Last month on Yudhishthira’s Dice, Brand Robins wrote a long post entitled “Why hearing about your game should suck.” Here’s a snippet:

Honestly, I think there is a degree to which any good RPG story should suck, or seem odd, twisted, or wrong to those who were not there. If it’s something that any group anywhere could have played, rather than something that came out of the idiosyncrasies of the stuff in the player’s heads, what’s the point?

He’s primarily talking about game design, but I think this might be equally applicable to playing RPGs in general.

Consider published settings: they provide the GM with lots of ready-to-use ideas and game elements, and they give different groups another layer of shorthand and connectivity to others playing the same game (i.e., not just, “Cool! We’re playing Game X as well,” but, “Cool! We’re playing Game X in setting Y, too!”). But do they also inhibit the group’s creativity, or tend to channel the game along pre-existing lines that are laid out in that setting?

And what about published adventures? Part of the fun there is running into someone else who has played (or GMed) the same adventure, and seeing what they did differently. Many GMs change published adventures around, whether to fit into their own games or to accomodate players who have been through those scenarios before. It’s also reasonably common, at least with D&D, for a GM’s game (whether based on published adventures or not) to be a very strong reflection of his or her playing style, preferences, etc.

But how many GMs really incorporate the whole group’s quirks, and not just their own? And I don’t mean adapting the game to the different play styles (a la Robin’s Laws, etc.) — but to the weird, engaging concepts that turn each person’s crank? Along the same lines, how many players ask for this kind of involvement?

I think running a game that tries to incorporate every idea that’s brought to the table would be unworkable — but what about just a few concrete ideas from each person, players and GM? For the GM, a lot of those ideas can come from the players’ backgrounds for their characters, and from asking for feedback between sessions (which is a whole different topic, and perhaps the subject of a future TT post).

This is pretty much what the GM in my last game (Stargate SG-4), Don, did with our PC backgrounds. I touched on it in my first post, “Every Campaign is an Experiment,” but I didn’t go into how it turned out: it turned out really well! I could see how he shaped the episodes around background elements, which was great, and at times it made for some intense (and very entertaining) roleplaying.

In fact, it worked so well that it changed my thinking on how much of each PC’s background should be included in the game — i.e., a lot. I’ve got a new game starting up this coming weekend, and weaving PC backgrounds deeply into the setting and our gameplay is one of my main goals with this campaign.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone is there to play your game, particularly if you’ve been GMing for a while. I think it’s more rewarding to look at it as though the whole group — GM and players — is there to play their game.

I know that’s not exactly revolutionary thinking, but it’s something I’ve never examined closely — or in quite that way — before.