Running a game is an art, not a science.

That being the case there is no magic formula, that makes it work. It’s a lot of judgment and finesse. As an activity it is full of pitfalls and tribulations, in short it’s easy to screw up.

Almost everybody I play with does it very well. Cruising assorted gaming forums and PbP environments, I am seeing a trend toward “Gotcha Gamemastering.”

Allow me to explain the term. One of the first games I ran was possibly cyberpunk or something similar (definitely something like that I don’t remember what it was). Anyway I felt pretty clever, I was going to blow up one of the players cars, just as soon as they failed to explicitly check their car for explosives. I did it, and my players were annoyed, as they should have been. It was an A-hole thing to have done.

That’s what I mean by Gotcha Gamemastering, waiting for your players to fail to explicitly opt out of being an idiot. The problem with that is that players will eventually tell you that they do something moronic. They will do it intentionally it will often come under the guise of “plan A”. Waiting for the players to “screw up” is unnecessary and  it certainly does not constitute good Gamemastering.

It falls basically into the same category as Railroading. You are taking choice away from the players, and choice, in a role-playing game is all there is. I’ve said before that railroading to some degree is necessary, but you must at least leave some illusion of choice. All Gotcha Gamemastering leaves a player with is…

(does anybody want this as their GM?)

It always feels artificial.

I don’t have a problem with character death, I don’t think games are much fun if it’s not an option. There is nothing exciting about guaranteed success.

Last week in our Rise of the Runelords campaign we found the secret door that lead to Malfeshnekor the Elder Greater Advanced Barghest (CR7) it killed one player around and half the party fled like bitches. I actually thought it was kind of awesome it felt meaningful. Our party lost four people clearing out this goblin stronghold on a rock in defense of the city of Sandpoint.

The survivors went back to town to get reinforcements so that we could take this menace down permanently. I had a plan whereby the more charismatic survivors would go to the temple to try to borrow a priest and maybe we would have some sort of tryouts to try to replace our fallen warriors. But we didn’t do that. Instead we where directed to the mayor who directed us to the sheriff who told us he had a couple of volunteers for us to march off in the dungeon and slay the evil things. I thought it kind of fell flat.

We have a joke for these situations because it always feels kind of artificial. When we encounter the replacement character somebody at the table will boldly proclaim “You Look Trustworthy!” and then we go forth and continue to adventure.

This is not one of those posts where I have a solution to the problem I’m discussing. I’m just saying I wish there was one.