Darkness and Audience
Posted by docryder
I’m going to take a side track with this blog entry. Part of the reason I missed posting on November 1st was that I spend too much time on politics outside of gaming (something I’m forcing myself to stop doing), and partially because the subject I was working towards, the metagame level stuff, was not resonating with me the past couple of weeks. However, something has sparked with me over the past couple of days that I feel I need to wander through.
This last weekend, I ran my continuing D&D4e campaign. The players are directing their characters into a war zone. However, I found myself soft selling the terror of an invading army possibly marching on a town the PCs were visiting. I didn’t create a lot of frantic hurrying. Now, it was an eladrin (high elf) community, who are long lived and react at a glacial pace, but there was a lot of that throughout the game. My initial thoughts after the game were that I’d done the story a disservice. A good deal of DMing advice I’ve read lately discusses how the PCs should fail regularly to give them a greater sense of heroism, or so that the bad guys are truly a threat. That PCs need to be tortured to give the players some satisfaction, to enforce the darkness of the world.
However, between last night and today, I read a couple of posts that make me feel I made the right decisions Saturday night, decisions based on fairly intimate knowledge of my players. The group I DM for I’ve been gaming with for quite a few years now, the adults since the mid ’90’s. Knowing the majority of them that long has given me a good feel for how they play and what they want from a game. And they don’t want dark, hopeless games, or games in which they are the only light.
That’s something I’ve been seeing more and more of in a lot of game settings, as well. That there are many large groups, all conspiring to conquer or destroy the world. The whole “points of light” concept of 4e also presses that idea. I’ve seen other small press settings that seem to push those ideas.
In the World of Darkness games I ran with this group (many years ago), I ran a more “World of Dimness” game. Some plots got rather darker (the corrupted sex spirit that manifested as cancerous reproductive organs comes to mind), but it was not a relentlessly dark game. The “standard” World of Darkness should probably be pretty much relentless depressing.
But who really wants all that?
RPGs are escapism. At least in theory. What set me on the thought that my choices were correct were a couple of posts that one of my players remarked how certain relentlessly dark entertainments (movies and television) were depressing her, to the point she’s decided to remove them from her entertainment time. I commented above on how much time I spend on politics. In all reality, the political reading tends to depress me. DMing is an escape for me as well as my players.
So, I run games that aren’t spirit crushing, but that do include evils that may overrun the world without the PCs acting. At some point, the game may include the PCs entering areas in which the enemies are oppressing the locals, maybe even killing them in great numbers, but those sessions shouldn’t last long before the PCs free the people and save the day.
Because I know my players, one of the most valuable tools in the DM’s toolbox.