Or How to Run a Good Game.
First off, you have to recognize that it is not
"about the story" or "in the interests of the story." When GMs refer to a story, 9 times out of 10 they are referring to the plot. In my years of roleplaying I've seen GMs do all sorts of crazy wacked out things in the name of their plot.
This is A Bad Thing.
The plot is only one part of the story. Granted, it's an important part, but it's not the
most important part. I tend to think of the plot as part of the story's setting - you have the physical location the story takes place in, the time in which it occurs, and the events which unfold (aka plot). These three things provide a setting.
The most important part of a game is the characters. The characters are the reason the players are in a game. Players don't play a game for a cool plot - it's a nice bonus, but it's no the reason they're in the game. That's why we have novels and TV shows and movies.
The focal point of a game is the characters - specifically, the player characters. Everything else in a game is provided for them - the setting, NPCs, etc. A GM needs to understand this. Any amateur GM with a few D&D books can come up with a halfway decent plot and railroad the PCs along it like sime kind of LucasArts railshooter.
This is the central premise of this little essay: the story is not
about the GM's plot. It's about the player characters.
There are a few consequences to this premise.1) The players may not be interested in going in the direction the GM feels they should go.
If this is the case, the GM has two choices. First, he should attempt to provide plot hooks to get the PCs interested in the plot. There are many ways to do this - this is where a well-thought out character background comes in. Perhaps one of the characters' old high school friends shows up at his front door out of the blue after being gone for five years - battered, haggared, and with a terrible secret. Perhaps someone's sister goes mysteriously missing, and all traces point to a sinister group of businessmen who routinely meet on the top floor of the skyscraper on 23rd and 8th.
Note that bludgeoning the players back into your plotline with a thinly-veiled plot device does not
constitute a plot hook.
If the players are not interested in the plot despite plot-hook a plenty, then let them go their own way for a while and throw some more hooks at them down the road.
Above all, remember that it's OK if the players don't want to deal with the plot - as long as the players are happy and enjoying themselves, everything is fine. 2) The players may muck up your plot beyond all belief.
Important NPCs may be killed or persuaded not to do things. An assassination might be foiled. The point is - after a single session of gaming, the plot may be in tatters. This is also OK. Resist the urge to prevent the players from thinking and acting outside the box just because it threatens the plot.inevitability
and I are discussing GMing - we've identified a few problems and pitfalls that GMs fall into. The first is what I call Frustrated Writer's Syndrome. Inevitability calls it Jealous Storytelling. Jealous Storytelling is when a GM is "jealous of anyone else getting a chance to tell the story. My game my story. They should pee a circle around their plot book."
That's basically what I call Frustrated Writers Syndrome - the GM doesn't want to run a game, he wants to tell a story. Instead of doing the sensible thing and writing a novel, instead he gathers four or five friends together to tell the story to them, and allow them to occasionally roll dice when it's important. Woe to the player that tries to deviate from where the story is going!
This is a Bad Thing.
Another bad thing I've identified is lazy GMing. All characters have strengths and weaknesses - it's implicit in most game design processes. If you dont' have any weaknesses, you dont' have any strengths, either. Furthermore, many game systems offer a flaw mechanic - Flaws in White Wolf, Dramatic Flaw in Seventh Sea, etc. The GM should use these flaws - hook into them and tug, twist, and pull. These flaws, as well as the characters inherent weakness (whether it be physical weakness, stupidity, or social ineptness), should be exploited. It's easy to simply cause a character to fail by not allowing him the full use of his strengths, or by not making the strengths apply. It's far more insidious to cause the character to fail because of their flaws.