Rank hath its privileges.

True story: there are games that are more fun to experience as the GM than they are as a player.

I’ve run into this a handful of times! And I assume it’s because the fictional investment is happening at a completely different level as the GM than it is for the players.

Urban Shadows was this in spades, all three times I started campaigns. I was having a grand time watching the game spool out, and the players started experiencing really bad frustration about not being able to resolve anything. My theory is that the game’s setup seeds its situations by asking the players what their characters are invested in … but never comes back to those things. Compare to say Burning Wheel, which accretes literally all the action around the Beliefs everyone wrote in the beginning. But in Urban Shadows, if the players don’t claw their way upstream against snowballing consequences toward the stuff they said they cared about, that stuff is gonna vanish. Obviously the MC can and probably should build fronts/threats around reincorporating that material, but I gotta say, it’s really easy to just go with the flow.

This also happened in our long King Arthur Pendragon game, which I absolutely adored but I think a couple players despised. In that case it was how the characters’ personality trait pairs would drag along the character based largely on die rolls and not player intent. My Pendragon hater really wanted a smooth courtesan but he ended up with a cowardly asshole.

Now, from where I was sitting this was fantastic. Best possible outcome. He was the Gaius Baltar of the Uther Era (holy crossing the nerd streams). But oh how it grated. He basically went suicidal just so he could get a reset of his stats. And even that was great to watch! If you were the GM.

The One Ring I think goes there, too, once the Shadow really gets its hooks into the characters. If the players aren’t on board with being doomed, tragic heroes, I think they can very easily either get despondent, or just disengage from the experience and treat their character like a disposable WoW toon. Loved watching the tragedy unfold, didn’t love watching half the table check out.

What games have you run where it was more satisfying to GM than (perhaps) it was to play?

0 thoughts on “RHIP”

  1. Abstract Machine That’s a tough one because your ability to actually systemically accomplish stuff in MtA varied with which collection of supplements you happened to buy.

  2. I suppose that I often feel bad beating on little mice when I play Mouse Guard. I wonder if the grind of that game is more fun for me on the giving end than it is on the receiving end. Am I a bad person for loving this game as much as I do?

  3. Heh, I was about to list some games and then I realized, um pretty much every game. I’ve yet to find a RPG where I’d want to be a player instead of the GM. Although losing my authority in your Pendragon game sounds like so much fun.

    A lot of traditional RPGs feel REALLY easy to me when I’m not GMing. I can steamroll roleplay my character right through most GM’s adversity. 95% of them are WAY too forgiving when my character fails and I’ll take advantage of that and keep pushing and pushing until the GM is forced to take a stand and enforce something.

    For a more character-based story, I’ll kind of still play to win, making my character the saddest or the funniest or the somethingest. Since there’s no obvious goal (get treasure, complete mission), if I’m not pushing for more spotlight, I’m trying hard to make my character the most memorable at the table. That’s right, I play the most emo games competitively.

    Fiasco is probably the only story game that works with this playstyle for me. Maybe Serial Homicide Unit.

    I’m always worried about hogging spotlight (I will eat it all if you don’t stop me or I don’t police myself), so GMing is way more fulfilling I think for me and probably the rest of the table.

    It also doesn’t help that I barely ever care about my characters.

  4. I’m gunna be that guy and say it: Burning Wheel. As the newbie to that corner of gaming: holy shtick is it fun to GM. I’m not perfect, but there are moments when the game just rolls off the tongue and the mechanics give me all the control/creativity I need. And the rules give the players agency so they can do their share of the work, too.

    I’d still love to experience BW as a player, but as a GM it’s marvelous.

  5. Mouse Guard,
    I ran about 12 sessions, loved the color and how the system pulled the players into investing their own imagination into the storyline.

    However, the players in my group tend to shy away from such active involvement. They wanted to interact with a presented world in a more traditional “I am a character, you are the GM with a story to tell” process.

    I also had two who simply did not enjoy the premise of the game and likened it playing “The Rescuers”. Those two eventually ruined the mood of the game for the others and we stopped as a result.

    I think it comes down to the group playing the game though. Are the players and GM on the same page in regards to the goal of the group? Is the group trying to play a game with clear winners and losers? Is the real goal a social gathering with the game serving as background and purpose for the socially repressed? Do they want to tell a story?

  6. Micah Shaeffer you ran a dozen sessions of Mouse Guard? Whoa!

    And yeah, it’s such a big gear shift for traditional players. I mean you were there when I started experimenting with Burning Wheel and what a shitstorm that was.

  7. Adam Day After GMing BW for years, it was really fun to jump into the player’s seat. I remember making my character and saying, “There are hard decisions right in the character creation. I’m making painful decisions alone!”

  8. Adam Day Judd Karlman  I think running BW teaches you a lot about being a player in BW. When I’ve played, after having had some experience GMing it, suddenly writing those Beliefs is easier, and you can actually see how important they are. It also helped me learning how to drive those hard, both for the story and for the Artha.

    Most of all, it helped me embrace Fail Forward. I still care about the character, but I enjoy putting my PC through the ringer.

    I love my PCs, but putting them through the ringer, and thrusting them into adversity is how you get them to shine and grow.

  9. I love running some games that I have no interest in playing a character in (Aberrant, for example). But if it seems like the people I’m running a game for aren’t having fun, that will suck all the fun out of it for me no matter what.

    This is also a reason GMless games work well for me, I think – everyone has a similar level of investment/involvement, we sink or swim together.

  10. + Paul Beakley; Yeah we are good about committing to an individual game for a set time period. It was a bit rough back way back when but it hooked me with the unique stories we told.

    I took some liberties in ironing out the rulebook I have. I am thinking of picking up the codex you so lovingly showed off to see how they have changed things up.

  11. Paul Beakley I had been wondering just the other day “I wonder if I could find those 3 talismans I made that Anders had put on his Mage page again?” Then, you link to that page and I see them and I am like, great! But then 404 error. 🙁

    As to the actual question, I suggest that your Pendragon and One Ring examples do not show those games are intrinsically more fun to GM than to play. They seem to me to suggest that not all players like to play games where there characters experience a lot of unplanned change, where they are not substantially in control of the arc of their character. This is definitely true, no question about it.

    Or maybe you are speaking about instances of games, not the game themselves? If that is the case, I would answer Torchbearer. I had piles of fun running this, coming up with the stuff necessary to run it, etc., but it was obvious after five sessions or so, the first time we hit a town phase, that I was really the only one having a completely good time. The players just were not interested in the grind, and especially not interested in the detailed mechanics of the grind. That is the only case in my life where switching systems actually worked; Dungeon World proved to be exactly what people wanted. I think lots of players may really love Torchbearer, but not the ones in that group.

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