when it is finally time to bring everyone’s creativity together. It’s like having a band that agrees to be a jam band, but with one member who wants to record their jam session in advance and force the rest of the band to try and keep up with their recording. That’s not jamming nor is it collaboration. That’s one member devaluing the contributions of the other members because they’re scared of messing up without a script. Don’t be that guy.