(From our “ Wouldn’t It Be Nice” Department)

If there is one thing I have learned about roleplaying games, it is this: your experience is determined not by the system or setting, but by the people you play with. It only takes one person to entirely ruin a roleplaying session. On the other hand, playing with a good group makes roleplaying more fun than just about anything. It’s important to have the group dynamic working well. There are many facets to this; one of the most important is the contract, explicit or implied, between the players and the GM. Most of these times this contract will be implicit; which means that it is easily misunderstood.
What is the thing almost all roleplayers want?
You know. A huge slice of awesome pie, with awesome sauce, and a scoop of awesome ice cream ala mode. We all roleplay for different reasons, but I think we all enjoy those moments when our characters get to do something awesome. And we will go through all kinds of trouble in an adventure for the sake of that awesome moment. So why do so many players get frustrated and fret while playing? Because they feel cheated out of their share of awesomeness, and usually–but not always–by the GM.
In my experience this is usually because the player and the GM have different ideas about awesome: what it is, what it consists of, and how to get it. I had two players in my campaign, both good enough fellows, both imaginative and involved players. But they would become extremely unhappy at times. One liked to stack the odds in favor of his character to the point of being completely undefeatable. You know the kind of player: His character never took off his armor, and if he had been able to wear three layers of armor, his character would have. At times, especially in combat, he would sort of drift off and stop participating. The other would try to make the ultimate tactical plan, then get all upset during combat when it didn’t work because the other players wouldn’t keep to the plan. He would often throw his pen and dice down in disgust. Looking back, it was my fault. I was failing them by not letting them get their awesomeness.
The problem is that both players–and everyone at my table–had their own idea of what was awesome, and those ideas were often incompatible. In addition, they were often incompatible with what I was doing , or at least trying to do.
In the example above, the first player wanted to battle his way through hordes of foes, unstoppable, like Conan. The second player wanted to execute a perfect tactical operation, achieving victory efficiently. I did not know how to make both those things happen, so I ended up making neither happen. My players did not get their awesome.
Neither did I. I had my own idea of awesome. But I was the GM, and when the GM forces his idea of awesome on his players, the result is often no fun for anyone. And that is bad. Example: I am very fond of escapes, so I love to put in situations where the PCs get captured, which will lead to a really cool escape sequence. What’s wrong with that?
So much is wrong with it–not everybody is into escapes, many people hate having their character captured because that means they either have to surrender or be defeated, and lastly, having a situation where they have to be captured and then have to escape is 100-percent whole-grain railroad. And in my book, that’s bad–even though I used to do that sort of thing to my players fairly often. I funneled my players into situations where they felt helpless and had no fun, and then I had no fun bcause I was losing them.
How do you avoid this situation?
You have to have a contract with your players. It can be inferred or explicitly stated, but explicitly stated is better, because everyone has to be absolutely clear on the basic deal.
First: The GM wants the Players to have their awesome moments. All of the players. And so the game has to provide opportunities for those awesome moments.
Second: Those awesome moments to be really awesome, have to be worked for. Anything easy will not be all that awesome.
Third: The players will have to trust that whenever things do not go well for the characters, that there will be a corresponding possibility of an awesome moment. Setbacks make for adventure.
Fourth: The GM will not railroad the PCs, even in the service of awesome. No forcing them to surrender so you can have a cool escape sequence. Just have ideas for escape sequences ready for when they have blown it.

Next time: More ideas on this…