There are some days I think Andy and I have the same brain, because as I was about to sit down to write a blog post I read his blog, and saw that he's having similar thoughts.
Admittedly, I was thinking of stuff like this first, he just got to it before I did. AGAIN. Bastard.
One of these days Andy will be able to present a court case that I want him dead, and will win the case based upon this blog alone. Oh, and his mother will be legitimately offended that I keep calling him an illegitimate on the internet. That'll be an interesting day.
So last Friday night was interesting, but in the opposite of the Firefly sense. I went in to DM my last college game of the semester, and realized something.
I didn't want to torment my players anymore.
What followed was the most boring session of Dungeons and Dragons I've ever DMed, bar none. I dunno what was wrong with me, I just wasn't interested. Now, granted, there's a lot of factors that went into my poor DMing session, some of which I'm obviously not going to share. But there are a few things I did notice, and they stuck in my head for a good week or so.
Fast forward to a few days ago, and Shmitty and I are discussing the Marks of Eberron campaign, which was Shmitty's first shot at a story-based game. A lot of cool stuff came out of my mouth (most of which I didn't even know I knew until I was saying it!), but the most insightful thing that came flying out was that if you wanted a good story-based game you couldn't DM like an old-school DM.
Let me qualify that. Go on, you grognards, breathe. Imagine those 1E books that are coming out in a few months. There, that should make you happy, right? Good.
Older games like DnD rely upon a DM vs. Player mentality. People walked into dungeons, got their butts kicked or won, and were wheeled out in pieces or walked out with loot. The DM had fiendish traps and monsters that would kill the weak, stupid, and inexperienced, and the players had each other and the knowledge that if the DM was too mean they could just quit and ostracize the DM. A lot of those games seemed to be a fine balancing act for how much of a jerk that DM could be without angering his players, who were constantly trying to outsmart him. A lot of the games I've been in have been filled with a subtle paranoia that the DM had our character's deaths in mind, even if we had agreed that this was good with everyone.
This semester I tried to run a traditional dungeon crawl. I failed horribly, and it wasn't because I wasn't good at designing traps (that's something I used to take a perverse pride in, truth be told)! I failed at it because I realized that I didn't like it. I wanted player input, cooperation, a story! The great sense of accomplishment I've had from letting people make their own story and directing it to mutual enjoyment was not there, which is ultimately why I want to run games. I mean, c'mon, guys, I've come out of the Fugnathan Incident more or less sane (oh, that's right, I'll have to tell y'all about that sometime), so I know how to munchkin. I can do it with the best of them.
But it would interfere with the memory of Thade standing on a body of goblins, swearing bloody vengeance against the Alianna the succubus, Sir Varis Phlan the paladin who helped build a church when he wasn't out looking for his mother's killer, or Celeste the cambion who had been tricked by the enemy into agreeing to destroying the world. I tried to have both this semester, and realized that I couldn't. Maybe others can (and if Burning Empires is any indication, it can be a lot of fun!), but I guess what I'm trying to say is that the priority I have to have is cooperation.
Now, granted, this is coming from a really personal and subjective point of view. I've been using games to vent my anger and frustration about the unfairness of the world for years, and I've realized that I really don't enjoy that anymore, so I decided to stop fighting the players. If that's not what you're doing when you're going against the players, then don't take my advice. Maybe your players enjoy that dynamic. And sure, you'll also get moments where the sheer ingenuity of the players versus the DM will be show stoppingly-awesome. I have The Pyramid, so I understand.
But the look of shock on everyone's face when they realized that Celeste, the sweet little girl they'd helped raise for five years, was one of the bad guys was way too satisfying a feeling too deny. I look forward to them trying to convince their little girl that she's wrong, because that'll make a story that'll matter to us.
That's what's important.