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2014-05-20

If you stick your hand in a dragon's mouth...

Yes, most of this doesn't apply in a Dungeon Fantasy game, which I am currently running. Still, I felt the need to write this as it is something that has bothered me for awhile, and a recent podcast sort of cemented the idea in my head.

I often hear about GMs who care more about the story they want to tell than the story that comes from the PCs actions. The typical reaction to this is that those GMs ought to just write a book, since they want to control every aspect of the story anyway. I totally agree with that assessment, but want to talk a bit about the other side of the story: the player that wants to control ever aspect of their character's story.

Maybe, I am opening up myself for a lot of flak here, but I feel that some players need to learn to just let go of their big plans for these darling little PCs. If they want to be in control of ever aspect of that characters story, then they should go write a book!

I understand that players' level of control within a game is limited to just what their character is (via character creation) and what they do (during play). In some games players have more narrative control and that is fine, too. I'm also not talking about stuff that the PC had no control/choice over at all, such as a PC waking up with a bite on their neck and now they are a vampire.

What I take issue with is a rejection of what can happen to the character in play. Sure, the GM and players should probably decided before the game on things like: how common is death, can it be reversed, how crippling is combat, etc. But sometimes, players simply don't want anything interesting to happen to their character unless they planned for it. 

The PCs take risks, but only wanting the reward not the consequences. I'll take a silly example of a dragon that ask the player to stick his hand in its mouth (maybe he has something suck in his teeth). Now the player should know that there is a risk that the dragon might close his mouth, chomping off the character's hand (if not, that player should buy Common Sense for his characters from now on). Now when that eventually happens, what should be the next step (after killing the dragon that is)?

For some players the solution is to either (1) fast forward time to the point where the character can have the hand magically restored, or (2) retire the character. After all, if they wanted a one-handed character, they would have taken the One Hand disadvantage at character creation, right? But these are are just ways to not have to deal with something the player had not intended for the character.

In GURPS there are all sorts of ways that characters can gain new disadvantages. Fights can end with crippled limbs, fright checks can result in new quirks or even new disadvantages, getting caught trying to con the king is likely to gain a new enemy. And so on.

The argument is, of course, that it isn't fun to deal with this sort of limitation. My counter is: it can be.

First, it is a great opportunity to role-play. What is character growth if not struggling to deal with something new and unexpected? How do the adapt to this? How do the overcome it? How do others react? As both a GM and a player, I like to be surprised by things. Characters often evolve into something totally new based on the experiences they have, so when I play, I want to role-play out the aftermath.

Second, it is not the end of the world... most of the time. Yes, there are cases where the game as is can't really go on. A warrior who lost the use of both his arms is likely to need to retire or become a non-adventuring PC. But how often does that sort of thing happen (other than flat out death)? Lose a hand, you can fight with your other, and get a hook. Loose an eye, you can still see. Loose a leg, get a peg. Let's face it, pirates are cool! Seriously, the adventuring life can continue.

Third, this is a great chance for new adventures, and can often allow a PC to take center stage in the game without the other players taking issue. Sure, it would make me mad to play in a game that was focused on one characters obsession to destroy all the kingdom's cabbages, but if a fellow adventurer had been cursed to violently attack every cabbage on sight, and we had to quest to the lost crypt of Sa-lad to end the curse, I'd be there! Silly examples aside, this is one of the times when it is okay to so a bit of spotlight hogging while dealing with this issue.

I have some other points, but I think my argument has been made. If you want to control your character's fate, go write a story. But, if you want a chance to be surprised, to see actual character growth, and to have a chance to play out a story that might be much better than anything you or your GM would have come up with... let the dice land where they may, and take the good with the bad.