Sir Osric: What do you have against peasants, murderous trollop?
Luster: Just a general, all-purpose loathing.
Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising
Love is in the air
The compilation of entries showcased a wide range of creativity in creating characters. However, many of the suggested love interests for the Heroes had drawbacks, such as madness, lycanthropy or demonic heritage.
This was not true of the winning entries, so drawbacks did not seem quite so popular with the voters. Yet, the concept of a lover with a dark secret was certainly a sub-theme of the contest as a whole.
Hopefully this trend was not a reflection of the turbulent private lives of the writers. Rather, it strikes me as a throwback to a more old-school tradition of the adversarial GM.
Betrayal as a Plot Twist
They did not see it coming!
The advocates of the hidden motive might argue that this creates an interesting plot twist. The Hero falls in love, is happy for a short time, and then the lover reveals their dark secret and the drama ensues.
In the short-term, this may add a new plot to the campaign. The big reveal is likely to engage the other Players, but the Player affected may not feel as amused. It takes a lot of courage on the part of a Player to roleplay through the experience of falling in love. This is asking a lot from the Player, and can touch upon some very personal experiences.
To then throw this effort back into the Player’s face seems to be unnecessary and cruel. There is no reason why a love story cannot be part of an ongoing campaign. Indeed, it probably ought to feature a lot more in games, given human nature. Yet, for a GM to deliberately trick a Player with a lover who turns out to be a trap risks betraying the trust between Player and GM.
Yes, such a plot twist can create a dramatic reveal, but I do not believe that the long-term effects are worth the effect of this one big moment.
Lack of Player trust
Gary: See! That’s why I kill so many NPCs. You never know!
Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising
The first thing that will be lost to the GM is the Player’s trust. This kind of plot will only work once. From this point onwards, the Players are likely to be even more wary around NPCs. So many games seem to play out as though the only people that the Players can trust are the other Players.
The betrayal plot is sure to lead the Players towards the dreaded “murder hoboes” style of play. This may work for a lot of OSR-style games, but it also constricts the GM regarding the variety of possible plots. Any sort of hook that originates with an NPC is going to be viewed with suspicion and mistrust by the Players eager to avoid being caught in another of the GM’s “traps”.
This is aside from the potential personal fallout from the affected Player. It is one thing for a Player to approach a GM with the idea of their character being betrayed. It is something else to spring such a twist on an unsuspecting Player, who may be pushing themselves creatively to roleplay falling in love.
Such a Player may feel personally betrayed by the GM, or deliberately humiliated. Risking friendships for a mere plot twist is somewhat unwise. The gaming group ought to be a welcoming, safe environment to game together. A betrayal plot of this nature risks the group unity.
Is this a price worth paying?
Kevin: If I don’t keep them focused on the story . . . they are just going to run around looting, killing and impregnating my entire world.
Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising
So, as the GM, you have to ask yourself whether such a plot twist is worth the impact that it will have on the game. Games are not played in isolation. What happens in one game will mould the way that Players play the game. If Players are betrayed in one game, then they will become less trusting in all the other games.
As a GM of a long-term campaign, I believe that part of the responsibility of guiding the game is guiding the Players towards my preferred style of play. I want to run a collaborative narrative game. I want the Players to trust me as an impartial GM and storyteller. I also want the Heroes to have strong relationships with the inhabitants of the setting, which would require the Heroes to trust their family and friends.
I do not want the Players to be fighting against me, seeking to “thwart” my input into the game. Nor do I want the Heroes to be suspicious of non-Heroes. The Players should not be cynical about the motives of the GMCs. I am NOT trying to kill the Heroes. I do not want to run a game for “murder hoboes”.
So, to achieve these goals for the campaign I want to run plots that encourage the Players to play in the style that I want. I need to make playing in the preferred style rewarding, entertaining and ensure that it is the “best” way to play. Setting Players up to be betrayed, especially when they have engaged emotionally with the plot, is not going to achieve this.
I do not believe that a single plot twist is worth the subsequent impact on the game.
However much a certain plot may appeal to a GM, if it moves the Players away from the style of game that you want to run, then it is best avoided. I want to play a collaborative game, so I want to maintain the Player’s trust. GMCs may still betray the Heroes, but there should be clues beforehand. The betrayer ought not to be too close to the Heroes, and certainly not a character that the Players have engaged with emotionally.
Your game may vary, but be aware that the plots you run will guide the Players towards the optimum techniques to cope with these plots. Think about the impact of any plot that you run, and be certain that you want to live the consequences for a long time.
Have you experienced consequences from a plot that you ran? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Something for the Weekend next week; Lost Time, Juggling a GM’s Schedule