Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Have a Game Plan

Roleplaying games are all about spontaneity, and usually that's a good thing. A high-functioning group is able to improvise an experience that's much richer and more interesting than a pre-planned adventure packaged and run by a GM.

In dramatic play, this can be a problem, however. A lot of times, players will find themselves in a two-person scene where no one has a strong need to push for something right now. Sometimes this is out of a feeling that "it's too early" in the story for characters to have a big conflict, or out of an misguided sense that it's interesting just to place two characters in a scene together "just to see what happens". Usually, without a conflict, the answer to that question is "nothing".

The best roleplaying games that cater to dramatic play provide tools to establish and push conflicts. This includes a lot of Powered-by-the-Apocalypse games, which define inter-player conflicts at character creation and focus on Moves that are triggered by certain in-fiction actions, and especially DramaSystem, which explicitly develops inter-character conflicts as the core of its petitioner-granter mechanics. The important part of these mechanisms is that it gives players a starting point to begin an interesting and emotionally satisfying scene: you can always look at your character sheet and say to yourself, "Ah. I remember what my deal is with them." And off you go.

The issue with a lot of these things is that they're long-term / big picture devices. You might know that Dremmer, your Hardholder, left you for dead at some point in the past and you're out for payback, but there is nothing in that relationship that says "RIGHT NOW", unless you're a very aggressive and drama-forward player. So instead of starting a scene with Dremmer and going for the "you left me for dead" thing, the instinct is often to talk around it, or only hint at the deeper history between those characters. You hardly ever see someone call for a scene and start with something like "Hey Dremmer, you piece of shit. You left me for dead." More's the pity.

GMs have this issue at the top of their minds all the time, because it's explicitly their job to push conflicts, start shit, stir the pot. That's the stuff of good, emergent dramatic play. The GM comes in to a session with at least a few ideas for how they want to push the players, to see what happens, and generate some interesting fallout to push the story forward. This is a trick that players need to start stealing from GMs.

In the next dramatic game I run, I'm going to make this a part of each player's job, every session. They will write down a goal -- one that either applies to what their character plans to do that session, or what they want to accomplish as a player that session.

It doesn't need to be complicated. Confront Dremmer is a perfectly valid game plan that will pay dividends, because it moves the story forward. As a player, you might be thinking about game plans like Play a scene with Megan to get her relationship with Dremmer on the table. The idea is to have a concrete game plan going into the session - a goal that you can accomplish right away. And once you're in the business of setting goals for the session, it makes it a lot easier to think about What do I want in this scene? too.

Players would write down their goals at the beginning of the session and share them at the end, so the other players could see what they were after, and whether or not they got it.

Finally, it is also important that players -- like GMs preparing for a session -- hold their goals lightly. Ultimately, you want them to guide you toward more dramatic play, not lock you into a course of action that's completely out of step with everything else that's happening at the table.

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