Monday, April 20, 2015

Death Comes For Us All. Let the GM Know When You're Ready

On Sunday at my housemate's L5R game I did the most brazen thing I've ever done with a character in my long history of playing in L5R. My character made bold statements and big actions in the Emperor's court, complete with dropping boxes with nearly 10,000 koku in value inside them onto the floor. It was big, it was loud, it was boisterous and brazen, and it should have got me killed. I told my GM so, and today I want to share with you why I did, and why you should in those situations as well.

Is It Better To Burn Out Or Fade Away?
Here's a spoiler/hint, if your characters answer to that question is that they'd rather fade away, then you may want to re-assess them as your character of choice for an RPG. I'm not saying that wanting to live to a grand old age is a bad thing for a character, but PCs tend to live very interesting lives and part of that is not making it to the tender old age that the rest of us get to live to. How many times have you watched a movie or TV show and seen an action a character did and gone "I wouldn't have done that. I'd just get out of town, not help him out." It's a perfectly reasonable response. However, that answer and which way the person would go is why most of us don't find ourselves as the main characters of these stories. Which, by extension, means that to be the star of an interesting story your character should find themselves going the other way. At least, they should do that some of the time.

Shining Brightly
To put all of the above in a different way, PCs should shine brightly. They should be bold, brash, and daring. They don't have to be. You can have fun doing things other ways. However, the most interesting characters are the ones who aren't afraid to go for the prize. We use the phrase "go big or go home" at my gaming table a lot, and the characters who go for it tend to make very interesting stories. Why? Because even when they fail it's spectacular, and that is what the really fun stories are made of.

On The Razor's Edge
One of the fun things about L5R is that a Samurai is supposed to always be on the razor's edge between life and death. For a samurai, death is not something to be feared. It is something to be embraced. Playing characters that can do that can be amazingly freeing. However, when you play a character that is shining brightly, and that lives on the edge, there are times when you'll find yourself sprinting along the edge. Only, not only are you sprinting, but you're racing someone and unfortunately they have the inside track and aren't afraid to get physical in order to win.

When that happens, when you're racing along the cliff's edge threatening to fall over at any minute with your prize in front of you. Or, more to the point, when your character is doing that you may be surprised to find that in the character's headspace what they are doing, what they are striving for, is worth their death.

The Crowning Moment Of Awesome
The other moment when this can happen is what TV Tropes calls a "Crowning Moment of Awesome." This is the big shine. The moment when your character does something so amazing that it is going to be hard to top. Frequently in RPGs these crowning moments of awesome also made for wonderful end points for a character. Sometimes this moment and the above bit about being on the razor's edge are combined. When you reach one of those points you'll know, and it is there that you should also share that with your GM.

Why Tell The GM
Finally the point of all this. Why tell your GM? Because it lets them know that you are both aware of the potential very real consequences of your action and that you are going forward anyhow. It means that you are making the informed decision to put your character's life on the line in a very real way. It also frees the GM from the doubt that you and they are seeing the situation differently.

Why does that matter? Because these moments can be very stressful on the GM side of the screen. You have a player mouthing off to a very powerful individual - the kind who could have a sniper aiming at the person threatening them - and the in character thing for that NPC could be to tell the sniper to fire. However, the player may not think that they're being threatening. The player may not think that the person has that level of power. Lots of things can happen, and the GM knowing that the Player is both aware of and accepting lethal consequences just makes it a lot easier to focus on running and not on whether you're seeing the scene right.

So let your GM know when you are ok with your life being on the line. It helps everyone out. Also, enjoy your moment. They're the things that make up the gaming stories you'll be sharing for years.


  1. You make a lot of interesting posts A.L.; good stuff. (Part might be that I enjoy that your typical game examples are from L5R.) I think that likely takes a player who GMs a lot to think to say to the GM, "I know the ramifications of this". Folks who are player-only are unlikely to reach across that player-GM divide like that, particularly at such a critical moment.

    I like the "Go Big or Go Home" player moniker. Great point that it's not at all unreasonable for a player, wanting to be a good roleplayer, to consider, "Why in the world would my PC head towards this trouble?". Well, because it's usually much more fun. And your point about playing PCs for whom Go Big dovetails with what these PCs would be likely to do is well made.

  2. My PC takes a loot at your PC and salutes him. XD I see some similarities to what I replied to your previous post. I agree with Sean, it's much more fun when everything is on the line. I had this talk with my GM as well, about the consequences of my PC's actions. Interestingly enough, my GM isn't a killer-GM and said it's unlikely my PC will die as a consequence of her actions. And then she proceeded to provide me with information which made me realize that my PC is actually heading for a fate worse than death. Oops.But I think it can be quite important to talk with your GM and (fellow) players about things like this, so how can you get the other players (who have no o little GMing experience) their chances to shine as much if they don't know how to grab it?

    1. You show them, you tell them, and you encourage them. If you're the GM you do those things, and also don't hit them too hard the first few times they try so that they can get used to the risk and reward factor.

      And definitely hear you on the non-killer GM. The thing is "loss of character" is generally the worst thing that can happen to a Player (though not the character) so I use it a lot. A fate worse than death for the me as a player, that sounds like a lot of fun to play through. However, that doesn't make it a bad consequence for the GM to hand out. On the other hand, it makes it a damn good one.