Okay, maybe you folks can help me out with a block I'm having.
I've played games from GURPS and Hero to Ghostbusters and Toon, starting with AD&D in junior high. I've usually run the campaigns, and I've usually played them with people who are already my friends, who enjoy RPGs but aren't particularly obsessed with them.
And yet I haven't run a game in years, in part because I can't quite figure out what I want out of a campaign. In particular, I'm stuck on the rules versus story divide. But perhaps not in the way you'd think.
I'm happy to run what I'll call a "clockwork" game, where I set down a living world and the PCs live within it, with the logic of the world and the rules in the book deciding what happens. If the characters pick a fight with a disguised assassin, they die. If the characters march off into the woods in the mistaken belief that there's adventure there, they spent a day or a week wandering around the woods.
I'm also happy to run what I'll call an "improv" game, where the rules and dice are a guideline at best, nothing is concrete until I say it is, and the important thing is having a rip-roaring story. If they pick a fight with a disguised assassin, well it wasn't a disguised assassin after all. If they march off into the woods in search of adventure, then lo and behold there's adventure in the woods.
I'm happy with either of those. And yet I don't think my players are happy with either. From what I've observed, they want me to run an improv game but pretend it's a clockwork game. They want me to keep them from getting gutted or being bored, but they want me to hide from them the fact that I'm frantically refactoring behind the scenes.
Now, even this isn't a problem in and of itself. I understand that within the game they don't want me to say "Well, that guy was supposed to be a disguised expert assassin, but I'm going to make him a plain old regular drunk and the old man in the corner is now actually the assassin." That would be like Picard turning to the screen and saying "Don't worry, folks, the Romulans won't actually blow up the Enterprise, we still have the rest of the season to get through."
But it's not just within the game itself. I don't think they want me to say, after the fact, "Wow, you guys were pretty doomed when you drew steel on that assassin, but I decided to make the other guy the assassin instead."
I feel like a professional wrestler in the mid-eighties, when they weren't allowed to admit they were playing a character. I feel ... silly.
If my job is to present a self-consistent world, can't we play in a self-consistent world? If my job is to give the players a fun story that they influence with their decisions, can't we just play "storytime with occasional die rolls"? Is it really my job to provide the latter and tell them it's the former?
Do I need to find new players? Do I need to find a new hobby?
Does anyone else have this headache of a problem?