Oct 11

Asymmetrical Love


All love is not equal

As a GM, running a game is almost another job. Along with the admin tasks from the last Session and the prep for the next one, there is also the Wiki to update, long-term planning to keep on track and the assorted social media required to hold the group together. This is a lot of work.

Of course, running a game as a GM is a labour of love. I am sharing my vision of the setting with the Players, crafting a story together and exploring where the plot takes us during a Session. This is a collaborative exercise in storytelling that cannot be replicated in any other format. This is a lot of fun.

And yet . . .

Come closer, there is a little GMing secret I need to share with you. Let me whisper it to you. The Players do not love your setting as much as you do.


Burn him!

Is this really such a surprise? The level of time investment between the roles of GM and Player are very different. The GM crafts the finer points of the setting, or adapts them from a published source. The GM builds the history of the setting, the cultures, the gods, the very rules of the world. The Player builds one character.

The GM sees the bigger picture, the overall plot to the campaign. The GM weaves history and myth into the game, binding the past and the present together. The Player writes one backstory, often a very brief one.

The GM knows the setting intimately, and has built it to reflect their gaming tastes, adjusted to fit the desires of their group. The Player builds the character that they want.

Loves Labours Lost

A doomed partnership?

Yet for all the disparity above, all is not lost for the hardworking GM. No, the Players do not love your setting as much as you do. However, they are guaranteed to love their Hero, their personal avatar in your setting.

And now we have them onboard, for we can leverage their affection for one character into a broader affection for the setting and your game.


Balancing the Love

All’s fair in love and gaming

There is nothing to be gained by lamenting the limited Player engagement for your setting. Instead, craft the game so that the Players grow to become entwined with the setting. They will never share your deep affection for your creation, but there are certainly ways to guide the game so that the Players will feel connected to the setting.

Just follow the trail of E-motions below, and make the Players ready to love your game too

  • Outright Bribery

First of all, you can appeal to the Players’ baser urges and bribe them to contribute to your setting. Many games have bennies, experience points, or other in-game mechanics that the GM can dole out to bribe motivate the Players.

The exact details of this step will vary according to your game. All you need is some form of in-game currency to hand out, and a way for the Players to earn their rewards. Contributions to the game Wiki, creating backgrounds for their Heroes, learning the rules for their character’s special abilities. Anything, so long as the Player is putting something back into the game.

By doling out these rewards, you will ensure the Players have a sense of anticipation about the game. They want to play, as they want to collect the rewards that they have “earned”. The Players are now eager.

  • Keep the Heroes in the spotlight

Secondly, ensure that the Heroes are the focus to the game. Your Sessions should be about the story of the Heroes. This does not have to mean that they are the greatest, most powerful Heroes in the game world. Just make your Sessions all about the Heroes being, well, heroic.

Great events and more powerful characters can be woven around the Heroes, but the central tale should be the actions of the Heroes. If the kingdom is being ravaged by war, then have the Heroes defend a fort or a small village. Scale the story to the abilities of the Heroes, but put their actions into the context of the wider events. You can even have the progress of the war mirror the progress of the Heroes, just be sure to make the Players feel that their actions make a difference. There is nothing more disconcerting for a Player than to have a more powerful NPC arrive, save the day and take all the glory.

So, if the Players know that each Session is going to feature their characters making decisions and taking action, then the Players will want to play. The Players are now enthusiastic.

  • Entwine the Heroes in the setting

Once the Players are enthusiastic to play your game, you need to weave their Heroes into the setting. Mine backstory and character histories as much as you can for NPCs with links to the Players. Think of these linked NPCs as recurring guest actors that keep popping up in odd places.

Have one or two NPCs linked to each Hero, or linked to multiple Heroes if possible. Then rotate through this supporting cast, to vary the focus and to gradually entwine each of the Heroes deeper into the setting.

Remember, the Heroes grew up in this world, so they will have family, friends and enemies. If a Player stubbornly refuses to create a backstory, then improvise one for them. Even the classic orphan Hero will have been raised by someone. Only gods get to spring fully formed into the world, and even they have complex familial relationships.

Initially, use these linked NPCs to help the Heroes, or entertain the Players. Make them funny, useful and friendly. Some might take on the traditional Patron role and appear with a quest for the Heroes. However, their main purpose is to keep the Players involved with the setting, and make them care about the world and its inhabitants. The Players are now engaged.

  • Up the Ante

Once the Players are engaged, it is time to really make them take notice by increasing the stakes. Turn the story up a notch or two, turn it into a roller-coaster ride where anything can happen. This is a fantasy game, so make it big. Do not just knock down a few walls, destroy the city, sink the island, crash the moon into a mountain.

Yes this will change the setting, but then this is what you want. You want the Players to change the world, to have an impact, then give them the scope to do so. If the Queen is still ruling from her palace fortress, then how much impact can the Players really have?

No, choose the epic path of storytelling. You have no special effects budget, you can do ANYTHING. Wow the Players, amaze them by your plots. The Players are now excited.


Let the Love grow


The steps above should lead the Players from eagerness to play, through enthusiasm for the game to engagement with your setting and excitement at your stories. Give them all this, and they will soon be enamoured with your game.

Theirs will never be the all-consuming passion of a GM for the setting, but it is enough to keep them wanting to play as long as you want to tell the story. What more could a GM ask for?

Happy Gaming

How do you encourage your Players to love your game? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.

Something for the Weekend next week; What’s in a Name Part 2, GMCs


3 pings

  1. I know of at least one game where the players were more involved in the game than the GM. In fact two of us (yes I was one of the players) came up with a character who was a singer and his bodyguard (that would be me).

    Between the two of us we came up with a multitude of songs that the singer sung and some interesting back story for the characters.

    But in general I do agree with you about the time and effort put in by GMs and players. In fact I think I spent more time outside of my RPG club GMing than I did inside of my club at times during my games. Oh to be young and time rich again… 🙂

    • Phil on October 15, 2013 at 5:14 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Winston,

    Yes, there will always be exceptions.

    Ah, to be young and time rich. Looking back, I cannot believe how much time I wasted. Sometimes youth really is wasted on the young.


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