Sunday, September 22, 2019

You Are Right, They're Not Wrong

Following our game session this past week, one of our groups got into a conversation that I found so interesting and frustrating that I have to share it. 

Now the conversation itself and the ideas therein are only part of the story. It's how I felt and what I thought about it afterwards. 

Basically, three of the five members in our group were discussing how a campaign should be put together. Really, how one goes about setting up a campaign in regards to the part the GM and players play.

Of the three main participants in the discussion, there were two dominant opinions. 

Gamer A thought that the Gamemaster defines the campaign based on a story they want to tell. Players create characters to fit the campaign and overarching plot/theme the GM has in mind and essentially sign on for the ride. 

This version is rather old school and focuses on the GM's story over Player input and agency. At the same time, if the GM is really excited to run a game of historically accurate, down and dirty piracy on the 17th century Spanish Main, we don't want players creating Wizards and than wondering why provisions weren't made to accommodate their character. 

Gamer B felt that Gamemasters should develop their campaign around the characters the players create. More specifically, if the players want to create a party who all serve a particular Goddess and religion and focus their adventures on spreading the word of their Lady, then that is the campaign the GM should build. 

This is an idea I like and follow (somewhat. See below) but if the GM isn't inspired by that idea, the game may not work so well. Sure, Player input and agency are very important but if you are running a game that employs a Gamemaster, said Gamemaster needs to put their stamp on the narrative somehow. 

I get it, we're all geeks with strong opinions and those engaged in any geeky endeavor will have their own views of what is and isn't 'right' for the things they love . My big issue with all of these ideas is that each Gamer in each case was rigidly adamant that their way was the best way to run a game. And as I said, aren't we all just so sure we know best. Well...

I personally found it humorous in an almost painful way how firmly each held to their particular viewpoint. Not only could they not see how the others ideas might actually be valid, I wasn't entirely sure they were even processing them.

Not only do I think the best way to generate a campaign for me personally is a merger of these approaches, the truly funny thing is, I have occasionally created a campaign in the manner Gamer A suggests, by starting with a story I wanted to tell, in a particular setting, and having the players create PCs that fit that world or particular story. Other times, I've gone with Gamer B's approach. Each campaign is different and requires a style that best handles what the group, players and Gamemaster together, are trying to achieve.

To some extent, my current campaign, 'FRONTIER', was developed with the Gamer A method, though I left the nature and specifics of the PCs open to a wide range of possibilities within the context of the milieu and meta-plot. 

With Traveller on the other hand, I tend to go the Gamer B route, seeing what the players roll up and creating a story that incorporates and integrates the backgrounds, goals, and other specific characteristics of the various PCs. I will ask them (the players) what type of adventures they want to go on and/or suggest something that interests me but links directly into their characters.

As I noted above, my true feelings on the subject are quite simple - combine your GM story idea with the character concepts the players are eager to play. Take the careers, backgrounds, and preferences that the PCs have created and/or generated for their PCs and build a narrative you enjoy around this information. Weave the players' ideas for their PCs into the setting and story you've created as the GM. 

All the suggested approaches are workable. All are 'right'.

I've said it before, I'll say it again, and very likely I'll never stop saying it - Keep yourself open to new ideas. Don't let yourself get locked into concepts that don't allow for new or alternative ways of thinking about things.It doesn't do us any good as gamers or as people.

You don't have to use them, you don't have to like them, but it behooves you, behooves us, to consider how others see things. 

Barking Alien


  1. I’ve moved so far away from “pre-play story creation” that my view bears only the slightest resemblance to either of these.

    I’ve been listening to podcasts lately wherein the participants adopt one or both of these two stances and listening to them is starting to sound strange to my ears. Like just what are they doing? Role-playing as a hobby has become a strange beast, IMO, something that I only half lived through and have passed beyond.

    I think. Maybe not.

    Thanks for this post, AD. It’s triggered a semi-epic mind storm for me.
    : )

    1. Glad I could be of service, though I'm not clear on what that service has been exactly.

  2. I would think that a middle ground between the two would be optimal. I know as a GM I like having the players contribute to the overall setting and world and story but also know I need to have things planned or at least in place for them to do and explore.

    I find even if you start with the really basic premise of "we're going treasure hunting" you can really quickly end up with a whole lot of world details just by asking why and where and who and what.