Tuesday, May 05, 2015
The Evolution of My GMing Style
Richard Stephens - I think you kind of hit on the crux of the issue in my mind. When we first started GMing back in 1978 that is exactly what our point of view was in my town. All of us GMs had the same attitude about it, and we all pretty much played it the same way. Later on things evolved. But in the beginning, I didn't even tell my players what their stats were or even what the exact rules of my homebrew rpg were. The reason for that was because we GMs collectively decided that it was better for the players not to know the mechanical details, as that information tended to draw them out of their characters and into a game-oriented frame of mind, but we believed that the purpose of the thing was to get immersed in someone else's world. The mechanics could only inhibit that immersion. So we had our reasons, and I won't say they were bad reasons. It was our style in that era, and we played it for all it was worth.
But things changed. Later, in the late 80's and 90's I decided that the players were at a tactical disadvantage by not knowing the tactical rules. I began using battle maps to show them where their characters were and told them their movement allocation. We played that style for about 5 years, and then I made another evolutionary shift. I decided to give the Players their characters stats, and explained the rules to them. This was so that they could make more intelligent decisions regarding their character's tactical maneuvers. While this definitely made them more efficient and effective as players, and their Characters had a much better chance of survival in terms of the calculated odds, it did in fact manage to detract from the immersion.
When I noticed this effect I decided the immersion aspect is important enough to focus on. So I deliberately established a Descriptive Narration style where I would go very light on stats information in-game, and describe things according to what the Characters know from their own senses. Gone were the "You did 5 points of damage to the kobold" and in came "The wretch with the glassy eyes cries out, a hellish gash spurting blood on his right arm".
During these different phases of my GM style I held different philosophies about how to use the dice. At first they were there for me to use as a guide. I didn't cheat my players though. I played according to my homebrew rules, and I distinctly played according to the dice. And PCs died. Quite a lot, actually.
Then in the next phase with the tactical combat, I let the Players roll their own attacks, and that was done above board, but I rolled for the NPCs and that was behind the screen. I didn't cheat the players, though. I simply kept the dice behind the screen because that was my habit from the prior era, and I felt that it kept the suspense high.
Now, in the current era, I am rolling everything above board, and I let the players know the stats of the monsters. They help me adjudicate the action and make sure that the rules make sense and are working. Of course, this era has been a big play test of my revised mini-system, and that's why I made that particular change. But over time I found that I rather liked the effect. So long as I keep the players immersed in my world via Narrative Descriptions I don't think they mind having the immersion interrupted by tactical combat. We just go in, and go out of the immersion on the basis of the kind of scene that is unfolding. It feels quite natural at this point.
So yeah, I definitely hear ya. I just think there are other modalities and ways of doing things that are just as valid, and just as fun.
Original Post on Google+ with discussion