Eliciting Reactions: Cart Meet Horse
So we’re having dinner and she says “When I GM, how do I inspire awe in the players? I want them to look at something and just go ‘wow!'”
GMs ask many subspecies of this question. How do I make them love some character I made? How do I scare them? How do I make them care about X?*
Sure, there are ways to do all of these things. But here’s my heartfelt advice: don’t try.
Instead of scheming to elicit some reaction your script demands, just play and let the players decide how to react. Describe things as they are. Play NPCs honestly. Don’t try to manipulate the players to like some character or hate another. But when you do see them react, embrace it! Don’t gnash your teeth when they loathe the NPC you thought would be their cherished mentor. Rejoice, for now your mill is full of grist.
Deciding how the characters feel is the players’ job, not yours. Your job is to give them things to react to and to respect their reaction.
* Ignore the whole metaphysical question of whether you are trying to evoke these emotions in the player or the character. That’s a different discussion.