I played a roleplaying game recently in which the GM softened up the opposition in order to make sure the PCs would win, and boy, was I ever pissed off.
Not rationally so or anything. The guy was doing it for the best of reasons, and I strongly suspect that he made the majority of the table happy. There’s an elitist, angry part of me that thinks the majority of the table is wrong, but that’s total bullshit. If you are happy with roleplaying style X, that’s fine. At the most I can get kind of peevish with people who don’t recognize that there’s any other way to swing the story stick, but rest assured that I’ll get a bit peevish at myself when I do that. Cause I do it too.
But man, I was pissed off. If my character had failed to accomplish his goals at that point in time, it would have been one of the most interesting things that had ever happened to him. (Watch me being selfish here. Me me me. I dunno what would have been good for everyone else.) My goal at the table is always to find out how my characters react to adversity. Big adversity, that’s big fun. Having a Big Bad to fight is adversity. Failing to beat the Big Bad is a whole new class of fun.
And, you know, I don’t need to have ego invested in success of my character. I have ego invested in how well I play him, both in a tactical sense and in a roleplay sense. But success or failure on the tactical scale is not determined solely by how well I choose my moves. The GM is all-powerful. If he plops down ten beholders and a suit of powered armor from a grimdark future, my PC will die no matter how smart my decisions are. Likewise, if the GM tones things down, how can I feel that my skill or lack thereof made a difference?
Without the ego sting associated with loss, I am free to decide that I want to play a character who is suffering. Or, of course, one who is a success all the time. In my experience it’s easiest to decide I want to play a character who reacts to whatever happens: if I limit myself to wanting one or the other, or even if I specify a point in between, I’m likely to be disappointed. In a pure home game, maybe less so, since you can find people who share your sweet spots and a GM who will work towards it. Public play, I gotta be more open.
Which brings me back to being pissed off. That wasn’t all that open of me, huh?
I think correct behavior is to recognize the difference in approaches and act accordingly.