I was listening to an episode of The Game’s the Thing in which PLAY UNSAFE author, Graham Walmsley, was interviewed. To hear Walmsley describe it, PLAY UNSAFE is an advice book for players on how to maximize the fun at the table. I liked what I heard, until I heard Walmsley recommend the do-over.
If you’re not happy with the way the game’s gone, do it over.
Now, I’ve come a long way as a GM over the past few years. I used to be totally Old School GM Guy. The whole It’s-My-World-And-You’re-Just-Playing-In-It kind of GM? That was me!
Over the last two years, I’ve brought the players into the world building process and even gone all sandbox with them! To great success, too. Seriously, I’ve played some of my favorite games over the last two years. I am totally open to this whole hippie gamer culture that’s emerged. I’m considering joining a co-op!
But this do-over thing? I dunno about that.
I’ve employed a do-over or two in my time, but it’s always been when I’ve goofed up a mechanic that adversely affected the players. And it’s always been a rather immediate response. Which is to say, I’d apply the do-over before the conclusion of the scene.
Utilizing the do-over as a result to poor in-game decisions? If you can just do it all over, doesn’t that eliminate the consequence of our choices? Without gravitas in our games, what’s the point?
Acknowledging my stodgy GM upbringing, I turned this over to the Game Master Brain Trust for their input.
“I can think of circumstances that would make me find this acceptable,” Says former Podge Caster Joe Selby. “A fun campaign wrecked by a few bad decisions (or by a new/temporary/guest player) before they even got to the climax, the group may want to back up and see if they can’t get back on track.”
“Restarting is a tough call,” Mikel Matthews considers, “It means that there’s something in the game that’s worth salvaging but that things got way the hell off the rails somewhere.”
Give me a for instance, Mikel.
“The loss of a player,” He suggests. “Especially if it’s mid-adventure/story/etc. can call for a rewinding and rethinking of where the game is.”
How would you do that?
“You should be able to either NPC the character or rework something so that the remaining players are able to go on without having to retcon things. That effort will probably serve the game and the group better than rewinding the mystic hands of time.”
He admits, “It’s sort of a last ditch effort to save the game, but there are usually other ways to go. I think it’s okay if there’s a been a long hiatus between games while they were in the middle of something but, beyond that, it’s unimaginative GMing.”
Joe offers a qualification, “My strongest caveat is that it is the group that wants to back up. If it is the DM who wants to back up because his story didn’t go the way he wanted it to, tough shit.”
You feel strongly about this, Joe.
“Role playing is cooperative story telling,” He continues, “Even in a game where the DM runs the world and the story. It is still in response to decisions the players make. If he feels the players didn’t make the decisions they were supposed to, then he shouldn’t be role playing, he should be writing fiction.”
I totally agree. The players decisions have meaning and in any game – one-shot or campaign – it is how the players build on those choices that give the game weight.
I’m not convinced that Mr. Walmsley’s suggestion is the right way to go. In fact after talking to the Brain Trust, I’m pretty sure it isn’t. Still, the hippie gamer inside me is willing to be hear points to the contrary.