I cannot claim this as a totally original Idea, rather it is an idea I heard from a friend, who I believe got it from a game system called Amber. I cannot confirm that, as I never played Amber, but I believe it to be true.
Regardless of source it is a good idea, that I have begun to incorporate into my games and have encouraged my GM to do the same (for purely selfish reasons, of course).
The idea is simple. Players of any given game are offered the opportunity to contribute/world build in their game on a regular basis. Contributions take the form of journals, descriptions of locations, people etc that add to the world’s flavour and build it up. This allows the Gamesmaster time to build up plot critical stuff, such as the villain’s lair and posse, or the headquarters of the protagonists. Whilst the GM does that, the players can contribute any number of things that add to the world, increase its depth, without being necessary to plot. That should not preclude them from becoming plot critical, of course, a good GM can adapt to new situations particularly if the players have done a good job.
I will give an example, using Vampire the Masquerade as source.
I run a chronicle for two groups in the same setting. I have already written backstories for the villains and the main potential allies and political adversaries. However, I generally don’t have time to be a detailed as I might like for every single person or location that the players might encounter. So, I make a list of things that I might like in my world. It might look something like this.
- A Truckstop halfway between the main location and a frequently visited town. Players wanting to write about this should come up with a detailed description about the location, the sort of customers that frequent the location and details about the owner. 750 words minimum to be considered.
- An FBI Agent who has transferred into the local field office and has a reason to suspect there are supernatural things that go bump in the night. 750 words minimum on his character, his family background, wealth, how he conducts himself and what sort of house he lives in
- Write a series of Auditory and Visual hallucinations for someone afflicted with the Schizophrenia derangement. What does the individual see and hear, and what are their triggers? 750 words minimum, and there must be at least one character that is unique to the hallucination. Be detailed.
- A pawnshop/fence used by the local underworld. Write about what the pawnshop looks like outside and in, write about the owner and why he is able to remain in business without local gangsters killing him/her and robbing them blind
The list could go on, and truth be told, I will probably use some of those.
For each person that does one of these things for the game, I give them what is called a Freebie Point. On the surface that doesn’t sound like much, however there are a number reasons that is not actually true.
- In Vampire the Masquerade, Freebie points can buy more than experience points. After receiving a few of these, players can buy something significant.
- This contribution/reward system shouldn’t break the game
- It almost doesn’t matter if the reward was a bit stingy, if you take the view that the players have as much responsibility as the Gamesmaster for world building
For another type of game, like Dungeons and Dragons, you could easily ask players to provide backgrounds for Inns that can be randomly dropped on the map as needed, travelers with interesting stories, peasants with a history, or even guardsmen with an agenda. And for every time this is done by a player, reward them with something that moves them closer to their goal. As I am less familiar with DnD, I can’t be specific here. It can’t be game breaking. Must not be game breaking. But it should allow players to fill out their characters a bit quicker and become more heavily invested in the game.
In fact, that is a major benefit of doing this is to get players invested your games. A pet peeve of mine when I used to run games for a different group was outlining what was going on in a scene, and then asking players what they wanted to do to which I would get the reply, “Sorry, what’s going on?”
Was never quite sure if the stories I offered that group weren’t good enough, or if they were just being rude and not paying attention. Truth be told, I abandoned that game when it was clear folks couldn’t commit to playing without checking facebook constantly. However, players that have helped build the world have more invested in seeing the game continue, particularly if they see a tangible benefit in putting the effort in.
When I played in Marvel Heroic, I wrote a couple of thousand words about the history of Atlantean Gods and how it related to Moon Knight. I describe a triumvirate of brothers, Khonshu, Neptune and a Sun God (I didn’t specify, though it could easily have been Ra, Apollo or Ameteratsu). I wrote about their relationship and how they broke apart during the fall of Atlantis, and how this lead to Khonshu becoming a vengeful deity. I went quite deep actually. The GM loved it. I am not sure exactly how much of that contributed to the finale of our campaign, and how much the GM had already planned. What I do know is that in the final battle, I got to fight as Khonshu, alongside Neptune against a being of Light known as Glorian. I felt that in the early story I was the third of three. By the finale, I felt like the story was about me, and was driven by me. (The other players probably did too, as they contributed as well and were rewarded in story accordingly)
There is another advantage. There is educational benefit. I have often toyed with the Idea of using Roleplay Games as teach methods. Probably not Vampire the Masquerade. Disclosure Scotland would probably take a dim view of me running a game for a bunch of school students where they need to feed on blood, resist violent urges and deal with monsters. But, with more mature students or a different game, I would not only encourage contribution, I would demand it. The reason being, it is my personal belief that storytelling and creative writing are important life skills.
Storytelling, because it is the basis of persuasion using the Pathos strand of Rhetoric (the emotional appeal). People are generally more responsive to an argument if they bond with the idea on an emotional level. You do not get this level of bond/trust with just facts. Encouraging people to play in roleplay games, and participate in world building helps them become more comfortable with telling a story, which can form the basis of their ability to persuade.
Creative Writing, because it is a skill that improves with effort and the lack thereof is noticeable. I worked in a Students’ Union, and before that in a call centre as a team leader. I encountered people who did poorly at school in regards their English and didn’t bother to work on it later. The end result was reports and emails that looked like word vomit. I realise some of this was due to learning difficulty, which I understand, but in other cases it was simply a lack of learning. Encouraging this kind of participation improves their writing.
Anyway, it is just something to think about when running a game.