This isn't something I talk about very often. Most of my posts are about how to run a better game, how to pull a bit more out of yourself - or your players - and the kinds of situations you may want to try, or try and avoid. However, the fact of the matter is that Enforcement is a necessary thing to have in your game, and the larger the game is the more necessary enforcement can be. So, let's talk about that today and see what we can spark in people's heads.
People Aren't Inherently Good...
Sure it is a pessimistic view of the world, but it is also true. Most people are not inherently good. Most people will not follow a rule if it is contrary to what they want and their chance of being caught is low. Don't believe me? Look at the highway. How many people do you see speeding? Lots, right? So many in fact that the general view everywhere I've been is that you shouldn't be in the far left (or far right for the European readers) if you're only doing five miles above the speed limit.
Why are all these people breaking the rules? Well, because it is convenient and the odds of getting caught are very low. The same is true in your game - especially for a larger game - and the more players you have the more likely it is that someone, at some time, is going to break the rules.
Enforcement Must Seem Fair
Want in on a secret? It doesn't actually matter if rules and the enforcement of the rules are fair as long as they appear to be fair. You can favor a certain player all day long, but if no one sees it then it is all good. Why? because it appears fair so they believe it is far. This becomes even more true in truly large games (like LARPs where you'll often have multiple GMs to handle dozens of players) because the public perception of the GMs is often controlled by the public perception of how fair the rules and enforcement is.
By contrast though, even if you have the most fair and impartial system set up ever, if it doesn't appear fair your players will doubt it and become angry. So, always remember to not only keep things fair, but keep them appearing fair as well. It will save you headaches.
Small Game vs. Large Game Enforcement
Now, I started this off saying that Enforcement was necessary, but in a small game (say 4-6 people including the GM) is that really the case? I mean, how often have I said that a good GM can shift the focus even if the players abilities are vastly different? For that, for the small games, I'd say to go with your gut. If everyone is having fun then maybe "no harm, no foul" is the way to go. However, if it is encroaching on someone's fun then you may have to put your foot down on something.
By the same token though, this attitude doesn't fair as well in larger games. Larger games tend to involve more PvP by the simple nature of players being able to interact when the GM is busy. When that happens, there needs to be a fair and impartial judge available for the players to go to. More to the point though, infractions need to be handled quickly and efficiently so that the players know that they need to play fair or they will get caught.
Fun Is The Key Scale
Through it all, try to remember that the fun of everyone involved in the game is the key goal. If everyone is having fun, then it may be best to let things slide (make sure everyone is ok with that in a larger game, obviously.) At the same time, if someone isn't having fun, it may be time to inject the rules and enforcement into the equation. Also, always remember that the GM has just as much right to have fun as everyone else, and if you're not having fun then it may be time to discuss that with your players.
As always, sound off with your thoughts on the subject below.