Game Mastery

Why Won’t They Roleplay – Part 3

by on Aug.25, 2008, under player management

Welcome to part 3 of my Why Won’t They Roleplay series. If you’re having trouble with your current game, you may be a little late in reading this post. However if you’re looking for ways to fix your next game, this one’s for you. It’s about setting expectations and inviting players.

When I start a new game I send out a formal invitation. As we’ve discussed, D&D encompasses many different types of games, and if there’s a disparity between the game you’re playing and the one your players are expecting, someone is going to be miserable. I make an effort to let players know what they’re getting into beforehand. This not only filters out the players who only powergame, it also puts the potential roleplayers into a roleplaying mindset.

To start off, I like to announce that what I’m running is a collaborative storytelling game. I have a story to tell, but I need characters to go through it. Right off the bat that makes it clear what the game is going to be.

Next I tell players about my strict backstory requirements. I’m not looking for a 500 word essay, but I do expect a detailed backstory from everyone. It’s important to explain that the reason for the backstory is not only to give me plot hooks, but to get the players into character before we begin. Sometimes I’ll even post links to past backstories of mine. The reward for a good backstory isn’t experience, or loot, but story. Quite simply, the more plot hooks a player gives me, the more personalized plot he’s going to get. So far, this has done wonders for scaring off powergamers.

(As a sidenote, I’m very curious to start up a game wherein I spam a mailing list and ask people to send me characters. Then choose players based on the characters they send me, based on who best fits the plot. It seems like an interesting experiment, but is probably more appropriate for someone looking to meet new gamers. I wish I’d thought of this freshman year of college. Then again, freshman year of college was more than a year before I’d even tried GMing.)

The final touch to the invitation is subtle and effective. I tell my players that we aren’t playing Dungeons and Dragons (or whatever system they’re expecting at the time). I tell them we’re playing “Jon’s Game,” which is an RPG system loosely inspired by D&D.

This has two effects. The first is that it scares off rules lawyers. Technically speaking, it’s no different than D&D’s rule 0 (the GM has the final say on anything rules related), but this has a greater impact. I think it’s because it means that we’re opting in whatever D&D rules we like instead of opting out the ones that don’t make sense. By default, weird rules that nobody has heard of are not a part of the game until I say they are.

The other effect this has is that it clears players’ expectations. When you hear D&D, most people think of dungeon crawling, not of roleplaying. By taking the D&D name away you’re giving the players a clean slate. They don’t know what Jon’s Game is like because they haven’t played it before. It opens them up to try something new, instead of the same old, same old. My games rarely have dungeons, and dragons are even less frequent, but you don’t see my PCs complaining. They (except for one stubborn one) don’t expect those things and so they aren’t dissapointed when those thigns don’t happen.

Not sure what’s coming next in this series, but if I had to venture a guess, I’d say it has something to do with character backstory.

1 comment for this entry:
  1. Why Won’t They Roleplay – Part 2 - Game Mastery

    […] (Continue on to Part 3) :roleplay No comments for this entry yet… […]

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