GMing Mistakes 3 – Not Trusting Your Players

Okay, this is a big one. Nothing like the previous two, but gladly this isn’t big in the sense that I would need a book’s worth of words for this.

What it boils down to is this: If you are willing, you can put a lot of the responsibility on the players and let them control much of the environment. So, of course, the question is, what happens when your players, who are gamers by definition and as such understand that this can give them an advantage, abuse the system? Well, first, lets recount all the instances this has happened since I’ve adopted this trusting style of GMing.

Oh, wait. There aren’t any.

Part of me feels I should just stop writing here, but 113 words may not quite cut it as an actual article, so I’ll keep going. Damn you word counts!

Anyhow, the players are gamers. Actually every human has a quite strong ability to game systems. I’m currently reading a book called How To Think Like a Freak. The title is an allusion to its writers’ previous efforts, Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics, which both deal with economics. What people don’t understand is that economics isn’t actually about money. Its a behavioral science.

Lets take an example from that book. In Chapter 6, the authors talk about Amanda, a three-year-old kid, who is given candy to incentivize her to go to the toilet. So, what happens is that Amanda learns quickly to control her bladder, so that she can get all the candy she wants and more. Yes, people can game systems easily.

However, when you put your trust in your players, they will do their best to win the game, as they should, but here’s the thing: Although in traditional RPGs as the GM you’re in theory working together with players in order to create a story, the setup is actually giving a totally different message. That message is that you are trying to hinder your players’ characters, which leads to competitive situation. Its a weird competitive situation, but competition none-the-less. They are put into a situation where they have to outsmart you.

When you put your trust in your players, you are actually changing this dynamic significantly. Now the message is that you have common goal and you can all work towards it together. So, in effect, you are gaming the system by actually getting the players on your side.

Now, what’s the actual difference here? How does this actually benefit the game? Well, first it makes players active. Many players are passive. They’ve learned to follow the GMs guidance and just move from one problem to another and use their energy on coping with that. However, when you show them you trust them, it empowers them to participate in the creative side of the game. And you aren’t more creative than your group of players. Sure, you’ll have to let go of your ego and understand that you’ve just lost a lot of control, but unless you have some sort of mental problems, that shouldn’t be too hard. After all, humans are social beings. You’ll still have your moments to shine, and if you really want to be auteur telling stories, you can still write them down in a short story form.

Trust me. You’ll love this kind of gaming.

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