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Approaches to prep in RPGing - GMs, players, and what play is *about*

pemerton

Legend
RPGing needs "stuff" - fiction. The things we are all imagining together when we play.

Some of this stuff is characters. Some of it is setting - where the characters are, the history of that place, etc. Some of it is situation - ie what is happening right here and now that will prompt the players to declare actions for their characters.

A lot of discussion of RPGing - especially when framed through ideas like "the dungeon" or "the adventure" - makes some assumptions about this stuff that aren't always brought to the surface.

It's often assumed that setting is primary - the place that the characters will be exploring and acting in. (In D&D and kindred systems this leads to very precise rule about searching for hidden things, opening doors, etc.) With setting taken as primary, it is then often assumed that situation will flow from setting - eg the players will have their PCs go somewhere, or open a door, or confront a NPC, and that will trigger/enliven the situation.

These assumptions then feed a further one: that setting needs to be prepared by the GM, so that (i) players have a relatively "concrete" thing to explore via their PCs, and so that (ii) the situations that are latent in it arise "fairly" for the players (ie based on how they go about exploring the setting) rather than in an arbitrary fashion, at the GM's whim.

These assumptions about setting prep as a GM responsibility, how setting prep feed into situation, and how this relates to "fairness" in play, and also how it relates to play being interesting or boring, then feed into standard discussions about sandboxes, railroading, etc.

For those RPGers who are interested in player-driven RPGing - @innerdude starts threads about this from time to time, and @Yora had a recent thread on it - one approach is to drop these assumptions about prep.

Instead of the setting as the source of situation, look to the character as the source of situation. So responsibility for prep shifts from the GM (with their setting) to the player (with their character). The player needs to set up a character that has hooks - backstory, goals and commitments, relationships, etc - from which situation naturally flows. This player prep (which need not be particularly onerous) provides the content and context that the GM draws on to frame situations and consequences. On this approach, setting - rather than being primary - becomes a secondary or tertiary concern: it is a byproduct of the creation of characters and the framing of them into situations.

Play becomes unequivocally about these characters, rather than about this setting.

(I'm also tagging @hawkeyefan because of some things he posted recently about playing in The Temple of Elemental Evil.)
 

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My players would have none of that. They always seem to want to be carried along by the story than make it themselves.
Some types of games promote character centered play more than others. But of course tastes vary. Don't assume what people like though if they have not been offered the option.
I like the idea of making stories around the PCs, but getting the players to make the hooks might be a problem.
Yeah, try a game like Blades in the Dark. It's setting is actually fairly well defined but the characters really drive play and have plenty of hooks.
 

Seems as though this is something of a false dichotomy. There's no reason a GM cannot prep a setting in which situations arise that directly engage the characters' backstories and motivations and whatnot. The players can provide elements the GM can grab and the GM can determine what those elements look like in their setting and how they emerge for the characters to address. All the players need to do is play their characters and the story happens.
 

Not too many players would go for this. You want each player to make up thousands of words about their character? Most players complain if they have to do more then a paragraph.

And if your doing a switch here, then your saying the PLAYERS will be making all the crunch for the game, right? The players will make all the stats and outlines and adventures.

The DM just gets to show up casually, and each player will hand them a perfectly complete game handout to use for their character.

And if you have four players....are you having each player make their own setting? Or are you mushing all the player settings into one?
 

Not too many players would go for this. You want each player to make up thousands of words about their character? Most players complain if they have to do more then a paragraph.

And if your doing a switch here, then your saying the PLAYERS will be making all the crunch for the game, right? The players will make all the stats and outlines and adventures.

The DM just gets to show up casually, and each player will hand them a perfectly complete game handout to use for their character.

And if you have four players....are you having each player make their own setting? Or are you mushing all the player settings into one?
I have had players give me thousands of words of backstory. My own tend toward about 500 these days.

If no one gives me backstories I can go around the table asking each player like six questions and I'm good.

And I don't just show up casually. While I might not put hours into a given session there has been real thought put into the setting before the campaign and there is real thought put into the situations as they arise.
 
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IAnd I don't just show up casually. While I might not put hours into a given session there has been real thought put into the setting before the campaign and there is real thought put into the situations as they arise.
That's your game, great....but it's not what the OP said about player character driven games.
 

That's your game, great....but it's not what the OP said about player character driven games.
I am approximately 100% certain the OP does not "show up casually."

It's not my preferred style but running a game like Blades in the Dark or Apocalypse World requires a lot of engagement from the GM. GMing those games isn't from that I can tell particularly prep-intensive but neither is play. IME players don't need to do any more work in either of those games than they do in D&D.
 

I am approximately 100% certain the OP does not "show up casually."

It's not my preferred style but running a game like Blades in the Dark or Apocalypse World requires a lot of engagement from the GM. GMing those games isn't from that I can tell particularly prep-intensive but neither is play. IME players don't need to do any more work in either of those games than they do in D&D.
Well, don't know about them games.

The OP mentioned the long, hard work a typical GM puts into making the setting of an RPG. While the players just relax and make a single character.

So if you reverse that, each player will do the long, hard work, and the GM will make just one single simple thing.
 

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