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The animal is never wrong


On the dedication page of "Aware," you'll see that I thank the "GURPS crew." These are a group of folks I have (on-and-off) played live pen-and-paper RPG games with for more than 20 years. If that sounds like a long time, some of them had been playing together for nearly 20 years when I joined the gang.

Primarily, we play GURPS, which is the Generic, Universal Role Playing System from Steve Jackson Games. Basically, GURPS is to D&D what Protestantism is to Catholicism. But regardless of the system you use, the fun you'll have is dependent on the group you play with and the skill, creativity and humor of the game master (GM).

These guys are amazing. Wonderful players, wonderful GMs. Good times, great sessions, terrific stories for many, many years.

During one particularly tricky and creative campaign, my friend Ed King was GMing. And we had fun and did some battles and ran around and got ambushed and did some spy stuff and it was 8 hours of fun on a Saturday back in the 90's.

At the end, I happened to glance at a really neat map in Ed's pile of notes for the adventure. And I noticed that it had a lot of detail and material in an area that we, the players, had decided to avoid. I mentioned this to him, because it looked like a lot of work. And there are things (ahem) a GM can do to (ahem) guide players to go to a place with a lot of detail and work put in. You make it obvious that "here there be loot, dragons, fun times, etc."

So I asked Ed why he hadn't used a heavier hand in guiding us back to some details that he'd obviously spent some serious time on. His reply is in the "thanks" of the book, too:

"The animal is never wrong."

He wasn't being mean to us, the players. He meant that you can't tell someone to do or be a thing that they're not. I mean, you can... but if you do that, you're not letting them be the players; you're making them be an offshoot of the game master.

This has been an important mantra for me when I GM my own games, and as an author. Because while it might not *feel* like fictional characters are their own "animals," they often are. And when I've had the hardest time writing, it is often because I'm trying to steer my characters into situations based on what I want them to do, rather than what they probably would do. What I have learned is that if I have a set-piece or some action in mind and it isn't fitting with my vision of my characters... I need to either change the action, or bring in a new character.

This doesn't mean that the characters don't evolve. They do. But you can't simply make them do stuff they don't want to do.

Ed had it right. And you could do way worse than use that as a guiding principle when writing or telling stories or creating game-spaces.

 

©2017 Andy Havens