Friday, September 16, 2011

Motivating players to play the game YOU want to run, part 2

In part 1, I talked about how you might be able to coax your players to try your preferred genre and how to dress up the campaign to appeal to them and hopefully lure them into playing it long-term. But let’s say they dig their heels in. Say they can’t imagine that Call of Cthulhu could not be a frustrating meat grinder, is there anything you could do to coax them into trying it?

Perhaps you could run it as a single adventure lasting between one and three sessions (which gives them some leeway if they want to try new things). You promise that if they really give it their all, you’ll run a game in their preferred system, genre and style for the next few months. Who knows? Once you’ve gotten it out of your system, you might realise that your so-called preferred game is not the game for you anyway. There’s also the chance that the players might perk up and get interested and want you to turn that short adventure into a campaign after all.

When you run it, try to reduce all of the elements that they’ve identified as irritating. If they hate boring lead ups, give them something a bit more exciting to jump into that ties well into their characters. You could always have a car chase to grab that relic from the cultists back (with more cinematic than realistic car handling rules) or use a thematic Film Noir introduction for their private investigation firm that perks up their interest. Just remember that the ending needs to be bigger than the beginning, so try to include a hook that isn’t completely outside of the rest of the game.

But let’s say they don’t. They try their hardest (though they doubtless revert to old habits on occasion, but that’s okay, so will you) but in the end they’re keen on that dungeon crawl. Keep your promise and run it to their preference. Don’t complain or you’ll make them defensive and put them off trying new things. Never promise what you won't deliver, after all. Once you’ve fulfilled it and done your best to please them, you could openly have another discussion with them.

Tell them that while you do enjoy their style of gameplay, you don’t think you can stay motivated if you keep running those sorts of games. This kind of advance warning of burn out often makes a lot of players perk up and listen because they’re generally players for a reason. They don’t want to run a game but they do want to play in one. Don’t threaten them with quitting, though, unless that’s a genuine risk. Just be honest and say that particular system, style, genre, just isn't enough to motivate you. Then suggest a few alterations to the themes that might bring their game preferences in line with yours.

Perhaps blend the Action with Horror for a Dark Thriller Dungeons & Dragons game involving sinister artifacts and globe-trotting cultists that worship foul monsters. Or even a Dark Fantasy game where the NPCs are hyper-realistic so that the Barbarian might actually grow as a human being as he sees how terrified people become of him when they see him Rage. (IMPORTANT NOTE: Always attempt to use the themes you’re developing to empower the player characters or interest the players as much as turning the game toward your liking. In other words, don't punish a player for being a Barbarian in your Dark Thriller by only having him scare those he doesn't want to scare. A Barbarian whose rage frightens the villagers might also startle a villain or impress a Knight Commander.)

Also remember that the same can be done in reverse. If your players want a vampire simulator and you want an action game, then put a lot of thought into the nitty gritties but include some explosive moments where they have to use their Celerity and Auspex to handle a car through the busy streets of Manhattan in the pouring rain before that werewolf pack reaches them. There's always an opportunity to blend genres and that can often lead to a lot of fun.

As a Game Master of any stripe, remember that YOU need to be motivated to run the game for anyone to get any real fun out of it. Simply seeing you get motivated might be enough to interest your players so long as you foster trust and ensure your player’s primary needs are being met. If you're bored and just going through the motions, odds are that your players can tell, so see if you can work out a compromise that can keep everybody relatively pleased.

So, any thoughts or feelings on this? Anyone tried it before? How'd it work out? Anyone got other motivational ideas?

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