Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fantasy: All Players on the same page?

Has it ever happened to you that the gaming group you were with all had alternative views on what they hoped the game would be? I find that players, in general, often have this clash though with other genres there's a greater push to get folks on the same page or there's such a tight focus about what a game should be (i.e. Vampire: the Requiem) that the books kinda sell it all.

Most people assume that they'll have it easy in the fantasy genre. I guess because most start with classic dungeon crawls which are quite tightly focused around a particular type of gameplay. Roleplay happens around each broken door and no one has to take themselves, or each other, very seriously. If you just want to play your race + class combination, then go for it.

But with any other type of fantasy things get a bit murky and it's one thing to create your characters around a compromise and a basic premise and another thing to slowly edit your character through dozens of little compromises and disappointments. Sometimes the latter is still no big deal. What comes from all the little surprises and clashing expectations is better than the sum of its parts. Sometimes it leads to a clash of ideas with each person struggling to align the game to his or her expectations, perhaps without even realising that the other players even wanted something different.

Take Flashpoint, for example. It wasn't a clash and clamour, but the players sure did expect / want something different from the game. Now my assumptions of their assumptions may well be wrong (and probably are) but I could sense the points of distinction at least.

Proteus' player initially assumed a game of dubious larger-than-life characters with a slight tilt from neutral towards affably evil which involves a rollicking, if occasionally amoral, time full of treasure, feats of derring-do and occasional out-and-out heroism. Think Pirates of the Carribean!

Archer's player initially assumed a game of naval exploits, intrigue, and historical interest mixed into a fantastical world. Think Horatio Hornblower!

Lunjun's player probably didn't have any initial assumptions but he did want to focus on the slow piecing together of his characters' goals through feats, spell selection and the ability to create loads of magical items. Lhye's player initially h

oped for a game of superstition and slow revelation, of political intrigue mixed with derring-do, where a group of dodgy characters were harnessed to a greater good - which is probably why he latched onto the Andoran plot so tightly.

Now this didn't work out badly but it really could have if my players didn't kind of negotiate over the course of gameplay. It would have worked out even better if we'd all sat down and decided on a single focus.

Unfortunately, trying to get players to rock up to a character building session without having their characters already in mind and/or without each player generating their character in a corner during the session and/or without players ignoring the whole thing in favour of out-of-character chit-chat so that they can sit down later on and develop their characters in peace has been pretty much impossible in my experience.

Sorry dudes, but it's true and you know it!

I suppose this is why other Storytellers simply lay down the law and describe exactly what the game will be about and what sort of characters will be allowed, though such demands are rarely popular.

So any of you guys got the Answer on how to get all the players on the same page when entering the game for the first time?


  1. So I was going to reply and then this happened...

  2. I have taken to giving my players "campaign stat blocks" so they have an idea what to expect. It does not solve all of the problem but is at last an acknowledgement that we are working toward a shared goal.

    1. Arthur, fancy posting one of those sometime? I don't *think* I've seen one and it seems like a useful idea.

  3. Did you do a pre-campaign pdf writeup of where you wanted the goals to be? When I started my AD&D campaign, I wrote one up telling the campaign rules, tone, and what I wanted the characters to be. That said it did take further explaining and prodding to get their characters to where I needed them...

    They understood the background and rules well. I wanted them to have "important characters" to the point where I would have let them be rich landed nobles etc, I wanted family connections and friends, as it was going to be political. The idea was a sort of a Game of Thrones intrigue inspired by TSR's Birthright campaign.

    It turned out no one really wanted to be greedy. Perhaps they thought that someone else was going to be important and they wree going to be a staunch ally. I got character outline ideas from players who were mostly orphans (5 out of 6) and not demanding a penny more than they started out with. The cleric wanted his own church/flock, and that was about the extent of the "importance."

    The paragraph written backgrounds they provided me -I took under "advisement." I ended up forcing families, connections and wealth on them; ie you have grandparents, parents and five brothers and sisters. I made two players come from a successful business family, one an aristocrat and one a minor noble. The fighter I made a captain and started him out with 1200gp as war booty and 5 guards. The cleric I made him the number 3 man in the church in the nation.

    After I altered the path for them, everyone kind of got what I was looking for. So far the sessions have all ended with a "when are we meeting again"...that's music to my ears.

    What I do: Full writeup of intentions. Discussion and character proposals. Draconian railroading if needed.

    I have played in a couple of campaigns where the ref handed me a character and gives an outline of what he expected. I and the other players got to interpret what he wanted, but all the ideas did fit his game. Best. Rpgs. Ever.

    David S.

    1. I think the trouble with Flashpoint was that I was happy to go with the flow on that one. It was more of a thematic concept I gave them under the assumption that they would work out themselves where they wanted to go. It mostly worked. Mostly.

      What I should have done for a player-focused sandbox is make the players sit down and discuss their goals and force them to align it with some specific searching questions, listing details, and otherwise forcing them to figure out where each other is coming from.

      In more direct campaigns, yes, I need to start doing better Information Summaries and ensuring everyone is on the same page. It doesn't need to be my page as I'm happy to improvise. It just needs to be the same one.