All the Game's a Stageby
Last month I mentioned the four ingredients a GM deals with running a game: System, Setting, NPCs, and Plot. I also mentioned that some GMs just run so that they can design worlds or tell stories. In other words, some GMs are only interested in Setting or Plot, both of which are fine and dandy and really add to the flavor of the game. However, throw in too much Plot, Setting, or both, and you could end up with a case of gaming indigestion.
There are a number of world-creator GMs, who take joy in creating every minute detail about a world, and sharing it with all the players. When I play, I really don't care who's the governor of Fnordia, unless I'm in Fnordia or dealing in some way with the governor. It's nice that the GM has that information ready, should we decide to enter Fnordian politics, but if the game is starting in Miskatonic, then I really couldn't care less. I play the game and learn facts about the world as I play. If I wanted a history lesson, I'd ask for a book. The setting should follow the PCs and flow with the PCs actions, it should not suffocate the PCs with its greatness - unless nature is attacking.
There are also what I term as the Narrators, those that want to tell a story with a completely linear plot, set NPCs, and little room for unexpected PC activities. Oddly enough, White Wolf calls their GMs Storytellers, which sounds a lot like Narrator to me. Granted, I like my game to have a plot, or a theme, but I also want to do what my character would do. If my PC doesn't like an NPC that the GM expected my PC to love at first sight, then tough. I won't try to mangle a GM's plot, but I won't be shoved into a GM's mold of how he expects my character to be and act. The plot should be malleable enough that the players can act freely and the plot should travel with them, it should not force the PCs to walk its path (at least not in a strait line).
Notice the connection between Plot and Setting? Both should actually flow around the characters, rather than the reverse.
In a way, GMing a game is like watching a play, where the PCs are the only Characters in the play (NPCs are, in this analogy, an extension of setting). Nobody watches a play when there's a scene with no actors on stage. The actors are always the most important part of the play, just like PCs are the most important part of a game.
In a play there are a variety of types of sets, everything from a simple curtain stretched across the back of the set, to elaborate constructions that take the viewers' breath away, but nobody would watch a play where all they could see was the set. Settings are nice, and a very important to the game, but they shouldn't block out the PC's actions. And if the group has enough imagination, a set could be left out almost completely. Just the idea of where the PCs are is enough.
Plot is the second most important factor in a play, but unless the actors are taking part in the plot, the audience is left confused at what the actors are doing on stage. The plot and actors should be on stage at the same time, if not, then the actors should be brought to the plot quickly or a new plot should be sketched out quickly. Improvisational acting, after all is best suited for quick plays, not the epics tales that the audience desires - not that they don't mind the occasional improv session for a while.
The players are what make up the game. Let's keep it that way. If you can't, you might think about a new line of creativity - like writing screenplays.
-Roll saving throw versus Bad Gaming!
By the way, for a more rational interpretation of last month's article, check out Steve Darlington's Give your GM a break!. It offers suggestions on keeping your GM happy. Although I must admit, as a GM I'm easy to keep happy, just buy me dinner - preferably some take-out Hunan.