I’ve found myself conflicted of late, so I thought I’d share my dilemma here in hopes that some other GMs reading this will find it insightful…or something.
As a GM, I constantly find myself in a struggle between two conflicting sensibilities.
The game belongs to the players. It’s their story to tell. My job, as I see it, is to act as referee and translator of sorts. Yes, I adjudicate success and failure in terms of the rules, but I also work to translate the players’ desired actions that into terms of game mechanics. Beyond that, I’m supposed to be a disinterested party.
Except I’m not.
See, behind the scenes, I have an agenda. I have agents and villains scheming in the shadows, plots and plans that I am eager to unveil and reveal for the players to foil or die trying. Part of my job is to help set the pace of the game, and the last thing I want is loitering. Pushing the players, getting their characters from point A to point Z, however they choose to do it, serves my agenda.
But my agenda isn’t important. Because the belongs to them. It’s their story to tell. See where I’m going here?
When the PCs arrive at any port o’ call, part of my job as GM is to open avenues for them. They create some of these avenues (“I need a new sword. Where can I get one?”). The rest I serve up as hooks. The more hooks in the water, the more opportunities for adventure, the more each player can add to the story, the more complex and vibrant the world fields…
…and the more points I create between Point A and Point Z. And that is where my struggle lies.
My current dilemma is the city of Frankfurt am Main, where my players are fast approaching. Right now, upon arrival, they have 2 major plot points to chew on:
1) Deliver recovered goods to a Witch Hunter chapterhouse
2) Figure out why a banker has put up a large sum for the death of one of the cadre.
One is pretty straightforward and easy. The other, not so much (and I’m not saying which is which). But those two plot points puts the focus on two principle characters in a group of 6. That doesn’t seem fair. Everyone one of these characters has a detailed background with plenty of ammunition for a small subplot. And its what those players do with those little subplots that make the game interesting. Sometimes those subplots grow into big plot points just because players get interested in them.
Years ago, playing 7th Sea, one of the players kept the sword of a NPC who died well in battle. He invested a lot into this sword, purchasing an ornamental, velvet lined case, tracked down the NPC’s next of kin, all with the intention of returning the sword to that individual.
Then one of the other players hid the sword. Not in a dickish “I throw it into the sphere of annihilation and laugh mockingly” way. It was more of a prank. But damn if that didn’t turn into a major issue for around three sessions as the player moved heaven and earth to recover a sword that had been possessed by an NPC that had only appeared once months earlier in game.
Players. What can you do?
So despite the screaming objections of the brilliant, legend-in-his-own-mind storyteller that lurks in my brain, I’m inclined to start baiting a few hooks. And if it takes us until December to leave Frankfurt, so be it. Hopefully some epic memories will come from it.
The game belongs to the players. It’s their story to tell.
The villains will be waiting.