This post is part of a series of answers to the Reverb Gamers 2012 blogging prompts (full list in PDF format here).
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #25: If you game enough, you’re bound to run into someone being an ass. What’s the most asinine thing someone’s done in a game with you? How did you react? Did that experience change the way you game?
I’ve had a pretty good run with gaming. Players have been great. It was a GM who has been the worst; usually he was great, but this one particular moment got to me and stuck with me.
I was a druid (I used to play them a lot!) and we were ambushed or attacked so I turned into a bird and flew up into the sky. I got shot with an arrow and good chunk of damage, but was still well above 0HP. I asked the GM “Am I still flying?”. He wasn’t listening to me properly, was talking over me to someone else. So I asked again, “Am I still airborne?”. He say, “Yeah”.
It came around to my turn and he described how my druid-bird was spiralling in a nose-dive toward the ground, unable to fly. I was shocked and angered. “You said I was still flying!” I told him. “No, I said you were still airborne”. I fumed at that. I had asked him the correctly worded question, but he wasn’t listening. So then I asked again but he took my wording and gave me a useless answer; worse, an intentionally misleading one, ‘punishing’ me for asking the ‘wrong’ question.
Obviously, my character would know if they were flying or falling. In this particular instance, the GM did a terrible and unfaithful job of representing the world experienced through my character’s senses. I took much away from this experience. As a GM, you are the players’ and characters’ window onto the world. They can only know what you tell them. Don’t blind them then knock them down. Give them full reign and then give them real challenges.
Play honestly, describe things as the players sense them; don’t punish players for not knowing the ‘right’ questions to ask, or for wording them differently to how you would word them. In many cases the players shouldn’t even have to ask. You should let them know what their characters would know. If they ask you a question, give them as much detail as you can.
Vincent Baker says it best in the MC’s section of Apocalypse World:
Always be scrupulous, even generous, with the truth. Thee players depend on you to give them real information they can really use, about their characters’ surroundings, about what’s happening when and where. Same with the game’s rules: play with integrity and an open hand. The players are entitled to the full benefits of their moves, their rolls, their characters’ strengths and resources. Don’t chisel them, don’t weasel, don’t play gotcha.
If you’re playing the game as the players’ adversary, your decision-making responsibilities and your rules-oversight constitute a conflict of interests. Play the game with the players, not against them.
I agree 100% with this. GMs: be honest with your players. Describe the world their characters live in. Let the fun and challenge come not from them trying to decipher your vagueness or lies, but from the story, the combat, the rules; the interacting and roleplaying together.
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