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8/17/2016

Role-playing Rants: you can't do everything you want

The biggest lie one can hear in today's world is that you can do anything, no matter what. This is true not only in real life, but also in various hobbies, including role-playing games.

I love playing RPG's. This hobby really did gave me a lot of good things. I've met fantastic people, trained my imagination and greatly improved my self-esteem. Altough I always read a lot, my book count increased greatly, after I've begun to roleplay regularly. I could go on and on, how awesome this hobby is, but chances are that if you're reading this article, you already know this. You probably also know, that RPG's, just as any thing really, can be a source of intense frustration for everyone involved in them. From the so-called "problem players", about whom I'll write later, to the dreaded "Gamemaster's Withdrawal" - there are many things that can be extremy irritated about narrative games. For me, one in particular can be irksome: a player's notion that he can do anything.

Yes you are

Now, now - before you're going to lynch me, hear me out first. I know that RPG's are all for "let's do what we always wanted to do in a make-believe world". I also know that the best games are those, which give players a near total freedom for their actions. After all, there is nothing more satisfying than to watch your PC's immerse themselves fully in the world, that you've created and do whatever the hell they want, living it to the fullest. Even if they are playing as undead. It must be said however, that there are certain situations where the "I can do whatever I like" kinda attitude, can lead to many problems and potentialy, even damage the game itself.

There are a couple of good examples, and I'll start with the rather obvious one: the case of that one player who really wants to play someone special. You know what I'm talking about. Every group had, at one point or another, a dude or dudette, who really, really wanted to play that Daemonhunter or mysterious Shadowelf or a Space Marine!

In a game of Dark Heresy. Yeaaaah...

Now, I do understand that, I really do. Hell, I've done it once, many years ago, when in a game of WFRP I've decided to become a daemon hunting elf. Back then I almost knew nothing about the setting and so my GM did the only reasonable thing - he let me play the guy, but it was clear that my PC was... not well in the head. He fancied himself a great hunter of devilry, while in reality he broke into people's houses and threatened to expose their evil. It usually meant that the town watch was on my ass and I had to run really quickly, in order to avoid a night in the local dungeon. It was really cool and clever on my GM's part. He knew that I was green and didn't want to use the whole "you can't, because you can't" approach, so he decided to let me have my way in a special kind of way. Good on him.

I used to do a similar thing in my group. Usually it did not work, as I was a waaay too lenient a Game Master to make it work effectively. Which actually is a good way to introduce you, dear readers, to another problem, which can be summed up pretty easily: the more you're allowed to do dumb shit, the more dumb shit you will do! I've watched many players, both mine and in other group's, thinking about outrageous stuff, on a nearly daily basis. When their GM dropped one of their "innovative and totaly creative" ideas, they've immediately concived another one, and another one, and another... I've been there, trust me. I used to hear about doing completely, batshit insane things in my games of WFRP and Hunter: The Reckoning. Things like Elves becoming Witch Hunters of Sigmar, people jumping from a bridge on a motorcycle with parachute on and Imbued trying to pin a vampire in place with a whale harpoon.

It's a hard thing to do, but it is possible

Yeah, I've been there and from a perspective I can say two things. One: these make great stories, many years later and bring a lot of laughs, both in our group and to other, fellow roleplayers. Two: there is, however, a darker side to them. At a time it was really tiresome to explain to my players, why their ideas were wrong. Not strange, not "hard but doable", no - simply wrong. Fucking wrong. So wrong, that you can't be more wrong.

You see, many Game Masters, myself included, like to create their game worlds, according to a set of certain rules that they've established. Like, for example, a game about mortal people fighting immortal terrors, should not and will not include an option for PC's to become a fast healing, night-indestructible, "cool and mysterious" were cat. Meanwhile that's just what I was forced to deal with, a couple years back, when I was running a investigation-heavy game of H:TR. Of course my lack of clearly setting the boundaries for what is possible and what's not possible, really contributed to the ammount of similar shenanigans in that and many other, different games, but in the end the effect was always the same - I was pissed the fuck off. And I don't like that, it makes me a bad GM. It makes the quality of my games drop horrendously. It makes me an asshole, and I don't even try to hide that.

However I will say one thing, after admitting my own faults and weaknesses: in the end, it's the player who needs to accept the ruling of every game he is in, no exceptions. Players are generally very priviledged creatures. They come to games, often late. They sit, listen, roll some dice, drink a brewski or two, eat some crisps and go home. That's it. If it's holiday, they'll maybe bring an interesting backstory of their hero and sometimes, a nicely done character sheet. That's it. Now the GM/DM/Storyteller, whatever, he has to do a lot more work and it's a hard work as well. Rewarding, satisfying, but damn hard and demanding. I know, I've been a GM for nearly 7 years now and trust me, there are days when you don't want to write, draw maps, roll stats for NPC's and enemies and do other, important stuff. But you'll do it anyway, because you want your players to have fun, to get immersed in a world that you're building. To feel this world that you're building. Then, when you're dead tired after a hard day at work, after hearing your girlfriend being angry at you for not washing the dishes correctly, after making the last corrections in your campaign, that you've been working on for the last year... Yeah, one or more of your players drops the ball, and begins arguing with you about jumping over the river Thames in a suit of full plate armour.

Come on now, just do it...

Man, fuck that. You don't want that in your life, you have a clear idea about what your guys can and can't do in your imaginary world and you're absolutely right. In the end, if the Game Master says that playing a half-angel with a flamethrower that shoots kittens is a bad idea and unfit in his campaign, then it's a bad idea and you don't continue the argument "because it's a roleplaying game and I can do what I want in this world!".

No, no you can't. In fact you can do far less than you think, because it's not about your inner, selfish desires. It's about the group having fun, it's about a cool story being told and it's about people, all the people, not just you, wanting to come back for more. If you want to play that shitty half-angel Mary Sue, then write a friggin' fan fiction. It's that easy.

Before people start yelling: "GM tyranny! GM tyranny!" let me remind you about a certain, universal rule in RPG's: in the end the Game Master has the last word. Period. If he says that you can't do something, then you can't do something. Because, dear player, you can't do everything you want. It's as easy as that. There are rules to every game, and no one can consider himself or herself, to be beyond them. When you're playing with other people, who decide to spend their time with you every week, who also want to have fun, you don't act like a selfish prick who thinks he's more special then the rest of the world. Because in the end it's about the overall quality of the game and not just about you. It would be nice if you'd be aware of that, from time to time.

Until next time!

Xathrodox86 (who is a totalitarian a-hole, it seems)

If the Dude says I'm not an asshole, then... wait a minute, I'm not wrong!

P.S I hope that none of my former players will take offense in me, bringing up these, mostly authentic, examples of "I can do whatever I want and you shut up evil GM!". I love you guys to death, even when you were pissing me the hell off.