As a player I recently experienced two opposite approaches to how a game master can react to the players’ input during a session. One GM made sure to incorporate what the PCs did into the game, and the other made sure to keep the plot on track with what he had prepared.

I am not going to go into the details, but guess which game sucked?

Game Master, Not Script Writer

A lot of GMs plot their sessions along a story arc which is fine. Some GMs take it a step to far though, and instead of plotting an interactive game they start scripting a story. This is a huge mistake, because RPGs are a social activity that requires group input to be at its best.

Your players are not gathering around the table to hear you tell a story. Your players are gathering around that table to participate in the telling of the group’s story.

How does the telling of a story become a collaborative event? By describing the consequences of each person’s input and having it change the outcome of events.

For example, in one game the players breezed through a series of encounters by avoiding conflicts with lesser creatures and then setting a trap for the main nemesis. The result? A GM pet PC appeared in the final act and took all of the glory and the rewards that the PCs were about to collect upon. The GM later explained that he needed our PCs to be “demoralized” in order to “set the scene” for the next session.

The other GM had his entire Halloween game super monster plot gutted and turned inside out by a group of PCs working together and using their heads. Was the game the horrifying event that the GM had hoped for? No, but the GM forfeited his plot and let the game evolve from the player’s input instead of his notes. It was a fun and memorable game for all.

One GM was telling a story, and the other was letting the players participate in the telling of the story. As a player the GM who lets me help tell the story is always the person that I want running the session.

The Lesson?

Your players are your peers in the storytelling process, not your audience. If you have some brilliant plot that you do not want anyone to tamper with do not use it to run a game with. Get your ideas on paper and write a story instead. You want to be a writer, not a game master, if your plot cannot be imposed upon by the players.

But if you want to run a fun game set the stage for your players to partake in the story being told. Be ready to scrap all of your plans when the players do the unexpected, and realize that your planned story arc may not be the one that takes shape at the table.

That is my opinion on the matter. What is yours? Leave your comments below to share with others, and remember that the game master is a player too. Have fun with it!