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The Group You Want

If you want the Avengers, treat them like the Avengers. [1]

If you want the Avengers, treat them like the Avengers.

A recent meme I saw floating around Facebook contrasted the Avengers with the Mystery Men, suggesting that the Avengers are ‘what the GM hopes for’, while the Mystery Men are ‘what the GM actually gets’. Well, I’m going with an unpopular opinion on this: There’s no one to blame but yourself if your players don’t give you a group that lives up to your expectations.

I know it can feel like this at times... [2]

I know it can feel like this at times…

Sure, there’s the occasional player that likes making ridiculous characters for the hell of it, but most players actually want to play competent and effective characters. Unless the game is intended to be goofy and off the wall, the players want their characters to be the Avengers just as much as the GM does. If they’re trying to play someone like Captain America [3] and end up with the Spleen [4] instead, the GM really needs to take a step back and ask themself some questions.

If you’ve got those bases covered, there’s one other really important area to consider. Are you respecting the competency of the characters? THIS is probably one of the most important points to consider if you feel like you’re not getting characters that live up to the heroic ideals you want them to. When you as the GM fail to acknowledge that the characters are competent and effective residents of the world they inhabit, you’re giving the players a message that you don’t think their characters are capable of the heroics you want them to attempt. In most games, the PCs are supposed to be heroes. Treat them that way!

... but they'll be heroes if you believe in them. Honest. Maybe. [8]

… but they’ll be heroes if you believe in them. Honest. Maybe.

A while back, I signed up to play a 7th Sea [9] game. My expectations were for swashbuckling and some daring adventure. Instead, the game I got was a boring slog of tedium where the GM treated the characters like they were stupid and forced us to explicitly account for absolutely every step we took. “You didn’t say you were closing the door behind you as you snuck into the room, so the guards see you as you’re going through the chest.” I’m sure the GM felt like he had a bunch of idiots at his table, but that’s pretty much his fault for not allowing us a chance to be the roguish heroes advertised on the character sheets.

Conversely, the GM of the D&D game I’m currently playing does an amazing job treating the characters as if they’re the heroes of the story. Even though my Sorcerer was only first level, since her background was as a Charlatan grifter, he had the NPCs react to how charming she was at talking and flirting her way into getting what she wanted. In his hands, the world reacts in a way that reaffirms the core concepts of the character I created. Our characters are regularly challenged and pushed to work for our success, but no player at the table ever doubts that we are the heroes of the story. We’re good at what we do and the world and the NPCs react in kind.

Many Powered-by-the-Apocalypse games tell you to be a fan of your players’ characters. This means recognizing their strengths and having the world they inhabit recognize them as well. I recently picked up both Bubblegumshoe [10] and Urban Shadows [11], and I’ve been enjoying their suggestions on how to treat the characters. Both games take care to encourage GMs to acknowledge the PCs strengths while staying true to the truth of the game’s world. Challenge them with adversity to overcome, but don’t hesitate to cheer when they succeed. If you want the Avengers, treat them like the first tier A-list heroes you want them to be, not some team of goofy second stringers.

What do you do to ensure you get the group your game needs? Even when the players are being goofy, do you remember that the characters are the heroes?

7 Comments (Open | Close)

7 Comments To "The Group You Want"

#1 Comment By Bronze Dog On July 22, 2016 @ 6:27 am

Another point I might add: Are they solving problems in a way you didn’t intend?

There are a lot of different methodologies to being a hero, and your players might be into a different type than you are. Some might want a glorious showdown against the villain, while others might favor subverting their plans from the shadows. In the case of the Supers genre, players might even go against type or subvert expectations: The pacifist who didn’t ask for super strength might favor non-combat methods, or be hesitant to just barrel through mooks for fear of accidentally killing them.

#2 Comment By Angela Murray On July 22, 2016 @ 11:40 am

That is a very good point. I’ve seen players take some time to get into the feel of a genre because they’ve been too deep into another genre for a while. Going from a more traditional dungeon crawl style D&D to action packed Supers can be a little bit of a system shock for the GM if the players don’t dive into the heroics right away.

#3 Comment By Airk On July 22, 2016 @ 10:18 am

This reminds me of the joke that every D&D game wants to be Record of Lodoss War, but ends up being Slayers!

That said, I find it vaguely ironic that the one example you cite of a GM actually BEING a fan of the characters is also the one example where the GM has to essentially break/ignore the rules to do it, since there actually ARE rules for whether you are rules for charming/flirting your way to what you want, while there aren’t any rules for making sure you close the door behind you…

#4 Comment By Angela Murray On July 22, 2016 @ 11:45 am

Actually, while there are rules for a wide variety of things, even D&D doesn’t want you to make the players roll for EVERYTHING. Basically, the GM I was talking about makes us roll when it matters, but never asks us to do it for little things. If my Sorcerer is trying to get a free beer at the bar or a better table in the tavern, I don’t have to roll. Heck, we started out the game with her having a free room at the tavern with the assumption that she had talked the owner into letting her have it and every time he started to have doubts, she’d smile charmingly and he’d be distracted enough to let it continue. That said, trying to talk the Captain of the Guard into ignoring our clandestine activities is absolutely going to require a roll. Same thing with our Monk and her brewing. He doesn’t make her roll to say she has a cask of good beer. If she wants to enter it into a contest or try and convince a ritzy restaurant or tavern to buy it, well that’s going to take a roll.

That’s basically what I meant (and might not have been clear enough about) when I was saying let them be competent. Don’t make them fight for every single scrap of recognition that they’re good at their jobs. 🙂

#5 Comment By Airk On July 25, 2016 @ 3:10 pm

Ah, cool, that makes more sense then! Thanks for clarifying.

#6 Comment By rnadams2 On July 30, 2016 @ 3:51 pm

I think an effective GM needs to a) communicate clearly what he or she is expecting from the players beforehand (without being too specific — otherwise, just give ’em pregens), and b) understand that a great deal of the enjoyment for both players and GM comes from allowing the players to “do their thing” and be/become their idea of what the group should be.

#7 Comment By Alex Wilson On August 6, 2016 @ 9:54 pm

The zero-to-hero arc is important to remember too, though. Especially if you are starting low levels, starting as Mystery Men means that the growth into Avengers is part of the story — not just who they are and where they went, but how their abilities grew and what they did with that new power. But I agree, if you want to run that, set that expectation, and use game mechanics to reinforce it in the narrative.