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A Crucial Tenet of RPG Prep and Worldbuilding

Campaign Details: When ‘a Lot’ Becomes ‘Too Much’ [1], a recent Save My Game [2] column by Jason Nelson-Brown, has some incredibly accurate, succinct advice for GMs:

…Your players, for the most part, are not nearly as interested in your complex plots and elaborate setups as you are.

I couldn’t agree more — and this is something a lot of GMs overlook (at times, myself included). This tidbit comes a close second (substitute “any RPG” for “D&D”):

The tragedy of D&D is that sometimes we confuse time and effort with interest or think that the amount of time and effort we spend somehow earns us a certain degree of interest.

Other advice follows — including, interestingly enough, an explicit reference to hashing out a social contract [3] to address these issues (and others). That’s something D&D, and RPGs in general, should do more often.

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#1 Comment By Telas On April 8, 2007 @ 8:58 am

I used to read “Save My Game” and the forum thread about it until someone started criticizing every little bit of advice the author gave. I’m glad the column still around, and doing quite well at its stated purpose.

This advice can be applied to the player side, as well. The GM with the “check out my cool world!” attitude is identical to the player with the “check out my cool character!” attitude. (This applies to both angst-driven dinner theater rejects and twinked-out munchkins.)

Advice to many gamers: You can’t win this game, so chill out and have fun.

#2 Comment By VV_GM On April 8, 2007 @ 9:34 am

I nominate Telas for Archduke of Gaming Common Sense. It drives me nuts when a player and/or GM hands me a novel about their character’s background/history of their world and then expects me to read it cover to cover and love it.

I will attempt to read it out of common courtesy, but if it is poorly written and/or boring don’t give me crap for not being blown away by it. You produced crap for yourself, so don’t look at me to waste my time on it.

Same thing for while we are playing the game itself – if it is interesting I will be involved and encouraging. If not, don’t expect me to indulge you. Your character practicing the ancient art of tibetan pottery to make mystical stink bombs with is cute to you and lame to me (most likely that is). Don’t spend three hours on it and gobbling up the game time we have.

If your world is so brilliant than put it up on the web and give it away as a free supplement or publish it for extra income. Otherwise I’d rather you ran the game and let us enjoy the game itself a bit.

#3 Comment By theprofessor On April 8, 2007 @ 11:33 am

As a DM I love crafting a detailed complex storyline but I know the players seldom have any interest, especially as our group is very hack & slash. However, I have one player who loves the background stuff and can’t get enough. So, to satisfy him, and to give hints to the rest so they can at least hack their way along the storyline, I began starting each game session with a very brief (one paragraph max) bit of “flavour text” that relates to the backstory. Usually I try and make it funny or frightening. Everybody enjoys it, even those who don’t care at all about the story, and the one player who is interested went to a great deal of trouble to pour over all of the flavour and print off a one-pager of his take on what the heck’s going on (he’s close but not entirely right-just the way it should be!). It has created at least some interest in the story among even the most jaded hack & slasher (my wife). And it’s virtually painless to those who aren’t interested.

#4 Comment By John Arcadian On April 9, 2007 @ 6:27 am

I’d say that both Jason Nelson-Brown’s and telas’s comments are pretty right on, and something very deep at the core of gaming. GM’s want to craft this incredible story, players want to craft these incredible characters. Somewhere in that equation something has to give. Players can make really cool characters, but have to have the understanding that their character can’t be everything all the time. GM’s can make really nifty and detailed stories, but have to realize that the players are interested in their character’s parts in the story.

I think both sides need to give at that middle ground. The GM’s can still craft an incredible story, just do it around the players. The players can still have incredible characters, they just have to make them mesh well into the story. A swarthy warrior is going to be fish out of water in a political setting. Social contracts, once again, are the key to unlock this issue.

#5 Comment By Rick the Wonder Algae On April 9, 2007 @ 6:48 am

There’s something to be said for politely playing to your friends’ interests. There’s also something to be said for not making your friends politely play to your interests. I don’t feel TOO bad about making my players sit through the occasional eposition, backstory, or world tidbit, but on the other hand, I read/listen to everything they give me about their characters. As it’s been said, everyone wants their time in the spotlight, and sometimes it makes you more fun to be around to listen than talk.

#6 Comment By Martin On April 9, 2007 @ 9:16 am

Lots of great points here. I particularly like John’s comment:

I think both sides need to give at that middle ground. The GM’s can still craft an incredible story, just do it around the players. The players can still have incredible characters, they just have to make them mesh well into the story. A swarthy warrior is going to be fish out of water in a political setting. Social contracts, once again, are the key to unlock this issue.

Having heard this earlier in my gaming career (playing and GMing) would have saved me a lot of time and heartache. 😉

#7 Comment By Frank Filz On April 9, 2007 @ 10:05 am

I’m definitely in the camp of thinking less is better than more. For a while, I really relished the thought of a well detailed campaign world. Then I thought about my most enjoyable campaigns, and realized they all occurred with settings that were either very minimal (for “gamist” campaigns), or ones with some juicy bits, but not too much detail (for “simulationist” campaigns).

Oh, and I’ve never got into the idea of the GM telling a story. I realized pretty early on that the story arose from play, not any preconception the GM had (and thus as gaming became more “story” oriented in the 90s, I mostly rejected what was going on – and also stumbled a lot and didn’t get that much good play in).

Frank