There are some basic foundations to good storytelling that apply across multiple media forms, and that includes games.
Having just gotten through with an enormous Twitter argument, in which many people – some of them, alas, employed by RPG companies – demonstrated a total lack of understanding of these basics, it seems wort quickly reiterating them.
The game world has to mae consistent, internal sense. The players don’t necessarily have to understand it, but if you know how things work you’ll be able to make rulings and create events that follow a pattern.
If magic works a certain way, then it should always work a certain way.
If you allow someone to pull off a stunt in one situation, then you sould let them do it again – unless there’s a really good reason not to.
The rules of the game world don’t have to match up to the real world, they just have to retain and maintain that internal consistency in and off themselves.
The People Stuff Must be Right
In the same way we can look at a CGI image of a person and be creeped out by the slightest flaw, despite being able to see a face in a couple of dots and lines 🙂 so unbelievable behaviour, social structures and so on will jangle our nerves.
Game of Thrones worked, in its early seasons, because it had a strong establishment and basis in real history (the War of the Roses) and thus in real societal structures, politics and interactions. Not ones we’d especially like today – and they got flak for that – but ones that make sense in context.
This is why it is jarring and detrimental when historical pieces, or historically derived pieces, engage in changes to sate the demands of Twitter activists, at the expense of story and verisimmilitude.
Dragons are an unknown quantity, they could act in almost any way, do almost anything, but you’d better get te people stuff to a good standard or it’ll trip you up.
Nothing is Arbitrary
The GM is ‘god’, of a sort, but he shouldn’t be a random and capricious god. You have dice to moderate those sorts of things, and rules. You set the likelihood, buit (most of the time) not the result. The rules model reality, or hyperreality, in a way that’s consistent, makes sense and reflects the character’s capabilities.
If it all possible you should avoid just making arbitrary decisions as much as possible. With the character’s fate in your hands you might well decide to be too vindictive or too forgiving, and there won’t be a consistent, removed, neutral way to determine what happens.
In books this follows the story logic and how you need the story to develop (without violating the character’s personality etc). In games this follows the game rules, and the character sheet as written, the strengths and weaknesses of that character play into it appropriately..
Pure simulation is all but impossible to create. Rather than aiming for a fully realistic simulation you just need to go with what’s plausible. What’s believable enough and consistent enough to make sense. It’s just believable enough to pass a sniff test, and that’s sufficient in most cases.