As a Game Master or Player in any Role Playing Game, we have the opportunity to become something other than ourselves. We are afforded a chance to be a powerful wizard, a space marine, a great warrior or even a dragon. As we play out these roles we act in a manner different than our own true nature right?
Well truth be told while most of us do in fact “play” the character or Non Playing Character and give them a twist of personality, many of us inject our own subliminal character traits into said character without much thought or control. Often we will allow our own emotions that we feel as the player, directly influence the actions of the character. In many cases this is not a bad thing, as if we feel empathy to a situation, then maybe our character would too, or If we feel saddened by something that occurs during the game, maybe our character is upset also. For example. Recently during a game session on Howreroll two of our heroes were faced with a dilemma to acquire the song of a Siren. They needed it as a bargaining chip to free a fellow part member and sister to one of the characters. They made a deal with the Siren, that they would find and return to her a stolen heirloom, in exchange for her voice (that she would sing into a magical box that they had been given). Upon returning to her with the heirloom it was time for her to make good on her part of the bargain. She was very emotional about parting with her voice and as such the players began to feel guilty, So much did I pull at their heart strings (sad back ground music and all), that one of the players actually teared up. Her character in turn became very emotional and it made for a great moment of role play.
I have also had many other occasions when a player allowed their negative emotions to affect the decisions of their character. Either the player getting mad at an influential Non Player Character (or me as I am the one playing it), and then in turn their character reacts in a foolish way or in a way that really should not have been characteristic of that particular character. I have also had situations when a player who has had a bad day, projects his grumpiness on his character and as such the character is short and snappy in his responses to others. When the negative emotion of a player is allowed to affect the choices made by their character, it often leads to issues at the gaming table. Poor choices and decisions are made, where calmer and less emotional people would have chosen better ones.
The unchecked emotions of a person can have a negative influence on game play both as a player and as a Game Master. We will look at both separately, but several of the points we will touch upon apply to both sides. Then we will look at ways to help control the situation so that it does not have a negative impact on play.
Controlling your Emotions as a player.
As a player you have a character that you are in control of. This character is represented by statistics, skills, abilities and traits that provide the understanding for the make up of the individual you are playing. He may also have an alignment (in the case of Dungeons and Dragons) that lay out some basic guidelines to how he should act. Beyond that the personality of the character is decided upon and played out by the player himself. Everyone is different. Some people are laid back while others are bold. Some are quiet while others are loud and boisterous. The challenge is in playing a character that does not match up to our own personality. Its easier for a quiet and timid bookworm to play a withdrawn and reclusive wizard, just as it is easy for an outgoing and confident person to play a bold and brash warrior. For the bookworm to play the “in your face” Barbarian, that is the challenge. To see him be able to act in a fashion that he typically shy’s away from is more outreaching. The test for a player comes in being able to separate the feeling he has as the player and decide if those feelings are appropriate for his character. To do this it requires you to be able to take control of your personal feelings and emotions and put in your own stop checks.
Firstly if you are one of those people that can be honest with yourself and are able to understand your personality, then you are far more likely to be able to take steps to control it. Some people have issues with confrontation, or have a problem keeping their temper in check as in the player I mentioned in a previous post that you can find here. Of course in that post it was more an issue with the temper of the player around the table and not that he injected his temper into his character. More frequently the issue is that the player allows his personality to affect the actions of his character. I have even seen a very negative individual try to play a Paladin, and it be one of the worst portrayals of that class that I have ever seen. in fact after only four sessions his Paladin lost his abilities and fell from grace. Sometimes even the most level headed and positive individual has a bad day. Being able to put that in check when you sit down at the gaming table is important. Bringing negative emotions to the game can literally get you killed!
It is vitally important to remember that the Non Player Character you face is NOT the Dungeon Master! If you are ticked at your Dungeon Master you should not transfer that to each and every Non Player Character he presents you with. In turn you should not be aggravated at your Dungeon Master just because a particular Non Player Character got under your skin. It is a foolish player that does this, and it will only ever serve to hurt your character in the long run.
Many people have an Ego. An ego at the gaming table is rarely a good thing. Keeping your ego in check is important, even if your character has a big ego. Your personal ego will cause you to write checks that your characters body can not cash. Understand that your ego and the characters ego should come from different places. Whatever events that happened in your life to shape your ego are different from the ones that happened to shape the ego of your character. So once again it is important to separate your ego from your characters.
Controlling your emotions as a Game Master.
As the person who is ultimately responsible for the control of the game, you can less afford to have unchecked emotions than a player. If you have read other topics on this site you may have heard me say several time that not everybody should be a dungeon master. This is another reason as to why. If you are the kind of person that can not control your emotions you should never be a Game Master. I mean it, NEVER! There is nothing worse than a Game Master that acts based on feelings towards his players or based on his emotional state that the day has caused.
As the person running the game, it is your job to serve a great game to the players and do so with fairness and impartiality. You must also have the trust of your players. If you can not be impartial you will not have trust and your game will implode. I have seen way to many dungeon masters play favorites, or due to a current negative feeling towards a player they pick on his character. I cringe when I see this. They can try to fob it off with excuses but as a student of personality and as an empathetic person I see right through it.
Here is a hint. If you ever play in one of my games, do not ever think you can fool me by reacting in a certain negative way and then trying to palm it of as “that’s what my character would do.” I see the expressions on players faces as they act, and I can tell when an action is based of off personal emotion state, or made with a level head.
For the Game Master trust is everything. If your players do not trust that your actions will always be fair and impartial then you can not have a good game. I will not play with a Game Master who clearly plays favorites, or with one who is guilty of emotional outbursts. The biggest issue (when discussing emotional control) I see with Game Masters is in unchecked egos. There is no place for an ego in a Game Master. You can be an egotistical prick in real life but if you can not park that ego at the gaming table do not run a game! As a Game Master you can do anything. You can kill the players on a whim so what is there to be egotistical about? The player all know you have the ability to kill them, so you have nothing to prove. This being said it is frightening how many Game Masters have “god” syndrome or feel they need to remind their players of the power they wield. Once again these people have unchecked egos, and they do not have the respect of their players. I actually heard a Game Master say this once. “Hey you better be nice to me, or I will upgrade those six orcs to six trolls and then your fucked!’ He was kind of joking (partially at least), but this was the kind of personality that he had. These kinds of comments are just a reminder to the players that you (the Game master) are god. Well those who think that need to get over themselves and learn what being a Game Master is really about. As I have said before you are more servant than ruler.
So we have outlined the responsibilities of both player and Game Master when it comes to emotion and ego management. It is fair to assume that some of you reading this may have difficulty at times in checking your feelings, and may even be able to own up to times when you have been guilty at the gaming table. Lets look at some ways to help you keep it in check.
- Create a ritual that allows you to switch into game mode, and shed the negative aspects of your day. This is one of the reasons I believe a thirty minute pre-game session is a good idea, as it lets you get the stink of the day off of you and get mentally prepared to play.
- STOP and remind yourself before any action that you are NOT your character. It can help you refrain from acting on personal feeling and allow you to rein back in those emotions.
- Remember that nothing is personal to the player during the game. The negative things that occur during game play are to the character, and not the player.
- Develop and practice trust. Make sure that you remember that the players and Game Master need to have mutual trust, and remind yourself of it before you act.
- Remind yourself that it is a game. Yes you can have personal ties to your character but at the end of the day it is still part of a game and the negative things that happen to it should never be allowed to cause negativity in the real world.
- Be honest with yourself. Being able to realize when you may be acting in a negative way is important in keeping it in check.
- If its that bad DON’T play. If you really are having a hard emotional time of it, then its better to remove yourself from the situation. No one likes missing sessions and in the case of the Game Master we often feel obligated to play even if we do not feel like it. Truth be told if you do play under these circumstances you are probably doing an injustice to your fellow players.
Because Role Playing Games are a social endeavor, it is important to understand how emotions can play such a large part in the outcome and fun of the game. Most of us know better than to be rude to a stranger in real life just because we got a parking ticket ten minutes before, yet many are OK with their character being a total ass to the first Non Player Character they meet, just because they themselves are in a piss poor mood. Remembering that during play, you are responsible for the actions of your character, and his or her actions should be based on their situations and experiences within the game world. They should be unaffected by the events of our world, and by your emotional state…………….