As most English teachers can tell you, verbs come in two sorts: active and passive. Active verbs imply some sort of action: run, jump, climb, eat, eviscerate, disembowel, etc. Passive verbs come from the declension of the infinitive "to be"--is, are, was, were...all of these are passive voice verbs. Writers typically try to avoid passive voice verbs, by and large, but there are several times where passive voice may be more appropriate to a situation or character.
As GMs, we all like to think our games run in the active voice, but rarely is that truly the case. Rather, we're often most content to be on the receiving end of our entertainment. The start of "The Flood" provides a great example of this phenomenon. It seems like a very active-voice introduction--steam wagon battles and ghost-rock bombs drive the plot forward at breakneck speed. But, in actuality, the PCs are merely witnesses, and not participants in the majority of the action. While the Great Rail Wars reach their culmination, the PCs get to watch their NPC counterparts hog the spotlight. This isn't meant to be a knock against the campaign--my players have loved it and I've really enjoyed running it for them--but for all the high stakes, the PCs are skating around under the radar rather than rolling with the movers and shakers.
Much has been made of so-called "sandbox" gaming, where the plot is entirely driven by PC actions and motivations. And, truly, in ideal terms, that would provide a more active gaming experience. However, this requires significant buy-in from all players at the table, with prep work spread across numerous people.
|Anthony Bourdain clearly has|
the Two-Weapon Fighting edge...
Perhaps in this vein, good game mastery, like the act of cookery, should fundamentally be a dominant, active act? But then, what of the active player, eager to break off in new directions? They're in a different position than the eater, whose role has intrinsically less input. Should a gamer be penalized for positive actions that add to a game? Of course not!
|Fun...and good for theorizing on|
As with all things, balance and variety serve as the keystone. While a player might be dominant in one game, they may come off as submissive or passive in another. Similarly, a quality GM should be able to alternate control of the game, passing dominance back and forth amongst players, all the while loosely holding the reins of the ongoing story.