Shining Dodecahedron

One geek's views on role-playing and games in general.

This place is all about discussing paper-and-pencil roleplaying games. I'm Jay, and I run this joint, but that doesn't make me smarter than you. This will all work best if I say things, and you say what you think about them, lather, rinse, repeat. With luck we can all understand the hobby a little better. If you have a topic that you would like me to start a thread about, post a comment here. If you've got something to say about characters (my ongoing topic du jour), post a comment here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Investment (No not the Stock Market)

Yesterday a talked a little bit about investment and I think its worth looking at a little deeper. How do you make sure that everyone cares about something in the game?

Players are relatively easy. Each one needs to find something about his character that means something to him. Easier said than done, of course. Sometimes you can find something to invest in your character from the start. Other times you have to find it in play. This is also a dangerous proposition because it's easy to over-invest during charcter creation and come up with things that just don't work in play.
How does the GM help? Well, paying attention to how the player reacts to things in play is the first step. Find what gets the player excited and give him some more of it. Be tuned in to the investments that the players are making and don't ignore or step on them.

The GM is harder in terms of investing. The GM (at least in traditional games) spends a lot of time thinking about the game and planning for things. It is easy to invest in a clever scenario that does not take the actual players and their characters into account. This is the path to railroading. If the GM invests in outcomes of situations that should not be decided without actual play, then any investment that the players have can be negated. This ends up being fun for nobody.

It is safer for a GM to invest in particular NPCs. Having a star villain, or an amusing contact can be a great way for the GM to invest in the story without deciding how the story will end before it starts. Again, care must be taken to avoid taking the spotlight off of the PCs.

As I said yesterday, it becomes lots harder for the GM to invest in the game in a meaningful way in games where the players have more control built in. In these cases, choosing characters to play that are engaging and fun as the GM is, I think, essential.


Anonymous Judd said...

As a GM, I find that my investment has to be even more intense than that. I'm the table leader. I have to get the gamers in the same room, coordinate e-mails and make phone calls.

The games I play now, often have mechanics for players to put their investment details on the character sheet: descriptors and kickers in Sorcerer, SA's in Riddle of Steel, Beliefs in Burning Wheel. I find these invaluable.

I think all games have these kind of investment flags. The ranger's player is saying that he wants to hunt something, the Chaotic Evil character is a player who wants to play a villain or anti-hero, the Lawful Good character's player wants to uphold the Law and do justice.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005 9:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Judd said...

If you could drop me a line at

Judd_Harris at yahoo dot com, let me know if you respond to anything, that'd be great.


Thursday, May 12, 2005 12:19:00 AM  
Blogger Jay Loomis said...

Hi Judd!

I don't know that I agree with you that all games have investment flags. The designers of D&D might well have assumed that every player that chooses to play a ranger wants to hunt something, but it's not explicit enough. A starting player might choose the play a ranger because she wants to play someone like Strider and give no thought to the hunting aspect. Also, in the case of D&D, players often choose classes and races because of the abilities that they provide.

That isn't to say that people can't base investment on these things. They have for years and still do. The advantage of kickers and SAs and whatnot is that they make the player consciously state items of investment.

Alignment is close, but it is so generic that lots of players just write it off in my experience.

Thursday, May 12, 2005 8:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Judd said...

Oh, most players absolutely write it off. The things we crammed into being an investment marker weren't that at all but we were clawing at any way to tell the GM what kind of game we wanted to play. Otherwise there's nowhere on the sheet to do that.

Thursday, May 12, 2005 2:53:00 PM  
Blogger Jay Loomis said...

I think what the older styles of games are lacking are big, obvious statements of intent. Like you say, there's scant little on the paper that tells the GM what you care about in the game. Some games tried to fix that with "disadvantages". Like your character being hunted by the mob flags you as wanting to have the mob get into the story. Problems there, too, but it was a start.

The cool thing about some of the more recent games is that they put emphasis on your investment as a player. You put something on your sheet that the GM can't ignore. And that's good.

Friday, May 13, 2005 12:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Jonas Karlsson said...

A very powerful way of gamemastering is of course to invest not in the plot but in the players' characters. I've found that I enjoy being a GM a lot more if I actively try to find something I like, or that interests me, in each character. That way the players and the GM have invested something in the same thing, and there's less risk of investing in non-overlapping parts of the game.

One way to combine it with your advice, Jay, is to invest in NPCs that mean something to the players' characters. Finding an NPC that interest the players is of course good enough, but interesting their characters is a short-cut.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Jay Loomis said...

Thanks for the post, Jonas, and welcome!

I actually hadn't thought of it that way, even though it's extra-obvious. Of course the PCs are a great thinkg to care about as a GM!

Have you ever found any conflict of interest if the GM and player develop different visions of a character?

I like the important NPC to a character idea too. Particularly if you and the player collaborate on the details of the NPC.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 1:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Jonas Karlsson said...

Oh, yes I have, and I think the common conflict is connected to TITBB that you wrote about earlier. Players usually feel very possessive over their characters. If the GM wants the character to evolve one way and the player another and they're not in a give-and-take mood things can turn ugly. I think the solution as a GM is to not control how the character evolves, but to be curious and try to pose questions to the player through things happening to the character. If you're interested in what the player wants his character to feel about cheating on his girlfriend, give him the chance and see how he reacts. If the player seems interested, give him more chances. That way both the GM and the player have some investment in what's going on and both are hopefully interested.

But I must say that it's very cool if the system and the character sheet give signals to both the GM and the players about what's important and what they should invest in. I really like the keys in The Shadow of Yesterday, since they shout out what situations the player's interested in. I try to look for these things in games nowadays since I know they exist, the opportunities for signal-sending through character sheet and mechanics.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005 1:31:00 PM  
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