As long as the concept of the Total Party Kill exists, the notion that the relationship between the gamemaster and the players is an adversarial one will persist. If that’s how you like to play, have fun. It’s not for me. There’s more enjoyment to be had from creation than destruction, from lifting each other up than crushing one another’s spirits. Cooperation and storytelling is a lot more challenging and, by orders of magnitude more fulfilling, than rolling dice.
One of things that I dislike about running a roleplaying game is having to do all of the heavy lifting. For the most part the gamemaster sets up a situation, and the players react to it. The thing I dislike most as a player is the lack of agency. I understand not having control over the encounters, other than possibly having the choice to avoid the ones you’re aware of. Every system limits the ways a character can respond, based on what the mechanics emphasize.
You can argue that suspense comes from the randomness of the die rolls. Will you roll well, or roll poorly? Will the character’s abilities be enough to keep failure at bay? The gamemaster, though, controls the difficulty of the encounters, the resources available to mitigate that difficulty, and the options that are available to the characters. Your characters literally live or die based on the skill and integrity of the gamemaster.
Increase Suspense with Shared Narration
If you want suspense, that excitement that comes from uncertainly, allow players to share narration. When I wrote the Lighthouse System, that’s one of the problems I was solving for. Sometimes the guide describes the outcome of actions, whether the character succeeds or fails. Sometimes the players can narrate their own fates. The players get to share narration of the antagonists and supporting characters as well. You can accentuate your victories, take a bit of the sting out of your losses, and add to the story.
About Dancing Lights Press
Dancing Lights Press publishes story games that embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation. Our print books are affordable, at $10 or less. The 6×9 digest format makes them convenient to carry around. The spotlight belongs on the creativity of the players as they converse and collaborate on plot, worldbuilding, and character development. Roleplaying is an activity, not a book. Our titles are merely part of the delivery system.