Today’s post is a bit late in part because there was much fretting about what I consider an essential “Do” in a game. Things like “Cooperate” and “Don’t be a dick” were generally ruled out because they’re true for any game, I would hope. I wanted to narrow down my own foibles rather than digging out obvious truths. Without further ado, my do’s. Not to be confused with my don’ts.
Be the protagonist
In some rpgs, the story is about the events, or about the villains, or about the world where everything takes place. Some people really enjoy a game where the characters are swept along by events beyond their control. Don’t get me wrong, I love that for a one shot game, but for a long term campaign, which are the kind I enjoy running, the story is about the PCs. Players bring a protagonist, and I provide the supporting cast. The issue with a player gunning for best supporting actor is that they tend to get sidelined by the other players who bought into a lead role. Managing the spotlight becomes really difficult when one or more people are determined to stand outside of it. More importantly, the story is defined by the PCs choices, and it’s made more interesting when the PCs are the kind of people who make things happen rather than letting things happen. This is why Han Solo is cooler than C-3PO.
I run a sandbox game, but I learned early not to just turn seven PCs loose on the world and say “Go!” It’s fun when it works, but it usually results in a kind of paralysis of choice, especially in the first few sessions. I have the same problem in Skyrim. So I throw out adventure hooks, like everyone else. I don’t insist that people bite at all of them, and upon reflection, not even some of them, but characters should be open to the idea of them. We’ve all played with the PC or pair of PCs who have goals which are all-consuming and demand to steer the entire game to the exclusion of something else. Being accessible means letting the setting and the party muddy your character, which always results in a richer experience no matter how cool it would be to run away and start your own ninja clan.
Whether it’s fantasy or horror, hero or villain, be awesome at what you do. Mama didn’t raise no mediocre adventurers. Make a plan for how your character is going to be awesome and what they’re going to be awesome at, and execute on it. Be bad at things too, but pick a few things to be great at, and make sure you can walk the walk. In narrative based games, that’s pretty straightforward. In mechanics heavy games like D&D, it can be a bit of a challenge, and I love working with people to help them be awesome. But don’t be awesome at everything, leave room for everyone else (this is a sin of which I am notoriously guilty).
Being flawed doesn’t just means not being good at something, though it can be part of it. Make bad decisions that tell good stories. Get in over your head and put your character in positions where they have to trust others and rely on their strengths to get out. This is what makes people stronger and richer in real life, and I want people to be open to that in games. That’s how you build real trust and genuine friendships, which make every story better.
Some of these seem straightforwardly explained by buy-in, but I think there’ more complex than that. Players can buy-in to a game, especially a sandbox one that encourages them to have their own agenda, which I do, and still be inaccessible. They might buy-in and still want to play a supporting role, or be awesome at everything. Buy in isn’t strictly binary, and I want to write some more about that once I figure out if I have anything to say, but suffice to say that I don’t think it washes out my do’s. And those are my do’s. I want people to make their own decisions, to take risks, to build their own glory, and to be the centre of attention. That trumps all my concerns about story and setting, because the story is about them, and the setting is there for them to explore and interact with.
How about you? What are your do’s?