Player-driven campaigns and developing strong stories

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If I was familiar would I have asked the question?
I don't know. That's why I asked.

No, I haven't acquired my copy yet. I do have today off, so I'll see if my FLGS has it.
At the end of the session I played on Sunday, Aedhros's Belief that Only because Alicia is poor and broken can I endure her company had changed to Only because Alicia is not utterly without capability can I endure her company.

I made the change after a "mouldbreaker" moment:
Alicia was now lying, unconscious, in a pile of copper coins that had "rained" down on her. We agreed that Grellin, who is unused to such sorcery, was struck with awe by the Ob 7 Steel test for witnessing pronounced sorcery. Aedhros, on the other hand, could only see yet more evidence of the ill fortune and ineptitude that brings all things to ironic ruin. At least, until . . .

My friend was urging me - mightn't Aedhros have at least a hint of pity left in his heart, and be moved by Alicia's plight? Aedhros's relevant instinct, here, was Never use Song of Soothing unless compelled to - Song of Soothing being the Elven equivalent of herbalism. There was also his Belief about why he can stand Alicia's company - would that remain unshifted even seeing her so broken even as her poverty was slightly lifted?

I told my friend I would make the Song of Soothing test, and see where that led me. The obstacle for a Light wound is Ob 2, doubled for no tools. The skill is open-ended (natural Elven magic), and so despite being B3 plus 1D from my Rhyme of Rules FoRK, I was able to get my four successes and restore Alicia to consciousness. We then played out an exchange in which we both went for Mouldbreaker - Aedhros's Belief is now Only because Alicia is not entirely without capability can I endure her company. Alicia's Belief that The strong do what they may - I will do what I must to survive was changed by the fact that Aedhros had had her utterly under his power, and with coin all about her to be taken, and yet had healed her instead: now she Believes that I will be compassionate to the poor.

As always, you can fix a person if they wish to be fixed.
That is like a Black Flag song. Though if people are going to sabotage the game, the rules can't fix that; and I see this issue come up a lot in discussion, where it is not the rules that are the problem, instead the people need to have a discussion with each other about their expectations, and if they are happy or not.

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
That is like a Black Flag song. Though if people are going to sabotage the game, the rules can't fix that; and I see this issue come up a lot in discussion, where it is not the rules that are the problem, instead the people need to have a discussion with each other about their expectations, and if they are happy or not.
A huge percentage of issues discussed on this site could be resolved with "stop playing with jerks," which is unfortunately not always possible for people who want to continue to play.

I strongly disagree with this description. The goal is to put players into the position of being characters within a story, and definitely not the audience. Relatively linear stories, especially those of the narrow, broad, narrow structure I like to tell, do not turn the players into non-participants. Even very linear stories don't have to turn the participants into a passive audience.

So that may well be your Platonic Idea of a great RPG campaign but understand it is probably far from most player's idea of an ideal good time.

For as long as I've been reading about gaming, there has always been this faction that has argued that open ended, (what's now called) "no myth", player driven, character driven RP is the best form of game and that in fact, that's what the players really want and bad GMs who are frustrated novelists are just keeping them down. And in 40 years of RPing, that has absolutely never been my experience. The vast majority of players both from their observed in game preferences and even surveys of "What do you want the next campaign to be like?" prefer games that are driven by GM narrative, GM created obstacles, and GM driven stories. They do want the freedom to find their own ways around those obstacles, to make their own plans, and respond to the narrative how they want to, but they do not - decidedly do not - want to put in the effort to make their own fun.

I always try to leave room for player freedom, and frequently how the PC's go from A->B is not something I ever anticipated. They will in the micro level always throw me curveballs. But I've never once had players that wanted to actually lay their own rails and invent their own goals and play in the sandbox. My suspicion is that if you have those sorts of players, you will know it and if you open the gates then off they will go. And likewise, if you don't have those kinds of players, then no number of open gates is going to convince them to get off the pasture or away from the comforts and ease of discovering the story I've imagined for them to play through.

So the thing is, ultimately if you want a player driven campaign, it's ultimately up to the players, and to having the sort of players that both want to drive the story and actually have the ability to do so. And for me, they also would have to have enough skill at creating motives for themselves, and planning things, and setting up interesting goals that I could play along with it, riff off of it, and enjoy what they are doing. For example, if they just want to on a hex crawl safari and it never comes more than kill the monster of evening and take its stuff, I'm going to get bored quickly. But if they have something actually interesting they want to do, and enough of their own ideas of how to get there, then I'd be happy to riff off that myself. It's just in 40 years of gaming absolutely never happened with any players I've had.

I particularly want to caution against the false idol that is "no myth". It's one thing to let the players drive the story. It's another thing to use this as an excuse for doing no work yourself.

One particular problem I would have with the idea of a player driven campaign, is that I think it's probably suited only to tables with 1-3 players, and not the 4-6 players that have been more the norm for my gaming. The number of players you have at your table is the biggest restriction on the sort of games you can run successfully. The more players you have, the less the game by necessity can be about exploration of character and individual characters story arcs and goals and the more you have to have some overriding and overarching unity of purpose. Either that, or you have to have an entire crew of players that are both talented enough thespians to entertain everyone else at the table, and also patient enough to just sit and watch for long periods of time. The problem I foresee with player driven and character driven games is that above about 3 players, you'll almost certainly develop a lack of unity in the goals as each player separately pursues their own story arc - essentially you end up with a bunch of players who want to ride railroads in different directions. I've seen this happen, and you can somewhat get around it with troupe play, but as a third constraint, the campaign will suck up more hours than most adults have to spend.

And on that topic, if you really want to run a sandbox well I think the fundamental think you have to remember is a well run sandbox always requires more work than running a linear game. You have to do more preparation work and not less preparation work. Because by definition the GM running a sandbox is willing to prepare a lot of things with the expectation that they will never use them. The amount of understanding of the setting that you need to run it so that it's not an empty row boat world, however that depth of understanding is made and recorded is just going to be a ton of work.
Well, it is a good thing we have such an expert on Zero Myth Narrative play to warn us off from all these terrible pitfalls! ;)

To be less snarky, I don't think you are wrong about SOME players. At the very least there are certainly people who play and have little interest in story beyond whatever antics come up in each encounter, and maybe making some fairly lightweight plot choices. IME though these are generally not terribly hard core players. I mean, basically I think there's simply a range of players, where very few who are going to be your more involved players have no interest in story and milieu. I think MOST players are not going to make a thing of having serious input if their group seems happy and the GM seems determined to run everything. In fact the classic response is to go ahead and start some other sort of game of their own.

But I have yet to ever run into players of this sort who won't play in a Story Now sort of low myth narrative game. Maybe its 50/50 amongst all players, but its quite easy to get people to play something like a PbtA, like Dungeon World. In fact I can only remember one time when I introduced a game of this ilk. One of the other people in the group I was running for at the time picked up Dungeon World and started running it for us.

A huge percentage of issues discussed on this site could be resolved with "stop playing with jerks," which is unfortunately not always possible for people who want to continue to play.
Very true, though I also can see that maybe it is not the rules of the game that are at fault. If one person wants a tactical battle game, and the other wants narrative role-play it is really going to be difficult to mix those two styles.

IME what actually happens is that 1-3 players are proactive and drive the action while the rest are more passive and treat it more like a linear AP, only it's not the GM telling them what happens next. I do have one group of 7 players where none of the PCs are really proactive once immediate needs are met, so they're not very well suited to pure sandboxing. Conversely groups with 2 or more proactive players with conflicting agendas are a problem too, one group really resented the player who got them to go take on a frost giant invasion, especially when his own PC stayed out of the temple assault where they got soundly beaten.
Divergence of interests can obviously happen. You could go in for a more troupe oriented kind of play, so just split the party, let different PCs associate as needed, etc. Or, let the players figure it out! I mean, if they are in charge of where the story goes, then they have the means to figure out how to deal with differences. I've seen VERY few times where the problems were not easily solved.

This does not work for a lot of players though. The half of players who don't role play in-universe much or not at all. If your a player role playing a character that is a willing member of a group and a higher up of the group orders you to do something: you do it. There is no Star Trek/Stargate epsiode where the characters whine and cry like babies because they don't want to do something and they demand another mission. Though this is common with a good half of the players out there.

And no matter how you wrap it up: It is still just the DM telling the players what to do.
Horse apples. Utter nonsense.
It's similar all over. I find the best game is one where all the players pick something they want to do and then dive into full emerssion deep role play to do it. Sadly, this does not happen often. To often many players only think they want to do something, but as soon as the game starts they discover it might take work and effort and bail out.

100% times worse, is the players will just have the characters sit in a bar and ask the DM, "um so are there any quests to do?"

But for some positive advise: if you really want any type of player, you really just have to make them. By far it is much easier to find a non gamer and teach them to be your sort of player. A lot harder is to de-program a current gamer. Either way it will take a lot of time. And most often you can't just "talk" to the person for a couple minutes and suddenly change them or have them see the light. And as most players will be unwilling to do anything else, the only way to do this is during game play.

I should stress it will also only work if the player wants to change.
Dude, you missed your chance. You should change your nick to 'Eeyore', here's a new icon for you ;)

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