Feb 09 2012

Cultivating Players

I’ve been noticing a trend with some of my friends. They say they’re A list gamer’s. I don’t believe in A list gamer’s, F list gamer’s, or anything in between. I think there are types of gamer’s and gamer’s we prefer to play with. I’ve seen this by running games for a lot of different people: power gamer’s, storyteller’s, improv folks, rules guys, dice rollers, even passive watchers. (I always push them to be more active) Heck, just pick up any of those guides to game mastering with the sections on the different gamer types and I’ve played with them all. In seeing all the different types of gamer’s out there I started wondering why those A list gamer’s out there weren’t showing other gamer’s what was so great about they played? Why not cultivate them into their type of “A plus gamer”?


I have my own idea’s about what makes a great game and how to run them. To that end I try and project those idea’s onto the people I’m playing with, but I also listen to them. Players have their own idea’s for what makes a great game. As a GM you need to take their idea’s and meld them with your own. If you start listening and absorbing what’s going on at the table you’ll do two things, grow as a game master, and make your players more receptive to your own idea’s because you’re taking theirs. It’s an enlightening and satisfying experience.


I’m a 4e D&D fan and I’m a firm believe this game can be anything you want it as long as you make the tactical combat experience a part of it. Keith Baker, creator of the Eberron campaign setting, believes much the same as I do. If you want to hear some of his thoughts on 4e D&D and gaming in general go check out the Bear Swarm podcast, episode 122. It doesn’t have much to do with cultivating players but it can shed some light on the true flexibility of 4e and any game system if you give it some thought. Here’s the link:


The point about 4e is pertinent because I have a 3 year long and still running campaign. This game has helped me change my own GMing style and cultivate a group I enjoy playing with more than all others. The group was originally a bunch of 3.5 players interested in playing a game I was running on the word of their long time 3.5 DM. He’d played in some games I’d run and liked me as a GM. Knowing they were mostly hack and slash power gamer’s I crafted a pilot game with those thoughts in mind. The campaign frame put them all in a mercenary company which I required they have a reason for being in. I didn’t want elaborate back stories, just some simple motivations and I helped give them understand their place in the world. The introduction scenario had them sneaking into a besieged city with the mission of opening the gates. So I played to the crowd, gave them a light reason to hold them together, and worked with them to understand and enjoy their place in the world. Over time I started introducing elements from other games and idea’s they and I weren’t used to using. Narrative control is one example of this. Here’s what I did:


I’d come to several points during this campaign where they had the choice to go different ways in the story. They would choose and I would write the adventure. Those have been the best games of the campaign. Why? Because they got to pick what they wanted to do and weren’t led anywhere. They were invested in their choice. This simple idea taught me this:

Run the game they want your way

Because of this seven word idea I have people playing characters who care about a world and its story, populated with people and places which feel real to them. Their characters have families and friends, experienced loss, pain, and love. They’ve schemed, changed, progressed, died, come back from the dead, and committed suicide of their own volition. The players aren’t just the hack and slashers they came to the table as. They’re storytellers and thespians. They can still hack and slash with the best of the but this isn’t a bad thing, in fact it made me raise my game, get more creative, and think outside the box. If 4e is about the encounter then I’ve made the encounter a tactical and story intensive situation. Things happen during fights. Character talk while trying to kill each other. NPC’s show up and do unexpected things in the players opinions but are just playing to their motivations. Saying the wrong or right thing is just as important as rolling a 20 or a 1. What they do has as much of a mechanical effect as what they roll. I create these rules, sometimes on the fly and sometimes with forethought, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes to reward and punish my players so I can guide them to decision points, sometimes to get across the feel of a situation, but I always listen to my players and what they think. It’s a cycle of give and take.


I can’t stress enough that you should listen to your players. If you do and implement their idea’s into your game it will be much easier to mold the game into what you want. The best part is your players will influence and improve your game as much as you improve their’s. After all, the RPG experience is one of group storytelling even if your story is just about killing monsters and taking their stuff.


Good Night and Good Gaming

Chris “The Light” Sniezak


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  1. Anonymous


    There are definitely some A-list gamers, and some F-list gamers.

    Some Examples, Goofus and Gallant style

    An A-List Gamer washes himself before coming over to play.
    An F-List Gamer hasn’t used soap in a week.

    An A-List Gamer pitches in to buy Pizza for the GM.
    An F-List Gamer asks to borrow Pizza Money from the GM. At worst, they never pay it back.

    An A-List Gamer either has a mastery of the details of his own character, or else is working to build that mastery. (New Gamers get a lot of leeway here)
    An F-List Gamer doesn’t care about the character, and is probably only there because he’s a spouse to an A-List Gamer.

    An A-List Gamer makes an effort to ensure everyone is enjoying the game equally.
    An F-List Gamer only cares if they are having fun themselves. At worst, they can actively work to ruin someone else’s fun.

    Note that none of these things has anything to do with preferred playstyle. Most of these things boil down to common courtesy, and it’s a sad fact of our demographic that a significant percentage of us don’t have it. That may be a little elitist, but if so, I think its a level of elitism that has merit behind it, beyond just plain snobbishness. The good thing is that most of these examples that I’ve listed are things that can be corrected. It doesn’t take a lot for an F-list gamer to get upgraded.

    Aside from that, Great article about how to enhance your game.

    1. Rob Justice


      There are decent people, and assholes.

      A decent person washes himself before coming over to play.
      An asshole hasn’t used soap in a week.

      A decent person pitches in to buy Pizza for the group.
      An asshole asks to borrow Pizza Money from the group. At worst, they never pay it back.

      A decent person either has a mastery of the details of his own character, or else is working to build that mastery.
      An asshole doesn’t care about the character.

      A decent person makes an effort to ensure everyone is enjoying the game equally.
      An asshole only cares if they are having fun themselves. At worst, they can actively work to ruin someone else’s fun.

      Also, your comment about a gamer probably only being there because he’s a spouse is an asshole assumption. That might have been your personal expericnce, but making that comment as a blanket statement is uncalled for.

  2. Rob Justice

    What the heck is an “A List Gamer”? I’ve never heard that expression before… Is it some elitist mentality that their method of play is unarguably superior to another? That only makes sense if the A stands for asshole.

    1. Chris Sniezak

      I agree. Once I heard the comment I felt the same way, and it was one of the reasons I wrote the post. People play the way they want to play and as long as their having fun it shouldn’t be a problem. Now if you’re vision of a game is a little different from the vision of your players you can guide them towards a style of play you have more fun with and maybe learn a thing or two on the way.

      By the way I love your podcast. Makes me laugh and think, sometimes at the same time.

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