Monday, January 23, 2012

The Player Driven Campaign

It seems to be the nature of gaming blogs that they are largely DM-oriented. We do a lot of dissecting what makes our games work best, the ideas we have for making them better, campaign setting details, houserules, and, especially in our old-school corner, the "lost secrets" of how the first DMs and game designers made things work. What's often given short shrift, however, is the player's role in all of this.

Is it simply a given that the player's in everyone's groups are just as involved in the development and growth of a campaign's setting and houserules as the DM is? I kind of doubt that.

Personally, I've found that players that are more interactive than reactive are pretty hard to come by. I've DM'd at more than one table where I've felt like some sort of performing monkey, doing my best to provide an engaging game while being met with blank looks and bored expressions while players just wait for me to tell them when to roll some dice.

The best groups I've played with or DM'd have not just been the games that were run the best, or offered the best adventures or settings, they were the games wherein the players were just as interested in developing the game as the DM. My current group, for example, is primarily writers and artists, and the effect they have on the game is profound. They are not shy about expounding on the possible uses of weird magic items they find, they're specific about the things they look for in cities and settlements, they tend to think outside the box when it comes to defeating powerful foes and obstacles...

It makes me wonder if there is a way to quantify what makes the best sort of players - would this help make bored or reactive players more involved in the game? Or would it be seen as an affront to a particular player's creativity? It seems like having a way to briefly describe the players' role in the development of the best campaigns would be a good thing - just as important as providing a good setting, good adventures, and the best suited ruleset.

In the notes or on your own blogs, please tell me a bit about what you like best about, or expect from, the players in your game.


  1. I've noticed the same thing (interative vs. reactive). I've had it work best when the source material is very familiar to them (like a group I had playing FASA Star Trek once), or in some superhero games based on known properties.

    For some players, though, I find actively encourages them to add to the setting or be creative works against their desires and may even make them a little anxious. Not everybody wants to be creative on that level, but I think its important to get to know your player's so you're not cheating them (or yourself) out of the synergy that came come from participative world-building.

  2. I'm fortunate to have DMs for 3 out of my 5 players. They are pretty good at coming up with additional ideas for the campaign and things they'd like to try.

    Personally as a player, I am always looking to flesh out who my character is; in one DM's game he was ecstatic as my PC (a unscrupulous thief) died and I took on his backwaters young hireling who founded a religion around this dead boss' grand stories. This brought him into conflict with the village elders. When HE died, he became the first martyr for the cause.

    Within a few session I had already established several holy artifacts and sacred practices and recruited the youth of the village.

    ... then the GM got busy and the campaign halted...

  3. I think players are most likely to be ready to be involved on this level if they are involved from the get-go. This is one thing I love about the Dresden Files RPG which starts with group-generation of the setting, NPCs, and characters. That process makes the players feel more ownership and also tells the DM what kinds of things the players are most interested in doing.

  4. Great post! I jotted down a quick post in response:

  5. Enthusiasm, unquestionably enthusiasm. Everything else they can learn if they want to, but enthusiasm is irreplaceable. If you have enthusiastic players, they'll want to learn the rules, want to come up with things about the world, and want to create interesting characters. Plus, if players are enthusiastic about playing, I find that the number of arguments, disputes and social crapping are much lower, and can be dealt with much more easily because they want to do what it takes to participate in the game. They also serve as ambassadors to their social circles, drawing other individuals interested in roleplaying to my attention and possibly even into a group if I have the space. Even if I can't accommodate them, I encourage them to start their own campaigns in turn and try DMing.

    I recruit a lot of new and lapsed players in my games, and it's the one quality I look specifically for (or at least it's sidekick, curiosity) when I recruit. My experience since I started doing this is that I more often face the problem of too many players than too few, which is a pretty great feeling compared to the situation many other gamers seem to find themselves in.

  6. I've posted my reply on my blog.

    Let me know what you think.

  7. I'm coming from the opposite angle. With my last group I kept trying to introduce backstory & motivations for my PC and the DM would stare at me blankly, say "um, sure" and then completely stonewall it. He wasn't at all open to letting in anything from the players intrude into his setting.
    I think as a DM its easy to be this way, even without noticing. So rules or advice in the text about how the DM can develop the skills to accept / encourage player contribution is also something to look at.

  8. "With my last group I kept trying to introduce backstory & motivations for my PC and the DM would stare at me blankly, say "um, sure" and then completely stonewall it."

    How do you stonewall backstory and motivation? You're always free to be motivated by your motivations, surely? And backstory can always just sit there, esp in a sandbox exploratory game it may not be very relevant. Did you expect the GM to create content to suit your PC's expressed interests?



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