Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Gamemaster's Guidepost: GM and Player Intercommunication

Bad communication between players and their GM is in my experience the number one cause of a campaign exploding too early. I've said it in so many posts I'm not even going to bother linking to them all - yes, damn it. It's that important. So here are a few things which I've found over the years that might be helpful...

...I want to create a character like X
This one is evil and insidious. When a player says this, I guaran-gawd-damn-tee you that what comes to your mind and what comes to his are so wildly different that it will cause issues. "But, Christopher, how do I fix this?" you ask. Well...you ask questions. You ask lots of question. You shine the lamp on your player and interrogate the fudge out them. "What about X do you want to emulate?" "Why do you want to emulate X" Get specific. Get so specific that there is no way in hell either of you could come to different conclusions.

Player: "I want to play a character like Jason Bourne."
GM: "From the movies or the books?"
Player: "Uhhh, there are books?"
GM: "Yes."
Player: "Movies then."
GM: "What specifically do you want your character to do that's Bourne-like?"
Player: "Umm...all of it?"
GM: "No. Be specific. In fact. Let's go watch the movie. Which one?"
Player: "The first one. You know that bank scene where he's all.." makes kung fu noises.
GM:  "Alright Grandmaster Flash. I got it. You want to kick butt. Wikipedia says the fighter choreographer was using the Filipino martial art of Kali for most of Bourne's moves. That's similar to Escrima from GURPS Martial Arts. You'll need some fairly high skill levels. I'd say at least 16 - the only time he gets beat is by other similarly trained operatives..."

...I want to play [insert character type that won't fit campaign]
We all have that one player. That guy that wants to play a ninja in a pirate campaign and a pirate in the ninja campaign. The non-human in the human-only game. You know who that guy is. Most of the time he behaves and does his best to get along with the party and the campaign the GM has set. Other times... well he's a PITA, but you gotta love the guy anyways. So how do you fix this? Be compromising. Be diplomatic. Be firm. "I know you want to play X, but that isn't going to work for the campaign. How about Z or maybe Y? I can work with those." If they persist. Tell. Them. No. It's your game. It's your rules. Your group put you in charge for a reason - use that reason and leverage the hell out of it. You are under no obligation as the GM to fit your campaign to some outlandish character type a player wants to use.

GM: "Okay, guys, We settled on a dragon hunters campaign. It's going to focus on ridding the land of Angileth of dragons. Make characters. I suggest you have at least one toe-to-toe fighter and one long-range guy. "
Player: "I want to play a dragon rider. That'd be awesome! I can have captured a dragon egg and trained it from birth to be my mount."
GM: "That's not going to work. I see what you're doing. And it's a cool idea...but this campaign is about hunting dragons down that are plaguing the countryside. Maybe later, but not starting off. Okay?"
Player: "That sucks! You're stifling my creativity. Why not?"
GM: "Because that's not the campaign focus. And don't you think by doing this you're stifling the creativity of the other players? This isn't very fair to them. What if one of them wants to play a dragon rider too? I'll have to say yes to them if I say yes to you and really, this isn't the kind of story I want to tell right now. Like I said, maybe later. What about something like a draconic biologist? That way you know how they work and maybe later if you can find a intact egg and get it to hatch you could try your training a dragon in a game."
Player: "Well...it's not what I wanted. But that is kind of cool."

...I don't know what I want to play
This response is the result of one of three things in my experience: the player doesn't understand your campaign's premise, they don't have any ideas on what to player or someone is already making what they wanted to play, or he's looking for attention. I'm sure that other GMs have encountered other issues, but in my experience they all boil down to one of the three. So how do you handle it? Offer suggestions about characters. Point out how to build a different version of the character they wanted. And do not spend your entire time on just that one player. You might have to spend some extra time with them to help them...but don't let that bog you down with your other players.

Player: "I don't know what I want to play."
GM: "Okay. Did I explain the campaign in a way you understood?"
Player: "Yeah, I think so. I just wanted to play "Last Man on Earth" survivor type, but that's already taken."
GM: "Well, the LMoE tends to be focused on staying in a particular area or home base. How about someone who has a movable home base? Maybe like a RV kitted out with solar panels and a electric engine. Then your character can move from area to area with his base. A kind of super-survival guy who emulates a snail - you know, carrying your home on your back."
Player: "That's really cool. I could use bear traps and trip wires and stuff. What sort of skill would I need for the RV? Driving (Heavy Wheeled)?"
GM: "Yeah, and I'll even have let you put a off-road suspension on it if you buy at least a few points in Mechanic."

Picking Over the Bones
The key thing into getting your point across with your players (and players with your GM) is to tell him what you want to do using as few game terms as possible (unless that's the point). The GM's job is to help you so the more information he has the better he can do that. In short, talk about it. Talk as long as you have to to get the character down. Talk until your players fully understand the type of campaign you are trying to run. Just talk. More communication never hurt anyone.


  1. Nice article. Yeah, those are classic player types. Like the player in a superheroic campaign who wants to be the guy who kills all the bad guys with knives.

    1. Thanks. Again, just my personal observation, but I've been gaming for about a quarter of a century and GMing for two decades (I keep copious notes on who played what, what system, how long the campaign lasted, and so on). This seems like a pretty popular topic so most likely I'm going to come back to this at a later date.