Gaming My Way

06 Apr

Give Your Players Control When Possible

So, you’re the GM, so you get to make all the big decisions, right? Hold on, chief. Yes, you are the GM, and yes, you get the final say on all rules interpretations and house rules. But the GM also has a job to make the game fun for everyone else. Furthermore, sometimes the players have some really good ideas that can be incorporated to make the game more enjoyable for everyone, and it also means less work for you. Sounds like a win/win to me. Even if it doesn’t make the game more fun for everyone, if it doesn’t take away from anyone’s fun, it’s still a good idea to let them do it.

Let’s start with character creation. If your players want to play a certain kind of character, it’s generally a good idea to let them play that character. The reason to not allow a particular character to be played is if it will reduce the fun everyone else is able to have. Having a character who constantly antagonizes the group is one such concept (unless the group likes such party conflict), as is having a character who can do everything the other characters can do, better than the other characters. Ideally, this will be worked out while letting the player stick with his concept, but the fun of the whole group has to come before the needs of one player. Compromise is useful here, and your job as the GM is to try to find the middle ground, or the house rules needed to accommodate everyone. Some concepts are inherently antagonistic or too powerful, and they might have to be shot down. Also, there is also a clause of sticking to things that are within reason. No, you can’t play a dragon in D&D. You can play one when we get to that World of Darkness game though. Still, character creation is a small part of this. An important part, since it effects the rest of the game, but still a small part.

The bigger part comes in once you’re actually playing the game. If a player wants to try to do something, let them. There are some things that are impossible (in most systems, casting a spell without training comes to mind), but they sure can try it if they want to. That said, most of the time, you should come up with some reasonable mechanic that lets them have a shot at success. If you aren’t sure what that is, ask the player what they think. They can probably tell you what they had in mind. Then you can run with it, or modify it as necessary. Using Pathfinder as an example, if someone wants to swing from the chandelier, leap off, and stab the bandit leader across the ballroom, you have a couple options. One, you could just say he succeeds on swinging across the room on the chandelier and lands next to the bandit… make an attack roll to see if you lodge your sword in the bandit or in the floor. Or you could pull out an acrobatics check of dc 15-25 depending on how hard a leap it is to make before the player gets an attack roll, if you prefer to add more crunch or make sure skills get lots of use. In either case, you’re giving the player a chance to do what he wanted. That example is easy, but there are others that might be more challenging. It’s up to you to get a system up quickly that will make it work.

Another thing is giving players control over the little things in your world. If a socially motivated character wants to visit his contacts in town, don’t say he has no contacts. Have contacts that help hook the players into your plot. They don’t have to have the answers, but they can certainly provide a hint to the hint you originally placed in the game if they don’t. And there’s nothing wrong with the contacts having a more direct answer either, if it makes sense they would. Go with what makes the game move forward best, rather than sticking to exactly what you planned. If the D&D/Pathfinder style sorcerer wants to be descended from a great dragon, why not let him? It fits the fluff easily enough, and if the dragon is well known, this can give him some benefits and challenges not normally faced. He may be perceived as being more powerful, but he’ll have a name to live up to. Furthermore, powerful people who dislike his ancestor may target him for revenge as he is related, but not nearly as strong, making him an excellent target or even hostage if the ancestor is still alive. Basically, use your players contributions to build out the story.

Now, in the end, you may have to deny some things your players want. If the earlier mentioned sorcerer, for example, wants to know more spells, or have higher ability scores due to his heritage, you may have to explain that while the background is good, the extra powers can’t happen because of game balance issues. Besides which, his magic already comes from said dragon. However, you could then recommend the dragon disciple (if playing Pathfinder and not 3.x) as a way to get those ability scores up, though he’d miss out on a few spell levels.

It’s your job to make sure everyone (including you) enjoys the game. This means a lot of talking and compromising, figuring out what people want, and integrating it into your game. It also means making sure nothing gets in that ruins everyone else’s fun. That can be a difficult line to walk, and I’ve crossed it both ways in my gaming. Usually, if you get it mostly right though, everyone will have a good time and feel like they’ve contributed meaningfully to both game and story.

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