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GM / Shadow Question

I didn't run a lot of games during the decade-plus that I was a member of a regular group, probably a half-dozen or so.

One of the unexpected challenges I ran into when creating a scenario was how bad to be.

Our games were almost never fatal, so it wasn't an issue of how hard I was going to work to try to kill the characters, it was more an issue of how evil my main antagonist was going to be, and how much of that evil I was going to need to play out in character interaction. What would the NPC body count be? Would I do terrible things to the PC's if I had the chance? How far would I take it? I would have visions of possible encounters, then flinch back from them, certain I could never actually play them out, even across a tabletop.

You see, I was afraid of how much of my own shadow might come out. I was afraid that if I tapped into my own darkness, even for the sake of creating an adventure scenario, it would reveal too much of a part of myself I didn't usually admit was there at all, much less put on display for others.

I don't think I'm a particularly bad person, and I don't want to overstate this. . . but as I've been working on "old business" I started thinking of this.

It made me wonder if other GM's ever worried about this, or has it always been so much "just a game" and/or "just a story" that it was never an issue?

I think the issue was heightened for me because my old group was very self-conscious about the degree to which our characters expressed different aspects of ourselves, whether we planned it that way or not. Perhaps with a different group I would never have worried about just how much of my shadow I was letting out to play. I don't know. . .


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 16th, 2009 07:46 am (UTC)
I haven't worried about it in game. There's been a few moments when I've spun a real-life what if scenario and realized GMing has done some nasty things to my brain.
Aug. 16th, 2009 12:45 pm (UTC)
I've been a DM (or GM) since '78, player since '74. The only uncomfortable moment I recall was when the party decided to play entirely evil characters. The...actions...sobered all of us seriously (we were all Marines at Camp Lejeune at the time) so the rule was no evil PCs from that point on.

We were truly evil in that game. It didn't start that way..we were all kind of tentative at first, but it fed on itself. By the end..we were all rather disturbed; one adventure did that.

That one episode was sufficient to make me refuse to run evil PCs ever again. And I won't play one. My favorite class is Paladin..so I was playing way out of character for me..and it really did disturb me.

In the end it depends very much on the players and GMs individually I guess; what is inside us and how easily we can release it. It isn't the game though, it is us; we control it, or we don't.

Since then I haven't worried over it. I had a look in there (other side of the line)..didn't like it, walked away from it. It hasn't been a problem since.
Aug. 16th, 2009 01:07 pm (UTC)
I think it's akin to acting. Should an actor flinch from playing a truly evil character? Many of the greatest actors would say that playing epic evil roles are among the best in their craft. Gaming, like acting, is in a sacred circle, a pentagram that contains its own reality, that should not leak outward. To muse on how a character reflects one's own personality is an interesting exercise, but to let it inhibit play defeats the whole purpose of play.
Aug. 16th, 2009 04:03 pm (UTC)
Ah, but an actor is working from a script which (usually) defines the limits of the character. Tapping into yourself to portray someone else's creation is a bit different from creating that character and his story and limits (or lack thereof) simply from your own psyche.
Aug. 16th, 2009 10:31 pm (UTC)
True, it's different, but I would propose not very different. In acting the script is only the tip of the iceberg. Most of the role is what the actor creates in the head and psyche, a creation of a new inner world. The result has to match the words in the script, but the creation itself is similar to role-play-- at least, it has been to me. RP online, RP games like D&D, and acting have similar foundations to me. I often surprise and sort of scare myself with what I come up with as a character in each.
Aug. 16th, 2009 06:56 pm (UTC)
Excellent question!
I've been GMing for ~31 years now, and I've obviously moved through a variety of styles of doing so. But I can certainly talk about my "adult style" - which has been around for the last twenty or so years.

I have always been very aware of how much characters reflect the people playing them (PC or NPC), and I factor that into things.

First, I rarely worry about killing PCs if they are stupid or just really unlucky, and I am also known for killing off NPCs at the drop of a hat if the story takes me there. This has caused some distress for some players as they have gotten very attached to some of these NPC's over the years.

Depending upon the game, the "bad guys" can get very bad indeed. Most of the time this is "off-screen" - following the horror movie addage that whatever the viewer/player can imagine is going to far worse that whatever you actually show, as well as maintaining some of the horror and mystery for a later reveal.

That said, there are certainly times where a graphic illustration of just how bad something or someone is was important to the story. One setting that comes to mind was the lich with metallic, bladed phallus raping a very important NPC in a particularly nasty tantric ritual while skinning her alive in order to bring about the end of the universe. I think that what drove the point home with the players what not the description of the act itself but thier knowledge that this had been going on for a week that made it as horrifying as it was.

Another example, in a Cyberpunk game, a PC wanted a particular "street-wise" character from a certain gang, etc. Explaining the hows and whys of the ritual scarring, tattooing, and cyberware, plus the hows and whys of the being the "bitch aka property" of a gang member and what that meant, was certainly an eye-popping litany of some pretty bad stuff for the player and it certainly impacted their play of the character.

There are always a couple of NPC's that just freak the PC's out, because the players know that they are "bad" but they seem so easy, so reasonable, and so good to work with.

In general, I don't shy away from bad things. I work or have worked with DV, Child Abuse, Rape, etc. I have known some pretty bad people in my time as friends, and I have spent a fair amount of time studying war crimes and the like for a couple of different reasons. Virtually anything I describe in the game is either drawn from a real example, or it is a watered down version of one.

The other piece to this is that I do view my games as "morality plays" in which everyone is taking part. So my fantasy game the eternal question being examined is "What is the nature of evil?" and in my scifi/cyperbunk game it is "what does it mean to be human?". When I was running a modern occult game the question was "How does one take responsibility for one's actions?"

All of these are much better illuminated and explored if the choices are hard and the consequences dramatic.
Aug. 16th, 2009 08:00 pm (UTC)
Wow, you've got some awesome comments so far.

I sometimes have a problem with scenarios and letting out an NPC's evil/darkness to their proper extent. This is probably because I only play regularly with my mate, and I easily see way too much of the actual him in every character he plays with me or with characters (even the females) he plays with other groups and tells me about.

When I'm grumpy or PMSy (and the kids aren't interrupting every two seconds so mommy and mate actually get to squeeze out play or even visit time) is when the games get interesting... since I'm already in a mindset of "rrrrrr," and not in the position of being reminded with every reaction who is actually controlling one of the characters.

Well... currently only one in our current game, since he doesn't feel comfortable with controlling any cannon characters.
Aug. 18th, 2009 05:13 am (UTC)
When I've run a game, I've tried to be very good about balancing challenges and dangers to the player character's skills; I dislike killing characters out of hand, but I also will not save a character from the player's poor luck or willful stupidity. I like to be trated fairly, so I try and treat players fairly.

However, I also look at role-playing games as a combination of guided improvisational theater and collective story telling. And if the story requires evil to smite from the shadows, then evil will smite from the shadows. Without opposition and a moral pole to define against, player characters are just over-armed thugs beating up on randon creatures. Add the evil opposition, and they're heroes on a quest.

You're a fan of B5: where would the story - and the characters - have been without not just the evil shadows, but the really-not-much-better Vorlons? Without the ultimate destruction of souls staring the entire storyline in the face?

Evil makes for good stories, allows the creation of fully realized characters, and makes the experience of the story more universal and more human. I say pour it out, spread it around, and start the adventure rolling.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


Queen of Swords

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