Gotta Give Him Upside!

One of the most difficult things to do when running a campaign is getting your players to ‘buy-in’, leap the invisible gap that separates a player’s character as dictated by its character sheet and the creator’s bubble of imagination to one that is somehow tied to the campaign setting and the places and people that comprise it.
So one question that comes to mind is why does this disconnect, this gap, exist between player and his/her PC and the setting. I think it’s a surprisingly deep question with a lot layers of answers that form the reality. I think there are psychological, sociological, creative parties at silent war in that gap. But, I’m not really here to get into what the gap really is or why, and I’m nothing of an expert on the why persons and people do the things they do.
So instead I would examine my own experience. If you run a game there’s a very high chance you also enjoy RPGs as a player. When I think about a new campaign and adding a new character there is some hesitation. For one the character generation process has become a far more intensive and personal effort as RPGs have evolved. You can roll up an early D&D character in a few minutes, at the table, after Olaf the VII died.
In a few rooms the party is likely to find Olaf the VIII. Compare something like 4e, a rules set that is generally regarded as being streamlined. Drafting a new PC in 4e can easily take the better part of an hour, and certainly longer if you’re really tweaking a power gamer build. Time = investment, it’s really that simple. If you’ve played RPGs for any amount of time you have problem had a character die a random, meaningless death from the odd trap or wandering monster.
What else? That’s only one facet another is trust between a player and the game master. If you decide to throw in your lot with the GM and help him tell his story you don’t want to be rewarded with only negative benefits. But the same goes for the other way, I don’t want a GM to heap rewards on my PC simply for playing along, to be made a continuous example to the rest of the group why they should play along.
Playing along also comes to the division point of where the GM thinks your PC should act one way because of some in-game relationship/reason and you feel differently. This can be either because the former is so obviously flawed that you can’t help but metagame or because you know, it’s your PC and you think you should be able to dictate Olaf the VIII’s beliefs and actions all by yourself.

So what to do?

This is one of the things I think the Fate System really nails. Offer the player something tangible and immediate for playing along. Fate Points, they let players do extra special things or mitigate potentially dreadful disasters. You can offer one of these Points to a player in exchange for activating one of their PC’s characteristics. Better yet the player can decline the offer unless they have no fate points in his possession. An empty-handed PC is basically at the mercy of the GM to compel them to act on the PC’s character aspects. But as soon as you fork over a Point to the player they are able to decline as necessary. Fate Points in this way are a fluid currency used in the struggle between player and GM for how characters act and react.
There are a lot of people out there who have toyed with the concept of adding Fate Points to other systems. In Transitioning from Action Points to Augmented Fate Points you can see my home brew Feat Point modification.

3 Replies to “Gotta Give Him Upside!”

  1. Fate points are an excellent mechanism for this sort of thing but I believe entirely in offering them as a reward rather than taking them as a penalty. I’ve always been of the school of thought that the GM should NEVER take free will from a player character outside the effects of a dominate (or possible charm) spell. Now, if the GM wants to do things like remind the player that he’s playing a Paladin and torture is a distinctly evil act, or remind the player of an in-character obligation to nudge them a certain way that’s fine, but control over specific actions never leaves the player.

    I also believe in offering small XP rewards to the party as a whole for in-character behavior over the course of the game. I try not to make it huge, or competitive though. I don’t want my shy players to suffer mechanically for being bashful.

    • That is definitely a school of thought. My philosophy is not along the same lines as you have probably noticed. XP rewards are there for these sorts of things, but I (along with most people I play with) tossed out using XP as a determining factor for leveling up characters years ago. I level the group where I believe it makes sense rather than when rote XP dictates.

      Back on point, good veteran players don’t need these sorts of baubles. Over time they learn to jump the gap simply to keep the game moving and to improve the entire affair. And again, Fate Points only allow you to compel a PC when they have burned all their Points and can only be used to evoke already established aspects of the character. Less, you rush recklessly into the burning building to save an infant and more, you cannot will yourself to leave an innocent child to their death. You compel a WHAT rather than the HOW of the PC.

      Hopefully that’s a little more clear.

  2. Pingback: Transitioning from Action Points to Augmented Fate Points

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *