I saw a heated debate online about who’s responsibility it was to bring the fun and what lay with the GM. As with all these discussions, that can be a thousand and one things depending on which game you’re playing and who you’ve got round the table, but lets assume we’re talking about a reasonably middle of the road (“Trad”) game like something Savage or White Wolf or Cthulhu even. Lets also assume that people are their to try and have a good game and not just hanging about like a friend of a friend on a double date who got dragged along even though convinced the whole night is going to be a waste of space. If you think something is going to be rubbish going in, there’s a good chance it’ll be a self fulfilling prophecy. Spend your time more wisely and don’t risk spoiling everyone else’s fun by filling a space in a game you don’t want. Someone else might want it for starters, and they could be really interested in what’s on offer.
This may meander somewhat, but if you stick with it you might find something useful. Maybe not.
Firstly, everyone round the table is responsible for the game. One bad egg can mess it up for everyone very, very easily. All players and GM too need to be on board and trying to have fun and make it work. I’d argue that it’s a bit like pirate shares of old. Bare with me. If we got a big bag of dubloon flavoured fun to make up, everyone has a share. Make that a Share. The Captain gets two, maybe more. Others might get more than one, but in this analogy not. Finally the ship gets a couple of shares too, for maintenance etc. So in a game the shares that make up the game are:
GM 2+ parts
Players 1 part each minimum
Game itself (system & setting & scenario) 2 parts
Yeah fairly arbitrary and shoe-horned into an analogy that does fit really, but good for demonstration all the same. The GM and what you’re playing are more responsible than any individual player, but six players en masse have more input and make the game fun or not by what they do. You can lose a player and it still work out, lose a GM and you’re struggling (unless you like all that hippy improve stuff, but as we’ve said, we’re not talking about that here).
The GM largely has more power than others and is expected by social mores to tell people to shut up if they’re being disruptive (ideally try and tease the player onto the right path, but there’s only so much shenanigans a man can or should put up with). Once the ref has said something people are generally willing to accept it – maybe not agree with it, or want to discuss it later or whatever – but they’ll accept it and feel empowered to say something themselves if one person is weeing on everyone else’s chips. So, the GM has more power there. Also ideally the group as a whole will quieten down and listen to the GM, whereas an individual player trying to make himself heard might be ignored – usually in favour of hogging more GM time. As more people are generally either going to be talking to or listen to the ref, he’s got more onus on him to get the fun bit right.
Similarly, although player can author events, a lot of it is up to the GM to bring, good locations, engaging NPCs, interesting fights, twists and turns. As ref you’re expected to come prepared and have some fun thoughts mapped out and have sparked some ideas with the benefit of having thought about it – for everyone else, they’re making it up on the spot.
Another point is that the choice of game can be crucial and this is often the GM’s choice. I’m astounded to still see people running awful scenarios. I’ve suffered it many a time and am still amazed when a ref tries to explain that the reason the session is sucking bottom, is that the scenario is rubbish. Well what in the name of “are you there God? Its me, Mary?” are you thinking? Seriously. If you think the material you’ve got is pants, for the love all that is Holy change the mo fo. I’ve even seen refs stick bloody-mindedly to a badly scripted plot and apologise along the way. Don’t even go there. Its up to the players to try and make the best of it, but if the GM has brought a turkey, and even he knows it, the fight is so much harder.
As a GM you do have a greater responsibility than everyone else. Even in games that rule, you can be picked apart for one decision you made out of the hundreds in a four hour period, but that’s okay, make your decisions. Change them if the correct manner of feedback comes forward (“Could I use my Charm skill instead if I phrase it like this”) and you agree with it. But make decisions and don’t dither too much. Some could have been better, but keeping a good pace and making solid decisions is better than taking twice as long to make everything thoroughly correct and 100% golden.
The author of Fun that is the GM also gets quite a lot of veto power. This can inhibit other people’s enjoyment. You will get players who want to teleport to wherever the fun is and always have the first and last word. Obviously if you let this happen, you’re going to impact everyone else’s fun. If you tell the glory hound that they can’t be in a scene, or don’t get another go yet or whatever, arguably you’re stopping their fun a bit, but come on, you can’t please everyone. As long as you’re playing with decent people it shouldn’t happen too much – everyone knows to take their turn and bite tongue a bit to let someone else have a stab at things. A further point is that players often want to push the envelope – especially in games were traits are open to interpretation and other things. So GM’s, although careful not to veto things on a whim or so that the game goes in exactly the way they had planned, should also be aware that players with try and get away with all sorts and its up to the GM to say No sometimes and provide boundaries. Players are like naughty children – they’re looking to get away with as much as they can, but they need and respect boundaries.
Now before everyone gets all shirty about me sounding superior and dismissive of players and talking about controlling them, a final thing to note is that we’re all players (well by and large). Very few people who GM, run games exclusively and never play in any ever. Running a game gives you a good feel for how isolated and scary it can be – so if you’ve only ever played, give it a go. I’ve honestly found that the best players are people who’ve run games too. They might not ref very often, but once you’ve felt that pressure to bring the fun, it gives you great perspective on your responsibilities as a player. I occasionally get sulky about the odd decision made or think how I’d so things differently, but bitching about these things in-game isn’t helping bring the fun and blaming the ref for a game being bad, and solely the ref is a hard call to make. It does happen though.
Okay that turned out to be very meandering, but hopefully in there somewhere there are one or two good points, if people care to dig for them. It’s a collaborative hobby and every single person round that table is responsible for bringing the love.