Thursday, October 15, 2009

Building Trust Between Players and GMs

Alexis over at the Tao of D&D has some excellent points to make about player-GM trust in his recent post:

I rarely find players in my world are willing to gamble on NPCs. I admit, one should be hesitant to trust, but making an arrangement with someone that doesn’t threaten my life is a perfectly sound chance to take. Yet players won’t take ANY chance ... to their detriment, I say.

Why not offer a considerable tithe to the church? Yes, you might not be able to buy that plate mail you so desperately want, or the four white stallions, but aren’t friends worth something? Can’t you think of any good reason why you shouldn’t take a thousand gold and offer yourself as a silent partner to some well-established businessman? You don’t think you’ll get your investment back? Silly player ... who would be a better source for rumours, gossip or warnings than a well-situated member of the town – all the better situated on account of your well-invested plunder?

But no, players don’t think like that. And no wonder. As I remember, the DMs used to be largely untrusting themselves. Give a thousand to a merchant and he is sure to blow town the next day, immediately, with your money. As if that makes any sense at all. Give it to a church and somehow you’ll find yourself on trial as a thief – as though churches have scruples about taking money from thieves. Sure as the sun will rise, if I gave 60 g.p. to a stranger I’d rescued from orcs to buy me men and weapons from town, the stranger would be high-tailing it in the other direction.

It isn’t that players aren’t willing to trust, I think ... it is that they’ve learned that never, ever, under no circumstances will a DM reward them for thinking out of the box. DMs are far too avaricious about depleting a player’s resources, as though that were the purpose of the game. Give them the money and take it back. It isn’t just hack, slash and haul away the loot. You can add ‘and watch the DM screw you’ to the old mantra.


As I said in my comment to the post, there's a temptation with certain GMs to constantly screw players over for trusting an NPC or trying something unusual. The feeling is that this creates "drama" through "conflict." In fact, it just nets you neurotic players who don't feel safe trying fresh ideas, and lack of a feeling of depth in the campaign ("Oh, here's another NPC--they're either a plot hook or here to screw us over.") If there's one thing I can't stand, it's neurotic players. And if there's one more thing I can't stand, it's lack of depth in a game world. If I can avoid both situations while simultaneously building up player-GM trust, then everyone wins!
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