Apr 292013

I suck at poker. I understand the game, and have a high level of familiarity with the rules, but I am usually the first or second player out of a group to lose all their money. This is down to my atrocious poker face, and it’s becoming something of a hindrance during my current game.

When I GMing, I like to run games with a hint of mystery about them. Luckily, a lot of my players feel the same way, so I get to indulge this habit fairly regularly. What’s becoming a problem though is the same as it is when I pay poker; I tend to get quite excited about what’s going on. When you have two aces in your hand and a third sat on the table, getting excited means no one will take your bet, and you stand to lose a few chips. When it happens during a role playing game, you can give away valuable plot point information and reduce the investigation element of the game to naught. I don’t think I’ve been that bad so far, but I know I have been pushing my luck.

I’m sure all GMs have had that moment when they grind their teeth a little, silently screaming things such as, “You were given this clue last week!”, or, “Share the information, it’ll all make sense then”! But players don’t often do what we want or expect, and that’s a great thing. After one particularly worrying moment in my Cyberpunk game, the players wandered into a meeting with a very important person after receiving a tip-off from someone that I thought they would trust that the VIP was almost certainly going to kill them. He told them to stay the hell away from the meeting, and to not even go back to their homes. He even left them a substantial amount of money so that they could go on the run without having to worry about where their next meal was coming from, or keeping a roof over their heads until they got settled.

So of course, they went up to the meeting, and were promptly held at gun point by the VIP’s personal goons.

Should I have been surprised by this? Of course not. No GM should ever be surprised by the actions taken by players in their games . But I did get a bit exasperated, as it was far from a subtle clue that something was amiss. It was a comment from one of my long term players and best mate ever that really made me rethink my response though, and also made me want to get some thoughts down on the blog, “dude, you’re forgetting that we don’t know the script”.

Now of course this is true, but I have found myself giving the game away on several occasions recently, not just because the group went against the grain, but often when they did something that I really wanted them to do. Awarding experience for coming up with a great plan, or putting together a bunch of disparate clues to come up with an answer that makes sense is a great idea. Doing it the moment they come up with said plan is a very explicit way of saying that they’re on the right track. Even worse though is just straight out complimenting the player in question for figuring something out. If they know they’re on the right track, they have little reason to explore other ideas even if it would make sense for the characters to do so.

Luckily I have once again been blessed with players who role play to the hilt and really don’t let themselves get swayed by my inability to keep things under wrap, but in a different group, this could be a real problem. So from here on out, I promise to try harder to keep a straight face. To only give the player characters clues that they would get from in character actions rather than through rewarding them for doing what the GM wants. This should be no problem, as instead of handing out XP as and when they do something impressive, I’ll just be keeping a tally during games, and handing it out in the post game wrap up. Hopefully this will mean that they won’t know exactly what it is that they’re being rewarded for, and will¬†incentivize them try out new and cool ideas.

I would hope that this problem doesn’t affect too many other GMs, but if it has been a problem for you in the past, either as a player or a GM, I’d love to hear from you, especially your solutions.

  4 Responses to “Failing at bluff checks – as a GM”

  1. I used to have this problem as well, but there are two reasons it doesn’t happen as often anymore. The first reason is quite simple, because we started playing online instead of in real life they can’t see my face anymore and it’s easier to avoid them metagaming my reaction.
    The second is quite different. Instead of planning the path the group should follow, I give them a problem they have to solve. I can give them several kinds of resources and have a few possible ideas for solutions, next to certain clues/facts they will encounter no matter what, but it’s up to them to find the solution itself. This way I don’t even know myself what path they will follow and I’m just as eager to find out what will happen as my players are themselves. :) When I first started using this tactic it was really hard for both me and my players to ‘let go’ because they kept asking whether they were on the right track, but now it’s working quite well.

    • I do this to a certain degree, but I have to try and keep things a little on track during this game. Not so much on the rails of a plot, but moving at a certain pace as the game has a definite point when I have to stop GMing it. We run to the university term for campaign games, so I need to get the players at least in a position that they can get some closure by then.

  2. For your situation, one possible reason the players ignored the warning was that they might have felt like the plot demanded they go there or they thought they were being genre savvy by not taking it seriously. If you’re playing D&D and the GM says “there’s a dungeon where there are fearsome beasts that will rend you alive!” then of course the players are going to ignore the warning and go straight into the dungeon because that’s what’s expected for the plot.

    As for not revealing the right answer, what helps me is giving a Cheshire Cat grin whenever players are wondering whether or not it it’s the right answer (and since I do it when it’s both the right answer and when it’s the wrong answer, they don’t know). Also, telling any lie helps when there’s more truthful information you can use to back it up.

    • The grin is a good idea, and i tried it last night, but not so obviously; instead I just agreed with their plans and said that everything they were thinking of sounding good. By not putting even hinted about roadblocks in their way, they managed to think their way out of a sticky situation that I had put in their way without really thinking of an exit for myself. See PixieDragon’s post above…

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