Guest Author - Margaret Dorraine Baines-Turberfield
“You guys, compared to other GMs, ours is really nice!” one of my players admonished my table a couple of weeks ago.
Maybe it’s because I’m a new GM, or maybe it has to do with having been a player for so long, or maybe I’m just a nice person: I really can’t get behind the whole GM-is-out-to-kill-the-players mentality. At my Friendly Local Gaming Store they have events like International D&D Day where several local GMs prepare and run the same adventure module, and it’s generally accepted that their goal is a Total Player Kill. Seriously? How is that supposed to be fun? I mean for everyone, folks. This game is about group entertainment, not just one jerk getting his jollies by ruining everyone else’s day.
I don’t know about you, but I got into this hobby to have fun. I was introduced to it by people who encouraged me to stretch my creative muscles and explore the fantastic worlds of fantasy that they’d created. Their goal, so far as I could tell, was always to design a genuinely entertaining game session: something engaging, unique, open-ended, and even challenging. Never did I get the impression that their intention was to kill off as many of my characters as possible, forcing me to re-roll every other week or so. Why, then, is the impression or expectation that GMs are cruel out there? Is it true, and I just managed to avoid it in my back-woods corner of Canada? Or, is it a fallacy that must be addressed and debunked?
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but it actually says in the D&D 4e DMG “the [GM] isn’t playing against the player characters” right? D&D is “fundamentally a cooperative game ... players all cooperate to achieve success for their characters” (Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide, 4th Edition, pg 4.) And in the Mouse Guard role-playing game, it states that “the GM’s job is to transform the players’ guard mice characters into heroes... by challenging [them] with obstacles” and the whole purpose of the game is for those characters to overcome the challenges and earn the mantle of “hero” (Mouse Guard Role Playing Game, pg 8.) In the White Wolf’s game Changeling, the storyteller (GM’s) role is to “describe what happens to the characters as a result of the players’ words and actions” (emphasis theirs) and that his or her “primary duty is to make sure the other players have a good time.” (Changeling: The Dreaming, pg 5-6.)
It’s one thing for players to sit down at a table to play a horror game where everyone knows their character will not necessarily survive. A good example of this is Call of Cthulhu, where it’s understood your character will ultimately die a grisly death or survive only to go stark, raving mad and be unplayable. It’s quite another to warp a cooperative game’s intentions so thoroughly as to launch into it aiming for a Total Player Kill. While I know it’s important for me to curb my urge to openly help the players when they get themselves into a bind, I can’t imagine how anyone could think that intentionally antagonizing one’s players is the way to keep them coming back to your table.