[Semi-Rant] Having More Fun By Relinquishing Control

Posted: December 21, 2011 by pointyman2000 in Advice, Articles, Roleplaying Games

I was talking about character generation the other day with a friend of mine when he said something that struck me as very odd.  He mentioned that he enjoys character creation and the accompanying min-maxing because once he’s done with all of the tweaks and the loophole exploitation, there’s a sense of achievement involved.  His character is essentially complete, rounded to the point that there is nothing that can be taken out, and that everything else that follows is just gravy.

Interestingly enough, his sentiment is shared by other gamers that I know.  And each and every time, I noticed a trend in how they play or run a game.  These are the ones that end up frustrated or annoyed whenever something comes up because of their interactions with other players or NPCs.  It’s as if the actions of other characters are considered to be meddling with their vision of the character, and the long standing effects of certain socially-oriented actions of NPCs violate their chracter’s sense of self.

Ultimately I suspect it’s an issue of control.  There has to be some sort of understanding sooner or later that tabletop roleplaying games is a social activity.  Nobody, not even the GM has absolute control of how to game will turn out, and therefore it becomes the responsibility of all the participants to actually learn to get along and adapt to whatever situation they’re put in.  Whether this means developing a way of rolling with the punches as a GM, or being able to accept that the game will throw a curveball or two your way as a player.

I’m certain people have heard this one before, but it does bear repeating.  An RPG is not a novel.  If anything, it shares more similarities with improv theater than it does with writing a story.  Nobody has absolute control, and GMs would be wise to remember that only be learning to be fluid and adaptive will they actually have any fun.  Demanding that players follow a defined path down  your story is setting oneself up for disappointment, while simultaneously frustrating your players.

I’ll agree that what I’m saying here isn’t exactly easy, but I will argue that it’s a necessary thing to learn as a GM.  In my personal experience, RPGs are most rewarding when they’re like a jazz performance.  Everyone contributes something in a way that makes the performance shine.  Stories are still the heart of it, but a good GM knows how to encourage stories that matter to the players by playing up the things that the players themselves bring to the table.  Certainly, it might not feel like a single, solid narrative as it does a series of individual threads, but a cunning GM should be able to weave these threads together by tying plots at crucial places, people or things that encourage the players to work together for both the group’s goals and that of the individual.

If you keep setting hard expectations upon your game and your character, you constrain your ability to have fun and be surprised.  Be open to possibility in both your game, and your character.  You’d be surprised by just how interesting and engaging things get when your story takes a life of it’s own.

  1. dariel says:

    jazz performance is the word for my personal preference in play too. i like to be surprised by twists and developments thrown in by other players, and i consider my character enriched by more ties to the game world. totally agree with you here!

  2. I agree completely. I think the most fun I’ve had with a campaign in recent years involved adapting the Smallville setting/character building tools for a RuneQuest II game. I had no control over the setting my Players built, but it left me with a grillion hooks, npcs, and places I would never have thought of on my own.

  3. Uncle Asriel says:

    Oh, god. I think I am this guy. Holy crap, I’m just looking over my Changeling PCs, and I jut realized that I specifically gave my Ogre an extra dot in composure because it’d help to compensate for his Seeming Curse.

    I need some improv classes, stat!

  4. mythicast says:

    The thing to remember is a lot of other players may view playing differently. I usually hate it when we end a game session because I view each game like a series where I have to wait for another week to find out what happens. Players like me value the story rather than the characters. Other players like RPG because it really is like living a fantasy for them. I wouldn’t mind it too much though, I get where they are coming from, it’s a world where players usually feel empowered. Not everyone likes it when they feel that their fantasies are tampered with.

  5. Hikkikomori says:

    It’s okay to create safeguards for your character. But when you automatically give up because you are faced with a situation which you weren’t expecting – during character creation – then that’s where the problem lies.

    An RPG is a game of shared-experience. Its ideally, supposed to be, a constantly evolving game that grows with input from the multiple players involved in the group. If every individual considered themselves an immovable, unchanging constant, with their own story already set in stone in their minds (ie. My character is destined for greatness and cannot fail in any endeavor!) That alone creates conflict when he is placed besides another character who has the same hopes and aspirations for his character. And this is not including the GM who actually created a game who also has his own plan in mind.

    So it all boils down to how your character should be able to adapt to situation that other individuals are able to create in order to have a fluid, evolving, and interesting gaming experience.

    If a player is only interested in his character’s perfection, he’s better off writing his own story then playing with anyone else.

  6. mythicast says:

    or play something on god-mode or as Chuck Norris. LOL

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