Happily, I recently finished my much–maligned Song of Ice and Fire campaign. For all its faults, the game did end in an appropriate fashion and was notable for being the first time I made a player cry (in a good way). It was a manly weeping — in the context of the game — and was heartfelt at the table. Frankly, these are the moments I live for as a player and as a GM: emotional involvement at the table. It’s one thing to take on a role, quite another to identify with it to an extent to exhibit an emotional response.
The how’s and the why’s of the story that led to this aren’t really important. Instead I’m going to focus on the methods I used to build to his climatic moment, one that would achieve maximum emotional impact.
The first part required exercising a degree of narrative control. Now, to some readers this is verboten and I can understand that POV. But even within the context of using narrative control of the events affecting the characters, you can still solicit input from said player. It’s a bit like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” model where there are inputs and choices, but the narration of the GM drives the scene.
Secondly is the use of the age-old tool of “show, don’t tell.” Well, within the context of RPGs the evocative descriptions that we provide as GMs is how we “show” what happens in our worlds. This is likely a tool that you all lean on frequently so no surprise that you see it here.
What may surprise you is using this tool by inverting it. Internally I call it “mirroring:” showing what is happening to one player by bouncing the narration off of another. Where you narrate an outcome to one player that directly affects another.
Now this is dangerous territory as we’re messing with character agency and it’s not something I would recommend doing often. It works best in short, dramatic, spurts. There’s no taking players aside, having private conversations, or anything like that. It’s all open, at the table, and the other players are witnessing the events through the mirror of the other player.
Ultimately all this reached a head where, using the technique reversed with the other player, they learned of the untimely death of a fellow PC. The technique underscored (in my opinion) the harshness of the setting and the reality of the decisions that were made to this point. And this is what ultimately led to the heartfelt, in-character response, and the shedding of tears.
Was it a perfect campaign? No, not by any stretch. But it did end well and in part because of the closure provided and the trust given by the players involved.
Have you caused an emotional response at your gaming table? Share with us below how you did it!