Game Master Tips | Dealing With Unexpected Change
Greetings and salutations loyal Nerdarchy reader! This week I had a rather interesting surprise in that I was rear ended in a three car collision. This got the old bean cooking on what is an essential topic in gaming, namely the unexpected changes and deaths that can and will pop up with any extended campaign. Some players will hate the change, some will not care, others will down right revel in it. I have seen it all as a GM and as a player but the point of this article is to show what reactions to expect and how to deal with them.
Role with it
I have personally had one character that, if you read my work long enough, will be mentioned many times. Serena Moonblade was without a doubt my longest lived character, 20 years before I killed her off as a part of a story arc I had been running. What surprises more than a few who have ran into her is that she was originally a he. You see, one form of unexpected change came in the form of my older brother dungeon mastering my game and deciding that he was going to be a bit mean.
As older brothers are want to do. None the less, there was an item in ages gone by that was known as the girdle of femininity/masculinity. This item was cursed to appear to be a girdle of giant strength but in reality it irrevocably changed the person who would equip it’s sex. So what was little prepubescent me to do? Coin the phrase I have used now so long it could order me a beer, that’s what.
Number one rule to remember is, it is a game. All games can be won or lost at various times. Some days you have to mortgage a property or slide down a ladder, but it is always a game. Gaming is no different than other table top board games.
Role with it and keep your dislike in character. If you immediately attack the game master or player with out of character animosity, you ruin the fun for all. Don’t like being turned into a member of the opposite sex?
Tell the Game Master out of character in calm manner and I am sure they will work with you. Don’t forget the character is likely having a crisis of paradigm and likely freaking out, but keep the emotion to them and it will bring depth to the game so great you will likely look back and smile at the event years from now.
Now obviously everyone is different and would react in different ways as everyone reacts based on the sum of their experiences, not just the current ones. For this reason I would like to take a bit of time to explain not only common reactions but ways to turn them into a greater experience for all from both the Player and Gamer Master point of view.
Some players would look at the change and smile, regardless of what it is. These are a god send to a difficult situation and every Game Master prays to have them when you have that unexpected critical hit or otherwise life changing roll (or planned story event) that just can’t be stopped. This player is putting a lot of trust in his Game Master, and this should not go unrewarded. If his character died, ask him if he would prefer a new character or a chance at revival.
If the player chooses the latter (or even the former if it will be awhile before you can sensibly add another), let him play something until his new character can be revived. The most important thing is, let this sacrifice matter. If the paladin just held the line against an army of orcs so that his companions could escape, don’t try to think of a way to get around him. Role with it and have the orcs show their cruel nature and surround the paladin. Play it up and show off your storytelling skills as the Game Master, make the player feel his sacrifice was the turning point of the story so that he is proud of it.
As a player, you could be faced with a million changes and none of which you know are coming. The key is, role with it, so you just lost an eye in that nasty fight with a troll?
Start building toward a melee centered character or one who no longer needs to aim by using fireballs instead of rays. Have some fun by developing the change in personality.
Maybe some cynicism and pessimism from feeling it was unfair. All these things a player could do that would turn what could be a bad experience into something that defines you, as a player, in a good way and the character in whatever way you choose.
That’s right, by accepting an event you place some of the power on what happens next squarely in your hands.
My Game Master style is best described as true neutral, and some would say this is a good thing but some don’t. The main thing is to role with it and just accept things as they come. A great example of this was when I had a player bypass an entire arc of a campaign that was supposed to take a month or so of weekly games to pass. I could have, as the Game Master, complained and forced them into my plotted story but that would only result in killing the player’s fun and worse yet would have discouraged the creativity of the group in the future.
Instead, I quickly shuffled things around and had them bypass the entire cool under sea arc by hitching a ride on a whale as the player had devised and even gave him bonus XP for it. The neutrality pendulum swung the other way when, a series of roles had disintegrated a player’s arm and leg. He asked if that really happened and I had to state to him that it did happen. Needless to say he was not happy, but it led to an arc where he got magical prosthetics to replace the missing parts. The player was happy and played it up, developing a limp and a distinct manner in which he moved over the course of the campaign.
The neutral player at it’s best. Happy or sad, he took whatever happened in stride while just making his character more and more defined. Really, this is the category that you don’t need to worry about as a player but as a Game Master you do want to make sure fortune favors them for good and bad in equal measure.
Finally we come to the show stopper. The crescendo and apex of gaming, the one who can never role with it. This player or Game Master is so set on a certain way of doing things that they cannot even fathom things being divergent from their plan. Maybe they see themselves as always the coolest, biggest, or most powerful.
Perhaps they thought something was funny and you did not laugh hard enough. It may even be that they thought their character would be able to handle things or do things that don’t come up enough.
The point is this person is never going to be happy until they have their moment to shine. As a player, you really have two positive actions you can take. You can either adapt to their play style or move on.
As much as it may be unpleasant, not every player will mesh with every Game Master and moving on could be better for all. That being said, if you choose to move on I would suggest talking to them before you do so as they may not realize they were doing this. I have had a Game Master that I loathed with a passion and after speaking to him, he genuinely did not realize he had been doing that.
Unfortunately I have also experienced one who refused to change, the latest of which led me to Nerdarchy, so not all is lost even when the situation is seemingly hopeless. As for the Game Master dealing with the player who is perpetually unhappy, the key is to have an open discussion with them. What are they hoping to achieve? What can you do different? Always be willing to not just hear but listen to the other, as what they say is their view of things and they feel as strongly about it as you do about yours.
Being the Game Master does not make your view more important than the player’s, it just means you are their to be the judge and facilitate fun for all. This does not mean you are to sacrifice your own fun or the fun of other’s in its entirety for one player but it does mean that their feelings should be taken into account. They want to play a rogue in a viking campaign? Let them, throw some traps in just for him and let Thor appreciate having his Loki around. It is after all, a game for all, and you all can just role with it.
In closing I would like state the obvious in that regardless if you are player or game master, it is a game and not the end of the world. Have fun because how you act determines if you are the player or game master who is always invited or invited never to return. Life is full of adversity, nothing will ever change that and as a Game Master (or player) we must learn to over come it.