Thursday, February 12, 2009

Player motivations and obsolete GM articles

I like a lot of the game master advice in fourth edition Dungeons & Dragons, such as the inclusion of the "player motivations" concept. That was one of my favorite concepts from Champions fourth edition, I remember how enlightening I found it and how much fun I had reading the descriptions and trying to figure out what kind of player everyone else was.

I’ve been reading some old game magazines from before this time, and it occurs to me that the concept that there are multiple different legitimate player motivations is actually a pretty big discovery, because some of the old game mastering articles had some pretty bad advice. They remind me of reading ancient medical articles recommending the use of leeches. Well-intentioned, but misguided.

Many of these articles were basically about how the GM could punish players who did not fit their playing style, in an attempt to force that player into the correct playing style. The advice given was often logical for that purpose, but it just didn't seem to occur to the authors that there might be more than one legitimate way to play the game. I can't really blame them, I don't think this concept really occurred to me until I read it in Champions. It is just interesting that a purely non-rules-based article can become obsolete with the discovery of new knowledge, much like an old science book.

I'm a little skeptical, though, of the idea in Dungeons & Dragons that the game master can really cater to every type of player simultaneously. A party of power gamers is all well and good, but I'm not sure I'd ever really want to play in the same group as a pure power gamer. I’m mostly a genre fiend / storyteller, and I don't really want my carefully crafted character overshadowed by an ultra-powerful rules abuse monster.

I usually just recognize that there are different campaign styles that can cater to different play styles, and it is possible to recognize that certain campaigns may be good for some players but not others, and that campaigns can include or exclude certain elements based on the players.

A thinker likes the "problem-solving" element. I dislike this element myself, but I have one player who likes problem-solving. So when that particular player is performing noncombat actions, I can sometimes convert a part of the adventure which would otherwise use skill checks to use problem-solving instead.

As another example, playing in a group with wacky “instigator” players can make for a fun change of pace and memorable experiences, but I would want to be forewarned to prepare for a lighthearted gaming style and save my serious characters and campaigns for a different play group.

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