Burn Everything Gaming

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Thoughts on Prepping Players

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We have already finished the Dresden Files Podcast RPG, which I am definitely not sad about considering how well it ended. Now I am technically involved in 3 games: 2 casuals that I run for friends whenever they have time to come over (maybe once a month), and of course the new Star Trek podcast RPG that you will be able to listen to soon.

So for today’s blog, I would like to post some ideas about starting a new game. Particularly I want to look at recruiting the party you want for the adventure that you have planned.

Preparation

Preparation is huge for a GM, even if you are an improvisational style game master. We put a lot of thought at time into what the world will be like, what plots are going on, where side quests can be triggered, and how the adventure will progress. We have charts and maps and back stories and characters filled with stats.

What we often overlook in preparation are the characters that the players will play. There are many reasons for this. PCs are not under our direct control as GMs, so they can be very unpredictable. Often times we don’t know anything about them, especially before the first game. Moreover player characters are constantly changing in unpredictable ways as characters level them up and make unexpected tweaks to background stories and abilities.

But the alternative, while often accepted as a necessity, is very risky. Munchkin characters can break games. Characters not build for combat can die easily. Parties may be ill equipped to face the challenges you have prepared. And the characters’ stories may not fit at all with the world you have built. These problems often lead to bad sessions and sometimes premature deaths of campaigns we have worked hard to create.

Communication is a big key to overcoming this problem, and the sooner you can work on that the better. Sure it is good to know your players if you have that advantage and build based on what they normally play or even what they say they want to play next, but life happens and players may change their minds. What you really need to do is make sure you have a clear idea about the type of party you want to be playing in your story.

Controlling Everything

Let’s start with an example of a one-shot. Often times when you take a home-made one-shot adventure to a con or a gaming event, you have built the party by pregenerating characters. You know exactly what the characters are capable of, and you can build the one-shot accordingly.

Of course the players can still throw your game for a loop by doing something unexpected (setting sheep on fire, for example). But you are much better prepared for such things, and that makes dealing with such situations easier. You know the characters stats, motivations, and capabilities. You can lure them away from trouble, or into trouble as you desire. Your game is specifically designed for these heroes.

Campaigns are on a much bigger scale, and often times the players do not want the GM to build characters for them. They want the characters to be their own avatar into the world, and so they buy books and read online sites and chat and put a lot of work into their characters.

Controlling the Communication

As a GM, if you have a game that you are building and you know what sort of heroes you want in your game, then COMMUNICATE this to the players. You can avoid so many potential pitfalls if you can do this effectively.

Sure players may want to play a goofy pilot that flies like a leaf on the wind, but if you tell them that the game you are designing is about humanity fleeing from robots that have destroyed the world then they are more likely to build a character that better fits into that game.

Now don’t be so specific as to say “I need one person to play a smuggler class that shoots well, one person to play a furry alien that can’t speak English, and one person to play a helpless damsel love interest.” That’s the character’s job, not yours. Your job is to communicate what you need for the story that you are designing. Here are some examples:

Game Pitch Examples

  • The world is your typical fantasy setting with giants and dragons and lots of ruins to explore for treasure. The party is going to start out as part of a guild and take odd jobs searching ruins, wiping out monsters, or protecting nobles from harm. Eventually they will find out about an evil plot to destroy the world with magic and have to stop it.
  • I’m wanting to do a game about a team of thieves. The combat system is very lethal, so the goal should be to find clever ways to get the treasure while avoiding combat. I imagine a big tycoon that has probably hurt each of the characters in the past somehow, so all of the jobs are going to be about getting him back while you are getting rich selling your stolen goods.
  • So I have this idea for a game based on an old video game I loved to play. The world has been at peace between all of these kingdoms, but one of the kingdoms gets an edge in military technology and starts conquering other kingdoms. I figure the party starts off as kids in the same town that is wiped out by this army. They form a pact to bring down the growing evil empire before the world is destroyed.

What’s In the Pitches

I could probably write game pitches all day, but here’s what I want to draw your attention to. Each pitch describes not only the game world as a setting but also who the main antagonist is going to be, what the overall plot is, and what role the GM wants the players to fulfill.

There will probably be questions and attempts to negotiate, but already you have set some conditions and the players are going to want to build their characters in line with those conditions because now they know how to make their characters effective in the games. And the feedback will give you an even better picture of what to expect from the player.

Concluding Thoughts

If you have ever been a player, then you know how important it is to have a character that feels useful in a campaign. You want to be able to do things, usually that the real you can’t do. Nothing is worse than building a character that you think will be fun and them having them not able to accomplish anything in an adventure.

Building a game together (like in most Fate-based games) is a very beneficial task, and it is well worth the effort. Even if your game mechanics don’t require it, try to make your game as good as possible by keeping those communication lines open!

We’d love to hear some of your past success stories in games. Please leave some comments or just shoot us an email!

~Joshua

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Author: Burn Everything Gaming

Website that mostly produces Actual Play Podcast as well as game reviews and other musings on the topic. Hope you enjoy.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Prepping Players

  1. Communication is a crucial part of any game. I always view the start of a new campaign as the beginning of a conversation. I tell my players what I want to run and they tell me what in those ideas they find most interesting. This goes back and forth, building a world around the characters, setting up initial adventures, following character arcs, all the way to the end of the game.

    On the pitch idea, I written a bit on campaign prospecti for picking games (http://www.noordinaryobsession.com/2013/05/01/campaign-journal-2013-prospecti-part-i/) or themes (http://www.noordinaryobsession.com/2013/06/26/campaign-journal-2013-prospecti-part-ii/)

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  2. I imagine that approach has served you very well! I look forward to reading your posts on the subject.

    Like

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