How to bind the Players?

Hello everyone. There's a couple things I do when I GM, and I do them all too often. One of my most used tropes is "Impending danger forces the players to band together." Now, this is a pretty solid mechanism. Very quickly gets people to work together. Gives players the narrative excuse to band together with this motley crew and start having some adventures. However, I've just done it soooooo much. I'm tired of it. The way I see it, there are three ways to approach the classic problem of: "How do I get the party together and get them to start working together."

1) The easiest way is to put the onus on them. Start the game saying, "Hey you're a party. Why is that? What circumstances pushed you people together and what about one another makes it believable that you continue to work together?"
2) Impending Doom! Some external threat is forcing the PCs to come together as a unit, and they need each other to see their way out of it.
3) "You are stronger together, than you are divided." Develop a scenario early on that shows the players that as a unit they are more capable of getting things done and can more easily pursue individual goals with the help of their other PC friends. This could be as simple as, make them a band of mercs and give each player a spotlight to show how they help contribute to group badassness.

My questions to you: How do you approach this problem? What are your preferred solutions (if you have one)?

Where I struggle with this the most is in making it believable that they all want to start and continue working together. With good players, they'll bend over backwards to help accommodate this part of the story. But I always want to do my best to make it believable and plausible that these people want to and continue to work together. I've put the onus on them many of times. I've thrown external danger on them many times. Showing them they're stronger together than divided however, haven't done that as much. And really, this is coming up because I want the game to be driven by character goals and choices far more than any kind of external threats. Sure, they'll show up eventually. But I want them engaged on personal missions and the rest of the group to be totally into seeing those missions accomplished.

p.s. If you're curious, it's a game of FFG Star Wars with some jedi, smugglers, and a rebel.

Comments

  • edited January 2016
    Those are good approaches. In general, putting the onus on the entire group is a good thing. Then it's no longer a burden, but a group responsibility we have to each other.

    How about mechanical approaches? Any system where players rely on other players' input to gain XP or other mechanical advantages could work. (For example, if each character has a certain emotional issue, they need to have a scene with another PC in order to reduce their stress level, or some such. In games like Dungeon World, PCs have "Bonds" with other characters, and they can gain experience by changing them or acting on them. That means everyone is constantly looking for reasons to bring them into play, which requires the characters to be together or at least appearing in scenes regularly.)
  • A related approach (but more based on Players' actions) is letting them run around doing their own things but not getting too far from each other, until one of them does something that brings crap down upon them. This crap, of course, has no idea they're *not* together, and therefore targets them as a group.

    Then all the other PCs get to blame one PC. Lots of drama there. :-)

  • The mechanical approach is an interesting concept. At present I'm having the players spider-web asymmetric bonds a la Apocalypse World. But the intention behind that was to start each session with a small (10-15min) flashback vignette where they play out that scene with full narrative control. Ya know, really delving into the "show not tell," so we can all see why that was such a formative, bonding moment. But I'm wondering how I could mechanize that and keep it evolving throughout play.
  • A related approach (but more based on Players' actions) is letting them run around doing their own things but not getting too far from each other, until one of them does something that brings crap down upon them. This crap, of course, has no idea they're *not* together, and therefore targets them as a group.

    Then all the other PCs get to blame one PC. Lots of drama there. :-)

    Only reason I'm wary of this approach is that it sets up the "fall-guy" role in the group really quick. I would like to give the players some space to explore different options in terms of how they fit in the group dynamic... though the argument could be said that by the end of their antics in the first session, they've made that decision already?
  • I usually pitch games that begin with "The characters are all X doing Y in a world where Z". If it's a game where I want the PCs to work together as a group, it's usually easier to start them off as a group already united by a common employer, goal, familial ties, or whatever. If I were running a game for a ragtag group, then I'd either start them together in media res, or say that they all applied for the same job, or else ask the players why the PCs are working together and how they know each other.

    The most recent games I've run have been Ryuutama and Firefly. In Ryuutama, everyone is an ordinary person setting out on an arduous journey, so the game's setup itself provides a reason to unite the characters. For Firefly, one obvious unifying feature is that the characters are all part of a ship's crew – my group decided to be smugglers, which also gives me direction for the sorts of stories they want to see.

    These days I only tend to play out how everybody meets if the aim of the game is to explore drama and relationships around the characters, but not as a unified group (like with Apocalypse World, or a game of my own I ran recently where everyone was a supernatural monster hanging around a small community after a Cthulhoid apocalypse).
  • edited January 2016
    I like "PCs are a party" games where everyone has their own drives too. For that, I just put the steps in this order:

    1) Basic premise of the game: here's what your characters can be up to that's interesting.
    2) Within that, why are you specifically together?
    3) Within that, what are your character's personal goals and drives?

    This way you don't wind up with characters motivated by things that would naturally drag them away from each other.

    Actual play example:

    1) Delve is a game in which supernatural problem-solving is the best way for impoverished peasants to become something more. You are impoverished peasants.
    2) We're the three people from the Hub Town area that showed up at the big seasonal festival where the Empire posts "supernatural problems" ads and will provide some guidance about which ones noobs could handle. Beyond that: in this profession, trust is vital, and we've worked together enough to establish that trust.
    3) Alaric wants to be famous and feared. Roderick wants to serve humanity and protect it from evil. Jan wants to gain enough influence to help advocate for the have-nots against the haves.

    So, they save a town from monsters, they go back to town; Alaric plops a monster head on the table with a bloody grin; Roderick dispenses some wisdom and advises the village elders on how to reach the party if they have similar problems in the future; and Jan makes sure the local lord and imperial garrison know that a beggar's boy was the one who fixed this, so remember his name.

    Over time, Alaric impresses more bards, Jan impresses more powers that be, and Roderick disseminates more knowledge. As GM, it's then easy to provide opportunities based on these achievements. The most famous bard asks if you'll tackle a famous haunted castle, the just lord asks for your help deposing his unjust neighbor with the promise of land-granting in the bargain, the seasonal council of village elders lends you their magical insight to guide your pursuit and opposition of threats to the realm, etc.

    Bonus on the cohesion front: when the rest of the gameworld cares about your group achievements, they brand you with a group identity. Alaric and Roderick and Jan quickly learned it was advantageous to come up with a catchy team name. Most of the renown and influence they acquired was conferred upon the Shadow Hunters. Operating apart from that group would have left one without those resources.

    Easy believability:

    I inferred from the OP that they had very high standards on the "believable" front. If that's true, then in my experience, the method I've described is the best. Cooperation is natural and organic, with zero rationalizing required.

    If you don't mind a little "make it make sense" effort on the players' part, though, then I think all the approaches mentioned in this thread so far are viable.
  • edited January 2016
    Here's an approach I'd like to try, it's somewhat system agnostic:

    -As a GM identify the different roles the PCs could have in the setting you're going to play. This doesn't have to be class dependant; lets say you use the old "tank, dps, controller, healer" combo, but everyone can play a cleric and specialize in one role (well, perhaps with the help of magic items or some multiclassing). You can talk this with the players so they can develop their own combo and choose whatever role they want to play.

    -Then, at the first two or three sessions let players have one free success per session whenever they do something related to their role. Also, you need to generate an opportunity for every role to shine, the same amount of times on each session.

    EDIT: I should add one more condition for them to use their free success: their partners (or at least half of the party) should be at their respective places, since you need to be confident that your teammates will do their part to be able to do yours without thinking.

    The idea is that players start to see each other characters as reliable and let them do their work in the team. So next time anyone needs tanking, they will know who to call instead of trying to think how to get things done without a tank.

    BTW, how often have you seen players create an actual good "team" instead of a good "character"? I heard of a group in a D&D tournament here who played as "power rangers". It seems they were all powergamers playing rangers but they also gave them specializations that made their teamwork swift as clockwork.

    Also David, I luv your three levels of motivations. I've been trying something alike but never reached that clarity.

  • Echoing the idea of giving the PCs a "premise"; And that doesn't have to be "You're all members of a military organization" or something. It can be "You're all childhood friends." Or "You're an extended family" or the like.

    But also "You tell me, why are you guys a team?" is perfectly acceptable, especially if backed up with "I don't think that's strong enough, what if...?" questions.
  • I tend to play and write games that kind of bake this right into the rules:

    - You're a group of Arbiters recently indoctrinated into the Order of Fasann. Your duty is to root out Dishonor and make judgments at various settlements along the Road.

    - You're a team of Bounty Hunters that just ran out of cash. You've gotta kick in some doors or chase down some skips in order to pay the bills.

    - You're a company of scavengers living within the guts of the World Eater, picking through the undigested scraps from the Eaten Age. Your clan and stronghold depend on you.

    From here, you can put the onus on the players to come up with specific connections and bonds, however I like to define semi-nebulous ones at the get go, and then let the players fill in more as they get a better handle on their characters. Things like, Ben has a strong emotion toward Jessica. That emotion might be love, jealousy, hatred, whatever.

    If, however, those are too restrictive - I try to make a clear overlapping goal (similar to your we're better as a team concept) that encourages the players to want to work together. This helps especially in role-based games. If there's a satisfying enough hook, something like "The Great Ruins of Jakartha have been discovered!" then they'll want to team up with specialists in their respective fields of expertise in order to actually get over the Frostfire Mountains and past the Flats of Despair in order to actually get to Jakartha.
  • edited January 2016
    These are some pretty rad ideas. A lot of this post came from the fact that I was getting a little disappointed and frustrated when I realized the only three methods I knew were the one's listed above.

    @David_Berg That was a really clear breakdown there, thanks! In regards to believability, that is actually something I really put on myself. I'm not too certain how strong the players feel about it. One of the things that frustrates me is when there are two opposing player types that constantly push against one another to the point where you have to wonder, why the hell do these guys work together? A bad example would be, a murderous character and a pacificst character. The murderous one is killing problems left right and center, the pacifist is talking 'em down and dealing with them non-violently. At some point, unless there is something deeper, why doesn't one just walk away from the other in disgust being like, "I can't work with this guy, he just makes everything harder."

    @bendutter I quite like the overlapping goal idea. The whole we work better as a team thing is something I haven't done much because I find it a little difficult to wrap my mind around how to present that properly. But incorporating overlapping goals could really smooth it out.

    @WarriorMonk Ya know, come to think of it... I really haven't seen too many good teams. I've seen plenty of good characters in a team. This comes down to a standing disagreement a friend and I have. He says it's best for players to specialize super hard into what their character type is: The hacker ups his computer skill to godly levels, the tank makes himself nigh unkillable to the exclusion of damage output, etc. I say that while this is great in theory, in practice people often can't hold up their end of the spectrum. I especially see this when someone picks up the "face" of the group. For whatever reason, players tend to have a hard time talking to and relating to npcs like normal human beings.

    Finally, a lot of people have said to try one or another variant of giving the party a group premise. I'm curious if it can work w/o doing that. But at the same time, without necessarily having a "you meet 4 PC strangers in a bar" scene either. Any special things I should be wary of? Does that idea make you instinctively cringe? If so, what's the horrible scenario you're thinking it could result in? For my game, the starting scenario is:
    You are on your last delivery for Lost and Found Shipping LLC. After completing this delivery, you'll have completed your contract with the company and will be free agents again.
    Then I plan on the starting the game right after they finish that mundane task of delivering cargo. So, they're not precisely a group, but they're not entirely strangers either. They also don't have any unifying theme as of yet.

    At any rate, thanks for the responses. Keep 'em coming, I'd love to see different variants and methods that people employ. I'm really curious to try out what WarriorMonk suggested with some "gimme" successes to really highlight how awesome each person is.
  • Here's another idea, although it overlaps with your #1:

    * Build up each character's abilities so that they depend on another PC. (For instance, maybe one character has powerful battle magic, but is completely defenseless when she uses it. She needs the presence of the "bodyguard" character to be effective.)

    * Build up each character's **Goals** in relation to the story so that they depend on another PC. For instance, the warrior character is trying to evade pursuit by otherworldly spirits. He has no idea how to do that, however. One of the other characters is a scholar of magical and extra-planar lore; with his help, the warrior has a chance of achieving his goals, but is fairly useless without. In short, the PCs' abilities and skills shouldn't align neatly with their goals - the weakest character might have the goal of defeating their Half-Giant warrior brother in battle, and the strongest might need to unravel a mystery.

    You can imagine how, using both together, you can get a pretty tight web. Ideally, PC A can't use their abilities to their full extent without the help or presence of PC B. In the meantime, however, PC A's abilities are absolutely key to PC C's goals, which C cannot reach by herself.

    Now, anytime C wants a shot at success, she needs to bring along A, who will insist on bringing along B.
  • Sounds nice Luzelli, let us know how it goes! oh, and check again my post above, I added a note on the successes which should hopefully reinforce the "team" atmosphere. I'll probably use D&D 5e Inspiration mixed with this, so perhaps I'll be giving advantage instead of automatic successes.

    I'm definitely going for David's approach on drives. I'd recommend you that when players find themselves on that window of time between jobs, talk with the players and decide what kind of activity would they like to do now as a group, and then each one gets to decide a personal goal within the limits of that activity.

    I remembering using a mix of media res and flashback scenes to get my players form a group, so it became easier for them to "agree to disagree" and still keep going together after the same goal. You see, what I did was establish them as old friends and teammates at the start of the game, traveling together through a country only two of them were familiar with. Whenever they had some argument the more tolerant would usually let go of the issue if they couldn't make the other person think things more thoroughly.

    Then whenever only half or less of the party arrived on time for the session I'd have them play through a short improvised adventure placed at the time they got to meet each other and use other constrains to bring them together: a common enemy, a situation where both of them need to cooperate, an order from their superiors, teachers, mentor, etc. Since it was already established that they would become pals in the future, it was easier for them to connect the dots and role play things up to the point where that could be possible.

    However, having the players agree all in a shared goal is one of the things that should have the best effect. I've often seen players create good characters that are utterly non-functional on a team because everyone on the table is assuming the team's goal and motivation are different things. Like, for some players being an adventurer means to survive, get rich and being powerful through any means available. For others it means going into the unknown and get surprised by it. Everyone thinks they are on the same page with the rest of the group in this respect, while the actual truth is that they have no idea what the group is meant to do besides reacting to whatever the GM throws at them.

    It's so usual that most players and GMs assume by default that whatever happens in front of the PCs is the plot and must be followed in order to get anything done in the game. While useful for railroading, it still feels as an imposition for the players to the point that some reject it and kick doors or kill the messenger to avoid or delay the plot. to gain a window time of freedom until the GM brings things back into the rails.

    In a sandbox campaign, showing the players some opportunities and then having them choose their own goals works better to bind them together as long as you prep after they decide their shared goal instead of before. It's actually like railroading, but this time it isn't an imposition, this time they are telling the GM where the train will go, compromise on moving it and then it's up to the GM to plan how to get there. Thus they will actually feel they are all in the same train for the same reasons and hopefully that will stop them from going PvP to defend their free will either from the GM or from each other.
  • edited January 2016
    Thanks!

    It's funny, when my Delve game started, Alaric was kind of a murderer and Roderick and Jan were kind of pacifists. It wasn't a problem! Watching them argue with each other was fun because it always happened within the constraints of shared objectives, and in the end, someone always compromised for the sake of best solving supernatural problems.

    As GM, during character creation, all I had to do was keep an eye out for character goals that would clash with "solve supernatural problems". Clashing with each other was just fine.

    As for unity without an initial group premise, I think if everyone wants unity, then you can generally find ways to make it work. Having it simply emerge organically, though, without any sort of directed GM or player effort, would be blind luck. I think the Delivery Company idea is a perfectly fine way to set the scene that kicks things off, but it's a relatively small detail; the kick-off scene itself is the really important part. @Luzelli, what's your plan for that? Are you going to hit them with something none of them can ignore, and would be logical to deal with together? Or are you going to say, "Here's what you're good at, here are the sorts of opportunities that exist out in the world; what do you do?" Or something else?

    Minor note on character specialization: being good at different aspects of a mission is great, but being good at a solitary activity which leaves the other players nothing to do is boring. I generally refuse to use character concepts who leave the other characters' reality to do their thing -- i.e. those who thrive on the Network or the Astral Plane.
  • edited January 2016
    Oh, there's a way to handle that kind of lone fun too, but it requires players to be okey with exchanging their character for NPCs just for that scene. I think most players would be glad to take the chance to participate since the alternative is to do nothing while that scene takes place.

    I tried with a marginal sucess a deck of cards that gave players whose characters weren't present in the scene a chance to add something to it. You could randomly pick up things like "Add a noise to the scene", "the GM will give you control of a minion, you get XP if you make it die in an spectacular way", "the GM will give you control of a boss creature along with an objective for that scene, you get XP if you achieve it", "change the weather to whatever you like for this scene" and so.

    At some points it worked wonders, a whole plot twist was built from nothing in a scene where most players acted as NPCs, and at others players just loved to be able to make things more difficult for those who were stealing spotlight. Yet I still think of this as "marginal success" since it was a game that did needed this a lot and I'm not sure if it would have work with a different GM or a different group of players. Also, it didn't work so well in my 5e D&D campaign, I would need to totally remake it for that and I don't even thing it's worth the effort; the way I play D&D I very rarely separate the PCs anyway.

    And going back to the subject, having players vent their PvP issues in this limited way instead of fighting in character did help improve the attitude to each other, if not for getting some sort of revenge, for the threat that this mechanic was a two edged sword and could be used right back against them anytime.
  • So do you only play games where the characters work together as a team? This isn't quite an aswer to the question, but you could also mix it up by playing some games where the characters are at odds, in conflict. That could make the games where the characters are a team feel less same-y.

    Also, not having thoroughly read through the answers, so maybe this has been said, but giving the characters the same goal but for different reasons is also fun. Just ask the players "Why does YOUR character want to overthrow the government/find the McGuffin/escape the prison?".
  • @David_Berg Good question. I'm not a 100% on what direction I'm going to be taking with that opening scene. I know the game starts with one of them arguing with a spaceport clerk about how there are no commercial transports off-world for the next month... and then I got nothing solid.

    Based on gut reaction, I'd probably want to avoid hitting them with something they can't ignore. I am leaning more towards giving them a set of opportunities and turning them loose. But, between you, me and the rest of SG [STOP READING ANTONIO]...


    I'm prolly gonna railroad 'em a bit this first session. Throw around a bunch of opportunities and pull on some background strings to get them to steal a ship.
    Bad Example:
    The morally righteous jedi gets pickpocketed by a street urchin. She learns the urchin was driven to this by the tyranny of the local governor, who uses this terrifying spaceship to keep the populace in check. Meanwhile, the criminally savvy learn that the local governor is using this ship to smuggle in large quantities of lucrative spice.
    I'm trying to do it such that the players themselves arrive to the conclusion that they want to steal the ship, rather than it seem like a quest line.

    In my eyes, the point of this session is to
    1) Set-up the tone/nature of the campaign. Namely: opportunities arise, moral choices are made apparent, characters change and grow (emotionally/spiritually/whatever) because of those experiences. To hit them with something they can't ignore seems counter to that spirit.
    2) Trick them into thinking they scouted an opportunity and seized it because of their badassness. Because that's the kind of behavior and attitude I want to encourage throughout the game. Take chances, be a big damn hero. The real challenge of this game is more rooted in moral choices than actual combat scenarios.

    Now, since the whole game is theoretical at this point, I'm totally open to suggestions, even if they run counter to what I've said.

    @Simon_Pettersson No, I don't exclusively run team games. But I am doing that for this game. The formula with my group is this. Every six sessions we run w/ a new system or a new idea. If after 6 sessions people really like it, we keep going. Or we switch up, more likely, because I want to try something new.

    @Warrior_Monk Since I'm playing FFG Star Wars, I'll probably give the spotlight player one or two boost die to accomplish awesome in the presence of their friends. The more party members there to witness the more their chances of success increase.
  • I've been having so much great feedback from players since I started asking them for precise stuff that nowadays I'm even considering leaving making plot hooks up to them.

    So far my plan is this: PCs go to a tavern or inn, then each one of then hears a different rumor about something. I ask each player "What do you hear the patrons talk about?". I can give them some random keywords to make up something, as a limiter, and after that I can always control how much of whatever they hear is true. It's rumors anyway, right? It's natural they are exaggerated!

    So my usual way to handle it from there is this: players never get anywhere in a single session. I can always fill the rest of the session with their preparations and obstacles in the way to get there, so that gives me a whole week until the next session to prep the place they will arrive to.

    I give you that perhaps this requires a great deal of a different prep, specially training yourself to improvise so quickly, good and appear so confident about it that players don't notice you're winging it. But then why I go with it? Well for once, GMing the way I understand you're doing it, while it's the best thing to do to convey a better and more precise experience to the players, it's a heck of a lot of work, because you first have to write the material and then manipulate the players into following it and make them thing they took the choice.

    I did GM that way a lot, and while it gave me and my group amazing moments, it ended burning me up as a GM. I started to get lazy about producing optional material (well, I had less time to produce it actually at that time, since I had acquired more responsibilities) and manipulating more. I resorted to a randomized dungeon for one sessions, which was terrible, endless and boring. And then my players saved me and the whole campaign.

    At some point in the middle of that maze I added a mural depicting something that happened in a previous campaign. It was just for color but it made players start talking and thinking... and they came up with the idea to make their own cult and take over the city they were in with it. I found the idea so hilarious that I went with it, asked them how they were planning to do it and improvised a couple mechanics for them to see if they convinced followers, how fast and how many. They did end up taking control of the city, turning a few of the believers into fanatics and training some others with the skills they knew best to make a small private army.

    It was particularly funny when the necromancer of the party left his apprentices training and came back to found they had a little accident. He rolled poorly for them but then rolled a critical, so I narrated the scene like this: "You arrive back to the city to see an explosion of arcane energy blow up the ceiling of your lab. Fearing the worse you run shouting the names of your apprentices, but then you see three of them coming out coughing, with some burns and scraps but otherwise fine. When you ask them for a report one of them with a troubled look in the eyes says "boss... four of us died." but then he smiles and adds "...but the fifth one became a lich!"

    It worked wonders in more ways than one. Players invested in this city and cult so then it became easier to make them move in order to protect it. Also, it was huge enough to draw the attention of the main powers in the setting, which was exactly what I needed. On top of that, players bind together closely now that they had a common goal that they had come up with by themselves.

    Bottom line, now I prep mostly after they have decided what they actually want to do, manipulate them less and ask for their actual interests a lot more. If the game is simple enough and you do the proper questions to them, it can even work for one-shots.

    About manipulation, even when you are a master at it, players will notice subconsciously that those ideas aren't their own and while they won't resist to them, they won't take imposed motivations truly at heart. Players won't resist (usually) to do what they are manipulated to do because they are conditioned by experience and the social contract that in order to play they have to follow the plot, the group or better, both of them, because the alternative is having a stressed GM pushing them back into the rails, play a scene alone with higher risk of failure or wait doing nothing while other players have their scene.
  • edited January 2016

    In my eyes, the point of this session is to
    1) Set-up the tone/nature of the campaign. Namely: opportunities arise, moral choices are made apparent, characters change and grow (emotionally/spiritually/whatever) because of those experiences. To hit them with something they can't ignore seems counter to that spirit.
    2) Trick them into thinking they scouted an opportunity and seized it because of their badassness. Because that's the kind of behavior and attitude I want to encourage throughout the game. Take chances, be a big damn hero. The real challenge of this game is more rooted in moral choices than actual combat scenarios.
    I don't know your players or what they like, but when I see this my immediate reaction is:

    Why do you need that second point?

    What if you offer them just the first?

    It sounds like a whole lot of trouble (and a whole lot of work!) with very little payoff.

    Let's look again:

    "Namely: opportunities arise, moral choices are made apparent, characters change and grow (emotionally/spiritually/whatever) because of those experiences."

    Really all you need to do here is present opportunities and moral choices. That's interesting, to me! It's the players' job to decide and then show how the characters change. (A rules system which encourages that is helpful, of course.)

    Going to your step 2 involves a lot of hassle, prep, work, and social labour (deliberately misleading your players, keeping a poker face, whatever), with no apparent (to me) payoff. What if you put the same amount of effort and work into present more (and more interesting) moral choices and opportunities?

    But then again, maybe you have some really clever/cool thing you're planning to do by railroading them into this and they're really into it. But, if so, I haven't heard about it so I can't discuss it!
  • edited January 2016

    Why do you need that second point?
    I was thinking it would be cool to instill a sense of accomplishment. Ideally, character development and growth would achieve that. But players are players, and sometimes having that visceral, palpable accomplishment is more satisfying. That's really the whole point of the "trickery." I believe @Warrior_Monk pointed out that this kind of player manipulation rarely bears true fruit. Somewhere in there, they're engaging with it because it's the plot, "so we gotta engage or we're being dicks to the GM." I'm not totally married to the idea though. Here's where it came from...

    I was talking shop with a buddy and I told him, "Fuck no I don't go easy mode just to give PCs a sense of accomplishment. It cheapens the experience. Furthermore, they'll get it when they contend with a true challenge and truly overcome it. That's genuine. Lastly, I don't like indulging in the power fantasy mentality. Sure we'll slay some goblins when you're level 10, but we don't need to make rolls. You earned the right to just straight narrate and make it awesome, entertain everyone at the table as you take turns talking about how you guys stomp these fools down and teach em that this land is under your protection."

    His point was, to some people, that's not a sense of accomplishment. It doesn't happen until they engage the game mechanics and successfully navigate the situation to a satisfying and stellar conclusion. You don't just save the merchants from zombies, you look like a hardcore badass doing it. Ok, so that kind of thing is not entirely to my taste. It leaves the same feeling I have when I'm playing Gears of War and chuckling at it's hypertestosterone nature. It's all big armor, big dicks, big guns, and big attitudes. In my head, that's what I equate it to. However, I thought it would be an interesting challenge, from my perspective, to take on. So, this was my solution to: easy mode handing an accomplishment, but masking it as true challenge.

    But then again, maybe you have some really clever/cool thing you're planning to do by railroading them into this and they're really into it.
    Nope. I really wish I could tell you that I do have some ingenious master plan... but no. From a story perspective, the point of this is to hand 'em a super badass ship. Custom made for them. Harkening back to the idea of: "You have an incredible amount of power. You can obliterate most obstacles you meet. But, now the question is which obstacle do you put down. How do you exercise that power, and what does that tell us about your character."

    I want them to feel like they have the tools to tackle any situation. However, because they have so much power, my job is to make them feel the struggle in employing it. Do you destroy this crime lord and incur the wrath of the locals because he was their only pipe-line to much needed supplies on this backworld? Or do you help his endeavors against a neutral/good organization that has grown weak and in their weakness allowed their people to be left to the wolves?
  • It seems to me that all that stuff will happen anyway, given the setup of your game. Why force anyone's hand?

    Another take, of course, would be to take an even harder approach to it. You really want them to steal that ship? OK, make it even more of a clear road. Make it clear that this is kind of what the game is about.

    "How about the first episode of our Star Wars story is about a group of heroes trying to steal a terrifying spaceship?"

    Too obvious? Try it first and see. But, if it is, then set up the game around the premise, anyway.

    For instance:

    * Establish up-front that the characters need a ship. For instance, theirs just got blown out of commission. They desperately need to go somewhere, but they have a valuable cargo they can't carry on "public transport".

    * Create some incentives and make them up-front. For example, put some index cards out on the table and explain that if any of them happen in play, they get the reward listed on the card. Make them a bit vague, but clear enough to suggest a couple of possible directions. For instance:

    "A valuable piece of equipment is stolen. 500 XPs."
    "A street urchin with newly acquired wealth and/or power or authority. 1000 XPs."
    "A PC sets foot aboard the local governor's ship. 750 XPs."

    And so on. Explain that it doesn't matter HOW these things come about. If they want to steal some money and give it to a street urchin, that counts. If they install the urchin as the new governor, that counts. If they give him a gun and break him into the governor's bedroom, and he later leaves with tons of cash, that counts. Same goes for any of the other ones: if they break into the governor's ship, they get the XP. If they're brought aboard as prisoners, that counts. And so on.
  • Still reading, but I just had to chime in and say that I think this is brilliant:
    Oh, there's a way to handle that kind of lone fun too, but it requires players to be okey with exchanging their character for NPCs just for that scene
    . . .
    "the GM will give you control of a minion, you get XP if you make it die in an spectacular way", "the GM will give you control of a boss creature along with an objective for that scene, you get XP if you achieve it"
    . . .
    At some points it worked wonders, a whole plot twist was built from nothing in a scene where most players acted as NPCs
    I don't think these exact specifics would have worked for my Shadowrun deckers and Cyberpuk netrunners, but I'm sure we could have come up with some way to involve the other players if we'd worked on it. Very cool.
  • Thanks David!

    Anyway, Luzelli, it's not that manipulating the players won't get them to have fun nor rob them of a sense of accomplishment; it's been done since forever in roleplaying anyway. It's just that for me and my group (and a few others I've seen here and there) it ends up having those results in the long run.

    Why would we do it? what could we actually get with that? Well, it's all illusionism, it's the show of course, you can prepare well and fill the whole session with literary level material, can be profound, clever, impress the players, convey the story with the best efficiency to attain the best impact. Here's a sample of what I once accomplished myself:

    One of my players was usually a powergaming dick. He still plays the same way, pushing things here and there and trying to get any kinds of benefits from any NPCs, harrasing the PCs into doing things his way or just giving them a hand when he could get something from it. Funny thing is, we know that's the kind of character he likes to play, because in person, while he speaks crap to everyone, he's actually a really good person. It's something you can only tell by his actions. But anyway, I wanted to give his character a lesson about messing with my setting.

    So we're playing a sort of peruvian hogwarts school of magic. All PCs are 14 year old kids who have just got into the world of magic and are learning spells and the use of magical items, while dealing with the different creatures of the realm that exists parallel to our world. My pal had upset a fey nobleman who ended up plotting a complicate revenge, but I had him distracted enough with the affairs of the rest of the group, so he wasn't expecting it.

    Their school is actually pretty normal, except that a few students are mages like them, so they still have to deal with the normal classes. So, the math teacher approaches the player and tell him that he can get an A if he manages to solve a whole book of math exercises, because he needs that material for future clases and doesn't have the time to do it himself. The player bites and gets help from his study group to do it (though he lies to them and doesn't share the credits)

    He gets approached then by the biology teacher, who needs liquid nitrogen for the lab and is willing to give anyone an A for it. The player bites again and uses his magic tricks to steal it from a well known factory here which no doubt, uses it in real life.

    Then the history teacher approaches him, He's in search of a rifle from the pacific war. The player has stated before that he's got one from his great-grandfather, who fought it it. It's way easier than the rest so again, the player bites.

    When he goes alone (because again, he won't share the credit with anyone) to deliver the goods to the teachers, the last one thanks him for his work and turns into the fey. He adds that he will take his hard work as an apology and is so moved by it that he will even grant a gift to him. So, the fey makes a caudron appear before him and chants (it sounded better in spanish): The calculations he made, the coldest water he could find, and the weapon of his ancestor, now will turn into a force to be reckoned!

    The cauldron emits a flash and some smoke and then the fey extracts a bright yellow gem from it and says to the PC "here, this is your now", as a rumble starts to hear in the distance, along with a cacophony of inhuman noises. The PC refuses it, so the fey leaves it on the ground and dissapears laughing. It turned out to be an item to call and control undeads in the real world, but since the PC didn't took it (which was among my expectations) he couldn't control them at all and ended up running through the school fighting against an horde of undeads.

    The rest of the players couldn't help but roll in the floor laughing at the face he made.

    Well, that's how I used to GM anyway, it was good times, but now I certainly don't have the time to prepare so much, and also I don't enjoy so much to manipulate anyone anymore, it's kind of stressfull not to mention unethic and unfair, even if it's for everyone to have fun and giving them a sense of accomplishment. But I give it to you, this is just me now, it doesn't have to be your case, not even in the future if you handle it well.
  • So for me, even suspecting that the GM set me up for stealing that spaceship would absolutely rob me of a sense of accomplishment, and undermine the trust I have in the GM in question (but of course not every player is like me). If it's a story-driven game, then I didn't actually participate in authoring the story. If it's a challenge-driven game, then was there ever a risk I'd fail?

    Both of these things sound like a lot of fun to me:

    1: "Hey, let's play a game about some characters that steal a really powerful spaceship!"
    2: "Hey, let's play a Star Wars game. We'll have a bunch of characters on this planet and then the story is about the things you decide you want to do."

    But in number two, I need to be able to trust that I'm the creative mind behind my decisions. But maybe that's mostly because I need to be doing some authoring and making a story for me to enjoy the game. Other players are different, of course.
  • edited January 2016
    Yes, I've seen several different cases and heard of a few others. There are players who...
    -hate to be railroaded
    -hate when the GM doesn't railroad them properly or when he asks for their input
    -feel they have been cheated when they find out the GM improvised something
    -feel cheated when they find out their choices didn't matter
    -are okey with the GM railroading as long as it's a good story
    -can't stand the risk of failure and become stressed about it
    -hate power fantasies and the lack of risk of failure

    ... and a large etc. There's actually no pattern to it, no "common best practices" you just have to get to know your players to find out which style will suit them the best. You can try to use ethics to guide you, like "that would be cheating the players" or "manipulation is wrong", or even my approach of "players will notice subconsciously and won't enjoy the experience fully" but again, it all comes down to what the group expects from the GM.

    And there, you can actually only trust your friends.

    So Luzelli, be as much open as you want, ask them as much as you like, share as much as you feel confident with and have fun as only you and your group know how. Best we can do is tell you our experiences with different tricks or crazy ideas we would like to try.


    I was thinking it would be cool to instill a sense of accomplishment. Ideally, character development and growth would achieve that. But players are players, and sometimes having that visceral, palpable accomplishment is more satisfying. That's really the whole point of the "trickery."

    Well, as I pointed above, and kicking any so-called "game ethics" aside, this trickery is doable, though it requires swift manipulation. Perhaps we're still missing too much detail on how you plan to do it, but it still looks a bit transparent. No wonder why people here are telling you "you should probably like to try and being honest about it..."

    I was talking shop with a buddy and I told him, "Fuck no I don't go easy mode just to give PCs a sense of accomplishment. It cheapens the experience. Furthermore, they'll get it when they contend with a true challenge and truly overcome it. That's genuine. Lastly, I don't like indulging in the power fantasy mentality.
    ...

    His point was, to some people, that's not a sense of accomplishment. It doesn't happen until they engage the game mechanics and successfully navigate the situation to a satisfying and stellar conclusion. You don't just save the merchants from zombies, you look like a hardcore badass doing it. Ok, so that kind of thing is not entirely to my taste. It leaves the same feeling I have when I'm playing Gears of War and chuckling at it's hypertestosterone nature. It's all big armor, big dicks, big guns, and big attitudes. In my head, that's what I equate it to. However, I thought it would be an interesting challenge, from my perspective, to take on. So, this was my solution to: easy mode handing an accomplishment, but masking it as true challenge.

    ...

    From a story perspective, the point of this is to hand 'em a super badass ship. Custom made for them. Harkening back to the idea of: "You have an incredible amount of power. You can obliterate most obstacles you meet. But, now the question is which obstacle do you put down. How do you exercise that power, and what does that tell us about your character."

    I want them to feel like they have the tools to tackle any situation. However, because they have so much power, my job is to make them feel the struggle in employing it. Do you destroy this crime lord and incur the wrath of the locals because he was their only pipe-line to much needed supplies on this backworld? Or do you help his endeavors against a neutral/good organization that has grown weak and in their weakness allowed their people to be left to the wolves?
    Heh, okay, it looks like now you're getting what are "good" power fantasies about, because that's exactly what you are looking for. You're right that the term has been coined to refer to things like gears of war and such, but using it positively, it can perfectly define an enviroment/situation where players can be bold and try things without too much risk for themselves, so then the trouble is not "how to do it" but why and for who, a.k.a. the moral dilemma.

    To get there, you not only need to be clear to the players about the capabilities of the resource at hand (the ship in this case) but to be clear that you're not taking it away from them, because having the ship and doing things with it is what the campaign is about. Otherwise they will only use it as a last resort and keep being cautious with it.
  • "NPC minions! How did your assigned task go?"

    "Four of us died! But the fifth became a lich!"

    This is fantastic.
  • edited January 2016
    @Luzelli, I've had some success in the past making players feel like they earned a thing I really needed them to acquire, mostly by statting up opponents I knew they'd beat and placing those opponents in front of something cool. So if your players want to dice-roll their way into the loot, that's not hard. Having an all-powerful spaceship guarded by mooks who starting characters can take out seems a little cartoony to me, but maybe that's okay for your group's style.

    If you're worried, though, that the players will see an all-powerful spaceship guarded by mooks and not go for it, then I don't think your problem is one of plot-control. Instead, it's one of "why are we playing?" If the players have a vision for play that doesn't include wielding the power of that ship, then you and they are going to be at odds and that sounds like bad news for the whole game to me.

    I think you can solve that during character-creation. Just mandate that every player must make an ambitious character, one who wishes they had the ability to impose their will on the galaxy -- selflessly or selfishly, to right wrongs, settle scores, whatever. If everyone is genuinely on board with that, then taking the ship will simply be the necessary step to move into the heart of play, and everyone will jump at the opportunity for ship-grabbing as soon as you mention it. (Well, as long as the ship's current owners aren't noble heroes, or relying on the ship to eke out a meager living, or something.)

    "We're just unambitious delivery guys who suddenly stumbled into this badass weapon / mobile home" doesn't sound like a good game premise to me. If you really like it, I'll elaborate on the flaws I see, but for now I'm going to move on.

    System thoughts:

    If your players want to use dice and tactics to succeed, don't fake that. Create an obstacle that you guess will be a satisfying level of challenge and just let them at it. If, on the other hand, you aren't interesting in letting dice and tactics determine how things go, then you'd better tell your players that up front (at which point they'll probably chastise you for repurposing the game, and rightly so -- maybe FFG Star Wars as written is the wrong game for you).

    "How do you exercise your power, and what does that tell us about your character?" can be totally compatible with lots of dice and fights, but it'll be on you to pose them interesting questions about who to fight against vs who to fight alongside, etc.
  • edited January 2016
    Interesting note about the "What can we do?" -> "What will we do?" transition:

    There's a recent game called Circle of Hands which is intended to start as the former and then turn into the latter. From what I gather, the idea is that you're introduced to a fucked-up world with much injustice, your characters are uniquely powerful, you go on some missions to deal with small-scale problems, and after a bit of that you either acquire greater power or realize how great your power always has been, at which point you start thinking more about impacting the setting on larger scales.

    Obviously a significant-length campaign idea there, but I dunno, maybe if that fits your group, you could steal that approach. The key difference is that the Circle characters' acquisition of power isn't tied to one specific opportunity at one specific ship. Instead, it's the equivalent of having many such ships within the characters' awareness, and just building up to the moment where they decide it's time to steal one of them.
  • edited January 2016
    Thank you everyone for the feedback and help. RL and trying to get this game running didn't give me much time to respond to everyone. But, if you're curious, here's what I went with.

    A) I told everyone, "hey guys, in this first prequel session we're gonna learn how you get your ship."

    B) I antagonized the players right out of the gate by putting them in a super bureaucratic situation and letting their natural, "Um.. no way an NPC is greater than my character!" impulse take over.

    Specifically, I started the game having them wait in line at the spaceport clerk's office, telling 'em they've been waiting for well over an hour, verging on two. Then, just as they are the next person in line, a pompous jerk walks up with his bodyguards, ignoring the line, intending to go straight to the counter. They interfered, I pulled on some more GM strings and gave 'em just enough motivation to waste the guy. Naturally, they seized his newly outfitted, yet unprocessed and unregistered ship. They quickly register the ship as theirs and we are well on our way towards space hijinks. Thank you everyone for the perspective on the issue, really helped cut the fat from the scenario.

    Edit: At the end of the day, I went this route because the sense of accomplishment was really secondary to my other goals with the games. It would have been nice, but it was interfering with all of the other things I had set-up. In the end, I got much more viable character moments out of them, by keeping the focus strictly on their character motivations and personalities.
  • edited January 2016
    Sounds great to me! I hope it was fun and that you are well-positioned for fun future sessions.

    I'd love to hear more about how this game unfolds.
  • Way to go Luzelli! And you are right, less is more.
  • I think calling it a "prequel session" is a really cool and economical way to get across a fairly complex idea:

    * This is a first session, which sets up events for future play.

    * There is an implication of a "goal line", towards which we are headed (the "beginning").

    * There is also the implication that, if there are constraints now, they will be removed once the game "starts" properly.

    That's cool.
  • I've had some luck building custom Fiasco playsets and using those as prequels to the campaign (or as ways to jump new players in, although again they tend to be flashbacks.) I obviously modify Fiasco (I use the Soft Tilt and a much gentler aftermath table) so as not to leave the PCs the emotionally drained broken husks that Fiasco normally leaves folks.

    Looking at it right now, I realize there are a few assumptions there, like "PCs won't kill each other!" and "You should do stuff broadly consistent with the theme and power level of the actual game"; these haven't been a concern right now (I've mostly used them for Cthulhu gaming, so the default is "human power levels".)

    They do seem to pull off a no-pressure environment where the players can experiment with their characters, and the randomness of the playset can give us interesting directions for how the PCs are connected.

    And of course since I roll the playset myself, it's a good way to introduce thematic elements into the campaign right away.
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