Friday, August 26, 2011

Motivating players to play the game YOU want to run

Doesn't it suck when you want to play a psychological horror game (or an adrenaline-fueled escapade, or whatever strikes your fancy) and your players want the same old routine that was either never your style or was your style last year? Well, all hope is not lost. There's a few things you can do to try your hand at your dream game.

Firstly, sit down and have a chat with all of your players both individually and together. Ask them what they prefer. Is it a Doritos-fueled hack-and-slasher where grunts and die rolls are one’s sole contribution to the roleplay? Or a social game of comedy and daring-do that no one need take seriously? Or do they want an immersive, whole-of-mind acting experience where they want to delve into the deepest nooks of a character’s mind? Or a hyper-realistic monstrous lifestyle simulator where they must figure out how a person would live if they suddenly became a vampire?

There are benefits to each and every one of these styles. Repeat this like a mantra in your own head before you question the players. Accept it. Don’t disparage any other style because it’s not your own but do consider where your own preferences lie. Then start a realistic conversation with a mind toward making compromises.

Let’s take a worse case scenario and assume you want to play a psychological horror game and you find out that one player enjoys the puzzle of figuring out the most powerful stat combinations, another player delights in the aforementioned hyper-realistic simulator, and another one just wants to play a comedic, larger-than-life character. What do you do?

Firstly, accept the differences. Appreciate it. It’s hard, but try to do it. Now, after taking a few deep breaths, move into the negotiation phase. IMPORTANT NOTE: Never promise something you aren’t willing to deliver.

Are your players willing to at least try a psychological game? If not, why not? If you’ve got a hankering for Call of Cthulhu but they prefer to have consistency in their characters, agree to reduce the lethality and make it more investigative with more mundane threats rather than a sanity-rendering horror around every corner.

Pay a lot of attention to your player’s interests during these sessions and try to free form it if they start getting excited about a tangent. If they’re more interested in de-programming a cultist than stopping the cult, relax the time-lines and give them plenty of interesting, minor complications. If they’re keen on what they’re doing, they’ll happily give you extensions to your promise, and this is often how some of the best campaigns are born.

Don’t railroad them. If they come up with an answer that could work, let it work. They’re new to this particular style of game so don’t come hard on them because they didn’t think to door knock the neighbour’s house or they didn’t realise there would be red herrings and so are trying to find some way to include all the information in the plot list. If they’re think they’re right about the suspect, consider letting them be. It’ll give them more confidence which, in turn, will make them more prone to enjoying the game. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have twists and turns and pleasant (or unpleasant) surprises. Just consider whether the game might be more fun if their ideas were true or if they turned out to be wrong, after all. Certainly never make them feel stupid about their assumptions.

Don’t get time-sensitive. If you are concerned that they’ll hold you to the three session rule and you won’t get to finish the adventure, talk to them as players. Tell them that you love the way they’re taking the game but that it may take another session or two on top of the promised three to follow the new leads they’ve discovered. Empowering them in such a way to make the decision will probably make them feel all the more confident to continue playing. After all, it builds trust and passes a little bit more of the responsibility for the game over to them, allowing them to feel a slight sense of ownership that, if done right, will only enhance their enthusiasm to play more.

What are your thoughts? Ever tried this tactic? Did it work for you or not?

Next week, another avenue to take for when your players decide they do want to go back to playing their preferred game.


  1. The other nice things about cultists is you can take them in different directions, depending on what players do and what they seem to enjoy. So you can start off with some generic crime or odd events that characters get caught up in, and eventually they find a cult connection.

    Well, maybe it's just a superstitious bunch of criminals, or an act put on by an unscrupulous mastermind to ensure loyalty. Maybe they're real Mythos cultists, but are fairly respectable types, so it's all about plotting, politics, finance and completely legal - it just happens to involve mass-marketing of Yellow Sign-brand cigarettes, and building a new skyscraper ("The Azathoth Spire") as a charitable job creation project. That might mean the shotguns approach is impossible, so it becomes a matter of wits, diplomacy and finding out dirty secrets. Maybe the cult are genuine and fairly unsophisticated, but they never achieve much Mythosy, making them mad but mundane opponents. Or yeah, maybe it unfolds into a full-blown Mythos plot with Deep Ones and Dark Young all over the shop.

  2. So true. One idea I had for cultists was on the Home Front. The silly fools worshiped a Fire Vampire thinking that would keep their street safe from the Blitz bombs. Obviously it didn't work out, but that kind of well-meaning stupidity can also make things interesting. Especially when the investigators have to deal with them. Shooting them all isn't much of an option there.

  3. I like that idea. The Home Front seems like a great opportunity for Mythos chaos, actually. All those people digging bomb shelters, old buildings being destroyed and hidden compartments broken open...