[GMing] Player Trust and Complex Play

Posted: July 23, 2013 by pointyman2000 in Advice, Articles, Roleplaying Games
Tags: ,

One of the benefits of running very long campaigns with a constant group of players is the fact that after a while, you get to up your game as a GM. Considering the fact that RPGs are a social activity that involve a lot of trust placed in the hands of the GM, being able to play on that trust to pull off more complicated plots and stories with the characters is a major boon.

In many ways, campaigns benefit from this long-term understanding of the people involved because it gives us the ability to play with comfort zones and themes that the group finds interesting. For example, in my current play group, majority of the players have stuck around since the first L5R campaign I’ve run. Because they’re used to how I run games, I no longer have to worry too much about playing with kid gloves on, and I can go straight to the higher stakes without worrying about my players thinking that I’m being a killer GM.

I know they’re capable, and they know I won’t pull punches. We’re comfortable with each other in that regard, and they’re far more willing to place their trust in me to throw a curveball or three at their direction since I know that they can take it.

When you start off with a new group, you have to start exploring your boundaries. Needless to say, sensitive issues and touchy subjects involving player control are best reserved for when the players already have a well-established trust in you. For now, stick to entertaining games as opposed to ones that force them to face tough ethical / moral issues. Black and white issues with a plot twist or two will be perfectly fine and entertaining for an evening’s worth of play.

Once you’ve started getting the player’s trust, then you can start really flexing your creativity. Being able to employ some of the trickier narrative moves that imply a loss of player agency, such as capture or the loss of equipment in a temporary fashion is a good way to start introducing the idea to players. I’ve found that a lot of people eventually come around to understanding that the fun comes from being in trouble as opposed to just always winning.

Of course this isn’t an easy thing to pull off. It takes time, confidence, and a lot of care to foster the kind of trust that brings the level of play up to this point, but once you’re there you’ll be rewarded with the ability to run complex games with all sorts of deep character moments that would fit in perfectly fine in novels, TV and movies.

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