Day 42: Players are Game Designers

September 7, 2009

I’ve often heard said that the last 10% of game design is done by the GM.  I’d probably say that’s closer to 25%.  The GM has a lot of important decisions, and those decisions do a lot to shape play.

But I want to talk about players.

In John’s game, “The Fairies of Echo Park”, we have three player characters:

  • Aiden, who has awesome powers and who wants to do the right thing, but is rather dense.
  • Connor, who is smart and good-natured but cowardly.
  • Yak, who is fast and brave, but destructive and crazy.

We’re probably Echo Park’s best hope of surviving this period of gentrification (please ignore our involvement with the dragon).  But individually, none of us can hack it on our own.

Left to our own devices, Aiden will act too late, Connor will chicken out, and Yak will break something.

Now, nobody said, during the pitch session, that we had to make characters who need each other, but it makes for a better game.  This is one of those skills that games talk about a lot, but which a lot of new gamers have a hard time internalizing: A character’s weaknesses are opportunities to engage the other players.

Here’s another example:  We all could have made our characters in isolation from the rest of the group, and just “shown up” and had John try to get us all together.  Of course, that, or anything like it, would have meant our characters wouldn’t have had much to say to each other – Yak would take one look at Connor and say “yerrrr…. borrringgg…” and ditched.  As soon as Aiden needed to deal with something, Connor would have run away.

But we decided, instead, that our characters were friends.  Fairies who’ve lived in the same neighbourhood, near the same humans, seeing some of the same things, for many years.  Yeah, Yak’s a goblin, and Connor’s a coward, and Aiden’s a bit thick.  But they’re friends.  So when a cat chased Yak out of his lair in the bushes, he went over to Connor’s place to stay.  When Aiden got in a bit of trouble, Yak was curious, and started dragging Connor around to check it out.  For some situations, just being friends might not be enough to get a party together, but for this game, it gave us a launchpad for some great character acting.

You can see how the two kinds of decisions also support the GM: the flawed characters give John ways to send situations at us, and the fact that we’re friends means he can count on us to deal with it together.

These decisions are made in advance, by the players, to make the game more fun for everyone involved.

Players are game designers.

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