Sunday, August 28, 2011

Getting everyone on the same page

One of the trickiest parts of starting up a game is ensuring that all of the players and the ST are on the same page as to what the game is meant to be about. As much as some of us Character First players might hate to admit it, there are certain meta-game considerations that generally should be kept in mind when creating a character. Some of it is in the attributes chosen, but a lot of is about the mentality.

If I were creating an elf barbarian whose fear of her own rages convinced her to be a pacifist, then I'm not going to have much fun in Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder which requires a certain degree of hack and slashing. Sure, I could use the system to portray it well enough but the game itself, and the system, is not designed for it and both the DM and the other players are likely to be annoyed by that. A certain degree of wanderlust, racial tolerance, desire to band together, and willingness to do violence is important in the grand majority of games in those systems.

So what do you do to ensure that everyone is willing to at least take those meta-game needs into consideration?

Well, as always, it's better if you can get them out into the open - especially if you're playing using a more tool kit system like GURPS that gives you a lot of leeway in what the game could be about. The ST (generally, though a player could do so) needs to figure out the basic rules of the style of game and literally state those rules and point them out to the other players who might not realise it.

If you're running a gilded cage game set in a small location, ensuring that the players know not to create globe-trotting scientists is probably a good bet. If it's an investigative game, it's important for the characters to be curious and willing to delve into things rather than simply running away from it. In a survival horror, the opposite may be more valid. In truth, a lot of it is about the mentality of the character.

Yes, some people may shudder at the immersion-breaking thought of putting too much stock into gameplay considerations during (or after) character design, but it's important to do so just in case you accidentally paint your character into a frustrating corner. What happens if you don't find it fun to play the guy dragged from crime scene to crime scene by his hunter friends?

It's also best to remember that the game itself will provide some of these boundaries or encourage the characters to behave in a certain way, either for or against your guidelines. For example, if you have a spirit claim a werewolf character's wife in a very locally-based game and then have that claimed victim run off inter-state to her mother's house, then the game will become far less local no matter the suggested rules.


  1. Amen. I'd much rather break immersion before play when establishing boundaries than during it when some assumption or expectation has been unrealised and everything's gone to flange.

  2. Yeah, players are also far more willing to factor in the game's needs on their own beforehand than after they've got their hearts set on a particular action.