What is the most counterintuitive thing you can do as a gamemaster?
Aks for Permission?
What? As a GM aren't you supposed to be in charge? Maybe if this was still the 80s where the general concept was GM vs Players. But these days the players are asking for more than just cool stats on their character sheet. They want a good story. Well, part of that is creating a few situations that may require some permission. It sounds odd but let me set the scene for you if that is ok?
I'm thinking it was Monte Cook who said that its not a good idea to capture the party because they will all lose their player Agency. And I agree with this. There is nothing worse than having the feeling that your character has been stripped away from you. Be that Death, Mind control or having the party captured. (TPK is the worst by the way). We get really invested in our characters and in our head, we are always running some kind of scenario where we are the actual hero of the story,(and the rest of the party including the Paladin are your sidekicks). So anything that disrupts that destroys the fun. The moment that the players are not having fun the Gamemaster has failed at their job. So how do you do these tricky situations without destroying the fun of the game? You get permission.
One of the things that I have tried is asking the players for permission to capture them. I told the players in advance.
"In this scene, you will all be captured. I'm going to offer you some extra XP for making it a good fight.... don't worry you will get all your stuff back at some point but this will be fun"
Now conventional wisdom would say that the party would not have any fun knowing the outcome of the scene. If that was the case why do we watch the same film more than once? It's not the outcome but the journey that really matters. By telling the players that is what they can expect (and asking for permission) the players are still in control. Not to mention that the players also have more trust in you as a gamemaster. As for the fun. In my experiment with this technique the players really overacted the moments of falling to almost death and being captured.
Enrolling the Players in your plot
This is actually an old technique. Where you take a player aside and let them know they have been mind controlled and asking them to play the part correctly without telling the other players. But if you were to just tell the player across the table "You have been mind controlled" you have a chance of making the player uncomfortable. This makes the player actually a co-gamemaster. What I am suggesting is that you do the same sort of thing in a larger scale. By making the players part of the plot vs having the plot being something that is done to them it ensures the player agency.
What if the players tell the GM no?
If you are going to ask for permission you should really make sure that you stick with their answer even if you do not like it. There is nothing worse than losing the trust of your players. I recommend that if you are going to be setting a scene that requires permission that you have some kind of backup plan just in case. Something that may be more standard sort of plot device.
It works for all kinds of stuff.
- Mind control
- Having something stolen from a player character
- Being captured
- Betrayal in the party
It's amazing what you can get away with if you ask for permission first.