Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Ruination of Players

I just want to write a short post in the middle of this series - for it is a series, I intend to write tomorrow about initiating the actions of the party and shepherding them into the deeper parts of an adventure.

We have got to get rid of this idea that a DM is only as good as his or her players.  The players do not run the game.  It is necessary for the players to support the DM, but the DM must do the work, the DM must manage the game, the DM must see to it that the players have a reasonable, respectable place to play and the DM must intervene where players argue, where players insult players, where players make sarcastic comments or bully others.  I recognize that many do not see the role of DM shouldn't be that of principal or daycare worker - but those people are simply wrong.  If there is no authority at the table, the game will quickly devolve into a Lord of the Flies shitstorm where only the strong and only the loud are able to enjoy themselves.

The reason DMs tolerate this is because DMs are untouchable.  From there perspective, there's no need to involve themselves in the squabbles of players.  They're all adults, right?  So fuck 'em.  If they want to fight, why does that matter to the DM.  Since, after all, if any of that shit gets dumped the DM's way, that's going to either get the player's character killed or the player expelled.

This untouchability, coupled with apathy with regards to the players enjoying themselves, is a hell of a crappy way to organize any activity.  It takes a fool to think that five adults without a previously established agenda can agree on anything - and an even bigger fool to think that the DM's running is an agenda the other four can follow.

A bad world is never the fault of the players, it is the fault of a DM that is too weak to take responsibility.  It is that same weakness that means we'll probably never be free of DMs crying in their beer about the inadequacy of players and what players can handle.  "If Only I had better players!  Then I could really run a great world."

It's never talked about how quickly a bad DM ruins good players.


I wrote two chapters in How to Run about how to manage players.  Those two chapters, in a nutshell, translate as 'change yourself, change yourself, change yourself.'  We have no power to change others.  We can only hope that as we improve ourselves, others will see the wisdom of the choices we make.


Mujadaddy said...

I have to completely agree with what you've said, but must also clarify my positions, as I feel a slight misinterpretation has inspired this post.

"We have got to get rid of this idea that a DM is only as good as his or her players." -- Is there a pithy phrase along these lines with which you might agree? "An evening's adventure is only as good as the players and DM collaborate to produce"? If a malevolent player abuses the sandbox nature to foul up the game for everyone else, I can accept my own failings in not reigning him in in time to preserve the maximum enjoyment for everyone else, but I'd describe the outcome as a result of a bad player, not of a bad DM or even a bad adventure.

"A bad world is never the fault of the players" -- Surely; when the players are there in good faith, it is absolutely the DM's business to have prepared and to deliver a good adventure. The players can at best have been responsible for their characters' own parts; the DM is responsible for all else outside their arms' reach.

Characterizing the ability of oneself as a DM as 'good' or 'bad' should be nowhere near one's mind. Directly attempting to "be a good DM" sounds like a task which will always fail. Delivering a good adventure (consistently) is what makes one a good DM.

Alexis Smolensk said...

"If a malevolent player abuses the sandbox nature to foul up the game for everyone else, I can accept my own failings in not reigning him in in time . . ."

While nine tenths of what you say is to my mind exactly right, the point where we agree most is in the sentence above - it is only the definition of SOON ENOUGH that differs.

For me, one insult will do. My ears are open and ready for the least abuse of a fellow player character and I don't let that sort of thing pass by. I am on that shit so fast that I promise you, the only player who is going to have a bad time at my table is the one getting stepped on by me. The line is not crossed, it is not danced upon, it is respected from a distance.

I ask you to turn your points around and view them as questions: Why do the players keep coming back in good faith? Why do the players collaborate to produce a good evening? Why do the players WANT to be responsible for their characters?

Because they've met the DM, they trust the DM, they know that the zone is safe and they come to the game WANTING to be better players, EVERY TIME.

Those good things in players that both you and I like are not chance things. We create the environment where those players thrive. That is our full and total responsibility.

Mujadaddy said...

In what feels like ages ago, personality conflicts or outright abuse were much more common, and as a neophyte player I would have great difficulty understanding why real-world concerns would ever interrupt the wonderful opportunity to come together and escape into our collective imaginations for a few hours (actually, back then it was more likely to be many, many more than just a few hours).

The incident which I'm thinking of, though, wasn't something so obviously beyond the pale as real-world abuse which would certainly not be tolerated in a group to which I and my like-minded-fellows would return. The incident which I refer to was a player who by all prior indications was perfectly capable of participating at a high level, but for unknown reasons (probably real-world stress?) at the precise moment of maximum leverage betrayed any semblance of characterization, much less any spirit of cooperation) and quite literally blew up the entire campaign for his own gratification.

This wasn't my game; the GM just disinvited the player and rolled the clock back for the next adventure. But the incident has always stuck with each of us, with me because other than a little bit of out-of-character grousing about a few minor things, the player in question made his campaign-killing maneuvers completely secretive as well as in-character, catching the GM and players off-guard.

Simple long-term solution, of course, just disinvite the bloke. But as I said, the memory of the incident lingers as an example of how terribly bad things can go, even if the GM is consistently demanding of participation, seriousness and role-playing. Hopefully a rare event, but it's possible to be caught off-guard.

At any rate, "Why do the players keep coming back in good faith? Trust. Safety." Very good indeed.

Alexis Smolensk said...

It is also possible that those hoof beats are zebras. But we design for horses.