Which way do we go?

“What do you want to play?”
“I don’t know, what do you want to run?”
“I don’t know, what do you want to play?”

Recently in one of my groups, someone offered to step up and take a turn running a game. He’d needed a break last year, so several other members of the group took turns running. Now he’s refreshed and ready to GM again. But he didn’t really have a particular game in mind, so asked the group what we wanted to play. As expected, the response was a resounding, “I don’t know. I’ll play anything.” I quietly winced because I’ve seen this happen soooo many times in my thirty-five-plus years of playing roleplaying games. It’s almost as bad as trying to pick a restaurant for the evening!

It’s super important for any game group to align what the GM wants to run with what the players want to play. Any time those things don’t synch up, the game is usually destined to, at best, fade into obscurity as no one is excited to play, or create drama in the group as no one is happy with how the game is going. Sure, there are occasionally magical moments where the GM falls in love with a game they didn’t really want to run but did it for their players, or a player gets happily engrossed in a game they didn’t think they’d like, but let’s be honest. Those are the exception, not the rule.

Now, none of this is against my friend who is stepping up to run. I’m grateful he’s stepping up as it means I get to go back to being a player, and I also understand where he’s coming from. He truly is open to running something the players are interested in and doesn’t have a specific idea for the game, but the way it was phrased was too broad, too open. The scope of what is on the table, figuratively and literally, needs to be narrowed down.

So what to do when it’s your turn to run?

  • If you’ve got an idea, be specific! Seriously, if you have a game or campaign idea you’re excited to run, pitch that idea to your players. Give your players the elevator pitch for that campaign. Cover the system, the genre, the tone and the scope of the game so everyone knows what you’re offering. Earlier this year I got an itch to run an Eberron campaign again. I noodled on the idea for a while and when I was pretty sure how I wanted to structure it, I pitched it to the group as a future campaign when our current game ended or the GM needed a break.
  • If you don’t have an idea, offer clear choices. When it’s your turn to run, but don’t really have a burning desire for any particular system or campaign, offer your players some choices. While you want to give your players something they will enjoy, you’re still going to need to make sure it is something you enjoy and is a game you’ll be comfortable running. Come up with a couple or a few ideas of games you’d like to run and pitch those ideas to the group. Even if they’re still mostly willing to play whatever you run, by offering choices you’re more likely to get an idea of which they’d be more interested in.
  • Do a poll! In addition to offering specific choices, you could do a poll to narrow down those choices even more. Google offers a pretty easy method of creating polls that you can share with your players. This can be a good way to find out what systems or genres your players are interested in, or even narrow down the type of campaign you’d like to run. When Jared was gearing up to run a new Star Trek campaign, he used a poll to pitch certain ideas to his players to narrow down what they’d be most excited to play in the setting.
  • Try something new for a short campaign. Okay, so maybe you really are willing to run whatever your players want, or maybe you want to try a shiny new game. Great, that’s awesome. Consider setting a limit on how long you plan on running that campaign. A short campaign of a handful of sessions is a good test run that allows you to learn the system and figure out if the game is a good fit for your group. While you can always do a ‘second season’ of a short campaign if everyone loves it, it can be frustrating for everyone involved to abruptly end an ‘indefinite’ campaign.

To sum up, we live in a time where there is an abundance of wonderful RPGs to play and run, so when offering to run for your group, be clear about what you’re willing to run, whether it’s a very specific campaign idea or an option of a few different choices.

What are your experiences with pitching game ideas to your groups?