I've talked a lot on here lately about what I consider old school style gming. The harsh, almost - but not quite - GM vs. PC type gaming that was stock and standard with RPGs in the 80s and 90s. I've gone far enough on this that one of the key things I'm hoping to get back out of my Shadowrun game. However, I don't think I've actually expanded on what it is I am hoping to get from this, why, and how I think it will help to strengthen the games that I run for my play groups. I'd like to fix that today.
If you click around on the RPG subreddit (/r/rpg for those that don't know) you see a lot of stories from players and GMs from games they are in or have been in. Hilariously, there is one common thread that seems to run in all of the best stories - whether they're successes or failures - and that is the seeming insanity and near impossibility of the situation the players were in, how they rose to the occasion, and then of course whether it worked out or not.
For example, a Shadowrun story I recently read had 4 players trying to keep a nuke from going off while a group of 30+ tactically equipped covert ops and a group of hundreds of bug spirit infected crazies fought over it. The group ended up dying in a nuclear blast, not because their plan wasn't working but because their sniper got bored and started shooting people instead of staying on overwatch and preventing people from activating the nuke.
Now, that is a crazy story. Reading the player's description and how they posted it it was the kind of experience you talk about for a long while. It's also the kind of thing I would never, as I am now, have the guts to really do to my players. Why? Because the situation just seems so impossible. I can imagine the sour feelings, the expectations that the GM wants the players to fail, and I would back off. I would extend olive branches, or give alternate paths. See the problem
If not, the problem here is simple: I'm not trusting my players. More to the point, I'm also not trusting myself. By making it easy, by not giving them the opportunity to take on - or get into - these situations I am also saying that I don't trust them to rise to the occasion.
Now, this doesn't mean that every situation has to be one of these. There are a lot of strengths in my current GMing style as well that I don't want to lose, but on occasion there is a good side to those old tough as nails GMing sessions. After all, it's the hardest problems that give the biggest pay off when solved, right?
Cold, Rational, Harsh Objectiveness
The other thing I think I've lost with the old school style of GMing is the ability to be brutally objective and fair with my PCs. I can do it sometimes, sure. Sometimes I can level consequences on them for their actions that are extensive, but believable in how they come out. A lot of times though, I get so caught up in wanting the players to be able to succeed, to showing - even if subtly - ways they can succeed, that the situations that should be those super tough ones to handle become almost gimme's.
Now, this is different than just going with a super creative idea a player has. Those should still work and be done. This also isn't to take away from my players. But over the years some of the quick scenarios we've done in games could have been a lot better if I played it out the way it was originally supposed to be. There's a fine line here. The trick is to not go too far, but still bring back some of the cold and rational to the GMing, even while still enjoying what my players are up to.
The last reason is that I like GMing. I like telling stories in all their varieties. I am interested in becoming a better story teller, and through that I am interested in becoming a better GM. As such I need to seek ways to improve. Lessons to learn, lessons to take from different areas, and - perhaps most importantly - going over what I feel are my strengths and weaknesses and trying to find way to shore up those weaknesses without losing the strengths.