Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Steal From Your Players

This was originally meant to be part of yesterday's post about stealing from everywhere, but in the writing it felt unique enough to stand alone. Online in some places there seems to almost be a competition going on between some players and GMs. I don't mean the game is GM vs. PC. I mean that some PCs seem to take it as a win if they can figure out the GMs plot before the grand reveal. Some GMs, at the same time, take it as a loss if that happens.

Today I want to tell you two things: 1) that's hogs' wash. 2) if your player has a more fun idea for what is going on than you, steal it!

Predictions and Hopes
The first thing to realize is your players' theories as to what is going on in your game is not just a theory, it's their hope. This is the way their brain has put together the evidence it has from the game into a format that is palatable to them. You can judge for this more by how excited the person is when they share their theory, and sometimes players will even give a couple different options and frame which one they hope it is.

At this point you have two choices: stick to what is going on, or tweak things to work with what the players are predicting. Stick to your guns and you may surprise them with a better story. However, you may also leave them confused as key pieces of information never clicked for them and now they're just confused. Tweak closer to their expectations and you have an end closer to satisfying them - and they get to feel smart for putting things together, or close to it.

We Still Tweak
Don't get me wrong. I don't mean whole sale just make the player right and take their idea. Tweak it. The player's information is incomplete. You have to make it fit with what is going on in your world and your other plans. That may not be possible with the player's version of things, but some of it may still be good. Take the idea. Twist it. Own it. Make it yours. Then slot it back into the game.

Best Idea Wins
Like I said yesterday there is no shame in this. As the GM you should have two key goals: 1) run the best game possible, 2) ensure everyone has the most fun possible. These are the two goals of any game. It doesn't mean you have to be striving to raise your level as a GM, or to show your players a unique experience. It just means you have to be serious about running a fun game.

This means the best idea wins. Maybe that's your idea. Maybe it's your player's idea. It doesn't matter where it comes from. If your player gives a theory and your brain immediately goes "that's so cool, why didn't I think of that?" take it. Your players aren't going to know you didn't think of it unless you tell them.

Disparate Items & Fishing For Connections
One of the more fun aspects of this is your players will see things as connected that you maybe never intended to have connected. You ran 3 different little one shots in the game so far. Only one is linked to the big plot. But if you ask your players they will come up with weird ways the other two things are linked to that idea and what is going on. Sometimes those ideas are really cool. Sometimes when you take that theory, your players start really looking for hidden connections thinking you're some kind of mastermind.

It can be a lot of fun.

Beyond that, it's worth talking to your players about the campaign every few sessions. Make sure they're having fun and enjoying what is going on. See if there is anything they would like more or less of. Most importantly, ask them what they think is going on.

The last part is 'most important' because it gives you a chance to steal their ideas if better, which is good. However, it also lets you see what your players have picked up in your game. It will let you know what elements they're seeing and what they're missing. It will tell you if you need to do more work to communicate the plot - or if you can slow down a bit on it. Also, again, it let's you steal from your players.

A Small Example
As a small example, in my L5R game there has been an over-arching metaplot for the past several generations of PCs about these older gods that pre-date the fall of the Kami. Those gods are no waking up in the final generation and the PCs are interacting with them. They're in fact actively looking for them because they need help to deal with the one who has gone crazy in a vein similar to Fu Leng. The problem is the court of these gods they're currently looking for is in Crab lands near the Shadowlands. And I need a way to guide the PCs to it. So I took one of the PC's sister (a spirit hunter) and had her vanish. She reappeared a month later with a scroll and a key for the PCs, having traded her voice for the items and her safety.

My original thought for this was the sister had found what the PCs were looking for. Nice and easy. Done. However, the player most closely involved with the plot had a different theory. They're theory is it is a different god helping - the Corpsetaker - who their PC made an enemy of before realizing the truth in the visions the corpsetaker granted them. It makes for a much more nuanced story and lets me bring up more of the plot while losing nothing. So guess who the sister ran into?

I don't mind spoiling this as my reaction to the player's theory was "I'm stealing this" and I trust them to still RP it out appropriately. But I wanted to give a small example.

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