I used to play Vampire: The Masquerade with a former friend of mine. He was the Chronicler, that game’s equivalent of D&D’s Dungeon Master. Now, there were times I dreaded the moments I was driving up to our friend’s house up the hill, the last moments as we joked awkwardly around the fire before the session began. Because I dreaded to play. Pretty awful, right?

Part of it, you have to understand, is because I was very shy. I also had at most played D&D at that point and World of Darkness (the line of manuals of which Vampire is part of) is very dark, irreverent, cruel, but also cathartic.

I’m smart enough to recognize it, and the Chronicler embraced those aspects wholeheartedly to pull off some of my deepest recesses.

The biggest single reason for my terror, however, was that he was a prick. Complete and total wangrod. He would completely disregard character drives and motivations, only concerning himself with them when he could exploit them to hurt us, twist the knife, to force us into uncomfortable situations because he reveled in that.

That story is for another time, but I would have forgiven him for that (not as a friend, but as a Chronicler, mind) if it weren’t for that one thing that in my opinion is the worst sin for a Chronicler, Dungeon Master, Game Master, or what have you:

He didn't believe in our character's legends.

What do I mean by that?

Imagine that I come up with you with this character concept:
A sage, a man that has paid a terrible price for his knowledge and that seeks to do good with it in spite of the hatred he carries for mankind in his heart of hearts.

The worst thing you could do is if you, and by extension, your NPCs, were not to respect this idea. If your NPCs were to treat our here character as an idiot then they wouldn’t fulfill that archetype I crave. The one I came to the table wanting to play.

It’s like an invisible contract between you and the player, just like when buy a book or download a game: you expect the content to match the title. While a psycological drama on the horror of fighting demons would be neat, that’s not what I want when I get myself a copy of Doom Eternal, right? I don’t want to be a sobbing mess, I want to be an indestructible, remorseless killing machine.
It’s not about giving the players what they want, but rather in believing the role they chose for themselves.

How do we do that? On a more practical example, these soldiers confronted by the sage could say, stop in the middle of their bravado and listen raptured to his words as if they could almost catch a glimpse of true wisdom. You are believing in that concept, in that legend. And you are making it true.

My chronicler’s rebuttal would be that he loathes when NPCs kiss the ground the PCs walk upon! You need to “earn” the awe of my characters!

As with everything else, he lacked balance. Don’t be like him. Not every guard in the city must bow down in awe as my sage walks by, hell, some might even make fun of him for his robes and disregard his good advices, but when it comes down to it, the Sage must be the Sage. He IS the sage.

Someone in the crowd would chide the guards because “That ‘dress’, you louts, is the holy robes of an Oracle of the obsidian shrine!”

The solider that scoffed at the Sage’s advice will realize that indeed ignoring the plea of the woman resulted in more casualties, finding himself humbled and enlightened by the wise man’s words.

You mustn’t give them all of this for free, but you must allow them to reach it, you must believe that they can, no, that they should get it, through play and roll and, dammit, even just if they gave it all in spite of the dice.

You must give them a platform, a world, and dream where this legend can come to fruition. If you don’t believe that my character is wise, that I can interpret it, then how can I do that? And really, it’s all about belief.

Sometimes a character is hard, because sometimes that role IS above our pay grade. Sometimes I’m playing a charismatic, popular-with-the-ladies-and-boys character because that’s exactly what I’m not.
Le’ts be honest, nobody can “realistically” roleplay a character with 20 in Intelligence. or Charisma, or anything

Fuck “realistic”.

My chronicler didn’t believe we could do anything, us or our characters. They always failed short of what they wanted to be. Listen. That player might not be a sage, but if he wants to play something, it’s because there is something of that concept that speaks to them. Something sang beauty into their ears.

Don’t struggle against it, ease down, listen in, you might just be able to hear it too.

Then you too will believe in their legend.

When you will sit down and play, you will all believe, and it will be true.
It’s going to be a great time.

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