(This post ended up being more than 3000 words long, I therefore made the decision to break it into four pieces to make them easier to digest. They will be posted over the next week. Sorry about that)
Last time we tackled the subject of making DMs aware of their own play style preferences. In the next four post, I want to push this concept further and discuss the motivations that keeps players around a game table in a series of “Do” and “Do Not” to help DMs reach common grounds with their players.
Back in 2007, I wrote a post whose main point went something like:
Unless you are dealing with hopelessly selfish players, what they collectively want in a game trumps what you want. You have to shape your game and grow outside your natural DMing style to accommodate their needs and expectations. Your players’ free time is worth too much to be ignored or be downplayed as “Playing it Wrong”
As I mentioned in my last post, what players expect from playing RPG can be grouped in eight broad categories (summarized from various sources, including Robin D. Laws’ contributions to multiple editions of the D&D Dungeon Master Guide):
- Power Gaming: Collect new powers, use them often, use them efficiently.
- Butt-Kicking: Enjoy combat and pwning NPCs!
- Tactics: Triumph over complex situations through thoughtful planning and cunning.
- Specialty: Play a similar character archetype over and over like Elven Pirates and clones of copyrighted literary or cinematic heroes.
- Method Acting: Go for total immersion in a character’s assumed persona, whatever the costs.
- Storytelling: Explore a story’s unfolding around the characters’ actions and choices.
- Watching/Lurking: Hang out with friends and bask in the social energies of the group.
- Instigating: Likes to make things happen, pull levers, kick doors and trigger awkward situations.
While many players tend to find their motivations from one categories, most dip into two or more. For instance, my personal playing style tends very much toward being an instigator. I’m also very motivated by Butt-Kicking and method acting as I make deeply conflicted, often insane characters, and Butt-Kicking.
Now let’s get one key point across. Players do not expect DMs to cater to their needs of a continuous basis. Usually, non-jerk RPG players are willing to compromise at the table for the greater fun, given that a significant encounter, focused on some of their motivations, is played at least every other session or so.
This means that extending your natural style to meet your players halfway is not that hard of a job. The trick is to tweak your encounters (combat and non-combat ones) to hit the tastes of a few of your players at a time. Then make sure that you distribute their “tasty treats” fairly. This will allow you to still get what you want from the game, provided you serve some side-orders of what the others want too.
I’ll cover each category in the next few posts, but before I break this down to bullet points, as a DM you need to accept that none of these motivations are bad or represent a wrong way to play the game. It might not be how you would like to play it all the time but mixing and matching any or all of these styles is part of the broader definition of “roleplaying”. None of those are uncool or wrong. My experience shows that if you have trouble with this concept, you likely are or will experience trouble at the game table. Sadly, most of it will be caused by your inflexible expectations clashing with those of your players. That’s why I strongly encourage you discuss a campaign’s theme and style before players start making characters.
Are you ready? Stay tuned, the whole series has been scheduled to appear over the next few days.
Up Next: We explore Power Gaming, Butt Kicking and Tactics