Getting Your Ducks In a Row – Making Sure Expectations are Met

Image by: John Linwood

I’m getting into the deep planning stages for my next campaign, and I’m finding myself running into a potential problem: it’s very possible that I want for this game is different from what my players want. I’ve had this issue rolling around in my head for the last few days, and I feel like it’s one that is really important to talk about when it comes to not only planning an upcoming campaign, but also for keeping a campaign going once you’ve started.

Back in April, I wrote about giving your players what they want when it comes to your game. When I wrote that, my players had asked me to run a zombie game, something I had never thought about doing before. It only ran for three sessions, but I really enjoyed how things went. I gave my players what they wanted, and we all had fun. What I have facing me now is a little different. I’ve not yet had a chance to ask my players what they want, but I’m already well into my planning. I have a good idea about the things that my group likes and doesn’t like, but I still find myself unsure about some of the decisions I have to make.

So, I’ve decided to list off a few ideas that I’ve come up with to make sure I don’t make too many mistakes when I’m planning for this game. Hopefully they’ll make sense and help out any other GMs that find themselves in the same position.

Know Thy Group

This one, I think I’ve got covered. I’ve been playing with pretty much the same group for nearly 18 months. As an added bonus to my Knowledge(Group) roll, I’m related to all of my players, which means that I’ve known them for a lot longer than I’ve been gaming with them. I know how a given player will react in certain situations. I also know that if one player in particular is playing, then I need to keep the tone a lot lighter than I otherwise would.

If you’ve played with your group for a long time, then take a few moments and really think about what you know about them. Look past your initial thoughts (oh, Joe’s a powergamer, Marcy loves roleplaying scenes) and dig a little deeper. See if you can identify the things that your players like the most about gaming and see if you can’t include those things in your planning.

If you’re new to your group, then you need to slide right along to my next thought.

Take the time and talk to your players

I’ve said it before, and I am sure I’ll say it again: gaming is a collaborative process. It’s not just about what the players want, and it’s not just about what the GM wants. If you’re new to your group, hell, even if you’ve been gaming with your group for 20 years, take some time and ask them what they’re looking for from the game. Their answers might surprise you and might open up avenues of planning that you had never thought available before.

As well, take time during that conversation and let them know what you’re looking to get from running the game. The fact that gaming is a collaborative process means that you have a stake in what goes on as much as the players so. Some might argue that your stake is even bigger since (depending on the system you’re using) without you there’s no game. That doesn’t mean that this is the time to take you gaming agenda and shove it down the throats of your players; just make sure your wants are heard as well.

Be flexible

This one is just a good rule to follow when GMing, no matter anyone’s wants. I never would have run my zombie game if I hadn’t (ultimately) been willing to give it a try. As I think about the best, coolest moments that I have experienced from behind the GM screen, quite a few of them came during that game. Additionally, you have to be ready for things to change in your game. Adding a player, dropping a player, playing with distractions, they all feed in to how a given session comes out. Even the die-hard roleplayer can, after a nasty day at work, want to do nothing but leave a pile of dead orcs in their wake. Things change.

When you’re doing your initial planning, try and have a few possible storylines to work with. You’ll hit on the right one to start the game with, and if things change down the road, you’ll have the others in your back pocket. You can’t (and should try to) plan for every eventuality,, but if you have some story seeds, then you can easily sprout a few plots if you have to improvise.

When in doubt, do what you do best

If, and I mean if you have exhausted all of the options I listed above, an you’re still no closer to figuring out how to fill the game with things that please you and your group, then go with your gut. We all GM because we like to (I hope), and we all have parts of the game that we are better at than others. We also have certain kinds of games that we love to run. If you’re out of options, then go with what you like. Then, at least, you’ll be invested in what’s going on, and GM enthusiasm can go a long way to making a given game successful.

But, as stated above, be ready to be flexible. Maybe you got no useful feedback from your group when you asked them what they wanted before you started the first session. If you’re doing something that they’re not into, it won’t take long into that first session to figure it out. Watch them as they play, and if you see something that makes them light up, make sure to do things along those lines as your campaign continues.

All of the items above are things that I am going to be doing as I start up this next game. It is my hope that the feedback I get from my players will help me to craft a game that we all really enjoy.

As well, I wanted to take a moment and let you all know that this new game is taking place in Freeport, a city/setting designed by the great minds at Green Ronin. Ben reviewed the Pathfinder rules for Freeport recently, and seeing his review made me want to give the setting a shot. I’ll be recording the audio (as usual) and hosting with with the always excellent Gamer’s Haven. I look forward to any feedback you all might have for me.

[tags]rpg, rpgs, role playing games, GMing, tips, campaign planning[/tags]

9 thoughts on “Getting Your Ducks In a Row – Making Sure Expectations are Met

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  1. Well said Tracy, I should have been following this advice this weekend.

    I started a new campaign in Eberron, the “magic as technology” industrial rennaisance D&D (though I’m using Savage Worlds) setting. All of my players ended up building nature based, loner archtypes. I’m kicking myself wondering why I didn’t plan with them to run something more appropriate for that type of group. Hellfrost might have been perfect.

    Still, since they are all sort of “fish out of water” characters, it should be fun.


  2. Yeah, things like that can definitely be fun, but if it happens one too many times, you find yourself asking why you didn’t arrange things with the players ahead of time.


  3. My plan, without giving much away on the chance that one of them reads this, is shine a little tech their way for a bit first that they can’t really deal with, but then make the game highlight their survival and nature based skills in a feral and dangerous wilderness. Just takes a little modification of my plans.


  4. When I planned my next campaign, I sent out an email to my players and provided them with a campaign theme choice. I also encouraged them to make up their own. We ended up with 26 different ideas and the players picked an amalgamation of three of them.


  5. Yong, that’s a really good idea, and one that I think more GMs should use. Sure, you might get too many ideas, but I’d rather that than start off on a completely different wavelength than your players.


  6. The games I have had which have been most successful have usually begun with me pitching an idea to my players, and then we talk about it off and on for a few weeks. Once we are all very clear on what we want, I do all the nitty gritty work, and usually two months or more after the idea was first pitched we start actually playing.

    Of course, that’s the theory. More often than not I just spring a new game on my players, and we have some fun, then promptly forget the game as soon as its done. It always feels so much better when I do what works.


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