Wish Fulfillment

My RPG editor business card, the
handmade dubstep remix version.
Does it work too well? *grin*
So I got my wish. I have a pile of gaming work on my plate, and a decent side income to show for it. Unfortunately, that means less time to spend shaping electrons around my thoughts in here. The Artist Spotlight series won't be published for the foreseeable future, but I want to post article at least every other week. I've got a rush job deadline in early June, so hopefully I can carve out some time for myself after that and before our vacation times this summer.

How can I employ the lessons learned from this situation in my game?

Give 'Em What They Want
Back when I feared psychologically scarring my daughter for life (I've since accepted my part in the inevitable scarring process regardless of my choices), I did a fair amount of reading about parenthood. Most of it spoke about common sense and trusting your gut to know what works for your child. One article that stuck with me documented a simple experiment: Set aside a day and saying yes to everything your child asks for. No permanent damage done, and you both may find some learning experiences along the way. Cake for breakfast? Yes! Go to the park? Yes! Colonize the moon? We can't, honey, but if we could do it in a day, yes! Make daddy's head explode from having a kick-ass time? YES!

Wait. Limited Wish in 4e only grants
a buff for one encounter? Lame.
If it works for raising children, why not give your players exactly what they wish for in your game? Sure, it may unbalance things a little in the short run, but you can use several unseen consequences of their actions to shape the future of your game. Great GMing has been described as fulfilling your players' wishes in a way that they don't expect. So give them what they want, but make sure they feel some pressure from a new direction so you can spin an ongoing adventure from the fallout of their wishes.

This ties back to The Windfall Game that I mentioned in The 3 Types of Loot back in December, where a first-level party managed to recover a huge pile of money from their first adventure. That party wanted wealth, and they got it in spades. They thought it would solve many problems and let them outfit themselves much better. Unfortunately, they became the targets of thieves, and they caught the eye of high-ranking movers and shakers far before they could handle the attention and stand on their own. And that made a great campaign as they struggled with feelings of inadequacy and "this challenge is a little above our pay grade" fear while figuring out how to survive the next challenge.

With BECMI, changing the game
was baked into the level structure.
Changing the Game
When your PCs master one area of your game, like defeating any combination of monsters you can throw at them in two rounds or getting filthy rich, then you have a choice. You can continue to ramp up the power level on your existing game style until something breaks, or you can change the game and challenge everyone at the table with something different. I've had luck with changing the focus of the game from a dungeon crawl to a political game in the king's court. I've noticed as the players hit the transition point between mastering the old arena and playing in the new one, they usually fumble badly as they try to figure out the new rules for their characters.

Those fumbles make solid story foundations, as your players will carry the memory of that humiliation with them until they can exact their revenge. Once they finally figure out what's happening in the power game and how the weaselly adviser to the king used them as pawns, your players are hooked on making him pay for what he did to them. They'll put all of their gaming effort toward that one goal, and when the Grand Revenge Plan finally reaches its conclusion, everyone smiles with satisfaction at a job well done and a game well run.

Feelings of satisfaction reward everybody involved for changing the game and buying into the story. Player engagement for the win!

1 comment:

  1. Like many others, I found that combat in 4th Edition wasn't really doing what I wanted. It wasn't the time involved, as so many have commented on. Originally, the issue for me was monsters getting surrounded and locked down. So, I changed the game.

    Monsters would no longer assiduously avoid risk, but would jump for it if there was a chance to put more pressure on the PCs thereby. For instance, I ran a solo that got marked, surrounded and hindered. It couldn't do much damage to those surrounding it, but it unleashed barrages of ranged attacks against the characters who were keeping back. It took damage, of course, from a mark and from opportunity attacks, but those attacks also missed quite often, and even when they hit, that just meant that the battle was getting over with more quickly, thereby addressing the key problem many others seem to have with the game. In the mean time, the solo had downed one character and forced another back, and those in melee with it were having fun making more than their usual number of attacks.

    This change was fun enough for a while, but it led to another change. I got to thinking how fights to the death weren't all that fun, and I noticed that when PCs' lives were threatened some of my players grew more unpleasant about the outcome. I decided then to make another change, by changing the stakes from "survival" to "victory." From then on, the players were at little risk of dying, but at a much higher risk of failing to achieve whatever victory was present in the encounter, such as a rescue, an escape, a puzzle, a traversal, or just keeping the monsters from achieving their own victory. I've introduced time limits, meaning that spending time killing the monsters might be the very approach that leads to failure.

    Both of these changes have greatly improved my personal enjoyment of the game, as a DM, and I think they've made things more interesting for my players, too. They're challenged more readily, and they have to think outside the the basic descriptions of powers, feats, and skills. And I didn't have to change a single rule.

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