Challenge the Players and Happiness Will Follow

As a GM it is easy to become obsessed with keeping the players happy. Not challenged, but happy. The PCs will succeed, because that will make the players happy. Yet the PCs will not succeed easily, because this will not make the players happy. So the PCs will succeed no matter what, and the players will feel challenged, but the truth is that the PCs are insulated from failure because the players will not be happy if the PCs fail.

For some reason the above actually makes sense to some GMs. Whether they realize it or not these GMs are trading their satisfaction for the challenge of keeping the players happy. These GMs have created an inverse of what the situation should be. They take on all of the challenges in an attempt to ensure that the players are insulated from disappointment.

It does not work. Some players might enjoy this type of game, but many will see behind the curtain and learn the truth about the wizard. At that point the game is ruined for those players, because they have learned that they are not playing a game at all. They are just an audience to the GM’s storytelling efforts.

It is also possible that the GM will forget that this burden is self-imposed and resent the players for it. The GM burns out from this constant need to deliver the illusion of a game.

If this sounds like your GMing style do yourself a favor – stop. Just stop trying to keep the players happy. Let the players face challenges in the game without a safety net. The players will fail, and sometimes that failure will make the game less fun.

So what?

Anyone who has ever played a sport knows that every game ends with a team that loses. Sometimes those losing teams played exceptionally well and still lost. When a person enters into a legitimate contest the risk of failing at the challenge is always present.

Better to be challenged and face actual risk, then to be coddled and deceived. Besides, just as failure is always present with a sincere challenge so is the potential for success. Sincere success is exactly why you want to challenge your players instead of trying to ensure their happiness, because what follows a sincere success is usually sincere happiness that the players will manifest all on their own.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment below and tell us all how you feel.