Reflection is an important part of playing tabletop games well whether you play them offline or on and the last few days have found me orbiting my thoughts on experiencing me as a player and how that informs the ways I behave as a DM.
I had a really neat idea for a small adventure and worked on it for a while, then ran the idea by some friends to see how they might navigate the situation to see what I might be overlooking. Over the course of my testing, one thing that came up was the question of what would make someone care about what was happening.
The solution was simple, but the answer was a different matter. I spent a while chewing on it and took a moment to think about the experience of me as a player vs the experience of me as a DM (not that this is the first time… per usual).
I am a good player, but I’m probably a bad DM.
As a player, I’m the kind of person that asks why any and everything might be there depending. Even when I play a person who doesn’t care about things, I have a handful of things I’ll give you that I do care about so you can use them to guide me to things.
If you’ve ever DM’d for me, I’ve likely said, “Hey, if I shouldn’t care about this, just tell me that…” because I will otherwise befriend random NPCs and creatures. I will ask you if people can be reasoned with before fighting with them unless they are openly terrible. I’ll investigate.
All to say, I like digging into the world and learning about it. I don’t need much to get me going. I’ve frustrated some people because of that.
It occurs to me that this might make me a difficult DM to have.
It is as simple as a broken wagon wheel.
The average player of a tabletop game is guided by conflict as a narrative cue. Namely, something is preventing them from doing things they want to do and therefore they act. Something kept them from living a peaceful life or just staying home or what have you.
Imagine a scene where someone is on the side of a road with a broken wagon wheel. You check to see if there are signs of an ambush, but there are none. The person is approachable enough and when you ask a few questions, they tell you no lies.
Now answer the following: what reason do you have to help them? Why do you care about this?
I don’t need a particular reason; I have power and it would be a minor task at best, so I help them and might ask them if they need someone to see them back to safety. I just will because fun for me includes making it easy for the GM to bring me further into whatever they have in mind with a shenanigan or two for flavor.
That’s not how everyone else is and to be sure, reducing all of this to being a good player or a good DM isn’t very fair to… well… anyone.
If I unpack that a little more, what I mean is:
I feel more confident as a player that I can make someone’s experience of running a game for me a positive and enjoyable one, but I am not as certain about that when it comes to being on the other side of the screen.Me, 20XX
Different strokes for different folks, but I wonder who those folks are.
Sometimes, I start writing and I wonder who I am writing for. It took a long time to find others that have a similar playstyle and approach to mine; for a long time, I thought only one person did. Even so, it leaves me hesitant.
Will I provide enough cues? Will I give people a satisfying amount of combat? Will I be able to have fun and give the others at the table the kind of fun they want as well?
Most times, I think the answer is no. I get mired in my own thoughts and feelings that I haven’t thought through enough things. Much of this is covered by Session Zero things and just talking things out, but when you’re writing and fleshing out an idea, you don’t have that. It’s just you and your google doc tabs that’s been open for an hour or seven thinking about whether anyone will care about the cave with the magical creature or if they will visit the one library with all the kingdom’s history or…
I’m learning to accept that’s going to be a thing. That I can talk that out with the people I choose to play with and that choose to play with me. I have some cool folks who remind me that my thoughtfulness is a gift and that I should finish writing the idea and then set it free to do its thing.
It will all be okay.
Some days, if I’m lucky, I believe that and as of this entry? Today is my lucky day.