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.