Tuesday comes in like a lamb, but will it go out like a lion? Not likely. It’s only Tuesday. What does IT know? Ahem. It’s time for another thrilling installment in the #RPGaDay series!
9) Beyond the game, what’s involved in an ideal session?
An ideal session requires one thing summed up by two words – player agency. When the players are engaged and feel like their decisions matter, they become actively involved in the events and stakes of the session. For me, this doesn’t happen very often, but when it does everything just works.
For as long as I’ve been gaming (over 25 years!), I’ve been reading Knights of the Dinner Table. I was first introduced to it through the pages of Dragon Magazine, and a high school friend turned me on to the existence of the comic book. I started with issue #19 (Heroes of the HackLeague), which still ranks as my favorite issue hands down, and I’ve been following religiously ever since. I have now every issue from #10 through #234 (the current issue), it being my largest and most complete comic book collection.
Why do I bring this up? Because I have always been envious of B.A. Felton, the GM for the Knights. He spends hours and hours working on his scenarios and his players constantly “thwart” him. I’m envious because those players – scheming Brian, simple Dave, angry Bob, and even pacifist Sara – are invested in the game and the setting enough to come up with in game reasons to “undermine” B.A.’s game. They know the source material, they know the rules, they know the setting, and they use this information to take control of the game, something that B.A. should be doing willingly but he ends up fighting every turn.
Now, Knights of the Dinner Table is a comic book and these characters are ageless specters of a gaming world that (for me) never existed, but they offer ideas on how I can spur my players into owning their decisions and becoming more invested in the game.
One thing that helps, I think, is to provide maps to the players. World maps, specifically, to give them the same sense of scale and proportion that the GM has. This is one of the reasons why I tend to gravitate towards pre-made campaign settings (my current game is a 5th Edition version of Mystara’s Known World). Providing overview information on the nations, powers, and major communities of the setting is imperative as well. Personally, as both a player and a GM I find walls of historical texts about a fictional game world to be uninspiring – I’d much rather see the punched up versions of the current state of affairs, as it’s A) easier to remember and B) easier to convey. Mystara is good for this as there’s a wealth of information and maps available (Vaults of Pandius is a wonderful site for this kind of information).
Anytime I can help foster player agency, even at my own detriment, I will do so without fail.