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Friday, August 26, 2016

Just sit right back and Listen to every one at the table.

A while ago I ran a short DC Heroes game. The supers were low powered, worked for the government, and were hunting mysterious aliens.

The  image shown here is something I included as a handout while the team searched some old moldy gov files. Or perhaps it was mailed to them anonymously? I don't remember. What I do remember is that I provided absolutely no  context for the picture. It was a Vietnam era soldier torching a hut that appeared to contain some kind of shadowy creature. Up to this point the  team had no idea what they might be dealing with and after this picture they still had very little idea.


Here is where things get interesting.
As a GM I just laid back on that image and listened to player reactions and speculations. Some of those player ideas most definitely made it into the games story arc. The concept of  using player input to build a story is I imagine as old as RPG's. I'm sure DM's very early on heard players say things like, "I bet the duke is the killer!" And then thought "Whoa, the duke SHOULD be the killer!"

I'm on the fence about  this sort of thing. Is it lazy Game Mastering?  Shouldn't I be sticking to the story line I built and allowing the players to navigate that as it goes on around them? Does it negate player agency if you take one of their incorrect albeit cool assumptions about the  world and make it true? Being wrong is half the fun, there can be no serves in a story if the  players are right all the time. The players have the right to make wrong assumptions and act on them as they do to suggest things for the world to the GM.

My opinion is that building the world and presenting it to the players to  navigate as they wish  is the way to go.  What I generally shoot for are multiple story lines that progress with or without the player's involvement. For example, if the players ignore the  growing gnoll army on the border, eventually that army will  do something rash. It's like a sandbox where the players are one kid playing with tonka trucks, and the GM manages a few other kids who are also digging and building in the same box. Over the years the people whom I play with have grown  pretty good at picking up on the signals and dealing with the story hooks which crop up. I enjoy  it when the  players look at the map and say, "let's go here!" or let's do that." It takes that load off my shoulders. If the players tell me they want to  move into a fishing village I'm fine with that.  If they then start a salted cod business because they think it's going to be more profitable than digging gems out of  cursed statues in some god forsaken dungeon, I'm ecstatic. In return it becomes my job to make Salted Cod exciting.

A Gm even a great one can not possibly think of everything. There are blogs out there on the web that have been doing detailed world building for years. You know why? The authors keep thinking of new things to write about. World building is never "done." It's not lazy to take an idea a player may have mentioned even if it was mentioned off hand and integrate it into your already working setting. It's even better to outright ask the  players, "What is it you would like to do or see next?" If the  groups answer is, grow our Salt Cod business!" Then there's no real reason to overly detail the gnols of the far off mountains, unless the gnols are building an army and have a strong taste for salt Cod. The players are the focus of the game so it makes sense that they can be the focus of your world building as well.

As a GM I have had the  problem of having an idea and thinking it's cool, interesting, or whatever. When a player drops a theory about what could be going on and it's vastly cooler and more interesting than my original idea. Sometimes it's not easy to admit, a blow to the ego. It has taken me a while for me to come around to the idea of taking those nuggets of gold dropped by the  folks around the table and using them. It's not lazy, it's helpful. Players have awesome ideas. Ideas the GM may have never thought of because the gm is only one person, and world building is an endless thing where no one person can think of everything.

Thanks for reading
Mark.