Gamers have all played in games that were less than we wanted them to be. It’s easy to get the wrong mix of players at the table where they fail to listen to one another and support each other’s fun. The GM’s energy may be low. I’ve even seen where the entire group just doesn’t buy in to the scenario. It is rare though that I have seen a GM misuse his players in such ignorant fashion as I experienced in a game at this past weekend’s GenCon.
I caught up with two of my con room mates, Jake and James, in time to join them for a pick-up game of Necessary Evil, a plot-point setting for Savage Worlds. Necessary Evil is the story of an Earth in the grips of an alien invasion. The world’s superheroes have been slaughtered by the cunning alien masterminds, leaving the world’s supervillains to lead the charge against the alien incursion.
The players assume the roles of supervillains.
At the table were the three of us, one other player, and the GM.
We were provided four character sheets and selected which we wanted to play. Pickings were slim. There was a speedster character called Speed Demon ala Professor Zoom. A super strong, but stupid guy by the name of Mongo. A mad scientist guy. And another mad scientist guy – this one with his brain inside a robot monkey.
GM-guy hobbled his game from the get-go with the characters he pre-generated. I’m all for pre-gens for con-games. ‘Saves a metric assload of time allowing players to get straight to the play. The trick, I think, is either offering a lot of variety in choice (e.g. more characters to choose from than players to run them) or drafting distinctly unique characters with specific , unduplicated roles assigned to each. The latter is the form I tend to follow myself for con games as it enables the GM to prep the scenario a litte more specifically to what the players can affect. It’s worked well for me so far.
The player I didn’t know – we’ll call him Patrick – chose the non-cybernetic simian scientist character.
James went next, selecting Dr RoboChimp, a character that had a weaponized laser in its mouth.
I was the third to choose. Less than thrilled with a choice between Big and Stupid or Runs Really Fast, I chose Speed Demon which screwed Jake pretty hard (sorry about that, man). I’m not a fan of playing speedster characters when they are integrated with non-speedster characters. Its hard to mesh superspeed with normal speed action. A guy who can move at supersonic speeds should be able to get the jump on non-speedy characters at close range and – really – resolve the action before anyone takes their first action. Still, I thought I’d hate the character less than Mongo.
I asked the GM about the character, “So super speed? How does this impact his initiative?”
Our team of super-villains were assigned a critical mission to save another villain’s daughter currently being held by the aliens. Critical. Mission. Those were the words used. The villainous father apparently had significant support available for the lending towards the resitance movement, but required his daughter first be liberated.
So, it’s mission critical. If Earth’s super-powered villains are to turn the tide against the alien horde, Evil McDastard’s darling daughter must be rescued.
We needed transportation to get to the alien prison center. So we inquired as to transport. “What’s available to us?”
“There’s a truck, pretty beaten up,” The GM answered, giggling. “I don’t think it’ll get you there. There’s also a helicopter. It’ll probably blow up if you try and fly it.”
This is the kind of thing I hate in a GM. There was no story reason for him not to provide us with access to reasonable transportation. As would become clear later, the story was AT THE PRISON. Nowhere else. So the game time we spent planning out our transportation would have been better spent AT THE PRISON. Instead of facillitating the story, he blocked us from getting to it.
Further as we players discussed our plans, the GM added comments such as “I wouldn’t do that” or “Have you thought about this…?” These comments didn’t come from an NPC. Nope. They came straight from the GM.
It was all I could do not to slide my character sheet to him so that he could play my character.
In retrospect, we should have taken the helicopter. Being unceremoniously blasted apart due to some arbitrary fuel leak would have been less painful than enduring this GM’s ineptitude.
As things moved along into our plan of hijacking an alien hover craft, Patrick and James were tripping over each other because, y’know, they were both playing mad scientists! Were it intentionally engineered such, I think a hilarious game could be made of a super team comprised with characters posessing exactly the same power. A skillfiul GM could nuance the circumstances to create absurd encounters.(*)
Regrettably, this was not that game or that GM.
Midway into the course of our grand plan to steal the hover car, our illustrious Game Master revealed that Mongo, Jake’s character, was henchman/sidekick to Patrick’s character. I’ve known Jake for a couple of years now and I have always found him to be a pretty even-keeled guy. In fact, he has an air of peace around him that you don’t find in many people.
Meeting his eyes across the table, I saw murder there.
All the planning was a waste of time (much like the game)… we wound up not really needing a transport. We made exactly one encounter inside the prison before the three of us had just had enough and excused ourselves. I thanked our GM for running the game, a fully genuine sentiment on my part. Regardless of how bad the experience, I appreciate anybody who’s got the sack to GM.
I had hoped he’d ask for feedback. That’s something I always request at the end of my games. I want to know what I can do better. He didn’t ask, though. So in addition to the above, I’ll add a few more thoughts:
- Particularly in con games, start in media res. Starting play in the middle of the action gets your players immediately engaged. This is critical for con games. It is far too easy to lose concentration during the quest-givers text box lecture. Get the players jazzed from the get-go by letting them kick some alien ass straight up.
- Never, ever gimp one player character to another UNLESS you have both players’ buy-in.
- For a con game, know the rules. At home with your local crew, it’s fine to be a mechanics newbie. That ain’t cool at a con. At the very least, make that confession BEFORE game play begins.
- Listen to your players, observe and understand what they’re experiencing in the moment. A GM tuned in to his table would have noticed we weren’t having fun and that we weren’t amused by his attempts to block our efforts. Such a GM would have been able to re-assess his strategy and provide his players with the fun everyone sat down for.
I do believe that it is everyone’s responsibility, player and GM, to bring the fun. I honestly feel like we were working for it, but couldn’t get past our GM.
Still, every experience is an opportunity to grow. I saw some bad habits in our GM that while I think I’ve expunged over the years, will make me more mindful the next time I GM. I think I’ll be even more aware of my responsibilities to facillitate the fun of others.
(*) The more I think about this, the more I think I’ll be running a League of Like Poweres game at the next con I go to.