Thursday, February 16, 2012

In Which The Warlock Comments on Comments and Consensus...

I've been lucky enough to have some great comments on my blog posts thusfar, coming from both my gamer-friends throughout the Miami Valley as well as gamers all over the globe.  But, my audience is still fairly small--no big deal, really:  I enjoy blogging for its own sake, and a small audience allows me to personally reply to any comments that I procure.

But, sometimes that little comment box isn't enough and, lo and behold, DigitalKat has dropped a bomb on me that really needs its own entry.  In response to my last entry on the exploits of my Friday night group's exploits in the Weird West, she mentioned:

My only observation would be that, having taken all the shooty fun skills, is that not the game they wanted to be playing, and not the gang rivalry one? Granted, throwing them a curveball every now and again keeps them on their toes, but when you make a party full of courtiers and throw them in a battlezone, or a party full of a warriors and put them in a palace, are you running the game you want to play, or the game they wanted?
Truth be told, this is a subject of some contention throughout gaming!  DigitalKat, in fact, tackled this subject herself in an earlier entry, but found herself in the same predicament I find myself in now. 

GMing a game, as I'm sure that many would agree, is a method of storytelling that's far outside the norm.  While writing a novel or filming a movie allows for a significant amount of directorial/authorial control, the amount of control held by a GM is...well, limited, at best.  The other players' actions, the improvisational nature of the game, and even sheer luck itself create for dictates that simply do not exist in other media.

The posse's Davy Jones' Locker!
Case in point:  in our last session of Deadlands: The Flood, our posse's escape route--one of Big Ears Tam's ironclads--was blown up, after the posse were discovered in Warlord Kwan's island citadel.  I had anticipated (and done most of my weekly prep assuming...) that the posse would try to sneak into the docks and steal a ship to get back to Shan Fan.  My posse, however, decided to row around the mesa, trying to find a place to hole up for the night while the search blew over.  While the PlatinumChick's shamaness warned the group against "natural hazards" of doing so, the group was insistent, searching the sea-caves for a spot to bed down. 

Thinking quickly, I checked the encounter table for the Great Maze and flipped a card--Black Joker!  A mighty Maze Dragon!  Immediately, I started dealing out cards, but the PlatinumChick had other ideas...she hoped to distract the Maze Dragon into attacking Kwan's citadel!  But, while her plans succeeded at first, the dice had their say:  Snake Eyes! 

The story being told in our game could not have been told with any single element--player, GM, or chance--but rather, emerges as a strange amalgamation of consensus.  While every person at the table may not necessarily advocate a given choice, the understood social contract of the table leads to consent for these story elements to take place.  While the PlatinumChick might not have been happy to roll snake eyes--and was certainly less happy with what I ruled about that fateful roll--she was willing to let the story continue.

There's a difference between "unanimity" and "consensus".  While everyone would surely love to game with people that share their personal interests in what they want out of a game, people are simply too different for that to be entirely feasible.  Achieving a "unanimous" decision on what type of game to run is just...not something one should expect.  But, there are going to be similarities and trends between what players like!  Making sure that everyone enjoys the game and has the ability to contribute equally provides consensus. 

Relying on those trends and those common elements provide a start for story-building.  Our group decided to play Deadlands because of a common interest in the setting.  I certainly have players more interested in role-play, while others are more interested in the setting, and still others in the mechanics.  All are fine, but we achieve balance between all three by enabling collective storytelling.  Plus, we find new interests, new combinations, and new likes and dislikes each time we play.

Constructivist Educational Theory:
The Zone of Proximal Development!
In the constructivist theory teaching, there's a term for this concept:  the Zone of Proximal Development.  When a child learns, there's a "sweet spot"--an area lying in between what a student is capable of performing on their own and material outside of their comfort zone.  In this zone--the aforementioned ZPD--the student requires additional reinforcement, guidance, and practice to achieve the stated goals of the curriculum.  A teacher in the constructivist philosophy does their best to push the boundaries of the ZPD each day, providing reinforcement and support as necessary to expand the student's "comfort zone".

In gaming, we do much the same.  While each of us certainly have our own preferences, we push outside to include other elements, introducing elements to the story that not only make them enjoyable to that player, but also introducing others to elements that they may not have considered or thought interesting previously.

That's the advantage that gamemastery has over other forms of storytelling--by providing collaborative elements through GM, through players, and through pure chance--gamemastery allows us to challenge our own wants, interests, desires, and even our own perceptions of plot, characterization, genre, and story.  That's heady stuff, right there!  And, that's worth doing...


  1. Yeah...unless you're an iron fisted, railroading GM, or unless you know your players better than they know themselves, your best laid plans WILL go awry.

    As far as "Games you wanna run vs games they wanna play", obviously this should be covered up front. Now, what I do most of the time is I propose the game and familiarize the players with the setting...and the specifics of the campaign (and adventures) evolve from their character generation, both in the form of challenges they are uniquely suited for, and challenges that require innovative thinking because of their weaknesses.

    Good times.

  2. Ah yes, brother...players never seem to want to follow the leads. That's okay, though. I'm flexible. :D

    My players were really jazzed to play Deadlands when they first caught sight of the books, so selling them the campaign idea wasn't a hard sell. However, the posse's evolved in a direction that just isn't good in social situations. Short of putting them in consequence-free gunfights each week, there's no real way to accomodate that while being true to my own wants and the the setting itself. But, they're enjoying, regardless! It might not be their strong suit, but they keep wanting to try!

    Thanks again, man!