Player Actions and Desires versus The Art of the Story


Many players and gamemasters seem to think that everything isn’t perfect if the adventure doesn’t run exactly as planned. This is what I like to think of as the mimetic fallacy of game design. Really, when you drop that situation down in front of your players, you don’t have any idea what they’re going to do with it. Issues of this sort abound. The philosophy of gaming that many people hold to is that the game is best when it stays carefully on the rails, that the best story is always told when all of the plot elements carefully fall into place.

This isn’t really rewarding for many gamers. Sometimes, the game stays on the rails perfectly and everything is just fine. Sometimes, it won’t, and that’s when you tend to get conflicts in gaming philosophy. Some people believe that it’s their responsibility to play their character at any cost, regardless of the cost to the group as a whole or the friendships you build. Others believe that it’s their responsibility to stay on the rails, no matter what their character might actually do. Still others want what’s dramatically appropriate, regardless of the situation. What I’ve learned over time, and how I’ve learned it, is through experience with players who have these differing philosophies and feel very strongly about them all at the same table.

The secret to making this work, and I assure you my success rate is NOT one hundred percent here, is immersion. No one has a one hundred percent success rate. When the people feel that their characters are part of a world, that their actions and beliefs matter somewhat, regardless of power level, abilities, or how combats work out, that’s when role playing is at it’s most powerful. The problem here is often, in the case of superhero games, what kind of world they think it is and how that player views the world.

Some people ask questions about whether certain real-world people exist in my games, and more often than not, I’ve replaced them with an equivalent. The reasons for this are many. For one thing, I’m a published author. Putting a very public celebrity or person in government into a game can lead to an encounter with their rich and very powerful attorneys. For another, I want my superhero game to feel different, and not beholden to real world events. Superheroes have a tendency to throw off the curve of events and results, so many things in my game world don’t match the real world. Character realism before real-world realism. An example is below.

It’s more about events that didn’t happen than did. In my game, 9-11 never happened. I can’t realistically expect a group of terrorists to fly over the base of the most powerful team of superheroes in the world, go unnoticed, and crash two airplanes into a building 100 yards from their base. “Who’s on monitor duty?” would be the first question, followed by “Can’t Magus teleport us 10 miles in two seconds and get on board these things?”

The answer to both of these questions is, of course, that it’s up to the GM on how he wants to handle it. But for me, the issue of fairness to my players was firmly in my mind. That failure would loom large in their minds, and it would seem arbitrary, and crass, in a superhero game, to tell people “We’re sorry. You screwed up. There’s nothing you can do. It’s gone.” Especially when it would take more than those twenty men had to convince Millennium Guard to not yank them off the planes and pull the planes out of the way. Plus, planning around that particular group of superheroes, especially with the ability to sense a significant amount of far off danger would require more superbeings than those guys would logically have given in character events.

Roleplaying is not a zero-sum game. We all want something out of it. But you have to follow the world you create, and not the one in front of your face.

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  • Upcoming Appearances

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