Thursday, February 12, 2009

How Much to Tell?

Sometimes I wonder just how much I should let the players in on my process. I tend to make up a lot of stuff on the spot. I've run whole session's pretty much off the top of my head -- both one shots and sessions in a continuing campaign. And I have a habit of just throwing things out into the ether, without a whole lot of explanation, and defining them only when they need an explanation or if the player's come up with something interesting.

And it works. I've run some good games this way. But I've gone back and forth on whether it's a good thing for my player's to know exactly how much I'm making stuff up on the spot. On the one hand, I want them to know that they can pretty much do whatever they want. I might need a minute to think, but I can handle a new direction, if it sparks their fancy.

But then I feel like talking about "oh, yeah, that was totally on the spot" undermines the sense that the world is real, and exists regardless of their actions. That's a sense that's largely created by making it true -- for instance, if and when they get back to Zalcrat and discover that a bunch of things have gone wrong since their last visit -- but there's a certain amount of sleight of hand involved, too.

Mostly I just never feel mysterious enough, as a GM. I was into the "evil secret plans! evil laugh!" thing for a while, and while these days I'm much happier responding to (and complicating) the weird hijinks my players get up to rather than thinking up ways to screw them over, I do kind of miss the mystique of it.


  1. I think you should just tell one player everything. Expecially about the lizards

  2. I wouldn't worry too much. I follow the policy of don't tell the players anything, Its their job to figure out whats going on. Improvising only undermines the realism or mystery of the game if you suck at it, but if you're good at it it adds excitement and inspiration for later. If you want to be more mysterious I suggest just being mysterious. Throw some random mysterious things at the players and don't explain them, and possibly never explain them. Not everything in our world makes sense all the time so why should a fictional world make perfect sense.

    Hope that helps.

  3. I used to do the random thing alot. Now I do it a lot better and hang it of a solid frame work. It gives the players a sense of reality. Something they can rely upon. Without it they tend to get a bit lost and a bit defeatist('Doesn't really matter what I do" sort of thing.)
    A neat trick I like to use when a player is trying to suck info out of 'GOD' is to go all politician on them with a phrase like. It's interesting that you think that but I couldn't possibly comment. I don't exist.

  4. Can't say much about you being mysterious as a DM (need to get you to run a game online for us sometime ;) ). As for me, my hard-and-fast rule is to never pull the curtain back in the middle of the game. I don't always succeed, but I do my best to keep the illusion going while we're all playing. After the game, I'm more than happy to pull the curtain back if people are interested, and I love player feedback, both positive and negative, so I'm always willing to dig down into the nuts and bolts of what just happened.

  5. I think you would be particularly good at running more collaborative systems.

  6. Don't worry too much about it. Even the writers of Battlestar Galactica had no idea where they were going with plot until part way through the 3rd season.

    Right now it's cool that there are Lizards and KordCorp is dangerous.

    I've also ran one-shots and campaign sessions off-the-cuff. I wanted to play more of one particular unplanned Exalted one-shot.

  7. Psychickid: You're referring to Ben, right?

    Jack Crow: Heh. Random and mysterious. My players are already mad at me for that.

    MR-X: Yeah. And as the game goes on, I'm getting a better handle on exactly what to prep -- names, ambiance, basic missions -- to support the in-play freedom.

    trollsmyth: That's pretty much my strategy, too. I like doing the post-session breakdown, but I have this nagging feeling (acquired from the internet, no doubt) that this annoys players somehow. Secretly. Best ignored.

    Tim Jensen: Possibly. I should give one a try sometime.

    balathustrius: Neither do the writers of Lost. Sometimes it shows.

    But you guys are having a good time, so something's going right.

  8. Hmmmm... Does it annoy you? But yeah, I wouldn't worry about it overly much, unless they say something. Or your group is full of passive-aggressives. ;)

    - Brian