Roleplaying the Galaxy: From a Certain Point of View
I doubt this entry will be very long, because there’s really not a lot I can say on the subject at hand. It is, however, still an important subject. Hence its receiving of its own entry.
The point I wish to make is simply this; if one wishes to game master a roleplaying game, one must also endeavor to spend some time as a player.
It’s not a prerequisite for the job. There have been many a game master who’s begun their journey of adjudicating shared hallucinations without ever before having rolled a die in the interest of furthering the actions of a player character. Sometimes it’s out of necessity. A group of friends would all like to get started on a campaign together, but none of them have ever played before. It’s up to one of these brave souls to step up and take control of the game world, and the brave soul in question should be commended for putting themselves out there in such a way. It can be a daunting task, taking on the responsibility of tracking rules, NPCs, plot threads, and more. Even experienced game masters are going to make mistakes.
Other times, a fledgling game master may have seen a game or two played and simply decided that they rather liked the prospect of crafting stories and perils before the very eyes of their compatriots. This isn’t wrong, either. The world needs confident people who are willing to dive into new experiences simply because they think they’re neat.
What I’m advising against is a game master becoming so wrapped up in their own, carefully crafted campaign that they lose sight of the opposing perspective in the give-and-take that is roleplaying games; that of a player.
Whether a game master has failed to experience the viewpoint of a player, out of necessity to get a game going, or if they simply leapfrogged over that part of the pastime, it’s important for any level of game master to occasionally step back from a world where their word is law and figuratively throw themselves at the mercy of another who crafts worlds of make believe.
The goal here is empathy. It’s easy for game masters to become transfixed on how they plan to make the next combat encounter challenging or the next plot threat engaging, forgetting that, for their players, often the most satisfying sessions are simply the ones where they feel useful, have fun with friends, and get out alive. When a large part of a game master’s job is to present scenarios where checking that final box is threatened, it can lead to the feeling that the roles of orchestrator and orchestrated are at odds. They aren’t.
This is a rather timely installment for me, as I actually got the chance to dust off an old character idea last night and assume the role of a player. Klierta Woongal, my grizzled Gungan doctor, piloted a starship through asteroids and enemy fire, conducted an interrogation, and spearheaded the planning of a counterassault on Imperial forces. Her life was never really threatened in these scenarios, but I was still engaged in the world and premise.
Why? Because I knew that mishandling any one of them could lead to potentially disastrous results.
Mortality doesn’t always have to be looming to engage me as a player, so I can keep it to a distant sulk more often than not as a game master, trusting that even the vague threat of character death, or even other consequences, can keep my players invested in the outcome of each roll.
Much like a good writer is one who reads, a good game master should make an effort to reengage with their player mind, from time to time, and preferably often. When you understand what works for you as a player, you can try to offer your take on those aspects as a game master. And good players will notice and appreciate the effort.
May the Force be With You!