Saturday, 21 December 2013

December RPG Blog Carnival: Getting your players on track


December's carnival rolls into town. This month we're talking about taking charge.


It's been a long time since I participated in one of those there blog carnival whatsits, but I figured I'd get back into the swing of things. This month the carnival has been pitched up over at Casting Shadows and the theme is 'taking charge'. So I want to talk about how GMs can get their players on track without completely railroading their games.

Let's not kid ourselves, players will almost always do something you hadn't planned for. Some GM's totally thrive on this stuff - ad-libbing to their heart's content, but others hate it because of the lack of the aforementioned ad-libbing gene. Either way, as a GM you need to strike a balance between letting your players explore the world and have some semblance of free will and pushing them towards the intended goal. You don't want your players completely wandering off into the wild unknown in the complete opposite direction of the goal, but you also can't stick them in a little cart and pull them down the tracks. So how can you keep the illusion of free will while essentially getting those suckers from point A to point B?

Loosey goosey, baby

You need to look at the way you're designing your scenarios. You obviously can't plan for everything so don't even try that, but at the same time you can't write out the entire story that you want to tell. Honestly, forget that. Instead, you need to get a loose story down and then focus on the features of the world you've created. Outlining your scenario rather than writing the full thing out means that you have more room to maneuver if the players aren't marching to the rhythm of your drum. As long as you have a list of key NPCs (with motives) and areas in which the players can explore you're set to play.

Be a people person

Make sure your NPCs aren't just there to talk to PCs. They ideally need to live in your world. Imagine that you're coding an NPC for a videogame like Skyrim. They don't just stand there and wait for the player to talk to them - they go shopping, chop wood, talk to friends, head out on adventures. Give each of them a very simple one line bio and a connection to another NPC. This way, you can use relevant NPC motives to get the PCs back on the right track. You could have one of those NPCs send them on an errand to nudge them in a certain direction towards the end goal, making it seem like the players are doing something unrelated to the main story but one that's actually putting them back on track.

Incentivise the main goal

The moment you start telling the players they can't do something for seemingly no reason is when they will know they're being railroaded. Similarly, if you pretty much tell them that they have to do something then you may as well be reading them a book. Instead, if it doesn't look like they want to do a certain thing give them some kind of incentive to change their mind. If they don't think the risk of saving a grumpy landlord from the bowels of a volcano is worth it, yet that's where you need the story to go, raise the stakes a bit. Have them find out that the landlord is actually the father of an NPC they had previously met and become friends with. Or have a friendly NPC get kidnapped and taken to the volcano, meaning the PCs will still be able to say no to the quest, but it's much less likely. Try to refrain from just offering money and items. Ironically it's a cheap way of doing things and doesn't really test them as characters and move the story along.