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


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Oh, it was helpful. My apologies for being unclear, no hidden meaning or snark intended.

Good deal! Thanks for clarifying.

There seems to be an assumption that preparation for a game / setting is necessarily onerous. Also, that the play experiences are necessarily divergent. I don't think it needs to be. Now, it may be unusual that the players at my game can make whatever character they want and have full permission to "break" the world I have created. There have been many changes over the years, and they can "see behind the curtain" enough that they can author changes which then unfold. A delight we share is when current players encounter aspects that were authored by players past.

I mean, is it "setting tourism" if you encounter something authored by someone else than the DM?

On prep being (or not being) onerous:

This one is wholly GM-specific and not much more to say than that. One person's burden is another person's joy. I've certainly got idiosyncratic joys in my life that plenty (or most) of folks would find burdensome to the point of "cost outweighing the benefits."

On prep generating an outsized effect on play (when compared to other inputs):

My position on this isn't well-loved in the D&D community, but I'm sticking to it because of the preponderance of evidence (within the hobby and outside of the hobby). At the population level (I'm not speaking to any given individual), the more effort/time/emotion people pour into a work or enterprise (particularly one that is fundamentally a vessel for social interaction), the more they want that enterprise to be displayed, shared, and appreciated.

That doesn't mean that every single person will succumb to this impulse nor does it mean that every single person who succumbs to this impulse will ensure that their creation has an outsized effect on play. But its a feature/bug of the human operating system and general biology (which transcends gaming) that the more energy budget one devotes to something, there will be a conscious or rote expectation of "cashing out" to ensure the trade-off of such an expenditure was worth it.

On Setting Tourism:

When I use the term Setting Tourism, I'm folding in the following properties for play:

* High resolution setting sufficient to "tour" in the first place.

* Play where the density of conflict-neutral content vastly supersedes (or overwrites totally) aggressive situation-framing and protagonism-framed (a trajectory of play dictated by player-authored, PC dramatic need) and protagonism-demanding conflict.

* The overall shape, pace, and zoom of play follows from the above and is considerably more relaxed, informal, and serially tight/close-up compared with alternatives.

* When conflict does find its way to center-stage, the premise of the conflict will feature "setting-as-protagonist" (which often spotlights a fundamental NPC whereby foiling their dramatic need is the point of play; see Strahd & Ravenloft), often (though not always) canonical or paradigmatic setting of an established and beloved IP.

* Overwhelmingly, the participants of a game that features Setting Tourism are expecting this sort of play (this isn't an "ambush"), because they're excited to tour a beloved setting with well-known places, NPCs, mythology, canon, themes, paradigm or they're excited to explore a new world where a trusted creative has labored intensely over just such an imagined place precisely to cater to those interests.


So Setting Tourism is equal parts "the point of play", equal parts "the orientation of the players and GMs to the playing (including pre-play)," and equal parts "the nature and process of the play itself." Its not an exact formula and will manifest at any given table with subtle difference, but those are the constituent parts of the play.
 

Darth Solo

Explorer
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.)
Playing The Microscope RPG handles players who prefer a more 'player-centric/facing' TTRPG experience. It's the very BEST dareisay TTRPG for that kind of experience because
  • There is no Gamemaster
  • The Players do everything they would normally do along with everything the GM normally does
Just try it. In no time you'll be wondering why you ever needed a GM in the first place :geek::giggle::cool::D
The idea here about using PC backstories for 'setting seeds' is objective truth: you can literally mine bad-guys, NPC allies, story sub-plots and even engaging scenes ALL from the page(s) of a PC's backstory. When I first did it my reasoning was if it was done the player(s) would never ever ask me to incorporate their backstories ever again. I introduced villains from their stories in the earliest scenes possible. Their PCs' friends and relatives were showing up ALL the time. Love interest? Presto! Lost Loved one? Clues rained from the sky! The mystery surrounding that strange family artifact? Entering Rabbit-hole NOW!

They.FKN.Loved.it. And I'm still mad about the whole thing but - it works. Really.

Just try it: show up to the first session of a new game with a very basic setting premise ("2073 Seattle") and an unfinished plot ("__ is going to __ which would result in __ unless the PCs __"). Then fill in the blanks with the players' stuff fiction. I'm not a fan of TTRPG prep and there're many GMs who feel the same way. Why? Well I think it's because the majority of the prep was supposed to be done by the group majority: The Players.

Or as it was written, "Quality is Everyone's Responsibility"™.
 

Bagpuss

Legend
Playing The Microscope RPG handles players who prefer a more 'player-centric/facing' TTRPG experience. It's the very BEST dareisay TTRPG for that kind of experience because
  • There is no Gamemaster
  • The Players do everything they would normally do along with everything the GM normally does
Just try it. In no time you'll be wondering why you ever needed a GM in the first place :geek::giggle::cool::D

Yeah but there aren't any player characters in that game, it is very untraditional, you don't play a character, time hops around all over the place, it is much more building a setting or a story than playing an roleplaying game as most of us would understand it. It is certainly worth it as an experience, but if your interested in the fate of a particular character not so much so.

If you are interested in something halfway between Microscope and a traditional RPG, try Kingdom by the same guy. Still no GM, but you do get to play a character, time progresses forwards, you build the setting and decide the challenges you face together but you play from the perspective of the one character and their desires for the Kingdom, rather than some sort of external overview of history.

The idea here about using PC backstories for 'setting seeds' is objective truth: you can literally mine bad-guys, NPC allies, story sub-plots and even engaging scenes ALL from the page(s) of a PC's backstory.

That assumes they have one.

When I first did it my reasoning was if it was done the player(s) would never ever ask me to incorporate their backstories ever again. I introduced villains from their stories in the earliest scenes possible. Their PCs' friends and relatives were showing up ALL the time. Love interest? Presto! Lost Loved one? Clues rained from the sky! The mystery surrounding that strange family artifact? Entering Rabbit-hole NOW!

They.FKN.Loved.it. And I'm still mad about the whole thing but - it works. Really.

It works with some people, I have come across players that either don't have backstories, or have the traditional "orphan, no dependents" because they feel the DM will use things from it against them, (and have had DM's in the past do that).

Just try it: show up to the first session of a new game with a very basic setting premise ("2073 Seattle") and an unfinished plot ("__ is going to which would result in unless the PCs __"). Then fill in the blanks with the players' stuff fiction. I'm not a fan of TTRPG prep and there're many GMs who feel the same way. Why? Well I think it's because the majority of the prep was supposed to be done by the group majority: The Players.

Or as it was written, "Quality is Everyone's Responsibility"™.

There are players that see developing setting and story, as "work" that they expect the GM to do, they come along to a game to play in the setting, discover a story that the GM has craft while just reacting to it as their character.

If given a huge tub of Lego to play in they get bored and confused, they don't know what to do, and if they try to build something it is often misshapen, the colours don't match and doesn't fit what they envisioned. What they want a new box of Lego bricks with written instructions to follow, that builds into a recognisable fantastic model that a skilled builder designed.
 

Darth Solo

Explorer
Yeah but there aren't any player characters in that game, it is very untraditional, you don't play a character, time hops around all over the place, it is much more building a setting or a story than playing an roleplaying game as most of us would understand it. It is certainly worth it as an experience, but if your interested in the fate of a particular character not so much so.

If you are interested in something halfway between Microscope and a traditional RPG, try Kingdom by the same guy. Still no GM, but you do get to play a character, time progresses forwards, you build the setting and decide the challenges you face together but you play from the perspective of the one character and their desires for the Kingdom, rather than some sort of external overview of history.



That assumes they have one.



It works with some people, I have come across players that either don't have backstories, or have the traditional "orphan, no dependents" because they feel the DM will use things from it against them, (and have had DM's in the past do that).



There are players that see developing setting and story, as "work" that they expect the GM to do, they come along to a game to play in the setting, discover a story that the GM has craft while just reacting to it as their character.

If given a huge tub of Lego to play in they get bored and confused, they don't know what to do, and if they try to build something it is often misshapen, the colours don't match and doesn't fit what they envisioned. What they want a new box of Lego bricks with written instructions to follow, that builds into a recognisable fantastic model that a skilled builder designed.
The Microscope RPG doesn't allow players to play characters? From the game site:
But when someone creates a Scene everyone role-plays together to decide what happens. The player making the Scene poses a Question about the history (like "can the seventh rune of power destroy the very gods" or "did Captain Falkes know his wife was cheating on him"). That Question is the agenda for the Scene and we play until we learn the answer. The current player frames the scene (where is it, what's going, where does it fall in the Event), then everyone picks characters they want to role-play. Characters can be people we have already heard about in the history or people invented on the spot. Different players may have different ideas of what they think the answer should be and you choose characters that let you push the answer you want.
If a TTRPG group requires its players to craft backstories for their characters and "some people" who are players in that group refuse to either write a backstory or write a backstory providing the level of character detail deemed sufficient by the group, "those people" may find themselves looking for another group. A good TTRPG group is supported by the cooperation and cohesion of its members :D

The LEGO® analogy is a terrible LOL:
Are you suggesting that "some" TTRPG players would get "bored and confused" during composition of a character backstory to the extent that they would need another "skilled" player or GM or both to write a backstory for them? What skill exactly would be required? What academic level of that skill would be sufficient to write a character backstory? If "some" TTRPG players were given a printed survey (of a sort) that listed every character detail the group required of "some" TTRPG players' characters, could that possibly qualify as your "... new box of Lego [sic] bricks with written instructions to follow ..." example? :unsure:

What I do know is if a TTRPG group is patient and helpful with struggling players, the obstacle can be removed (especially if the struggling players are passionate about being members of that group).
 


Bagpuss

Legend
The Microscope RPG doesn't allow players to play characters? From the game site:

If a TTRPG group requires its players to craft backstories for their characters and "some people" who are players in that group refuse to either write a backstory or write a backstory providing the level of character detail deemed sufficient by the group, "those people" may find themselves looking for another group. A good TTRPG group is supported by the cooperation and cohesion of its members :D

My point is you aren't responsible for a particular character. You might play the King of Blogsville one minute and a nameless marauding orc the next, and then someone else might play the King of Blogsville later. In Kingdom you have your own character, that only you play, although you can also play an extra in scene your PC isn't involved in but you would never play someone else's PC.

The LEGO® analogy is a terrible LOL:
Are you suggesting that "some" TTRPG players would get "bored and confused" during composition of a character backstory to the extent that they would need another "skilled" player or GM or both to write a backstory for them?

I know plenty of players that have no interest in doing a backstory they just want to experience the adventure. Also they have no interest in adding anything to the setting beyond playing their character. I'm not saying they would get confused, just that aspect of the game holds interest for them.

What skill exactly would be required? What academic level of that skill would be sufficient to write a character backstory? If "some" TTRPG players were given a printed survey (of a sort) that listed every character detail the group required of "some" TTRPG players' characters, could that possibly qualify as your "... new box of Lego [sic] bricks with written instructions to follow ..." example? :unsure:

What I do know is if a TTRPG group is patient and helpful with struggling players, the obstacle can be removed (especially if the struggling players are passionate about being members of that group).

It's not so much struggle, as they just want to play the tactical aspects of the game, story and world building is something for the GM to do.
 


soviet

Hero
I know plenty of players that have no interest in doing a backstory they just want to experience the adventure. Also they have no interest in adding anything to the setting beyond playing their character. I'm not saying they would get confused, just that aspect of the game holds interest for them.

It's not so much struggle, as they just want to play the tactical aspects of the game, story and world building is something for the GM to do.

Then why are they trying to play Microscope, or whatever?
 

Bagpuss

Legend
Then why are they trying to play Microscope, or whatever?

They aren't. It was the second part of the post (after all the emojis) that that, that part was responding to, about using PCs backstory in planning your campaign, which is unrelated to Microscope as you don't have PCs with existing backstories in that.
 

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