Thursday, 3 March 2016
10th Anniversary Classic Rant: Playing "Chicken" With Your Players
I want to present you all today with an important GMing Law: You can play a game of "chicken" with your players if that's what they want, but you can't lose it.
There are times when a GM may decide to have his Players encounter an opponent or a group of opponents that vastly outmatch them, a situation where combat would be essentially suicide. That's the GM's RIGHT.
Unfortunately, there are also players (and often entire player groups) whose response to this would be to charge forward and attack that unstoppable foe, deciding that they want to play a game of "chicken" with the GM. Their logic is "well, the GM won't just kill us all, because otherwise the campaign he loves so much will come to an end".
You know what? Sometimes, you have to be willing to kill what you love. If your players put you in this kind of a situation, you have to RUN the fucking thing, and let the dice fall where they may (which is, statistically, the massacre of the entire party). If the players somehow squeak through that, fine. That doesn't mean you lost, it means they got lucky.
If they don't, however, they're all DEAD. Start over, new players or a new campaign or whatever.
The crucial thing is, you cannot be seen to "lose" that game of Chicken in the sense of having been the one to flinch first, or else the players will know that they have you forever, they will never again fear any monster you might throw at them. You've just said that you are a complete wuss without the courage of your convictions, and that all your big scary opponents will just be paper tigers; the PCs WILL always win, and you might as well have been sending them "challenge rating appropriate" stuff!
I mean fuck, if the point of sending them ridiculously tough opponents is that in that moment in the game they're NOT supposed to fight (they're supposed to surrender, or run away, or be creative), then the lesson that you must teach is "Fight This and You'll Almost Certainly Die".
Otherwise, you're fucked.
(Originally posted December 11, 2009)