Traditionally, being a player is an hourly job while being a GM is a salaried position (although both are usually unpaid). Players are expected to show up on time to a session, play the game, and clock out after the session, often giving it little thought until the next one.

GMs, on the other hand, have many responsibilities that transcend the session. While there certainly are GMs that can just show up, wing it, and forget about until next time, most of us need time to design and prepare adventures. We often have to deal with unexpected fall-out from previous sessions, prepare for changes in the player status quo, seek out and digest new rules supplements, and other duties. If you are the host as well as the GM, the burden is even greater.

At times, I’ve given (and seen other GMs give) “homework assignments” to the players. These are tasks that the GM expects the player to perform outside of the session. A few examples:

  • Designing a character (or at least developing a character concept).
  • Upgrading a character.
  • Writing a short character background.
  • Reading relevant sections of the rules.
  • Sending an email to describe what the character is doing during the downtime between adventures.
  • Writing 2-3 plot hooks that the GM could use against the character to add spice to the sessions.
  • Reading your prepared campaign background and notes.
  • Set a course of action for the next session.

In my experience, expecting full compliance with homework assignments is futile. There is always at least one player that refuses to do anything outside the session or believes that she can do the bare minimum necessary to comply (e.g. you ask for a detailed character background and she simply says “my character is from the North”).

To be fair, there are many players that don’t have a lot of free time between sessions and it’s simply a struggle to show up to the session on a regular basis. Demanding jobs, growing families, end-of-semester studies/projects and other issues can really drop “design 2-3 plot hooks” on the priority list. In some cases, the player intended to comply but simply forgot due to the pressures of real life.

Usually, GMs are understanding enough to make allowances. That said there are many GMs that expect homework assignments in order for their campaigns to run smoothly and effectively. If one player routinely blows off homework assignments, then other players will start to do the same.

So today’s hot button is this: Do you have expectations of your players between sessions? Is there a minimal level of compliance or are your homework assignments optional? Has a homework assignment ever caused a problem in your group?