Monday, June 08, 2015

Thoughts on Philosophical GameMastering


It seems to me that most GameMasters that have a story in their minds, a vision of a World, also have something that they'd like to say. Or perhaps a better word would be 'teach'. They want to bring their Players into a World in which certain points can be made and illustrated through the course of play.

Some GameMasters may not quite realize that this is somewhere near the heart of their endeavors. But it very likely is there.

An example of this might be the GM who believes that the Universe is really just a gigantic eating machine, as my late friend David Kahn used to say. And in his own way he demonstrated this through his World of Telthanar. When we encountered beings of tremendous power and mind boggling motivations, it became quickly apparent that these beings were just as likely to stick a fork in us and shove us in their mouths as they were to engage in some kind of dialog. And those dialogs were just as likely to bring about the dining pleasure of our ill-met conversationalists as anything else. It was not that everything in Telthanar tried to actually eat us... but the overall impression was that sooner or later we would get "et", as David used to say with a dry eye and wry grin. It seemed to me that he took great pleasure in our astonishment at the underlying voracious attitude of the creatures and beings that we encountered in Telthanar, and it was those Players who most quickly adapted to this reality and achieved a composure as ruthless as those we encountered that fared best, and climbed highest. Telthanar was as amazing as it was astonishing, and those of us who had the pleasure to adventure there are unlikely to ever forget it. And as David most likely wished, we all learned a few valuable life lessons there as well. Sometimes things do want to eat you, you know.

Other GameMasters have other points to make about what they see as "the true nature of things", either metaphysically or politically, or socially. Many, though, do not see their Worlds as a platform for illuminating these ideas. Some may not even know that any such ideas permeate their Worlds at all. I would argue, though, that whether they know it consciously or or not, every World is an expression of the innermost convictions of it's GameMaster. Those GameMasters, however, that consciously know that they want to express their philosophies through their World are numerous, though even among these they may not wish to expressly declare as much to their Players. Partially because it might ruin the surprise, or disrupt the lesson, in a similar way as telling someone "The butler did it" as they pick up a mystery novel. Still, though, the intention to teach lessons is quite likely there, at some level, and to some degree. Some GameMasters wish to express the idea that Truth and Nobility are the most important virtues in life. Some wish their Players to understand that in the world of Politics no one can be trusted. Some wish simply to impress upon us that careful planning and diligent attention to detail is our best route to achieving our goals. Most GameMasters have a whole pocket full of ideas and lessons they'd like to impart, and often use their Worlds as a stomping ground for their most far flung and outlandish musings. Their Players are quite likely to be subject at times to the underlying philosophic conundrums of their GMs most convoluted and perplexing ideas. Many GameMasters in fact offer us a plethora of potentially valuable life lessons... all to be learned through the auspices of the wondrous invention of RPGs. This is, in fact, one of the most profoundly fascinating aspects of RPGs. And the fact that many GameMasters keep the subject and intentions of their lessons a closely guarded secret during the course of play is a necessary and equally fascinating aspect of the nature of the game. No one wants to simply spill the beans and blurt out what hidden treasures are in store. Every GameMaster worth his salt wishes for the Players to stumble upon such things themselves, and have that quintessential moment of realization for themselves. Getting the Players to the point of "Aha!" is one of the great pleasures of GameMastering.

Of course, one can, and should say the same thing for authors, script writers, poets and musicians. We are all in the game of expressing our innermost philosophical ideas through the medium of art. And for us, our RPG Worlds happen to be our artistic medium. This is why I refer to RPGs as the new Art Form of the 21st Century. The difference, though, I think, between RPGs and other forms of art is that with the RPG the Author / Teacher / Philosopher comes in direct contact with the Player's thoughts and feelings in a way that is far more accessable than with other art forms. After all, we are collaborating together in the exploration of our Worlds. It is not a one sided art form. It is multi-sided, and as such the GameMaster is just as likely to be shocked and amazed, and learn new things, as their Players. Which is another marvel of the game.

So I'm curious... do you find yourself imbuing your World, consciously or otherwise, with philosophical lessons that you think your Players might be either entertained or illuminated by? What kinds of musings do you find permeating your World?

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