Today’s guest article was written by Will Jobst. Find him @dm_ilf and at www.willjobst.wordpress.com, before he finds you. Hurry. Oh God, I hear him. Will is based in Boston, MA. This is his second guest article; his first was Blank Check GMing. Thanks, Will! –Martin
D&D provides a state-of-the-art power fantasy, but all GMs can do is neuter their players. Gross. Don’t neuter your players, let them be super badass! Let them describe killing blows, feats of athletics, and their guile and charm. Let them describe magic rituals, their trusty mount, and how exactly they broke into that dungeon.
Don’t describe combat, let your players. I’m talking about conflict resolution. The final blow. Your players have whittled down the Ogre’s hp for the last 20 minutes, so how does Var the Wood Elf exactly kill that beast?
Power +1 longswords is one thing, but narrative control is another. That sword changes the narrative in that more goblins are skewered by the end of the day, yet if the GM handles the bulk of the narration, players miss defining moments. When the GM describes everything surrounding the die rolls, power is taken away from the players, no matter their caster-level. Let players narrate the before the roll, and the after.
Consider the ogre situation:
Var: Ok. I loose another arrow, chanting my hunter’s chant.
GM: Cool, throw some dice.
Var: Does a 19 hit?
Var: 6 damage.
GM: Ok. Tell me how you kill this awful thing.
Var: Well, remember how this guy started with two eyes?…
Var now has narrative power! Albeit limited, yet very character defining. The player can do the coolest thing imaginable! Headshot? Arrow through the heart? Panic-induced heart attack? Combat specifics are unimportant — this is a finishing blow. This quick and easy strategy maximizes player involvement and shares narrative control. Let players go gonzo.
Narrative control is tricky. Trust is a big component. Sharing narrative control is sharing the truth in the game. The collaborative GM trusts her players. Once narrative control is handed over, it is handed back, not snatched. Imagine a scale, with the GM on one end, and players on the other. The collaborative GM’s scale tips back and forth often.
When the GM hands over narrative control, the players are more powerful within the fiction. Extremely empowering to the players, but diminishing to the GMs. Don’t panic, the scale tips back. They don’t even know about the other Ogre.