As a GM we fear the loss of control. I see this everyday with myself being the one fearful, but I also see it at the gaming table quite a bit. I’m a very weird player when it comes to RPGs, I’m not attached to a character and will play it like it’s just an avatar in adventures doing things that are far past the daring do of what a ‘sensible’ character would show. This is my own take on it because of needing to let go of my fears and do things in ways I wouldn’t do away from the table.
I’ve had a character tie a secured rope around its waist and fling itself over the edge of a flying bison and had all the other players screaming asking what I was doing, as I chased a character that did something similar. This is about as out of control as you get, which can be amazing for me but frustrating for everyone else at the table. Thankfully @vladepsyker was my GM at the time and was able to deftly deal with that flight of fancy, but it’s dealing with these oddball ideas that makes any GM cringe.
Spontaneity at the table isn’t a bad thing but most people have a fairly determined direction that they are going to go. When off the cuff player actions catch you unawares it can be hard to adapt to the new course the players are going. Preparation of setting and NPCs are your only guides along with a faint clue of where the characters need to go and where this new tack takes them.
The thing I’ve learned from how my GMs have acted when I’ve done weird things has been to ask me what I want to do with what I’ve done. This should be a normal question for you, even for normal skill checks it’s a good question to ask since your intentions for a roll and theirs can be wildly different. Getting from a player what they intend with a roll can help you set the difficulty of the check and also see if it’s going to interact with any of your plots.
The worst feeling as a GM is the drop of your stomach when the players do something completely, utterly, off the wall that would break your game. A player just doesn’t quite seem to get that when deciding to follow a character concept to its fullest the GM might be rocked back and need time to re-prepare for what they’ve just been given. Players have a knack of inferring what’s going on and wanting to move faster, taking the direct route and cutting out what they consider a slower approach.
Being able to deal with jumps in logic is easier. It’s shortening the path that the players are on and letting the ‘failure’ ideas that came before start popping up. Did your players con their way into having a ship ready for them without any real foreknowledge they’d need one? Then how are they going to know where they want to go? What are they going to do when they get there? Was there a piece or two of info that you were going to give them on the way that you now have to put into the mouths of other NPCs?
The biggest challenge with that I’ve had as GM is following through with little pause since your own narrative jumps so far forward you have to start back up again. The way I deal with it is something that was only recently suggested to me, index cards. My adventure plot, my NPCs, all on index cards so that I can keep them in order and they fit better behind the lovely Edge of the Empire GM screen I have. This allows me to move a few plot points forward as quickly as the players want to go. I don’t get bogged down in spinning my wheels to come up with new ideas. It flows freely by jumping from card 2 with the opening of the control stations doors to card 9 when the players are getting on the ship.
When players do something that makes things go in an unforeseen fashion I have only had success by asking them what they intend and getting the player to get me on board with their vision of how things are. That gives me enough information to say if they have a chance of it working. If my players want to steal a ship and the first thing they do is ask if a Laundromat is close by I’d be scratching my head for a second. When I ask them why they need one and they explain they want a disguise, I have enough information to start spinning a new idea on how to make the scene.
When the players start to create, they might not be able to verbalize what’s in their head as well as they’d like. Asking questions and giving them help in forming the world they’re trying to work in is your normal goal. Sometimes it’s harder to get past the veil of understanding. I have yet to find a time when it wasn’t worth getting past that veil.
Do you have any player zaniness that you’d like to share, especially if it somehow worked out right. Please leave a comment below.