“Do You Trust Me?”

Posted: March 5, 2013 by jddennis in GM's Corner
Tags: , , , , ,

There’s a really neat set of scenes in the movie Aladdin that I’ve been thinking about in terms of gaming. It’s those moments where Aladdin asks Jasmine “Do you trust me?” The first time, they’re in Aladdin’s den and the royal guards are chasing them. In this instance, Aladdin wants Jasmine to trust that he get them out of a hairy situation. The second instance is on the balcony. Aladdin is asking her to trust that Prince Ali Ababwa’s magic carpet ride will be safe. But I see it as more than that. He’s asking her to look past the obvious turn-offs that she sees, the stuffed-shirt, swaggering peacock routine that offends her so much. He’s asking that she takes a chance.

A lot of times, GMs are asking this of their players. It comes up all the time. Do you trust me to come up with a good story? Do you trust me to handle rules properly? Do you trust me not to do something awful to your character?

And a lot of times, seems like the answer is emphatically: “not a chance, bub. You and your magic carpet can take a hike.”

I’ve been in situations when the game grinds to an agonizing halt because a player has invokes an obscure rule in the system. While the questioning player examine the appropriate rules compendium for an appropriate ruling. Phones come out, doodling commences, and the session has lost its allure.

Another situation I’ve seen is the finely tuned metagamer. The person knows how to effectively maximize their character so that they can perform less like a character and more like a finely tuned machine. At that point, I can’t see the motivation of roleplaying anymore. Why not break out a Warhammer 40,000 game or some HeroClix instead?

To be honest, I can’t place too much blame the individuals who do either of these things. I have a suspicion this approach to gaming comes from several different sources. Some of it could be fear. Or, maybe it’s just a need to have things “just so.” It’s possible that they’re looking for some kind of control in a cooperative situation where someone else has a very big amount of say. I understand all of these things. The GM can do something to the player’s character that they completely disagree with.

Another reason for a lack of trust between the GM and the player is a lack of communication between the two camps. For example, a player can make a character that has a wildly high charisma and is weak in terms of combat. If the GM keeps throwing monsters at this player for combat, they’re going to become frustrated. They want to have social encounters, not face off against toadies! GMs can look over this kind of communication, though, in favor of the story they want to tell.

That’s one reason I like systems with beliefs or edges and hindrances used in the character generation process. It gives the player a lot of input into the kind of story they want to have the GM weave. Those are road signs to the GM: “This is what I want to do.”

Trust is something that I’m going to have to earn. Right now, my group is willing to take a chance on the street rat. But that’s only because we’re in the opening stages. A lot of things are still very theoretical. We won’t get into the practical until the dice hit the table.

When I first decided I wanted to GM, I plotted out several different campaigns in a few different settings. They were fun ideas — things I found exciting. But they were games that I would want to play. I was following advice that I had read in books about writing novels: write what you want to read. To a certain extent, I’m still holding to that; I’m always going to GM a game that has a story that I want to experience. But I realized I have to meet the players halfway. They need to be invested in the story just as much as I am. So, from the get-go, I’m trying to get as much input from my group as possible.

I can’t say that I’m going to get this right all of the time. I’m a novice story¬†teller at best. But I am someone who is eager to create stories and who wants to learn from mistakes. In that way, I can’t make the same guarantee as Aladdin. I can’t say that this carpet ride is going to be safe. But I’ll do my best to make it memorable.

So, here I am. Holding out my hand.

“Do you trust me?”

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