Monday, July 31, 2017

Can You Predict Your Players?

There's an old addage in gaming that no plan survives contact with the players. There are pages and pages of advice saying about how you can't plan for what your PCs might do, and that anything and everything could happen at the gaming table. In general I agree with this advice. As a group it is very hard to tell what your players will do. However, what about in isolation?

Do you take the time to poke and test your PCs on an individual level? If you isolated one and provided stimulus do you know how the PC would react? Do you have an idea at least? If not, why not?

Being able to predict your players is a hard skill - and you will be wrong sometimes - but it is one that is worth developing as a GM. It lets you build specific content for people that can give them the spotlight, put them in interesting positions, and really shine certain aspects of the character. You can also cheat at this and just talk to the player. If they know their character they can tell you.

But how does it work?

Well, for example I'm going to take one of my own characters. In a friend's Star Wars: Edge of the Empire game I am playing a pantoran mechanic named Rhine. Rhine is brilliant, but also a coward with a willpower of 1. When confronted with a threat or a show of force, Rhine immediately buckles and goes with what is said. Why? because Rhine is a coward, and anyone and everyone could be trying to kill her.

Because I know this, and my GM knows this, Rhine is able to make interesting sessions for game because if an NPC gets to Rhine, she can be coerced to do about anything to keep her alive. This lets him give the bad guys a "thing" the PCs may not want them to have, show more depth of said bad guys, and a reason to give other PCs urgency because even good players take things more seriously when another PC is on the line.

Now balancing that out is another thing the GM has to do. Every adventure can't just be "Rhine has been abducted again" but at the same time, if the PCs are leaving Rhine alone, why not? Still, the fact Rhine is a coward and will react with direct self interest means the GM knows to factor that in for combat and other threats.

So, can you predict your players? And if so, what fun things has it let you pull off?


  1. I've noticed there are two factors at play here: Predictability and Expectations.
    At first sight, they seem to be the same: if your players are predictable, you know what to expect. But during play I've noticed there's more to it. If your players are being predictable (or the GM!) and a big red button shows up to be pushed, everyone knows that when the button is pushed, Shit Gets Unleashed. Knowing that it will happen is actually an Expectation. Did anyone tell the party ingame it'll be a bad idea to push the big red button? Did you as a GM know which one of the party would be pressing it? That's a prediction.

    Predictability seems to increase when players have a very good or very bad grasp of roleplaying: a bad roleplayer likely stumble over every cliche and trope in sight and not care (or not know) how much of a clichestorm (s)he's being. When a big red button shows up, it is there to be pressed. That's all. But when you have a good roleplayer, (s)he will press the button just because that's what his/her character would do in this situation, regardless of the potentially dire consequences. In either situation, you can predict what your players would do, and plan out your game accordingly. When you want to draw your players deeper into the game, can play with their Expectations and make them think about what exactly they're seeing. In the case of the bad roleplayer, thinking about what is happening to their character will give the GM the opportunity to immerse the player(s) deeper into the game. And the good roleplayer will be rewarded for playing to the strengths of his/her character because accepting the consequences of your actions and failing tends to give the most memorable scenes in my campaigns.

    Predictability in my game tends to decrease if we haven't played in a while, because details have been forgotten and the players are less in character while playing. It also increases when they're tired, causing them to fall for obvious traps they either failed to spot or simply can't think of a way to work around.

    So for predicting your players: yes it's possible, and I use it all the time. My players are fully aware that if they take the 'most likely' path to a goal or follow my hints too closely (think: railroading), they can and will end up in deep shit. If that sounds like I encourage paranoia, it's actually the other way around: my players became paranoid of their own accord and I had to factor it into my campaign so they were able to trust their fellow players and me as the GM. I always predict what the most likely road would be for my players to take, and allow the Big Bad to plan accordingly. Because the players are aware of this, they sometimes manage to predict whenever their enemies will try to get them and plan accordingly. Out of 4 finished campaigns they managed to trap the Big Bad 3 times instead. I have a weird party, but they're awesome.

    1. You're absolutely .right on the not playing for a while decreasing predictability. It's almost like the flow is disrupted, and so once again everyone is dancing to their own inner tune.

  2. The campaign I just started running is Force & Destiny, and the setting/mechanics allows for some predictability.

    The PCs are Force-sensitives and so are going to be intrinsically interested in most things Force related. Also, the Empire aggressively suppresses all things Force/Jedi related - so if the PCs do get a lead on something Force related, they're unlikely to ignore it.

    One of the PCs is a grease/wire-monkey, so he'll be predictably interested in gadgets, slicing gear, networks to be sliced, etc.

    Two of the PCs are lightsaber specialists, or will be when they get one. So they're likely to be moths to light when it comes to anything lightsaber oriented.

    The game's mechanics causes each PC to have both specific aspects of their Morality, and to have specific Motivations. Both of these will (hopefully) cause the player to have their PC behave in a certain way most of the time, causing another layer of predictability.