Thursday, June 26, 2014

GM Showmanship

The glorious Star Theatres smaller theatre.
Let's face it.  Pretty much no GM wants to make their players feel redundant, irrelevant or like they are mere spectators.  GMs want their players to be engaged, excited and amazed.  They want buy in.  They want the players to be sitting there wondering what new miraculous thing will turn up.  The trouble is that the same techniques which can leave players spellbound can also leave them ... frustrated.

Part of the wonders and frustrations of the game revolves around GM showmanship.  As a player, I wanted to be wowed.  I want to have fantastic things happen.  Mostly I want to be the epicentre of those fantastic things, but I also enjoy seeing things happening over there because it gives the world a greater mystique and sense of realism.

Yet much of the showmanship has a great risk to become either dull or disempowering (or both).  So there's this major battle between an epic paladin and a dragon occurring on the outskirts of the city ... it's fitting, it ties into the major story, and it showcases what the players may one day become.  Yet odds are the GM never rolls for either creature and so, in truth, the players will never one day become that paladin whose abilities are perfect in every way because they will have to worry about fizzled spells and a potential run of missed attacks that can throw off their groove.

On the other hand, the GM could roll in front of them but that puts the players into the spectator seats of a longer, more drawn out and incredibly dull variation on the game.  Few people quiver in excitement at the opportunity to watch a combat in action, let alone when one person is rolling against themselves, because it's just not very exciting.

The ideal situation, in this case, would be to either have the dramatic event occur as a backdrop (which'd be way more exciting) as the players have to gather up the villagers to safety from under the dragon's crushing paws or busily pickpocket the local nobility while they turn up to watch the battle from the safety of parapets.  That way the GM can get their showmanship going while still ensuring the players are still the protagonists of "their story" (and so that the description is neither cut too short to be tense nor drags out too long to become an unceasing monologue).

If the GM had pre-thought this event, they could even throw in the vagaries of chance by recording the battle's series of rolls and then intermittently interjecting with the details of a failed safe or a successful attack through thunderous displays that flash over the party's heads as they do what they need to do.

So in short, GMs need their showmanship but it's important to remain empathic to the needs of the others at the table.  Just like people enjoy lyrical moments from a PC but get irritable if that same PC hogs a big portion of time while they twiddle their thumbs, so to is their reaction to even the most astounding and impressive feat of imagination drawn from the GM's mind to lay dormant and docile before them.

After all, they're not here to hear a story.  They're here to become it!

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