Sunday, October 6, 2013

GM's Water Cooler: Campaign Aspects and Player Contribution

                       "The power! The unmitigated and absolute POWAH!"

One of the things alluded to, but not exactly spelled out in my most recent post is the idea of player expectations modifying the nature of the campaign that they are playing in. 

 In the example of Francis' Gotham City campaign, he allowed the player Dave to introduce certain aspects (using the common term from the Fate RPG) into his 'gritty' noir-type game:
  • His character of Bruce Wayne as a billionaire playboy and celebrity
  • Costumed vigilantes (a big one) running around an otherwise mundane world
  • Waynetech Enterprises - owned the character himself- who made sci-fi day-after-tomorrow type gear/weapons
In a traditional GM/player relationship, Francis would have been well within his rights to say 'no' to any of the above ideas. The above illustration says it better than I can express: the GM is the Game Master  - the creator and destroyer of worlds! It is not from some mere player to dictate how things are in his game.

But that is the old paradigm, and to my mind also a tired one that needs to be gently put to rest. 

The new paradigm, which Fate but certainly not only Fate embraces is the idea of table collaboration and consensus. The GM is still the director, but anyone at the game table can contribute to the writing and editing process that makes up the game world. 

And this, my friends, is a very, very good thing.  

I have been, and almost certainly will be in the future, a GM that tends to run campaigns on rails: it's like an amusement park ride there there are thrills and spills, but all of them are pre-planned. 

And there is a reason for this: a good GM is by necessity a storyteller, and any good story needs to hit certain plot points to come to a logical and satisfying conclusion. 

But in my experience the most interesting stories happen at the table when things happen that you had not planned: that's where the magic happens. And that is where you have a chance to be not only a good GM (a teller of stories) but a great GM - a master of improv theater. 

To provide some examples, in my recent fantasy campaign Brothers in Arms, the following elements came into play due to player feedback/improv:

 -  One player went to purchase a shield, and tried to haggle the merchant for a better price: he failed his roll so badly that he wound up paying more than the asking price. 
To justify this narratively, a second player riffed that the merchant claimed that it was 'The Legendary Shield of Sir Orkney!' 
I liked this, and it was funny, so I not only agreed that this is what happened, I then only referred to it as the 'Legendary Shield' or 'Sir Orkney's Shield' beyond that point, even though there was nothing mechanically unique about it all.  
But this raised certain questions in my addled GM brain as well: who is/was this Sir Orkney? Is he still alive? Is he actually legendary at all, or was this just the merchant spinning a tale to get a better price? 
This thought process resulted in the characters finally meeting the aged Sir Orkney himself later in the campaign, who turned out to be a man both more and less than advertised...but every inch a legendary hero.  
He is among my favorite NPC's created in the campaign so far, but I would not have thought to include him at all without player input. 

-  In-between adventures Reagan (who plays the cocky Lammert the Disowned) entertained the idea of an old-school dungeon-crawl, complete with torches, traps, 30ft rope and hirelings. 
That sounded fun to me too, so I created a OD&D style dungeon crawl complete with flavor-text for each new area. 
But there was a problem: the rules absolutely did not support hirelings at all at their level (using Fantasy Craft 2.0 rules). 
But my player wanted a hireling...I should make one available. My solution was to introduce a goblin NPC that could be rescued by the group mid-crawl, and would then offer to assist them in navigating the perils of the dungeon. 
This NPC (Hakolo the Delver, unwittingly named by Reagan when I asked him to come up with a goblin name) has since become a mainstay of the campaign and everyone's favorite character- myself included.  
I hadn't initially planned on him being there- I wasn't even thinking of including him in the party beyond that one adventure- but now it's hard to imagine the campaign without him.
 And he exists 95% due to player input.

All of this has taught me to appreciate the value of table input and table-consensus when crafting any RPG session, using any system. 

This not to say that I do everything free-form, nor recommend doing everything free-form; but I think a great GM knows to leave space for player creativity when crafting their game world and scenarios. 

This is the prep work that I do when creating adventures:
  • Create 4-7 'unsinkable objects' - these are the bones that make up the adventure you have planned (ex. Reports of a dragon attacking villagers, The old dragons fighters advice, The villagers tell of the dragons den on the mountain, The dragons den)
  • Make some toys! And by toys I mean sets/NPC's. Make them as simple as the system allows, but with one or two notable traits/aspects to keep them interesting. 
  • Maps can be cool. This is more 'do as I say' then 'do as I do' advice though: I only make maps when the players beg me to...

And that's it! How the players are going to solve the problems I present, or interact with the 'toys' I bring to the table I leave to player creativity. 

And ever since I have embraced this style of GM'ing I have enjoyed the best experiences so far in over 25 years of play with this hobby. 

For me, there is no going back. And that is also a very good thing.