Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Player's Responsibilities in the GM-Player Relationship

I know this may seem to be an already well-trod topic in the RPG blogosphere, but I feel compelled to add my own thoughts into the mixture. Prepare to be amazed! ;-)
So, the straw that broke the back of my silence on the subject of the GM-player relationship was a post over at Raven Crowking's Nest. It seems he recently had players object to some rulings he made during a game session
I got to thinking: you know, much is made of the many responsibilities of the GM. But what about the responsibilities of the player? For the most part, I mostly see bloggers simply stating that players "should not be dicks." That's it? I beg to differ.
Of course, when it comes GMing, there is much more besides "avoiding dickishness" that GMs must do. We all know that it is incumbent upon the GM to neither favor or disfavor the players. The GM needs to be, as much as possible, unbiased. He should not favor the players or favor his precious campaign. He should be the force in the fictional universe of the campaign that takes the player's actions and uses them to create effects/consequences that affect the game world.

Heavy is the head that runs the campaign, as the GM must put in prep work between sessions AND be all the senses for the players as they experience the game world AND portray every NPC and monster in the game AND be flexible in the face of player decisions AND not stifle "player agency" AND on and on and on.
With all the duties that a GM must attend to, the last thing he/she needs is players who think all they need to do is "show up."
Sorry. Nope. Wrong. I'm not one to tell people that they're "doing it wrong" when it comes to roleplaying. But if you come to a game session as a player and think all you need to do sit back and be entertained, you ARE doing it wrong.
Look, I'm not one to say that every gaming group needs to have a hardcopy "social contract" that they must adhere to before a campaign starts. But I think it's common sense for people to have enough awareness that, when you agree to roleplay together, you should cut everyone at the table some slack. If you're sitting at a GM's table, whether you know it or not you've made an unspoken statement: "I am trusting you, GM, to do your best to run a good game. That means I'm not going to sit here and assume that you're trying to 'screw me over' when it comes to events in the game."

Who is the GM not trying to "screw over"? The player. A GM might indeed screw over a player's CHARACTER by, you know, inflicting severe harm or even killing them. But a good GM will make it worth your while even while they're killing your character. So, if you don't trust your GM enough to believe that they have your best interest in mind when it comes to running a good game, then who's fault is that?

It's YOUR fault, as a player, if you distrust your GM even though he/she has not given you any concrete reason not to trust them. It's different if the GM is being a dick.
Let me put it another way: everyone at the table is responsible for the health of the campaign. Not just the GM.
A player should not be passive. A player should take an active role in being engaged with a game session. Of course, this includes responding to the GM's eternal question, "What do you do?" But it's more than just reacting to what the GM throws at you. Besides running your character, you as the player should also be an active force giving the GM some respect.
What are the traits of a good player? What are the responsibilities of a good player, beyond bringing their character to life?
A good player knows that it's not their job to exploit "weaknesses" displayed by a GM during any given session. To clarify, this includes giving them your patience and understanding when they, inevitably, stumble a bit now and then. For example, don't get on the GM's case if he/she forgot that your character no longer had that cursed dagger.
A good player knows that they shouldn't be questioning a GM's rulings, descriptions, or interpretations of the rules in a confrontational manner during a session.
A good player will try to be politely persuasive with the GM, gently probing for possible courses of action, testing to see what they can get the GM to agree to when it comes to the game world.
If a player trusts a GM enough to devote precious roleplaying time to said GM's campaign, then the player should fulfill the promise of that trust by helping to nurture the health of the campaign. Part of this is taking time to care about the welfare of your GM. The GM has a lot going on. Give them a break. 
If a player does not like how the GM operates, then that player should consider finding another campaign. It doesn't matter who is at fault. It's just time to move on.

OK, to recap: if players have a GM worth their trust, they should be willing to accept that the GM is the final arbiter of the rules. This means they should be able to trust their GM to interpret the rules in an unbiased way. Now, some GMs no doubt are guilty of breaking said trust and make all sorts of outlandish rulings that impinge on their players' ability to flex their agency. However, I'd wager there are a goodly number of players who don't truly understand that they need to give the GM the benefit of the doubt, or the unspoken social contract between GM and players becomes broken. Good players don't come to the table thinking they have no responsibility to keep the game flowing, to keep things civil between themselves and the GM, and to foster mutual trust and respect.

There's always talk of "killer GMs" but what about "killer players." What do killer players kill? Campaigns!

1 comment:

  1. Some good thoughts here. Thanks for sharing.

    In my campaign, I think the main "player-GM issues" involve:

    * Players who "tune out" when a story arc doesn't involve their character. It's a bit rude, especially to the player whose character is the center of attention at that particular moment.
    * Players who show up not in the mood to play, but don't say anything, and then spend the game on their phones or iPads while we're trying to play. I'd actually prefer if they just showed up and said, "You know, guys, sorry - I had a rough week at work and I'm just not feelin' it." and then as a group we could decide to maybe do something else like watch a movie or play a board game.
    * As a GM, I struggle with figuring out how to integrate certain characters' "background" into the game so that they have an opportunity to deal with certain aspects of their characters in-game, while still trying to focus on what the majority of the group wants to do. As an example, in my current game, I have one player who has a vendetta against this one guy who basically ruined his character's life and forced him to go underground. The player wants to deal with that storyline in-game, but the rest of the players, while appreciating that guy's issues, are focused on doing something completely different. So, it's a balancing act to keep going back-and-forth and sometimes it's a bit of a struggle and players get annoyed when they don't get their way.
    * Players who go out of their way to create "outsider" characters (culturally, racially, geographically, whatever) and then complain when they can't seem to figure out how to integrate that character within the rest of the party and the campaign as a whole.

    Those are just some quick thoughts of things I'm currently dealing with in my campaign. I've never experienced the whole idea of players accusing me of favoring somebody or not being fair with the dice or whatever. It's more about bigger "story elements."