Critical Insight – The GM Controls the Fun

Oh life, how crazy you tend to be, that you make me forget to update my columns even though I’ve had them drafted and sitting on my laptop for a while now.

Life is also funny in that it makes me change my mind about what I was going to post.

See, I went to NYCC earlier this month, and while I have some video from it, which I’m excited about, I lack the right equipment to put it on my computer because someone won’t admit to throwing out my express port firewire card. So… WotC, I am very sorry that your interview will be delayed a little while.

On the other hand, I did go to NYCC and like I always do at cons, I played whatever RPG was going on. As WotC is pretty ubiquitous they were showing 4th edition, essentials. The Red Box (which, by the way for those who know what means, it’s NOT… it’s just 4th edition pared down and put in a box that inspires Nostalgia.Good or bad, I will let you decide).

I didn’t get to play D&D nearly as much as I had hoped because I was busy… and kind of sort of fell somewhat in love with Castle Ravenloft and buying things.

But I did get to play some 4th edition on Sunday, which was basically kid day, which I really didn’t have a problem with.

But I did get, what I would consider, a pretty lame DM, which inspired me to post baout this experience, and not about LARPing.

There’s a certain quality in a GM that players should look for, and I can’t tell you what that is because you know the type of game you want. Some people dig the more serious no fooling around type games, some people prefer the more light hearted “Sure you can have a whistle that summons Wampas at will” game. I think an in between is nice but given the choice myself, I choose the goofy game… possibly because I am soon going to be in my late 20’s, and am so over spending weeknights engrossed in seriousness… I like my evenings to be full of laughter, and to not be burdened with heavy-weight issues like “Who is sending my character those white roses? Should we kill the king? I can’t beleive [x-character] died!” personally, I’d rather make those stories into tv shows and movies so that I can get money for it, and also, I like those plots in books, I like them in movies, tv shows, and I even like them in LARPs, but I can’t get into the seriousness in table top anymore.

So, I like it when my GM is also somewhat of a goof. Or at least has a good sense of humor, and knows how to scale an encounter for the experience level of the players.

My experience this NYCC was less joyous than I had experienced last year, and at PAXEast. And it shouldn’t have been.

At the table, we got to choose our pre-generated characters, and because I’m me, I wanted to be the dwarf, who was a tank. And I like tanking. It’s super fun in a dungeoun crawl!

The other players had little expereince with 4th edition.There was the guy next to me who never played 4th edition until the starter session the day before, and there was the father who played 2nd edition, and his son who had never played, and a 13 year old boy who also never played.

When the encounter started, the DM, first scolded me for drawing on the pre-gen card with the dry erase marker… which was unfair because I gave my dwarf an eye patch, and viking horns, because he was bad-ass like that… but, more than that, he started us out with 5 large monsters from the start. We didn’t have time to explore, as I recall we had last year, and at PAX even though they were both also strictly timed.

More to the point, and what annoys me still, is that he did not take it easy on the kids. Which was unfair. They hadn’t played before, and he was attacking us, and them, with these monsters who were really made for a party that was at least level 3.

Those poor kids, who had never played, spend most of their first D&D Encounter dead… well, not dead, but bleeding out.

He also told me I couldn’t jump or climb down a cliff wall to go try and save our cleric. Which was BS, because my dwarf was trained in athletics. Granted, I was rolling pretty poorly so I would have fallen and died, but I still should have been given a shot.

This is an example of poor gm-ing, and dm-ing, IMO.

When you are running any type of game, as the GM, you are pretty much in charge of the fun level, and you should be concerned about your players enjoying themselves, because that it what makes a game enjoyable! Not your precious story, or how strong your monsters are.

See, a GM who knows that kids, who have not played before, will make mistakes because they don’t understand the rules fully, or even the consequences will be able to level down their monsters, or make them miss. Now, I don’t care about me, I died, and that happens, and that”s cool because I was the most experienced 4th edition player at that table. But you let the kids get a reprieve.

Being a good GM isn’t about adhering strictly to the rules. It’s about knowing the rules, and ways to stretch them for the benefit of your players.

I thought we were past the “DM is the player’s enemy” phase? Unless you have some really horrible players, which is a rant or another day really.

So, GMs, can I ask you all a big big favor? Take your players’ experience level in to consideration before setting them an encounter with 5 many hit-pointed monsters, and 5 level 1 characters.

And if you have kids at your table, could you try to make it fun for them too? Throw them a Kobold or something?

Posted on October 24, 2010 at 20:01 by Jillian Pullara · Permalink
In: Uncategorized