One of my biggest failings as a GM when I first started out running games was the fact that I felt, as the controller of the game, I not only had control over the direction the game took but I also had control over the fate and the even the decisions of the players.
I think this was borne out of two things; Firstly, I felt that as I was in charge and I had designed the story of the game then the game should progress as I saw fit. Secondly, I felt that the players were there to be entertained by me and so it was up to me to talk them through something that I thought they would find entertaining. It was both a misconception and a conceit, and my first games suffered terribly for it.
This approach to GMing stripped away any control the players may have had, or even wanted. I didn’t simply railroad them, I forced them onto the train and strapped them to the seats. I was literally narrating a story, telling them what was happening and in some cases what they were doing, and I only stopped and asked for their input at certain points, such as when a fight was about to take place or a situation/puzzle needed to be solved. Looking back on it now nearly thirty years later I can’t even fathom why it is I never noticed the looks of sheer boredom on the faces of the players. It’s actually embarrassing to remember it. I was so wrapped up in the powers that I had been given - or that I had granted to myself – I didn’t even realise that players were the other 50% of the game. I was the GM and I had The Power! I can simply put this down to inexperience but it amazed me, years later, when I took part in games where the apparently experienced GM was running the games in exactly the same vein. I played in groups where this way of gaming was the norm for the GM and the players sat back and let the GM go on and on and on. It was incredibly strange to experience, especially since I already knew these people and didn’t expect it from them.
GMs do not have The Power in the literal sense. They have the reins but they don’t have full control of the bolting horse. In fact, if anyone has The Power it’s the players, as it’s their decisions and actions that drive the game forward and result in an enjoyable fulfilling experience for everyone. It took me a while to realise that – and I realised it on my own, it wasn’t pointed out to me – and now I feel my games are better for it.