How do we change the perceptions of the GM role?

edited March 2009 in Play Advice
[This post has been edited for clarity of purpose. Sorry if that disconnects some of the discussion below.]

I ran some Burning Empires games and a Story Games Lounge at Genghis Con last month, and felt like I was occasionally up against the expectation that as a GM I'm the one who needed to be entertaining everyone. True, I was running the lounge and it was my responsibility to make sure fun games were available and to teach the various systems (but there were a couple of others who facilitated games there too). But this expectation doesn't work with many story games where players need to be extremely proactive and highly engaged in the game.

So the question is, beyond just getting people to play enough Story Games to "get it", what can be done to change that kind of faulty perception at the start? I'd like to be able to say some magic words or give someone a sheet of paper to read that will dispel this notion and make it clear that the GM isn't special here (if there even is one). In fact, there's a lot of things I'd probably want to put on that paper to let folks know (in a non-confrontational way) that certain things are different in Story Games. Certain ingrained principles and perceptions don't apply here and, in fact, some other ideas do.

So, seriously, I'm looking for a list or brainstorming on ways to do that, ways that have worked for you, ideas I haven't considered and should, etc.
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Comments

  • If I were going to start a nonprofit organization to tackle the ills of the world, it would be some environmental cause.

    If I were going to start a NPO to tackle the ills of the gaming world, it would be to eliminate the idea that the GM is supposed to "entertain." And since this really my banner to fly above my game table, let me explain at least where I'm coming from.

    TV and Movies "entertain." They don't provide TOOLS for me to entertain myself, they entertain me, so I can passively sit back and "enjoy the show." Books engage and force me to think and are a different catagory.

    This does not mean games can't be fun and that people can't be entertained by their gaming experience. But unless a gaming session is going to cost money or be interrupted by commercials for snacks, players probably shouldn't be allowed to enjoy the fruits of someone else's labors without bringing something to the table.

    It really is as simple as that. The key of course is more games with zero-prep that bring the players into the design of the "environment." Enough indie games are doing this, so I'm not sure how much weight this carries on this website. Most gamers looking for "more" already know that waiting for the mission to be revealed is no where near as fun as making the mission yourself.
  • So Jim, how do you communicate that to new players at your table?
  • I think it's down to the games. D&D is still the biggest game around and it's never really done much to move the focus away from the GM. In fact the previous edition hardly explained how to play the game at all

    Although the DMG (4e) is fairly traditional,
    Just like the narrator of a novel, a play, or a movie, you serve the essential function of telling the players what is going on in the game world. The game relies on your descriptions and players’ imaginations to set the scene.
    ,it does move into more open territory:
    As often as possible, take what the players give you and build on it. If they do something unexpected, run with it. Take it and weave it back into your story without railroading them into a fixed plotline.
    Of course, one of the strenghts of the GM providing the fun is that with a good GM, you get good fun. It's probably more a question of finding the right group if you don't really like that kind of thing.
  • When Simon GMs for our group, he communicates pretty clearly that he's not going to bring the fun. Perhaps he can comment on how exactly he does this. Much of it, I think, relies on him not being "fun" himself, leaving the players to fill the gap.

    Graham
  • yeah if your really worried about peoples evil game preconseptions, play with people who are new to gaming/roleplaying or dont come from the 'traditional' angle .

    Because quite frankly if GM as entertainer is wrong, I don't Want to be right.

    L
  • Posted By: GrahamWhen Simon GMs for our group, he communicates pretty clearly that he's not going to bring the fun. Perhaps he can comment on how exactly he does this. Much of it, I think, relies on him not being "fun" himself, leaving the players to fill the gap.
    I definitely want to hear more about how he communicates, but I don't know if I can not be fun. I guess I'm pretty ingrained here too. I like to be fun at any game I'm in regardless of whether I'm the GM or not. The problem being that when I am in that GM role (or even just facilitating) I want them to know that I'm being fun because I enjoy it, not to entertain them.

    Posted By: GB SteveI think it's down to the games.
    Just to be crystal clear, I'm only talking about games that already do that. That's all I'm running. I need help changing perceptions of the GM role while running these games. I'm not starting an NPO to change the perception of the GM role in all RPGs (that's jim's job!).
  • Posted By: Logos7yeah if your really worried about peoples evil game preconseptions, play with people who are new to gaming/roleplaying or dont come from the 'traditional' angle .
    I don't want that or a debate about whether or not it's a problem in this thread. I gave examples and told some stories so you could see where I was coming from and then made it very clear what I was looking for in this thread. Please respect that.
  • Posted By: scottdunphySo Jim, how do you communicate that to new players at your table?
    a lot of what i do now is sandbox gaming. i make it clear that characters without goals or some active stake in the game world won't have much to do. sadly, people bred on D&D don't get this and just spend the game staring at me.

    in an ideal world, i would run something like IN A WICKED AGE with no GM at all.
    Posted By: GB SteveIn fact the previous edition hardly explained how to play the game at all
    And thanks to this poor writing of helpful advice inherent in every edition of the game, people continue to "play" it the same way they've always played it, regardless of whether or not it's the "best" or most "efficient" way to get to the fun they want to have.

    I played INSPECTRES at a convention recently. Four players. One GM. And I've always said this game doesn't need a GM. And in this instance, the GM was the weakest link at the table. The four players had a blast with the game, up until the GM started interpreting die rolls and "world logic" for us. Albeit, he was young and inexperienced, but when the player's skill at entertaining themselves exceeds the GMs, it becomes apparent that games aren't giving GMs the proper advice on how to monitor/manage/administer their games.

    I've written so much published "GM Advice" at this point, I'm not really sure where my opinions overlap with my free-form forum posts, but feel free to check me on anything i've said that seems loose or incomplete.
  • See and I'm rather thinking that everyone needs to be an entertainer for everyone else, that includes the GM. When I do GM I'm in it for the entertainment too.
  • Posted By: Logos7Because quite frankly if GM as entertainer is wrong, I don't Want to be right.
    Exactly. I feel like someone has said "Perhaps we should make sure everyone knows JDCorley should get the hook" just as I am tumbling on stage to try out my break-in material. Play me off, Johnny!

    But srsly, if there's no central figure providing entertainment, how do you learn a new game, even one in which there is no central figure responsible for the entertainment? I mean, someone's got to make it fun for us to figure out what the hell is going on here, right? Or should everyone dourly read the text on their own?
  • edited March 2009
    Posted By: JDCorley
    But srsly, if there's no central figure providing entertainment, how do you learn a new game, even one in which there is no central figure responsible for the entertainment? I mean, someone's got to make it fun for us to figure out what the hell is going on here, right? Or should everyone dourly read the text on their own?
    'zactly. I mean, !GM-As-Entertainer is great if everyone's already invested in the hobby and are already passionate about Bringing On The Awesome.

    What's the only tabletop nerd on the table gotta do, if GM-As-Entertainer is Wrong?
  • edited March 2009
    So, let me state the obvious first thing and get it out the way.

    It's possible to just tell the players. With Poison'd, I'll often tell the players, directly, that the game works best if they fight among themselves, and it won't work if they expect me to throw opposition at them. With Lacuna, I'll tell them it's better if they invent details of Blue City.

    This usually works, even at conventions, playing with people used to traditional roleplaying. When they come to the game, they're hesistant: not so much waiting for the GM to bring the fun, but worried about doing things wrong. Tell them what to do and, usually, they do.

    (By the way, I actually agree with Logos, Jason and co, that I like the GM to bring the fun. But I do see where you're coming from, so there's what I think.)

    Graham
  • Posted By: Logos7Because quite frankly if GM as entertainer is wrong, I don't Want to be right.
    Seriously. Being entertaining is one of the reasons why I can actually enjoy GMing a game. Take that away from it, and what's left? The boring stuff, that's what.
  • edited March 2009
    Posted By: JDCorleyBut srsly, if there's no central figure providing entertainment, how do youlearna new game, even one in which there is no central figure responsible for the entertainment? I mean, someone's got to make it fun for us to figure out what the hell is going on here, right? Or should everyone dourly read the text on their own?
    Yes, I definitely see that. I don't mind - in fact I enjoy - the responsibility of teaching people these new games. What I'm talking about is well beyond that. It's the culture of "that guy's a great GM" and "you need to make your game more fun for me". That culture is fine if the game you're running supports that style of play. But in the games I'm running now, I don't want to be held responsible if you didn't contribute and therefore you didn't have a good time.

    Did you read my examples? I was criticized when a player didn't have fun with a GM-less Story Game (a board game to boot!). I'm talking about setting the right perception for the games I'm running so that they work better and are more fun for everyone involved. For "Dirty Secrets" or "Sons of Liberty" this isn't as much of a problem because the GM role isn't there. But for PTA and "With Great Power..." the role is different but the expectations are the same - even calling it "Producer" doesn't help, they saw through that lame trick back in the early 90s. So I need to set the right perception and I need to do it fast since I don't have much time (convention games, remember?).
  • edited March 2009
    Posted By: Accounting for TastePosted By: Logos7Because quite frankly if GM as entertainer is wrong, I don't Want to be right.
    Seriously. Being entertaining is one of the reasons why I can actually enjoy GMing a game. Take that away from it, and what's left? The boring stuff, that's what.

    Okay, you don't want to change the perception of the GM role for new players in Story Games. I get that. This thread is not for you. This thread if for people with ideas to contribute towards the stated purpose of this thread. Please start another thread to debate GM as entertainer if you wish.
  • Please, not the same arguments AGAIN. The first poster was rather clear about what he did mean with "GM as Entertainer": The GM prepare a show, then he goes to play it in front of a really passive group of players who are there only to be "entertained" by him. It's a style of playing that a lot of people take for granted, for example in the first groups I played in, and it's the reason a lot of GM get fed up with gaming (right before I stopped playing like this, leaving behind the old group because they expected this kind of "service" as their right because "it's the way rpgs are played", I likened it to people expecting to relax in the chair with the GM massaging their Ego (and I didn't really use the word "massaging") ). It has NOTHING to do with the mutual expectation that people will entertain each other when they play.

    About the question: I don't know how you can change people's perceptions, I found easier to change group. But in any case, if you don't like to GM that way, you owe to yourself to stop. Just say no. The longer you go on, the harder will be to convince people that you are serious when you say you want to play in another manner.
  • History has taught us three lessons:
    1. It doesn't help to rename the position or duty. No new and cool way of naming the GM job has worked. As an aside, I want to point out that the only one to have worked at all was renaming the DM to the GM to remove the tendency to identify the term with a single product.
    2. Blurbs in games do not tend to help, as one of the perceived duties of the GM for lazy, passive characters is to larn all the rules and just teach it to the players as they play. Also, the tend to be skipped by anyone who doesn't feel they need to read the "training wheels" sections of the game text.
    3. It is the GM's job to entertain the players, just as it is any player's job to also do the same. The GM is a player, after all, and every player bears responsibility for bringing the fun.
    All of that said, I think the best way to handle it is to say it explicitly, upfront each session until you know it is being heard. If you have a passive player who is not getting the fun, then you can't let that ruin your fun or the other player's fun. If you are upfront each session, you can simply reply to the complaint that you know it has to suck for them - since they aren't bringing the same "A Game" everyone else is (and thus not having the same fun). It now falls to them to rise to the occasion or identify for themselves that the active-play game style is not for them.

    I used to have the same concept about GMs we are discussing. I worked my ass off to entertain my players - and seemed to do so for quite some time, but there would always come a point where I recognized that it wasn't fun for me. I would blame the game or the setting and move to the next game. I got a rep for killing games. I was miserable.

    Nowadays, I play better, to the standards I want to play and consequentially, I play less. I love GMing, but I do very little of it of late. Nowadays, I spend much more time on the other side of the screen where someone else has the de-facto powers given the GM. When I am just a player (if such a thing is possible), I try and play like I wish people would play my games.
  • Posted By: Accounting for TasteSeriously. Being entertaining is one of the reasons why I can actually enjoy GMing a game. Take that away from it, and what's left? The boring stuff, that's what.
    I think there's some hangup here on definitions.

    In a traditional D&D game, the GM writes everything and then waits while players ruin it. That's how the joke about D&D goes anyway.

    Imagine 20-hours of game prep for a new campaign, ruined in 15 minutes because of players who didn't want to think, but just wanted someone to point them at what to kill.

    Some people on this board have to worry about this sort of thing anymore based on their game choices, but it doesn't make it any less relevant as a hurdle that the hobby can/should address.
    Posted By: scottdunphyDid you read my examples? I was criticized when a player didn't have fun with a GM-less Story Game (a board game too boot!). I'm talking about setting the right perception for the games I'm running so that they work better and are more fun for everyone involved. For "Dirty Secrets" or "Sons of Liberty" this isn't as much of a problem because the GM role isn't there. But for PTA and "With Great Power..." the role is different but the expectations are the same - even calling it "Producer" doesn't help, they've saw through that lame trick back in the early 90s. So I need to set the right perception and I need to do it fast since I don't have much time (convention games, remember?).
    I think that sums it up well. People come to the table with the same antiquated expectations of what the GM is supposed to do.
  • edited March 2009
    Posted By: Moreno R.About the question: I don't know how you can change people's perceptions, I found easier to change group. But in any case, if you don't like to GM that way, you owe to yourself to stop. Just say no. The longer you go on, the harder will be to convince people that you are serious when you say you want to play in another manner.
    I hope/think that I have. I might be fun and having fun, but I'm not running the show. For instance, when I run a PTA pitch session at a con I hardly ever contribute my own ideas. And when we frame scenes in WGP I try not to even be in the first few. So I guess I need to find a balance or a line between teaching the game system and being the ring master.

    But I'm not talking about a situation where I can pick my players - I'm running at cons! (My home games are going great, no perception issues there!) I think that's where I may not be clearly communicating in this thread. When someone walks into a Story Games Lounge and is walking - literally - right out of the culture of "GMs should entertain me" what can I say to set different expectations for that player for the games they are about to play?

    I think jim has a good start with, "without goals or some active stake in the game world [you] won't have much to do". That's a big part of it. But I need to slay the GM-Ring-Master-Beast too, right when they walk through the door, without scaring them off.
  • Nutty Idea - Instead of "Story Games Lounge" (which sounds "hip" but also implies passivity) I should call it the "Active Roleplying Center". I see a problem in that it could imply LARPing, but maybe we can make it better.
  • edited March 2009
    I think one of the big problems I have when this topic arises (which it does, again and again and again, because no one can seem to cut off its head and stuff its mouth with garlic) is that people talk about "The GM shouldn't have to entertain everyone," when what they really mean is "The players in this game were lame-ass bastards who sat there like lumps and gave nothing back, ever." But if they said the latter, they'd sound petty and would immediately be besieged by anecdotes about players who don't sit there like lumps, because the reason why RPGs work and why we all keep coming back to play them is because boring lump-like players are not actually as universally common as this sort of complaint makes it sound. If they were, no one posting here would have ever bothered to play more than one session of anything, and certainly wouldn't be interested enough in RPGs to bother reading a forum about them.

    Not that I'm saying you shouldn't bitch about bad, unengaging players. You absolutely should, they kill games just as much as bad, unengaging GMs do. It's good to bitch about that sort of thing, it relieves stress and makes you appreciate your good games that much more. It's better, I think, if you come right out and say that you're going to be bitching about bad players or bad GMs -- because that kind of bitching is not being petty, it's telling the truth. Telling horror stories and sharing complaints are part of how we teach each other what works and what doesn't.


    I tend to think that JuddG has said everything that needs to be said on how to address this above, but...well, knowing how to address this issue has never and likely will never stop this discussion from repeating itself. Because yes, we all know that stating expectations up front is always a good thing to do, and we can all grasp the concept that everyone in the game ought to be entertaining everyone else in the game. It's true, it works, we all can recognize the importance of it. Unfortunately, the itch that drives these threads is unscratchable by mere logic, perceptiveness, and good ideas: so oh well, here we go again. ("The GM shouldn't be an entertainer, this is a bad concept that needs to be eradicated." "Actually, I like being an entertaining GM, and I like GMs who are entertaining." "YOU ARE MISSING THE POINT, SHUT UP." Sheesh.)
    Posted By: scottdunphyBut for PTA and "With Great Power..." the role is different but the expectations are the same - even calling it "Producer" doesn't help, they saw through that lame trick back in the early 90s.
    Isn't PTA a poor example for this? If the Producer isn't acting as an entertainer in the sense of attempting to engage the players and to draw in players who aren't being engaged, the game fails just as hard as any "traditional" RPG would. A Producer who doesn't work to keep the game moving is deadly, even when the players are all engaged. (And yes, the players have to work, too, but the Producer's role absolutely must involve being an entertainer in order for the game to be its best. PTA is pretty close to the "trad" end of gaming: the GM's role there is very nearly as strong and central as it would be in, say, your typical nWoD game.)
  • edited March 2009
    Posted By: Accounting for TasteBecause yes, we all know that stating expectations up front is always a good thing to do, and we can all grasp the concept that everyone in the game ought to be entertaining everyone else in the game.
    As we all know, chiming in and saying I'm not going to chime in is the best post of all.

    My apologizes to everyone about bringing this topic up again. I'm not a regular visitor, so I had no idea that the "GM as ringleader" screed had come up before. For me, this is an intrinsic part of why I seldom find gamers I am compatible with anymore. I simply do not approach the past-time the same way others do.
    Posted By: Accounting for TasteIf they were, no one posting here would have ever bothered to play more than one session of anything, and certainly wouldn't be interested enough in RPGs to bother reading a forum about them.
    I play in about 2 or 3 really great game sessions a year. Usually at a con. I haven't given up on roleplaying, but I've certainly given up on expecting people to game anyway other than the way they've been taught. And if they've only been taught to be entertained as passive drones in from of the GM-vision, then I don't see the condition changing.

    ANECDOTE: In a game I ran recently (less than two months ago), a player said (in character), "Sorry, ma'am. We'll can't help with that problem until we've made a few levels."

    Oh yeah.
  • edited March 2009
    Posted By: Accounting for TasteIsn't PTA a poor example for this? If the Producer isn't acting as an entertainer in the sense of attempting to engage the players and to draw in players who aren't being engaged, the game fails just as hard as any "traditional" RPG would. A Producer who doesn't work to keep the game moving is deadly, even when the players are all engaged. (And yes, the players have to work, too, but the Producer's role absolutely must involve being an entertainer in order for the game to be its best.
    PTA also requires the players to have issues they want to put on display and be willing to make the conflicts about those issues. That takes a very high level of player engagement. Since I'm always running pitch sessions and pilot episodes, I can usually get that. But the problem in PTA comes when the players are looking at me for approval or permission to narrate. Mostly, though, I was using PTA as an example of changing the role and changing the name of the GM.

    I also don't read/post here all the frequently and I don't think that gives anyone permission to treat this topic with bile. If you're tired of it, please don't read it. I'm not posting to bitch about bad players. I don't think I had any bad players. I think I didn't convey a key concept well enough and I want to discuss how - specifically - to do that.

    Yes, I want to "Just Say It" but tell me how. How do you just say it without scaring people off at an event that's designed to get people into these games? I want to wordsmith this - think of it as an elevator pitch for this style of play.
  • edited March 2009
    Posted By: scottdunphyI think I didn't convey a key concept well enough and I want to discuss how - specifically - to do that.

    Yes, I want to "Just Say It" but tell me how. How do you just say it without scaring people off at an event that's designed to get people into these games. I want to wordsmith this - think of it as an elevator pitch for this style of play.
    I don't know that you're ever going to get a perfect, pre-planned speech that you can recite to convert people used to "traditional GM" expectations into fully proactive we-don't-need-no-steenkin'-GMs players. It sounds impossible on the face of it: depending on your audience, you may or may not have to explain different things. The best you can do, I think, is to identify for yourself what you think the most vital concepts and expectations are (which will no doubt vary from game system to game system -- what Burning Empires needs is not necessarily what PTA needs, which is not necessarily what IAWA needs), so that you can explain them to whoever is showing up to play and make sure that they're on the same page as you.

    So maybe that's the first step in "Just Say It": know what absolutely, positively needs to be understood in order for the game to work. The second step would then be to, um, say it. Or rather, to SELL it: to be as entertaining as you normally are when pitching anything else, to do your level best to promote the idea that everyone who gets on board with these expectations will have an amazing time. If you think someone isn't understanding a vital point, stay with them and help them understand it, just like JuddG said above.

    And if the sale isn't going through (they don't get it, or they don't like it, or whatever), you should probably be willing to say, "Okay, well, it's not for everyone, there's plenty of other things we can do that are fun" and save the expectation-challenging for another group at another time. Or perhaps under some circumstances and with some games, it might be possible to tolerate an overly passive player and not let it ruin your or anyone else's fun, in which case you can go ahead and just accept that one guy isn't going to connect with the game the way the rest of you do. (Edit: the weird thing is, this is one area where I really do believe that "GM as entertainer" causes problems -- if you GM a lot of games and work hard to keep players engaged, it is really painful and incredibly difficult to step back and say "Okay, so, he doesn't get it, and I can't make him get it." I'm always aching to find some way to pull that disconnected guy back in, even when I know that I can't!)


    Maybe people could share ways that they've successfully introduced and run specific games? It wouldn't be the magic bullet universal elevator pitch you're looking for, but it might give you some useful ideas and references for "just saying it" in your own words.
  • Jim played in an IaWA game I ran at a recent con that went rather well. After we had pulled the oracles and created characters, I didn't say much just started things off by picking some PCs with opposing Best Interests and saying "go!" They built up to a nice confrontation and then I called for dice. The players brought most of the entertainment to the table. I just used my NPCs to poke at them here and there.
  • Posted By: jim pintoa lot of what i do now is sandbox gaming. i make it clear that characters without goals or some active stake in the game world won't have much to do. sadly, people bred on D&D don't get this and just spend the game staring at me.
    I think maybe that's a 3.5x thing. I was bred on D&D and we played lots of sandbox games where you could just decide to go left and the DM had to roll with it.

    The thing is D&D lacks certain tools that can help in this regard, like beliefs or goals that are hardwired into the character from the get go (a la Burning Wheel), or a collaborative world building session so everyone knows how you tie into the setting and situation, or a mechanic for players to share narrative control. These things can feel really different and players that are not used to them can take a bit of coaxing and friendly coercion. I think the GMs job in these situations should be to look for places where the players could be contributing in these ways to the game and to gently nudge them in that direction by being encouraging.
  • edited March 2009
    Posted By: Accounting for Tastethe weird thing is, this is one area where I really do believe that "GM as entertainer" causes problems -- if you GM a lot of games and work hard to keep players engaged, it is really painful and incredibly difficult to step back and say "Okay, so, he doesn't get it, and I can't make him get it." I'm always aching to find some way to pull that disconnected guy back in, even when I know that I can't!
    I definitely see myself doing this as well. It's hard to know when you still need to explain more concept stuff and when you need to stop because they just don't want to play like that. Usually I won't recognize that stop point until well after the four-hour convention slot is over ;-)
  • Posted By: noclueJim played in an IaWA game I ran at a recent con that went rather well. After we had pulled the oracles and created characters, I didn't say much just started things off by picking some PCs with opposing Best Interests and saying "go!" They built up to a nice confrontation and then I called for dice. The players brought most of the entertainment to the table. I just used my NPCs to poke at them here and there.
    Oddly, one of my friends hated this game for about the first 90 minutes. The set-up was slow (you were teaching five people a new game) and the concept wasn't groking with everyone.

    And then, BAM! The game took off. No one at that table can say they didn't have fun. No one there could complain about the outcomes, either. I essentially lost, and I had the best time.

    And this session was a perfect example of a nearly GM-less game. You really just sat there and watched for a lot of it and pointed your pen at other times. We could have, with enough cooperation, have played it without a GM and just sampled characters each round around the table, using the deck to put people into "scenes." Draw a card, black cards are in a scene together. Red cards are in a scene together. High card determines setting of the scene.

    BAM!
  • RyRy
    edited March 2009
    Posted By: jim pintoAnd this session was a perfect example of a nearly GM-less game.
    IAWA does a good job of setting expectations - it's impossible to assume that the GM has a preconceived idea of what's going to happen.
  • Scott,
    RE: "So the question is, beyond just getting people to play enough Story Games to "get it", what can be done to change that kind of faulty perception at the start?"

    I think that the proof is in the pudding. It is pointless to say to a player or group "Its not my job to run everything for you, this game is different," mostly because every GM/RPG says that in its own way.
    "I am different" is the mantra of GMing and RPG design.

    Its more important to SHOW that difference. Slow the mechanics down in the beginning and stop and highlight what you are rolling for and what the roll means, if it is different in this system. When I was running Shadow of Yesterday, the players that had the most old school RPG experience were the ones that were the hardest to get Intent out of. Their answers were always task-related, and never spoke to what the character's Intent was. But, it is hard to "break that habit" until the Intent matters to the player. Once I got them in a roll where it mattered if they succeeded or failed, I mean personally mattered, then it was a lot easier to hash out what the roll meant and what the player was rolling for.
    The trouble is, that takes time to hash out and the less you know about the player behind the dice, the longer it will take to reach that point where you can find that one roll that the player is really invested in.

    Once it happens, you have to recognize, then go in super slow-mo until you can get the player to understand what you are saying.

    I hope that helps.
    Dave M
  • Posted By: Ryan StoughtonPosted By: jim pintoAnd this session was a perfect example of a nearly GM-less game.
    IAWA does a good job of setting expectations - it's impossible to assume that the GM has a preconceived idea of what's going to happen.

    I apologize now, but I do not understand your point. Could you expand your post?
  • IAWA does a good job of setting expectations - it's impossible to assume that the GM has a preconceived idea of what's going to happen.
    ...but that doesn't mean the GM can't bring the fun. And it's probably better if someone does bring some energy/coordination/fun to that game.

    Graham
  • edited March 2009
    Posted By: jim pintoPosted By: Ryan StoughtonPosted By: jim pintoAnd this session was a perfect example of a nearly GM-less game.
    IAWA does a good job of setting expectations - it's impossible to assume that the GM has a preconceived idea of what's going to happen.

    I apologize now, but I do not understand your point. Could you expand your post?

    The thing about In a Wicked Age is that the GM is there more as a facilitator than as an entertainer. The group as a whole defines the setting and situation through the use of the Oracles, and then define their characters' best interests in order to create conflicts. The GM just sets the scene and pretty much says "go!" Because the characters already have motivations and best interests, the GM doesn't need to worry about creating a story (nor could he possibly have an idea as to what the players might do), as the story will be emergent through the players actions. Part of this is because IAWA focuses on player vs. player interaction. Most of the time, the players aren't working together, and are actually acting at cross-purposes.

    This is opposed to something like D&D, where, usually, the players are part of a team, acting against whatever opposition the GM comes up with. This is where the idea of "GM as entertainer" arises from. In D&D (and other "traditional" games), you need the GM to create the elements that form the story (conflicts). In games like IAWA, it's the players that create the conflicts, and therefore the GMs role is highly diminished.
  • RyRy
    edited March 2009
    Posted By: jim pintoI apologize now, but I do not understand your point. Could you expand your post?
    OK, so let's take a D&D session.

    The players created characters via e-mail or at the table; the GM knows all about the characters. The GM has done an ambiguous amount of work, there's something he's got behind the curtain. So the players naturally sit down, and wait for the hook. Narrative players are looking to help the GM's story, exploration players are looking to find the secrets, gamie players want to beat the GM's monsters. But in every case, there's this implicit assumption that the GM has done work behind the scenes (story writing, environment making, encounter building). How much? Well, we'll have to find out through play. But really, it's a world that the GM has behind the curtain, and it will only be imperfectly revealed to the players, through play.

    Compare that to a game of In A Wicked Age.

    Well, there's no prep away from the table. The players have just as good an understanding of it as the GM. Because they made it, they saw it being made right in front of them. 100%, with no exceptions. You can't ask the GM "where's the story going?" or "what's hidden from our characters?" or "what's the GM going to throw at us next?" in a meaningful way. There's no room for that assumption that the GM has something up his sleeve, some entertaining flash to bring to the table.
  • In all honesty, IaWA is exactly what I've come to love about INDIE games and what I think makes D&D so inferior in its inflexibility.

    I see your points now and it's pretty much what I was thinking. If more games could emulate IaWA's GM-lessness... what there is of it... i would be very happy.
  • If you can play Ghost/Echo in the "don't extrapolate from this page until we meet at the game night" it's supposed to do the same thing.
  • This might be a too little, too late contribution but as I follow this thread I see a couple of ideas being mangled together. It is perfectly functional to have the GM role include some notion of "scenario" creation. The GM creates a cool dungeon for us to conquer. Or the GM creates an intricate mystery for us to solve. And if the GM creates a bad dungeon or mystery he's dropped the ball. Hell, that applies to indie games like Sorcerer or Dogs in the Vineyard. God, knows I've written suck-ass Dogs towns before and that's my fault. That's the basic simple risk of any creative endeavor. You might simply fail in whatever set of responsibilities are assigned to you.

    All of that is COMPLETELY different from the totally fucked-up *social* notion that the GM is there to provide my fun. That no matter what the players do the GM is there is somehow make it work and make sure everyone has a good time, no matter what. THAT'S what needs to be killed dead.

    And I don't have a clue how to do it. Anyone who is capable of distinguishing between these two things usually adjust expectations to game like IAWA or PtA just fine. Because they recognize (regardless of whether they can articulate it or not) that different games assign different game responsibilities. And so yeah, the "just explain it" options works just fine.

    But for people who CAN'T distinguish between those two things. Yeah, I have no idea how to open their eyes.

    Jesse
  • hey, i'm noting responses and ideas in a side file as i go down the thread. that's why the non-sequitors.


    i agree very much with judd in post 18.

    my suggestions:
    1. describe the game as being differnt from "traditional rpgs" with a quick comparason, ie "if trad games are rock, then this is jazz. we're using the same instruments, more or less, but the rhythm is all different."

    2. describe how that game you're playing denies you the ability to work as a trad GM. "i can't just make everything up, like in a trad game. you guys have to make stuff up, and then i work off of that." or "the rules don't let me make scenarios for you, i just referee the conflicts that you come up with between yourselves."

    i obviously agree with what graham was saying, then, too. just tell them.

    3. tell them that you don't have notes and there's nothing that they can do "wrong". that this is one session only (which they'll realize, but it bears to be stated anyway) and you won't be punishing them for any actions they narrate. that if they let their character get dirty, or cut up, or get affected or changed by the story that that will make the game better.


    [side note: jim, that is a very cute little scene setting mechanic! i'll borrow that, perhaps, with your blessing - at least to give it a test! wow, smokin' hot!]


    & i agree with jesse - very insightful - but i don't have an answer either.
  • RyRy
    edited March 2009
    Jesse - I know that GM as entertainer and GM-preps-game are two different concepts, but I don't think are as far apart as you suggest.

    The GM is often the game's organizer, and the group's most avid gamer. When that's the case, the GM is the one implicitly saying "Hey, do this thing, we'll have a good time." Thus, they implicitly take on some responsibility to provide the entertainment.

    But when
    1) The GM is the players' eyes and ears into the game world
    and
    2) The GM has privileged access to that world

    I think it's going to aggravate the assumption that the GM is the entertainer. Since this combination is pretty normal, it's no wonder that we hear about this kind of heartache all the time.
  • Ryan,

    There is a difference between a Leader and a Provider. I agree that often the GM has to take a leadership role in showing the group how to participate in the game which might very well require higher degrees of energy and enthusiasm. But that is still different then being saddled with being the provider for the group's fun.

    Jesse
  • As I said - I see the distinction. I'm just saying that some games will naturally aggravate the drift into GM-as-Entertainer, and other games have a buffer against it.

    If you're already good at avoiding GM-as-Entertainer, then this distinction between the games isn't important.
  • For con games, could you ask one of the new people to be the GM? That seems like it would get across "Don't rely on the GM" pretty quickly. As an event organizer rules explanations and flow control can probably be separated from a lot of Indie GM duties. Perhaps not all, but maybe something along these lines?
  • edited March 2009
    Posted By: DInDenverI think that the proof is in the pudding. It is pointless to say to a player or group "Its not my job to run everything for you, this game is different," mostly because every GM/RPG says that in its own way. "I am different" is the mantra of GMing and RPG design.
    Very true!
    Posted By: DInDenverIts more important to SHOW that difference. Slow the mechanics down in the beginning and stop and highlight what you are rolling for and what the roll means, if it is different in this system. When I was running Shadow of Yesterday, the players that had the most old school RPG experience were the ones that were the hardest to get Intent out of. Their answers were always task-related, and never spoke to what the character's Intent was. But, it is hard to "break that habit" until the Intent matters to the player. Once I got them in a roll where it mattered if they succeeded or failed, I mean personally mattered, then it was a lot easier to hash out what the roll meant and what the player was rolling for.
    The trouble is, that takes time to hash out and the less you know about the player behind the dice, the longer it will take to reach that point where you can find that one roll that the player is really invested in.
    Assume I know nothing about the player behind the dice and I have less than four hours to figure it out and make it happen. That's often the case in the SGL. I've certainly had things like this happened and seen epiphanies at the table, but I need to do it more reliably. So how do I make this happen fast?

    You know, maybe what I need is a five minute Story Games demo/exercise or a roleplaying poem that makes this happen now (we had a lof of fun with RP Poems!).
    Posted By: MuleFor con games, could you ask one of the new people to be the GM? That seems like it would get across "Don't rely on the GM" pretty quickly. As an event organizer rules explanations and flow control can probably be separated from a lot of Indie GM duties. Perhaps not all, but maybe something along these lines?
    Man, I'd love to do that! Of course, remember that in the examples I gave it didn't matter if the game didn't have a GM - if the perception is ingrained enough the person teaching the rules is the GM. And it's ingrained enough in the vast majority of players. At the S-G Lounge I had a "menu" of games that showed which ones didn't need a GM or could be GMed by anyone. So I'm not trying to be the GM everytime. But for some games you need to be the GM to teach it.

    I've just finished reading IAWA and plan to try it out this weekend, but that's really the first game I've read that I think this might be possible with - from the get go - at a convention.

    When I run Dirty Secrets I am usually the investigator because that's the most demanding role and everyone else is brand new to it, but at the S-G Lounge one of the other players had played it with me before so I asked her to be the investigator and that went great. But I don't know if it would have worked with just anyone who showed up.

    Won't work for WGP because the fighting mechanics are very intense.

    I don't think I could throw a neophyte into the producer role in PTA. What if they GM traditional games and treat it just like running one of those? I forsee disaster!

    But it's definitely something for me to keep working at and to keep in mind.
  • In writing for and about Diaspora we take a different approach in order to de-emphasize the GM as manager of the fun (and therefore responsible for it). First, and most simple, we call him the referee. That's not so clever, though -- Traveller did it more than thirty years ago.

    More usefully, we leave many decisions that would typically be in the hands of the referee instead explicitly to the table authority. That is, the consensus of the table as a whole. We also explicitly apportion (did I invent a word?) control over the rules to players other than the referee during mini-games by designating a Caller and handing them the turn sequence to command. They don't mediate the narrative (the referee still does that when gate-keeping genre conventions and story "secrets", and the table at large does it most of the rest of the time) but they control the flow of the mini-game sequence, deciding when phases are over, who goes next, etc. Taking this out of the hands of the "GM" might prove to be a powerful way to alter the culture of the table.

    All that said, it's worth keeping in mind that this all (including distribution of narrative authority) levels out the effort around the table, and plenty of players DO NOT WANT. You can't do anything about that, because they simply prefer to play differently. Personally, I think our philosophy derives largely from my own increasing laziness and the fact that I am handed the Viking Hat with undue frequency.
  • Scott,
    RE: "Assume I know nothing about the player behind the dice and I have less than four hours to figure it out and make it happen. That's often the case in the SGL. I've certainly had things like this happened and seen epiphanies at the table, but I need to do it more reliably. So how do I make this happen fast? "

    Well, I don't think generic advice will really help. I think it varies by game. Like the advice you would give for TSOY would be different for the advice for ditv, no?

    For instance, to use ditv as an example, even if its a pre-gen character, make the player go through Initiation. Because it forces the player to do their own scene framing and gives them a preview of how the game will be played. But more than just a preview, walk them through step by step and show them what each mechanic or moving part means and why.

    A classic training technique is to explain important concepts 3 times
    1) Just tell them what it is (e.g., Fold doesn't mean you die, it just means you lose the stakes)
    2) Tell them why it is that way or how it works (This is a game about helping a community, death is not always on the line)
    3) Demonstrate it working as you describe (Do Initiation and try not to make the stakes, I kill you)
    For the kind of thing you are talking about, this technique seems like it will be valuable.

    Hope that helps and I look forward to SGL in Rocktober!
    Dave M
  • edited March 2009
    Posted By: DInDenverA classic training technique is to explain important concepts 3 times
    1) Just tell them what it is (e.g., Fold doesn't mean you die, it just means you lose the stakes)
    2) Tell them why it is that way or how it works (This is a game about helping a community, death is not always on the line)
    3) Demonstrate it working as you describe (Do Initiation and try not to make the stakes, I kill you)
    For the kind of thing you are talking about, this technique seems like it will be valuable.
    I feel like I do that in the course of most of the games I run, but it doesn't always change that perception. I do like that DitV has a nice demo of the rules right at the beginning. I think that's what I'm looking for now, a quick demo of Story Game concepts like scene framing, setting stakes, and pursuing beliefs/issues - where it's clear that the GM isn't really the GM. In fact, if it were something I could do standing in the hallway or muster area in a couple minutes to sell the concepts, that would be ideal.
    Posted By: DInDenverHope that helps and I look forward to SGL in Rocktober!
    Uh, I think you lost me here. Are you referring to Tacticon? That's actually on Labor Day weekend. Is there another event in October in Denver, or are you talking about something else entirely?
  • Hey, what about playing a few rounds of an Engle Matrix Game, like Dracula or Jack the Ripper?

    I think that this "warming-up" will change a few conceptions and would be quite fast. It's not a 5-minutes-monologue, but its difficult to change a gaming habit by just speaking some magical words.

    EMG work quite fine, i think, for helping the players to get used to indie-gaming. They have a goal and they have some questions they can answer to get to this goal.
  • Scott,
    Ah, crap, I can't go then. That is my mom's 60th bday (my bday too). I will be in San Diego.

    Well, I think you can use a scene from PTA to show decent Scene Framing, I think that is one that is collaborative, but still has a GM-like presence.
    And I love how TSOY does Stake Setting.

    But I can't think of one game that does it all and can demo all that in one easy scene. ditv comes close, but I don't think it perfectly does all that.

    Maybe, you need to pick one game that you really love, inject whatever is missing from it regarding scene framing, stake setting, etc. into it and then demo it as "Roleplay the Story Games Way Demo" or something. Then if people want to learn those techniques, they are good to go.
    Then for the rest of SGL, you can play more naturally and just answer questions instead of trying too hard to teach them these things every time?

    Also, I think it really helps if you play your part authentically and not as a means of compensating for what the other player knows or how you judge their play. So if someone is rolling for Tasks instead of Conflicts, stop him and ask him why his character is in this conflict and then make the roll about that, instead of whether they can climb that wall or whatever. Just like you would with another Story Gamer. You know, assume they want to learn and they they are not "set in their ways" and you will find that most of the time they do (not to say you aren't but a reminder can't hurt even if you are already doing that).

    Bummer, maybe we can have a little mini-SGL action at Attactix or something?
    Dave M
  • Posted By: SteffenHey, what about playing a few rounds of an Engle Matrix Game, like Dracula or Jack the Ripper?
    Links please?
    Posted By: DInDenverAh, crap, I can't go then. That is my mom's 60th bday (my bday too). I will be in San Diego...Bummer, maybe we can have a little mini-SGL action at Attactix or something?
    Well that sucks! I might try to run a Story Games day up in Denver over the summer, but no firm plans yet.
    Posted By: DInDenverBut I can't think of one game that does it all and can demo all that in one easy scene. ditv comes close, but I don't think it perfectly does all that.

    Maybe, you need to pick one game that you really love, inject whatever is missing from it regarding scene framing, stake setting, etc. into it and then demo it as "Roleplay the Story Games Way Demo" or something. Then if people want to learn those techniques, they are good to go.
    Yeah, I think that's where I'm at. I'm going to have to design soemthing, probably as an RP Poem. Fortunately, my Story Games group is kinda light on stuff to do this week, so maybe we'll have time to work on it together!
  • Scott,

    there are some discussions about Engle Matrix Games right here in the forum:
    http://www.story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=7846

    The Website is: www.hamsterpress.net
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