February 12th, 2008

Voodoo Dolly
  • tashiro

An Alternative To Hand-Holding

My response to someone, vis-a-vis my previous post, has me thinking.  I'm solution-oriented... always have been, always will be.  So, considering my ... issue... with the 'shield the players' mind-set, I've thought of a solution I think I would be comfortable with.

Rather than a game telling the game master to coddle the players until the 'climax', or outright telling the GM to cheat on the player's behalf, why not do something a bit more constructive?

The GM's section of the game could discuss, instead, how to tailor the game to different tastes.  What techniques the game master can use to set up challenges so they're challenging, without being overwhelming.  What tricks to use to give players the tools to survive encounters which might be a little too tough.  How to be dramatic in a session, how to build tension, how to give players 'outs' without having to actually cheat.

This kind of stuff isn't innate to GMs.  Some GMs are better than this than others.  Any GM can say 'eh, I'll ignore the roll and declare X' (which is a good way to see me walk from the table if I catch it), but it takes time, practice, and the idea that such things are possible to say 'the monster, ready to lay into you, notices X, and does something else instead'.

Case In Point:
I'm running Exalted.  One of the characters in the group got pounded by a blood ape.  The blood ape was doing a flurry on the poor Exalt, and he was going to die.
He has an item which turns him into a shadowy thing.  He can use it reflexively.
Now, this item doesn't protect you from harm (unfortunately), but the player had forgotten he'd had this thing.  I, being the GM, informed him between strikes, that he has this item, and it can be used.
(For the sake of example, let's ignore the fact the player actually argued with me about whether or not it was a viable tool to use for this...)

He activates the item, and poof, he looks like a shadowy slip of a thing.

Now, a GM could roll for the next attack, count dice, and then lie and say the creature missed / did less damage.

Or, in my case, I could have the creature stop using his flurry, pause, and waste the rest of his actions because the response from the victim was unlike anything it would expect.  It smashed a guy.  It expects the guy to go splatter and die.  It does not expect the guy to 'disappear' and leave his shadow behind.  So it stops, confused.

See, I consider this kind of 'break' to be logical.  It fits with the game, it isn't ignoring the rules or mechanics, and in the process I keep a PC alive for later.  Now, admittedly, I was being nice by informing the player of the tools he had at his disposal, but that's because the player was new to the game.  Now that he's aware of this, he has used it again, and I'm fine with that.  As the players get more into the game and the mechanics, I'm less likely to do their work for them -- but when it comes down to a 'death blow' on a character, I am willing to sit back and look for a logical reason for the death to be averted.  If I can't find one... meh.  *splat*

So, yeah.  I think it would help the gaming industry more if they took the time to explain ways for the GM to work with and help the players, to provide dramatic tension, 'outs', and other such tools.  It would be cool if these tips were tailored to the game specifically, so that it would help the game master get a better idea of the 'feel' for the game, and also teach less experienced GMs a few things.  Rather than say 'cheat to get the players to X', and instead of saying that 'players should survive', when the rules don't back that, why not actually give a few lessons, and give a chapter discussing how to use what is there in a way that's logical, consistent, and geared to a more natural feel in the game?
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