Everyone in their gaming life has had that one awful game, the one that totally ruins the system and setting for you, even if the fault is with neither of them. Today I will talk about my own, and hopefully steer any budding GMs who happen by this page, the hell away from making the same mistake as one certain GM did. I don’t want to name names here, so for the sake of anonymity, the GM in question will henceforth be known as ‘Betty’.
Betty made a mistake that it’s all too easy to do when you’re starting out in a game. She fell head over heals in love with a game based on her experiences with it while playing one particular character. The games was Werewolf the Something, and she had created a kick-ass Garou we shall name ‘Philip’. (Creating random names is not my strong suit as a GM.)
Betty had a marvelous time playing Philip, for the whole month that game lasted. It was meant to go on longer, but the GM and all the players were a tad unreliable, and after a month the whole thing just fell apart. It happens, and there really was no one to blame. I was only aware of this game after it had collapsed, and after listening to young Betty wax lyrical for some time about how awesome a game it was, and how sorry she was that she never got to get any further under the skin of Philip, a few of our mutual friends suggested she pick up a rule book, and take a shot at running it herself. One thing you want – if not need - from a new GM is a certain level of enthusiasm. Betty had this in spades, and due to her infectious enthusiasm, it wasn’t long before about half a dozen of us were looking forward to playing it too.
At this point I already had some experience in the World of Darkness, having spent around a year playing in a live action game of Vampire, the thing-a-me-jig, and it is there that I acquired my now permanently in place nick-name. So, I had a vague idea of what to expect, but there were still surprises to be had. What shouldn’t have been a surprise was how short a time it took for the player characters to meet a certain wolf named Philip.
I couldn’t tell you the mission we were to be involved in, all the fine details of that game have faded from memory, replaced by one very tragic fact. Betty loved Philip a hell of a lot more than she loved the game. And by game, I mean the system, the setting, and the actual sessions she was running for her players. We first met Philip about one round into the opening fight scene. I have since been led to believe that it is possible to run a game of Werewolf without there being fights in every other scene, but at the time I would have found that hard to believe.
As a player group we were holding our own, but getting a bit bruised. Then, out of nowhere, sprang Philip, and we watched in dumb amazement as he tore his way through the enemies leaving behind him a fine red mist and enough hair on the floor to cover 17 barbershops. I don’t think we were quite as grateful as we were supposed to be though, as a very big deal was then made about cool it was that he’d saved our lives, and that he was going to help us get to where we needed to be. When we got there, some high ranking elder wolf told us that the mission we were to go on was obviously too dangerous for us, so it would be best if Philip tagged along.
Now, if Werewolf the Roleplaying is not a game you are familiar with, it will be difficult to get across how much a pain in the arse this was. Imagine a similar situation in a D&D style game. All the player characters are half way to picking up that fabled second level, and the GM thrusts a level 9 fighter into the mix and says that it’s because we’re not good enough. That my friends, is not cool.
Any time a GM feels the need to pull the players out of fire, it shows that they might not have done such a good job of setting up the game – I’m going through something similar myself in my Tuesday night game, so I’ll report back on that later – but this was a very different problem indeed. There might even be an actual term for this kind of thing, but at its root, we go back to the article title; Player characters make for terrible NPCs. Betty didn’t want to run a game, she wanted to carry on playing Philip, and when that happens, you need to rethink your motivation for picking up a whole fistful of dice.
If this has happened to you; please, back away from the character sheet. Put it in a clear plastic envelope and restrict yourself to sharing stories about how rad they were. True, this will still be a bit annoying, but it is a far better solution than alienating your players.
As a post script to that session, I turned up the following week, hoping it wouldn’t be that bad again, to find that only one other player had shown up at all. And it was worse. Betty didn’t even bother rolling for the other characters who were without players, instead letting Philip do just about anything that needed to be done. One week later, I was reliably informed that no one turned up to her game. Poor Betty. I hope her and Philip were happy being alone together…