I really, really mean that. The game you play, regardless of what you might think or what delusions of grandeur you might have, is NOT ABOUT YOU. Suck it up.
This post inspired by:
- Player Agency (ranting about the Quantum Ogre)
- How the Illusion of Choice Ruins Your Game
- On Slaying the Quantum Ogre
- Judging The Game
In philosophy, agency is the capacity for human beings to make choices and to impose those choices on the world. It’s my belief that in our everyday lives, humans in modern society feel an absence of agency. Most of our capacity for meaningful choice is illusory; our daily lives are routine, and our scope of choice limited by lack of opportunity or resources. Very few people really can “change the world” in even a small way. Almost all of us lock on to meaningless decisions, such as what football team to support, or what color to dye our hair, as a means of expressing our need for agency. Unfortunately, intelligent people – the sort most likely to enjoy an RPG – feel the lack of agency far more poignantly than most, and often experience existential depression as a result. If you’ve either felt, or know someone who has felt, existential depression, this will probably make sense to you.
Regardless of what fabulously railroady plot you have designed and scheduled, it’s the player’s right and honor to screw it the hell up. Period, end of conversation.
Even if the players have knowingly signed on for an inherently structured series of events like an Adventure Path, it’s still not the GM’s job to force the players onto a particular track. It’s our job to facilitate the game they want to play; it’s our job as GMs to work with the players BEFORE THE GAME STARTS so that we are running a game we will have fun running as well. But once the game begins, it’s all about them– it *has* to be, or the time you spend at the table chucking dice with your friends is wasted. If the choices their characters make have no way to change the story, then you’re not roleplaying– the players are merely acting out your pre-written story.
The real glory and magic of RPGs happens in the moment when you see the player’s eyes light up when they realize that a choice they made has MATTERED– seeing the results of the village they saved from rampaging goblins, watching the BBEG get taken down a notch (before the final confrontation), or just interacting with an NPC they know and care about– all of those moments happen specifically because the players made a choice, and that choice changed the world. It means you allow your players to fail, and fail HARD if that’s the way it goes. Whether from a bad dice roll or a poorly-made choice, the consequences of the characters actions MUST matter, which means that we as GMs must put our egos on the shelf as soon as we sit down to play.
We are here to facilitate THEM. Without them, we are lonely nerds reading books about the fun we could be having. The game isn’t about the GM, it’s about the players. Remember that first and always. Your game will be better for it.
Most roleplayers are SMART, too. They’ll figure it out with a quickness if you’re bamboozling them.