An article that asks the question ‘who gets the most enjoyment out of a roleplaying session?’
There are three sides in every roleplaying game. The first side is the source of the reality, the GM (Gamesmaster), who creates and presents the setting for the players to interact with. The second side is the players, who interact with the GM’s creations and try to overcome the obstacles and threats set for them.
Thirdly, there is the group side – where both GM and players combine their talents of storytelling and roleplaying to create a reality with both substance and soul. The suspension of disbelief is paramount to succeed in any roleplaying game and experiencing that is the mark of a good session.
That’s the theory, at any rate. It can’t be said that, even at the end of a lengthy campaign, everyone finishes with a smile on his or her face. The players may have failed several key missions; the GM may have botched several key moments with the wrong information or given away too much detail of the plot. A player may have actually lost their character; the GM may have lost an important NPC (Non-Player Characters) too early in the campaign. Can any GM or player honestly say that their game went 100 percent according to plan? It’s doubtful.
But it’s not really how well everyone did that makes a game – it’s how much enjoyment they got out of it that counts. You may have lost your character, you may have lost the plot, but if you come out of it the other side with a sense of well being then surely the game, with all its problems and pitfalls, was worth it.
So we come to our main point – who gets the most enjoyment out of a game?
There are many sources of fun that can be derived from a roleplaying game. Accomplishment, victory, pride, advancement of self and many more feelings can be experienced during and after a campaign. But who, after the last die has been rolled and the last line been said, comes out with the most joy?
Here are several examples of possible feelings a roleplayer may have after finishing a game, with the differences between what the player and the GM may get out of it.
A SENSE OF VICTORY
Players: It’s obvious that, after fighting the forces of evil and casting down the bad guy/evil establishment the players are going to feel as though all their efforts, be they successful or not, were well worth it. Weeks of chasing, investigating and conflict all come to a head in an intended showdown that wraps the plot and ends the game. Accomplishing this, even if the opposition are simply delayed or upset in their plans, gives the player a sense of success. A satisfied smile is a welcome moment, with all the in-game rewards the victory brings. Players get a lot of enjoyment out of this.
GM: This is a difficult one for the GM. Basically, if the GM is victorious then that means that the players have failed or been wiped out – that doesn’t make for a good game. A GM sitting back with a smile on his face when he sees the last PC (Player Character) bite the dust may be pleasing for them, but the players will feel as though all their efforts were for nought. The idea is for the GM to gain satisfaction from seeing the players beam with pride at their accomplishments and provide a good, challenging game for friends who share the hobby.
Players: After all their ministrations and effort the players expect some kind of reward for their PC’s, in the form of experience points so that their characters can improve in skill or in-game rewards, such as money or new equipment, to aid the PC’s in their quest to better themselves. It could be said that the players should be rewarded enough with the fact that they succeeded; after all, it’s not as if the money they earn as PC’s is real money, is it? The reward should be in the gaming experience, not the additions to the character sheet. It could also be argued that, in true gaming tradition, that the PC’s should be rewarded with items because it is within the game’s own reality that they should, and that money and equipment will help improve the PC’s and help their position in the game. This is a source of pride for the players when they can show what they have earned with their efforts. All that is fair enough, but simply playing the game to reap the rewards makes for shallow gaming, and will soon turn the game into a set of rules and not a believable setting.
GM: Unless the players are paying rent to use the GM’s gaming table then there is very little for the GM to get from the rewards that are handed out. A GM’s reward is seeing the players pleased with their success and the benefits they reap. It makes the whole campaign worth it.
Players: There may be a time when the odds are so horribly stacked against the PC’s, through fault of their own or overkill from the GM, that simply getting out alive is enough to please the players. Losing well-developed PC’s can be quite distressing and being placed in a situation where they get out by the skin of their teeth can get a lot of sighs of relief from the players. Although it may sound a little strange (after all, if the PC’s have only just escaped with their lives then surely something must have gone wrong?) it is not necessarily so. Winning the day but only just getting away as the mothership explodes/bad guy’s base erupts/starship crashes to the ground can be as tense as actually fighting the final battle and makes for a great ending. A feeling of just getting through it all, added to the sense of victory, can be a great feeling.
GM: Well, this is something the GM will never get. They play so many of the NPC’s in the game that being upset or pleased when one is taken down or fails isn’t really something that is going to happen. Their characters getting out by the skin of their teeth and saving the day isn’t an option, either. It’s up to the players and their PC’s to save the day; it’s the very purpose of the game. The GM can derive pleasure from the fact that their players are happy with the outcome of the session and knowing their work was worth it.
TELLING A GOOD STORY
Players: It’s sometimes assumed that the players are simply at the table to pit their PC’s against the trials and tribulations the GM has designed for them. Not so. The idea of a wargame is such a thing – the idea of a roleplaying game is for the players to interact with a story the GM has designed. If, after all the PC’s have been through, even if most or all of them have been killed or removed from play, the players can honestly sit and say ‘that was a damn good story’ then there is a certain amount of enjoyment to be had from that. In fact, looking back on the adventures of a character, be they the final battle or one of the conflicts during the campaign, can bring smiles to the faces of the players.
GM: It’s the same old story, I’m afraid. The GM will gain satisfaction that they designed a good game (sometimes, unfortunately, before the game is even run) but the true test of their design comes in the reaction of the players. If they appear surly or non-committal to the task at hand then the design has died in production. If the players respond well and enjoy taking part in the game to help tell a story, then it’s a job well done. The GM can gain satisfaction from a job well done, especially when, a few weeks or months down the line, a player says ‘do you remember when…?’ and refers to the game in question.
Players: Finally, we come to the true purpose of a roleplaying game. As a player, the knowledge that a PC has been created, built, nurtured and played well is a source of great accomplishment and pride, and what’s more there is a sense of deserving rewards and advancements when the PC has been portrayed the way it was designed within the parameters of the game. All players are improvisational actors at heart and being given rewards for their ability to bring the character to life will always be welcome. Extra points for solving a puzzle or defeating a bad guy is something every player is capable of earning, but gaining extra points for playing a character well is even more of a source of fun.
GM: If the players are improvisational actors, then the GM is a schizophrenic improvisational actor. With all the NPC’s they have to portray to keep the story flowing they are required to make sure each one has their quirk or signature to be recognisable and make sure the players react to them well. If the players do react to them well, be they help or hindrance, then the GM knows that the character has been well portrayed and they gain satisfaction from this.
So, what does all this tell you? Well, the enjoyment that is shared out in a campaign depends upon the reaction to the game by the players, the game being the GM’s responsibility to create and present. Now, this may sound as though it’s all up to the GM to provide an evenings entertainment and it’s all their fault/doing that the game failed/succeeded but that’s not it at all. That would put far too much pressure on the GM to get things right.
The final word is this – the players get the enjoyment from taking part in a well-designed game that they can express their desires within, be it for gaming, victory or rewards. The GM plays the game to see the players enjoy their creations and react to their words. If the players wanted to please the GM they’d be led about by the nose, lose one PC after another and lose interest. If the GM wanted to get continuous enjoyment out of providing linear adventures, killing of PC’s at regular intervals because they see the game as a form of competition then they’ll lose players.
It is up to every player and GM to inject something into a roleplay session – the GM cannot assume the players will carry the game when they are waiting for a cue from the GM, and vice versa. Only a team effort from every angle will create stimulating, enjoyable and fun games that will be remembered.