I am a big fan of truth. I have all their albums. I have been a fan of truth for so long it has gone in and out of vogue more times than I can count. Of course, I was an English major so there is some veracity to the claims that I may not be able to count very high. Regardless – there is a special place in my heart for truth.
The truth is out there?
Have you noticed that for the most part, a significant portion of roleplaying games are not big fans of truth? I don’t mean that to be divisive, although I can see how it could be taken as such. I simply mean that the preferred method in many aspects of gaming is that the GM is free to help the story along to ensure a good time is had by all.
I have trouble with this concept not on its own merits, but as a guiding precept of how to run games in general. It has its place, and I have enjoyed running and playing in games where it has been in effect (within some specific guiding conditions) but I am baffled that it has risen to such widespread prominence in the GM’s toolbox.
I feel an example coming on…
Take, for example, a duel between a PC and an NPC. The PC is a beloved character and an important member in the party. The campaign is well-established and has a rich history the players enjoy being a part of. The NPC is little known to the group, having only recently crossed their path. As written, the NPC is of an equivalent level of skill as the PC and so has just as good a chance of winning the duel. The players have no idea what to expect as an outcome of the duel but are rooting for their comrade. The GM knows that it is essentially a 50/50 chance for either character to win.
- One school of thought states that the encounter should progress according to the dictates of the dice and tactics of the players
- One school of thought states that the PC should not be put at risk of dying regardless of how the duel progresses, and if defeated should have a chance to gain victory later
- One school of thought states that the relative statistics of the characters notwithstanding, the outcome should be guided so that it serves the story
- One school of thought states that the player should in some way determine the outcome of the duel (via whatever mechanical or narrative process a game might provide) in accordance with their interpretation of the events and characters involved.
Even in such a simple example as a one on one duel between two characters we can quickly envision at least these four possible ways to adjudicate the scene and only one of them is based on the idea of just going with what might actually happen as a result of play. Curious, isn’t it?
Who are you calling ‘edited’?!
In the example, a GM who is not following the first school of thought may end up having to alter or edit their initial conception of the NPC so that defeat becomes more or less likely depending on the needs of the group or the player in that scene. They may have to add or subtract from elements of the character in order to make that happen, or they may opt to revise the character whole cloth. I wonder what would happen if the GM were to suggest altering the player’s character instead? If the GM proposed altering attributes to ensure a particular outcome, or adding or removing a skill or proficiency, what would be the reaction from most gamers? These sorts of modifications are done to NPCs and other game elements all the time in many types of games – why not to PCs?
What’s good for the goop is good for the Xander
Similarly, what if the mechanics only work or are considered for the PCs? Some GMs lighten their own workload by opting to narrate everything that is not a PC action. In essence, the players have to play by the rules (health levels, encumbrance, fatigue, income restrictions, etc) but nothing else in the game world does. As long as no one notices, all is well. The illusion is complete. In such a world the duel mentioned above is never really a threat because the NPC isn’t fleshed out in any meaningful way statistically until it is necessary. It’s all determined by feel and implemented by fiat. If it feels good then the PC wins, if it doesn’t then the PC loses.
I have to ask, does this mean we will be moving closer and closer to stat-less games as they become more and more meaningless? While we are at it, I suppose we can jettison the rest of the rules too.
Sorry, that is my truth bias interjecting.
Bias is everywhere
So, with my bias toward ‘keeping things real’ all visible, raw, and exposed it is time to ask some questions.
- How important is truth to you and your group? Do you all share the same outlook on how much adherence to an objective reality in the game world is preferred versus how much free form adaptability?
- Does your preference shift depending on whether you are running or playing in a game?
- How important are earned outcomes in your gaming compared to experiences?
- It may be that the rules of a game mechanically produce an objectively true resolution but the tone, genre, and GM advice may push toward a more narratively determined resolution. How do you react to these differing messages in a game?
Darken others' doors: