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