Sunday, September 26, 2010

Art of DMing: Let your Players Surprise You

When you've played with someone for several years—as I have with the regular Wednesday night crowd at Game Masters—you get a pretty good idea of their tastes, how they play, that sort of thing.  You know what kind of games they like, what sort of stuff gives them trouble, and when they're going to chuck a die off your deck into the woods.

But sometimes, they surprise you.

Some people I play with just seem to lend themselves to certain campaigns.  If my thoughts turn towards cyberpunk, post-apocalypse, crime, or any other dark genre, I always think of my friend H, because I know he will without exception bring it when it comes to showing that life is cheap and the world is a festering hole of suck.  I know I can count on B for swashbuckling and pulp action. And my wife M? I know she has a vindictive streak a mile wide, so tales of revenge (or vigilante superheroics) are perfect for her.

So there are some game ideas I pitch to certain groups, and some I avoid.  I almost didn't take Apocalypse World to the Wednesday night game.  While they've been open to unusual stuff in the past, I wasn't sure they'd take to the tone.  B (and I suspect J) prefer their games a little less dark, but J was interested in post-apocalypse so I carted it along.

It was other J who surprised me.  I can't remember what game he joined us to play, but he's been around for quite a while, usually with the quiet (but heavily armed) type.  He's been changing that the past few campaigns, though, and his Apocalypse World character was completely unexpected.  Instead of going for the Gunlugger (although I saw him considering it) or the Chopper, he picked…the Operator, a "fixer" type with social abilities and moves that are going to put his character front and center in what's going on.

Now, another thing about the Wednesday night group is that their groups are knit like chainmail.  In a way it's pretty awesome because we don't have to worry much about intra-group drama caused by in-game actions, but it does limit the kind of games we can play (and expect to have work.)  In Apocalypse World, each character has a History with each other character: how well you understand them, which affects how well you can help or hinder them.  At the end of each session you have to adjust someone else's history with your character by 1 in either direction.  As I was explaining it, other J asked, "Wait, you can reduce it? That's an option?" "Sure, if they proved they didn't understand your character." And that's what he picked, instead of the option that would tie the characters even closer together.

Now I'm wondering what I've missed out on in the past by deciding "Nah, they wouldn't like that."  Maybe someday I will get to run a game of vicious backstabbing intrigue after all.

No comments:

Post a Comment