Tuesday, 31 December 2013

RPG Blog Carnival - December 2013: Taking Charge


The RPG Blog Carnival is an idea to get groups of bloggers to all writing about a monthly topic, the aim being to build a dialogue across many different blogs, providing different viewpoints and ideas to the viewer. The way it works is that a blog discussing a monthly topic will post the RPG Carnival Logo and will link back to the 'hosters' post.







This month the topic is taking charge.

Original post :
"Taking Charge. This could be interpreted in any number of ways, such as (not limited to), outlining ways a group of characters can be more proactive in their affairs, a group of players choosing to improve their existing gaming habits (including the GM), players stepping up to make more effective use of their agency as co-conspirators an contributors to a campaign, and/or getting a good grip on a game that is out of control and going nowhere. It could entail fiction, examples of actual play, discussion of tools like social contracts or statements of purpose, and more. As the year comes to a close and people get retrospective (and wonder why there is so much left-over turkey still in the fridge despite days and days of sandwiches) a topic like ‘taking charge’ might take a tone of cleaning house, evaluating the current state of affairs in your own game, or your chosen niche zone within the hobby, or setting the stage for what will come next at your table, real or virtual. There are many places this topic can take writers and readers during the December Blog Carnival. "

Okay, i've arrived fairly late at this months RPG Carnival post, slipping in on the final day of 2013 just as the shutters are being drawn and moments before the 'closed' sign is going to be turned on the previous year, however, I think the concept of "taking charge" is a great one to discuss because it is a topic often raised during RPG sessions and campaigns and has a lot in common with recent discussions on GM roles amongst the Youtube RPG brigade (my video response to this topic can be found here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aURyyMSXFqM ).

Campaign Preparation Sessions

One thing I have been looking at recently following my reading of the Odyssey Campaign Management Guide (which is a very useful book and I review it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-350PrvUUA on my Youtube channel) is the idea of having either one or several structured meetings with the players when you first start to plan an RPG campaign to ensure that everyone gets what they want (as much as is possible) out of the game that you are going to run and that you, as a GM, also get a level of enjoyment from the session. I think this is very important because i've seen and run a few campaigns where one or two players have gone along with the campaign concept because others liked it and haven't really invested in the game as a result, this is a sure-fire way to end up with players losing interest and perhaps dropping the game altogether; by the same token i've also seen (and been in this situation myself) GMs so bent on ensuring player enjoyment that they forget or sacrifice their own enjoyment in the game, since such a lot of the campaign management (both during and between sessions) rests on the GMs shoulders, although it's certainly possible to delegate and share some of this work amongst your player group, having a GM who isn't enjoying themselves rarely leads to a long running campaign and usually in my experience results in a campaign slowly sliding towards inevitable collapse as the GM becomes burnt out and loses all enthusiasm.

So how does this relate to taking charge?

Well, if you just ask your players what sort of game they want, you are taking a scatter-gun approach to the whole thing and will inevitably end up with a whole mess of ideas that do not work together or that you have to wade through in order to get to any useful information; a far better way to manage these initial brainstorming ideas is for the GM to take charge and direct the course of the discussion. Asking specific questions from your players will normally yield better and more targetted results that asking something vague like "what sort of game do you want?"

What sort of questions should I ask?

My Rogue Trader campaign will be coming to an end soon (probably within the next 3-6 games depending on player action) as the players resolve the nefarious actions of the Word Bearers chaos space marines in the Endeavour system and, wanting to plan a little further ahead than I normally do after reading the excellent Odyssey Campaign Management Guide, I gathered the players for my next campaign together recently and sat them down with the intend of discussing what i'd run for the next game.

I came in with no real preconceptions of what sort of game we might end up with, but I did note down a few things about my players:

  • One of the players prefers heroic fantasy.
  • One really enjoys a sense of place and recurring background NPCs that change and can be interacted with.
  • One of the players generally prefers to play a mage or something magical.
  • The other player is pretty flexible and will try most games.


When I sat them down I first of all asked the following questions:

  • What sort of genre would people prefer to play in?
    • My group, having been currently engaged in a dark science fiction setting wanted to try something a little different and after a bit of discussion decided that they wanted to play a fantasy setting, but not the normal faux-medieval fantasy that we were all so familiar with from a number of previous games.
  • What rules system would people like to use?
    • After a bit of a debate the players were quite keen to use the Dungeon World rules, having played a couple of one-offs we all really enjoyed those rules and wanted to keep to a fairly fast-paced, story-based system but, given that the current game is Fate based (and i'm already running an additional Fate game), wanted to try something different and Dungeon World seemed like a good match; it also encourages a group world creation and collaborative story-telling between players and GM, something that we have all been enjoying in recent games.


So armed with the knowledge that my players wanted to play a non-standard fantasy game using the Dungeon World system, the next thing I asked them were what their 'must-haves' (their 'deal breakers' if you will) were for this game and, after some discussion we eventually whittled it down to the following list:

  • A rougher, grittier, more survival based game.
  • The PCs playing underdog heroes fighting against overwhelming odds.
  • A semi-permanent base of operations/game area with a number of background NPCs.
  • A Robin Hood-esque feel where the PCs are outlaws fighting for the right against an oppressive government.


With these four deal breakers in mind we started discussing whether there were any sort of campaign worlds available that met these criteria and, given that Dungeon World has very much a D&D feel, we started with D&D campaign worlds and eventually chose the Dark Sun world of Athas, with the player characters working outside the law to overthrow the despotic sorceror king of a small city state. A quick question fired off to the Dungeon World G+ community (https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/100662698267895582168/communities/100084733231320276299) and some judicious scouting on the web revealed that some people had already kindly produced some DW material for the Dark Sun setting and also lead me to the official Dark Sun website (http://www.athas.org/).

So how did taking charge help?

In addition to allowing us to more quickly get to the meat of the matter at hand rather than spending hours talking around the subject (and probably getting nowhere) directing the flow of conversation into specific channels resulted in making us all aware of the elements that interest the various players (and myself), this will be great for the health of the game since (as the GM) I will be able to refer back to this list and ensure that I am including elements to draw all of the players in and keep them interested in the game.

The meetup we have done so far is only the first of several that I plan to do in advance of creating the campaign, and in the following meetings I also intend to take charge and target the discussion at specific areas, in the next meetup I intend to discuss some of the particulars of the game area and highlight whether the players actual want to run the game within the Dark Sun setting or whether they just want something similar.