Having eager players at the table is great. Players that get right into their character and drive the story forward is brilliant. But is there such a thing as too much of a driving force?
I had this player once – let’s call him Brian – and he loved to get right into the game. He planned, he roleplayed, he played the setting to the hilt and he delved both into the characters he created as well as the adventure he was playing in. In most respects he was the perfect player, a GM’s dream. He made you feel like all the hard work you’d put into creating the adventure was more than worth it as he was excited to experience what you had created. The one-on-one games we used to have were intense and very exciting.
But not all players, or GMs, appreciated this level of involvement. Because he was so driven he always wanted to be sure that the game was progressing, so that his PC could experience what was going to happen next, to keep the game moving forward. It could be exhausting at times; I’d take a breather for five minutes and next thing I know I’m being pushed for narrative and descriptions of the next location and encounter. He’d also be the self-appointed ‘voice of the group’ and take actions that would pretty much help decide what direction the game would go in.
I could handle this. I knew the guy well, I knew his intentions and the way he did things and I could react to it with little to no detriment to the gaming group. There were, however, GMs who couldn’t handle it and I fully understand why. When Brian was on form he’d push the game in all kinds of different directions and as long as you were a seat-of-the-pants GM, fully adept at winging it, you were okay. In fact, he’d make sure that you as a GM would have a great time and keep you on your toes. But, if you were the kind of GM who had carefully structured a game and you knew where it was going and the order in which things were going to happen – railroading, some people call it - you were going to be in deep trouble. Brian didn’t want a selection of options, he wanted the world. If he could think of a sensible way to get around or through something that made sense in the gameworld he would give it a go and woe betide the GM who wasn’t prepared for his out-of-the-box thinking. Double woe betide if the GM was a rules lawyer and the things that Brian wanted to do weren’t really covered in the rulebook. This created all kinds of problems at the table, and Brian, being Brian, wasn’t the most patient of players when there was, as he put it, ‘An unrealistic action-stopping pause’ while the GM tried to work out how to adjudicate the actions he’d declared. More often than not, just to keep the game going, he’d drop the action and do the obvious because his impatience got the better of him.
Other players would sometimes get a little stressed with him, too. He was loud - not annoyingly loud but loud enough to be sure that his was the dominant voice at the table – and they felt that he was overriding their decisions by simply drowning them out. Sometimes, if the group was taking too long to decide on the next course of action, he’d declare an action that would force the other players to react immediately and therefore keep the game flowing. He’d make meticulous plans, sure, but at the first sign of failure he’d just jump in feet first and push on as best he could, dragging the other players with him even though they were calling for a retreat and regroup to try another plan. Some players felt marginalised by his way of gaming and, as one gamer indelicately put it after one session, ‘Honestly, it’s the fucking Brian Show’. They had a good point, it’s true. To be fair, Brian’s way of gaming sometimes forced other players to raise their game and the sessions where they were all energetic and driving the game were simply incredible. Still, if you think you’re gaming in somebody else’s shadow it can be frustrating.
The gaming group broke up after a couple of years – I can categorically say that it wasn’t Brian’s fault that it did – and we went on to one-on-one gaming for a while in which he positively revelled. We had some great games and as he was the focus of attention and he could fully indulge in what he wanted out of gaming we had some of the best games I’ve ever run in my long gaming history. He was most definitely suited to these kinds of games, or maybe with one or two other players who understood the way he gamed, and it was a massive shame when real life took him away from it all. I still hope that we can bring him back into the gaming fold at some point as he was definitely one of the best gamers I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing with.
These kind of players are a dream for the right kind of GM and group. They’re a nightmare (throws cloak open) for others! (disappears)*.
*Bonus points if you get the reference.