Familiarity Breeds ...

by David Meadows 16. September 2017 21:43

A reader asked, "How does familiarity with the players affect the game?" and it's a good question that I'm not sure I know the answer to.

Everything in my recent series of posts isn't intended as a "how to" for new games masters, as every GM has to find his own approach. The posts were simply a record of my own personal process (though if they have provoked some thoughts in other GMs, that's a nice bonus). For a start, the single biggest factor affecting my process that won't affect new games masters is my familiarity with my players.

Two of my playing group have been with me since I started the Strikeforce game 30 years ago. The rest of the group joined at various points within the first three years or so. Over the years, others have come and gone, but my current group has been playing my game together weekly for almost 30 years.

That’s a lot of familiarity. They know how I plot things, and I know how they react to things. That's a really nice feeling, in a lot of ways, and a major annoyance in others. No matter what twist I come up with in a plot, the players are going to foresee it, because they know how I think. It makes surprising them a real challenge, to the extent where I now don't try to surprise them, I try to just make the totally-anticipated events enjoyable for what they are.

Sometimes I play on the familiarity. It's now an accepted convention that a red-haired, green-eyed woman with a mysterious past will appear in every historical era, and she'll be from a pure Atlantean bloodline and may or may not be a sorceress (and may or may not, in fact, be the same immortal person -- I know at least one of my players suspects she is). But knowing that the players expect her to turn up isn't a problem, it just gives me the challenge of making her exact motivations interesting this time around.

Working the other way, having an idea of what the players will do in any given situation makes me better able to deduce the outcome and lets me get away with plotting less redundant possible paths for them to follow. I can give the impression that they have four possible choices, for example, while being 90% certain they will take choice "A", and therefore concentrating on fleshing out that part of the plotline.

Or course, it doesn't always work that way and I still can't allow myself to get too complacent.

A significant problem with this "game familiarity" is that I don’t know if it is now possible to add new players to my existing group. Never mind about whether they will enjoy my playing style, the real problem is how could they ever have a clue what’s going on? My players and I have 30 years of shared knowledge of the universe. I never need to explain "Atlantean", because they know exactly what it means in the context of my game. They're good enough players not to let that knowledge colour their characters' actions, of course (in a game, your character is only allowed to know what he should logically know, even if the player knows a lot more). But as a shorthand I can say "Atlantean" to the players and save myself a long plot exposition.

How do you introduce a brand new player into that environment?

I have literally no idea.

In my more self-doubting moments, I think maybe I'm not a good GM at all, and I wouldn't be able to run a game for anybody else, and it's only the familiarity factor which lets my game stagger along at all.

And, you know what? That's ok. I don't aspire to be the world's best games master. I just aspire to make my game the best game it can be for my players

That's all any GM should worry about.

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About this blog

The Heroes Universe is an ongoing work of fiction, conceived and chiefly plotted by David Meadows, with help from a group of friends, over a 30-year period.

I am slowly documenting the Universe on this web site.

This blog is a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of that history.

If you're new here, the series of posts listed below will explain what it's all about. I hope...

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