Player and Game Master Responsibilities
Preface, of Sorts
I wrote this in 1998 as a thinly-disguised rant. I was burning out as both a player and GM and I'll admit that the tone of this essay is a bit snippy. That said, I still think there's a lot of valid information here. I've done a bit of LARPing in my time, both as GM and player. Not as much as some others, I'll grant you, but I've done enough to feel qualified to offer my opinion on certain matters. Then, in 2003, I decided to add some more material. What can I say? Learning about LARPs is an ongoing process.
Generally, GMs run games - be it LARP or tabletop - out of a sense of fun. They have a story to tell, an adventure to share, and such things are much more enjoyable when shared with a group, right?
Similarly, a player creates and plays a character to take part in an adventure, to create a story and to have fun. Let's keep that in mind as we go on.
The first rule is: Always have fun.
If you are not having fun, find out what is stopping you and change it. Even if that means changing your character, or quitting the game entirely, do what makes
you happy. Just do it tactfully and with the minimum of melodrama - your fellow-gamers will appreciate that.
Have respect for one another
Listen to each other
Have some manners. Even if you're in a rush, remember the little things like 'please', 'thank you' and a pleasant demeanor. The bad karma that can be generated from one snappish comment can ripple
throughout a group and poison it very quickly.
That means the GM needs to focus when a player asks for a moment of their time - be it at the game, on the phone or via e-mail. It means the players need to pay attention when the GM speaks, and
heed their words when given. Neither side is speaking because they like the sound of their own voice.
Communication is a two-way event
Communication requires an exchange of information and opinions. If that's not happening, then somebody is just giving a monologue. Once you get the hang of listening to each other, try the possibly novel concept of giving considered feedback.
This matter is particularly true when it comes to player-unhappiness. Every ongoing larp that I have been a part of - and I mean every
single one - has suffered communications problems when it comes time for the players to bring up an issue they have with the game-master. What happens,
instead, is that the players vent their spleen with each other. This is a useless activity and by the time it gets back to the game-master - and it will,
I assure you - the truth will be distorted beyond all recognition, and the GM will want to bang his head on wall with frustration, wondering why the players
can't just talk to him.
I'll let the cat out of the bag, here. GMs do not eat players for breakfast. Even if the player has something critical to say. As long
as it is said politely, and in a timely manner, the GM will most likely be glad to hear an honest opinion, and will give it the consideration it deserves.
No-one can read anyone's mind - which means you must speak up!
As I have often lamented myself, game-masters are not telepathic. GMs cannot read players' minds and vice versa.
For a game to evolve and grow, information and opinions must be exchanged. Hoping that "someone else" will share your opinion with the other side
never, ever work.
Players, if you're having a good time, or enjoyed a particular plot event, tell the GM.
Game-masters, if you want to learn what the players are enjoying, or if those grumbled-rumors are really true, talk to the players. I know this sounds like common-sense stuff, but you might be surprised at how often even simple communications fail to happen.
No-One Likes A Martyr
I have heard the following phrases uttered by Game Masters, to their players:
- "I hate running this game, but I'm doing it *for you*"
- "I can only cope with running this game when I'm drunk."
- "I hate the players. But I can pretend I care, and they won't know any differently."
- "I'm not having any fun, but I feel obligated to keep doing this. I wish I could stop."
Yes, Game Masters will actually say things like that to their players. In fact, I've said some of those terrible things. I know now that they were fucked up, manipulative and indicative of the fact that I had broken the First Rule (which is: Always have fun). It's a damn shame I couldn't have noticed that before I started laying guilt-trips on my players.
No one likes a hypocrite
I've seen both players and GMs guilty of this one, but mostly players...
- Some players will say, "This game sucked!" to each other, and then smile sweetly to the GM and tell the GM they had a great time.
- Some players will say, "I'll recommend you to other troupes." and then talk trash about that game to anyone who will listen.
- I have seen players cheat, lie and steal - yes, steal - from a game they claim to have respect for.
Being a hypocrite is a stupid, petty, mean-spirited thing, and makes the other side feel horrible.
Wait, I think that needs special emphasis.
Being a hypocrite or a martyr makes the other side feel like shit,
it makes you look like shit, and you're not fooling anyone!
- Rule One: You must have a good time. If you're not, your players won't, either. If you are starting to perceive your game as an unwelcome chore, or burdensome obligation, then burnout is on your horizon. Please take a look at LARP Pitfalls and Clawing Your Way Out of Them for further advice on this topic.
- Rule Two: If you're not having a good time, do whatever it takes to change that.
- The players aren't as oblivious as you think they are. If you are not having a good time, they will sense the disturbance in the Gamer Force, and it will make them feel vaguely guilty and resentful. Players who feel guilty and resentful will leave your game.
- You're overall obligation is simple, yet complex: You will present a game, with coherent goals and plot lines, with some kind of regularity. Anything beyond or above that is gravy. Learn to tell the difference between essentials and the rest. Strive to achieve the essentials, gloat like hell when you get gravy.
- You must listen to the players' needs, and balance them with your chronicle concept
- However, you will not put the desires of an individual player above your troupe's vision or goals. Accept that you cannot make every player happy, all of the time lest you become known as the "Pushover GM" - I've been there, and it stinks.
- Never, ever let a player make an ultimatum to you, particularly of the "If I don't get what I want, I'm going to take my ball and go home"
variety. No game should hinge on one player, nor should you let yourself be pushed around by one player. Remind an ultimatum-giving player that there are
games for everyone, but maybe your game isn't one of them - that usually takes the wind out of their sails.
- You must keep in touch with your players, by whatever appropriate means. If you set up an e-mail account for the game, check it regularly. If you allow players to call you at home, return their calls
- You have to be the grown up. Be prepared to make, and enforce, decisions that your players may not like. See "Doormat GM", above.
- Never get into a heated argument with a player. If that starts, insist on a time-out - for days if necessary - and suggest that the matter be dealt with later. When angry, you will make decisions for the wrong reasons.
- You have to be the grown up. Even when you're tired and cranky, and just don't wanna, you have to be the grown up, because you are an example to the players, whether you like it or not. Of course, if that makes you unhappy, perhaps it's time for you take a break.
- You have to stay on top of what's going on. You have to chase down your assistant storytellers who are running the side plots, the players who promised to call, the newsletter editor who punted the deadline. You can delegate some work, sure, but when all is said and done, you are the one that the game depends on. If you drop the ball, then your game will collapse.
- The game might take up a large chunk of your free time, but it should not take up all of it. If that is the case, start looking for assistants. You need some things other than your LARP to do with your time, otherwise your obligation to the LARP will quickly become too much to bear.
- The first rule is: Always have fun. Not every LARP out there is going
to be perfect for you. There is no "unwritten law of gaming" saying
that you must commit to a game that doesn't suit your tastes, or that you
can't shop around until you find a troupe that's right for you. If you decide
to leave a game, do the GM a favor of letting them know why you are
going, and then make your leave with the minimum of fuss and melodrama.
- Leave the schoolyard-dynamic at the door. The game is not about any one character, and particularly not your character. There is no such thing as
"winning" in an RPG, and anyone who thinks otherwise has ego-issues too severe to be bringing to a role-playing game.
- That said, accept that sometimes, bad things might happen to your character.
Your character might even - gasp! - be killed out. Learn how to deal with
adversity gracefully. A minor fit of sulking is forgivable - particularly if
you have been playing the character for a long time. A temper tantrum and
frantic e-mails to the GMs looking for loopholes out of the situation are not
mature ways to deal with the situation.
- Respect the GM. Address them with some manners and pay attention when they speak.
- Never get into a heated argument with your GM or a fellow player. You will
almost certainly say something that you will regret later. If your temper
starts flaring, step back, take a time out and do not discuss the
matter until you can be calm about it.
- Respect the game. Bring a character that fits your GM's needs and the needs of their game.
If the game asks for lawful-good concepts, don't be the pain-in-the-ass player
who is convinced that they can talk the GM into allowing a chaotic-evil
concept. GMs encounter this type of player every day and, believe me, that
type of player is not popular.
- Respect the rules. If you don't like them, then you have the freedom to tell the GM that, at a reasonable time, in a reasonable tone.
- Don't forget that your Game Master needs feedback - positive as well as negative. Don't assume that just because you keep coming to the game, that the Game Master must know that you're having a good time. An honest compliment will brighten their day and make both of you feel good.
- Keep the other players' fun in mind. Sure, you want to have a good time, but remember that everyone else does, too. Always consider the affect of your character's actions on other players as well as other characters. This can be considered a postscript to the "Role-playing is not about winning" rule.
- Learn to roleplay. Define your character beyond simple numbers and a half-dozen sentences. Hint: the more interesting history your character has, the more likely the GM will think of ways to write you into the plot.
- Remember that the GM may have a life outside the game, and that they may want to enjoy it every now and then. There is a time and a place to discuss game, and there is a time and place to bitch about how the Raiders are playing like sick nuns. Learn to tell the difference, respect it and enjoy it.
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