The Player’s Perspective: Proactive v Reactive Players


Hello there folks, I am back with another viewpoint from the player’s perspective. Today I want to talk about a topic that made me decide to start writing these articles in the first place. When it comes time to sit at the table and play are you proactive or reactive?

Let’s start at the beginning, all players fall into one of these two categories. The proactive player takes charge of the situation and takes action. In doing so, they move the plot forward and keep things rolling. The action taken does not need to be relevant to the current plot hooks. Simply by taking action they are causing an event to unfold that will move story along. Examples of this can be as simple as a warrior inquiring about available mercenary work in a local tavern. The point is, rather than waiting for the GM to sink the plot hook in and pull them along, they go and look for the hook. On the other hand, the reactive player often waits for the GM to prompt them into action. This player is still making things happen; however, they are not the catalyst of change.

The players are the protagonists of the story, which implies a certain level of necessary action. If the hero of the story just sits on their hands then nothing happens and that is not much of a story. I cannot count the number of times I have heard a player complain of being bored or feeling left out; meanwhile, during the game they took no effort to integrate themselves into the action. The PC’s in any game are always amongst the most significant people in the world, which is why we are telling a story about them in the first place. Long story short, you are the hero SO DO SOMETHING!

As a player I cannot help but be proactive, it is simply in my nature. At times this can create issues at the table. Taking the proactive urge too far can come across as selfish and start to deprive others at the table of a good time as one player dominates the spotlight. If you have this issue at the table it is most likely the result of one of two things. First, you have a GM that is either playing favorites or needs to work on pulling everyone into the spotlight. This is most common amongst inexperienced GM’s. Let’s be honest, running a game is a juggling act and takes a certain amount of finesse to pull off well. The best way to fix this is to talk with the GM, if they address the issue and attempt to fix it then you are in a good game, if not just find a game more in line with your needs. Second, and probably most common, you have a one proactive player with slot of reactive players. This combination can give the appearance of one player stealing the spotlight.

For example, I was playing a Pathfinder game being run by my brother. The campaign had been running for roughly 9 months before I joined the game. At my first session I quickly found myself embroiled in plots that had nothing to do with me and quickly felt out of place. Naturally the other PC had a lot history and back-story driving things that I had no part of because it happened before I joined. Instead of being a spectator I started making a place for myself in the framework I was given. I took actions that made sense for my character and found ways to integrate myself into the story. Instead of waiting for the GM to write me into the story I wrote myself into the story. Eventually I started becoming a center point of the story because I was doing things to progress the story, I was taking action. This resulted in the others players at the table complaining about what they called “the Jason Show”. The thing was that the GM was not writing this plot for me specifically, I was only at the center because I was taking action and interacting with the world the GM created. There was nothing special about what I was doing; I simply took action instead of waiting for the GM to tell me where to go next.

Quite simply, I guarantee, that if you are proactive as opposed to reactive both you and your GM will have more fun. By taking a proactive stance you are providing everyone else more to work with and it can turn into a domino effect. A group of proactive players is crucial to well executed collaborative storytelling. Even if the players don’t always agree on what to do, the conflict between them can make for great stories, provided it remains in character. Even if you pay no heed to anything else that I write just remember, be the hero and DO SOMETHING.

The Inquisition: The End

How do you know when your game has reached this point?

One of the most profound, formative movies I have seen in my life is Apocalypse Now. It’s certainly visually, and to an extent, existentially stunning, but it remains part of the cultural zeitgeist because of the pop culture references contained therein. There is one in particular of which I am frequently reminded:

In the context of role-playing games, it’s difficult to talk about the end of a particular game. Obviously, almost every game that has ever started has come to an end at some point, whether that was a story-appropriate finish, a glacially slow increase in the frequency of sessions, the sudden departure or life-change of one or more players, whatever. I think games always start out very strong, usually fueled by a lightning-like stroke of inspiration and a great, resounding wave of enthusiasm. Those of us who have played in many games know that they rarely end this way.

I think there are two separate paths that need to diverge here. One deals with the end of a game/campaign/story/system, while the other deals with the end of a gaming group. I am going to primarily talk about the former, but the second one is probably way more common. People, especially as adults, have lives and, as we’ve mentioned before, tend to value their gaming at different points in their hierarchical organization of their lives. For some of us, gaming is our lifeblood, and for others it’s just a from-time-to-time hobby like bowling or going to the movies. Gaming groups disintegrate all the time, and it’s usually because everyone’s expectations for the game are different. Perhaps we’ll talk more about this in another post.

For now, let’s stick to ending games but sticking with the same group. This is at the forefront of my mind because my group just finished up a campaign (which I was running) earlier this week, and they opted to retire their characters instead of progressing onwards (and frankly, it was the wise choice, since we were playing Call of Cthulhu and a few of them were on death’s or insanity’s door).

I’ve always had great enthusiasm for beginning games. I love the part of the game where all the characters are introduced, they can show off their quirks and flaws and powers and weaknesses, they interact with each other and develop personalities, they investigate and interact with the world, gain faculty with the rules and laws that govern the game, make acquaintances with NPCs and run afoul of evildoers. And it’s this early period which sets the stage and lends an emotional weight to the campaign’s inevitable end.

We become attached to our characters, come to enjoy the world we’ve collaboratively created. We like that familiarity. We like coming up with new ways for our characters to grow and new goals to achieve, we love the prospect of seeing what new challenges await us in undiscovered corners of the world. I imagine that it’s the same feeling that one gets when they read the last few pages of the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or any series whose characters and story are powerful and addictive – we’re sad to see it go.

But go it must, eventually. And that’s never easy.

The most important part of the campaign, for me, is the climax of whatever story arc the characters find themselved embroiled in. It’s not my favorite, but coming down from the climax in storytelling usually involves some denouement or wrapping-up. This is the moment when a lot of stories go awry. I think it’s that desire to hold onto things that we love, but if the arc is truly over, we should probably just accept it and decide right then: are we continuing with these characters, this (broader) story, and this situation, or is the campaign effectively over?

If you decide the campaign is over, as a GM I would offer some wrap-up. The fate of the characters, the fate of the world, and so on. Maybe have another hour or so for everyone to talk about their characters’ goals for the future now that this particular story arc is over. Then, collectively decide what is going to happen next: someone else is going to try the reins as gamemaster, we’re going to switch to a new system, we’re going to play future or past versions of ourselves or NPC’s we’ve met in the world, and so on.

If you decide you want to continue,then you ask them how they get out of the white dragon’s lair, what is next for the party after slaying the evil lich before he could destroy the nation, how they really just uncovered the tip of the iceberg, and on, and on.

In general, we tend to frown upon railroading, but I would argue that limp, unsatisfying game endings (and often beginnings) come from our desire to have a true sandbox. Since there is no clearly defined beginning or endpoint, and since characters have a greater tendency to die or drift in and out of games, it becomes much harder to wrap up any particular arc. There’s no sense of closure. Now, is the “closure”, which, admittedly, is a nebulous topic to begin with, necessary to roleplaying? Well, I think to an extent that if we look at roleplaying as collaborative storytelling, then there is indeed a story, and that story should have some kind of beginning, middle, and end. Most sandbox games ultimately are not linear, but are episodic instead, which can offer, in itself, a kind of closure.

And I believe that’s the point – too many roleplaying games end without closure, and even when they do offer some closure, it’s very difficult to land upon an ending in which each player is satisfied. As a player we want to feel like we’ve earned what we have, and as a GM we want the challenges to be, well, challenging and also interesting, and it’s hard to have the denouement be challenging and interesting. Not impossible, but difficult.

I’ve had many awesome campaigns just go out on kind of a ‘meh’ note, and I hate that feeling. We are slaves to the recency effect, so we really hate when the last taste in our mouth is sour or just, well, bland. So do what you can to try and make your games end on a great note – as I said, I think this is mostly timing and just not holding on too long. Handwave your denouement if it’s not interesting, end the session after the boss is killed and move on to the next thing. Give your players something to remember right at the end before you move on to whatever entices you next.

Until next time, happy gaming!

PS: Do you have any thoughts regarding what the best way to end a story arc is? Or even how to put a game on hold when you try something differently?

Photo credit: Flickr user bennylin0724. CC BY 2.0

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The Suspension of Disbelief

Thanks to flickr user the justified sinner! CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The idea of the “suspension of disbelief”, of which you’ve surely heard, is quite simple: in order for any form of art to be effective, it’s viewer (or listener, or whatever) needs to, in some way, suspend his disbelief.

The idea was first articulated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his Biographia Literaria, which can be found here:

it was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic; yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.

While Coleridge was writing particularly about the inclusion of elements macabre and supernatural in his writing, the idea holds firm today: for example, when you watch a movie, you willingly suspend your disbelief (in fact, you are simply watching rapidly-changing images projected on a large screen) and buy into the idea that Neo and Agent Smith really are fighting.

Coleridge’s idea of poetic faith is important. I think he means that there’s an implicit bargain between the poet and the reader; the poet is going to be limited by his medium or his topic, yet the reader is going to give him the benefit of the doubt anyway.

This neatly parallels the relationship between the game-master and the player. The GM sets up the world (his poetry, let’s say) and the player experiences it. Obviously, you are (most likely) not a barbarian, so there is some willing suspension of disbelief there when the game calls for you to play one. You’re not in a fantasy tavern, you’re not slamming back ale, and you’re not actually seducing wenches. (And if your gaming experience does involve all these things, do you have an extra seat at the table?)

Of course, the player needs to be suspending way more disbelief, as most of the games we play are fantastical in some way or another, whether they involve swords and sorcery, eldritch horrors, or simple standoffs and desperation. However, this comes easier than it sounds. Most of us who play role-playing games naturally want to suspend our disbelief. We take the word of the game-master or the sourcebook as the gospel. We want our games to be fun, so we’re willing to accept whatever ridiculous, convoluted worlds in which we end up playing.

After the jump I’ll discuss a couple of ways that the Suspension of Disbelief might affect your games, whether you know it or not.

Continue reading “The Suspension of Disbelief”

Argyle & Crew – Adventures in the Land of Skcos has arrived! Get your copy now!

Argyle & Crew have arrived!  You can get your copy right now for $2.99 at DriveThruRGP!  What is Argyle & Crew?

It’s my first stand-alone RPG.  It’s a collaborative storytelling adventure for kids.  It’s a great pick up game for adults.

The land of Skcos is inhabited by all manner of things, but primarily its inhabitants belong to a race of ever changing, always interesting creatures called Soppets. Soppets are a magical breed of intelligent, funny, thrill seeking socks.

Yes, you read that correctly, Socks.

Argyle & Crew is a free wheeling system powered by imagination. Rather than a character sheet like a traditional RPG, your character and it’s attributes are all based on a sock puppet, or in Skcos lingo, a Soppet.  Each Soppet has several unique qualities which allow it to do extraordinary things!

Argyle & Crew is great game for children as young as 4 years old.  Short scenarios and active participation keep things lively!  Useful as a learning tool not just for gaming, but for life lessons, Argyle & Crew can easily be used in a classroom setting.  Professionals working on counseling children can find this game equally useful for indirectly or directly exploring past experiences and future anxieties. Use the additional rules for older children or adults and expand the game from a fun, play driven activity to a fully developed RPG, using the One-Shot RPG system.

25% of all proceeds from the sale of Argyle & Crew will go directly to The Wayne Foundation.

The Wayne Foundation

I’ve written about the Wayne Foundation here before. This 503(c) organization is just getting off the ground and it will be doing important work! Founded by Jamie Walton, with help from Kevin Smith,  the Wayne Foundation’s vision is for a world without child slavery. Their mission is to provide young women who have fallen victim to commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking with a means of leaving the sex industry for good.

The Wayne Foundation is committed to fighting human trafficking, child prostitution, & child sex exploitation one victim at a time by providing individuals with a safe home environment that will empower them with the tools they will need to stop the cycle of abuse. It is our intent to end commercial sex exploitation within the United States through direct victim assistance, public outreach, and by directly working with those who shape the policies and statutes which impact victims and their abusers.

“We believe that all victims can be rehabilitated through a program that provides education assistance, mental and physical health services, housing, and a support staff who are dedicated to assisting these girls reach their full potential. It is our objective to aid these young women until they are capable of reentering society on their own as happy and healthy adults.”

Also available: The Soppets Save Halloween – a free Argyle & Crew scenario for kids ages 4+


Feel free to pick up Knock Your Socks Off – the free Argyle & Crew Mix Tape featuring 10 Creative Commons licensed artists.



Quick Review – Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Welcome to a beautifully illustrated, amazingly structured and wonderfully imaginative universe.  Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is a collaborative storytelling game designed for interested adults and tween-aged kids.  It was created by Daniel Solis and published by Evil Hat Productions.

I’m unfortunately not able to review as many games as I have in the past, simply because of time constraints.  But I’d heard a lot about Do and when the opportunity to give it a look fell in my lap, I jumped at it.

It’s one of the few games I’ve looked at recently where I was truly struck by the fantastic artwork. I mean it jumped off the page and slapped me about – it’s really well done, stylistically it fits perfectly with the game and serves to immediately capture your interests and drag you forcefully into the game world.  Thankfully, that’s a good thing.  It’s not often I jump into a review starting with the artwork.  I will tell you one more thing about it though.  I would buy this book simply for the artwork even if I never intended to play it.  Fortunately, it’s a game worth playing.

Do is a cooperative storytelling game.  This means that there aren’t any dice, or character sheets (mostly) or tons of set in stone rules regarding classes, characters and the monsters they hack and slash.  No, Do is more about engaging your imagination and coming up with a story you wouldn’t  mind sitting down and listening too, that is if you weren’t actively creating it.

Picture this. There is a flying temple, orbited by an infinite number of small worlds, inhabited by an infinite number of interesting people and creatures. That’s the world of Do.  Your characters are young initiates at the temple, giving the task of a pilgrimage to the varied worlds surrounding it.

The inhabitants of these worlds, when they come in to troubled times or have unfulfilled  wishes, write letters to the temple outlining their troubles.  The pilgrims are bound to answer, and do their best to set things right.

Do has some central themes that all of the collaborative stories are centered on.  Each player is a pilgrim.  The pilgrims have a stack of letters and a mission: To leave this world a better place then they found it.  The pilgrims will attempt to help the people who’ve written these letters, but in the process will cause new troubles to arise.  They must then do their best to leave everything better than when they found it.

Simple concept, interesting execution.

Each player must give their pilgrim a name, such as Pilgrim Smoking Wand.  The name is significant in that it helps describe how the Pilgrim gets in to trouble and how they help people.  Perhaps Pilgrim Smoking Wand has smoke come out his ears when he gets angry, thus causing people to believe he’s a demon. But he also has a wand that grants a single wish from whomever he’s trying to help.

The game isn’t simply free-form storytelling though.  There are mechanics, and each player takes a turn at being the “storyteller” (the one who leads the other players through a particular round of creativity).  Black and white stones are drawn at random to help determine what course the story will take. The stones help determine if your pilgrim will get into trouble, out of trouble, helps a person or another pilgrim and so on.

At the end of a game, the players will have told an interesting story, with everyone contributing a roughly equal part to it, and will have excersised their creativity.

The game is a lot of fun, the layout and artwork are spectacular and it’s a wonderful way to spend an hour or two with children aged 12 or older, while being creative and having everyone engaged in a fun activity.  5 out of 5 stars.

Introducing Land of Skcos – a collaborative storytelling RPG

I’ve been talking a bit about a new project I’ve been hard at work on.  It’s totally different from anything I’ve ever released before.  I’m using it as a bit of a creative break from worlds of zombie apocalypses and Pathfinder stat blocks.  Once I’ve finished this up, I’ll be diving back in to the Aruneus project and other Pathfinder goodies.

For the past few weeks I’ve been working furiously on an entirely new storytelling/RPG system.  My aim is to create a vibrant world that’s fueled by imagination and creativity, while keeping rules and mechanics to an absolute minimum.  The reasoning behind this is that this new game is designed to appeal to everyone who is young at heart. And I mean everyone.  Educators will be able to bring this in to the classroom.  Parents can easily pick up a game with their kids. Adults at a con can have a great time with this game.

While not strictly an RPG at heart, Land of Skcos takes many of the basic elements of role playing games and removes many of the limits.

While I’m not done with this project (there’s still a lot of work to do!) I am getting very close to having a completed draft of the entire system, including alternate rules to move Land of Skcos from collaborative storytelling system right in to a rules-lite RPG.

To whet your appetite here is the introduction from the book, along with a short story I’ve written (also part of the book) to illustrate the feel of the game.


Welcome to the magical Land of Skcos, where anything can happen and it often does! Skcos is a world full of amazing adventures, where mystical creatures await you and the only limit is your own imagination!

The Land of Skcos is inhabited by all manner of things, but primarily its inhabitants belong to a race of ever changing, always interesting creatures called Soppets.  Soppets are a magical breed of intelligent, funny, thrill seeking socks.

Yes, you read that correctly. Socks. Soppets start off as simple socks, laying about the land with little purpose and less life. It takes the creativity and individuality of a person to give a Soppet life.

While Soppets make up the most common inhabitants of Skcos, there are all manner of other creatures that can be found. The list of inhabitants is constantly growing and changing and is limited only by imagination.

The Land of Skcos can be a game of simple storytelling as players gather around a table, or it can be a rollicking romp as players scamper around in a scavenger hunt, race to be the first to discover an artifact, and act out their parts in a greater story.

All you need to enjoy Land of Skcos are a few socks, some magic markers and various items you’ll find around the house or classroom.

Land of Skcos is an extremely open ended game by its very nature. The more structure that is applied to it, the less open it becomes.  To that end, I’ve included several variants on the basic rule set.  Keep in mind that this is your game – you can choose to keep or discard rules as you see fit.  Adding new rules (or “house rules”) is also perfectly fine!  Do what you will to make this experience as enjoyable as possible for you and your group.

I’ve been bouncing these concepts, ideas and play off of my two kids, who are 8 and 5. Here’s my oldest in her reading glory, giving you the “audio book” version of this story.

Soppets and the Land of Skcos – a tale for children of any age

In the long night of the past, the land of Skcos was empty, quiet, and still. Not a sound was made, and if it was there would have been no creature to hear it.

Then, quite without warning and with nobody being asked, something changed. It was the first change in the land of Skcos and the second most important. It happened when the first clothes washer washed the first pair of socks.

Where there were two socks in your world and none in Skcos, there was suddenly one in Skcos and one less in your world! A sock had magically vanished from inside the Washer and had come to the land of Skcos.

It was still a very quiet place. If you haven’t noticed a pair of socks does not make much noise. One sock makes even less.

Over time, many single socks found their way to the land of Skcos through magical means known only to the clothes washers, who aren’t telling anyone a thing.

It took almost all of the magic that socks and washers could come up with to make this happen. Thankfully it was only almost all of the magic, and there were a few bits and pieces of magic left over. Without that extra magic, there would be no Soppets, and Skcos without Soppets is a boring place indeed.

What?  Do you mean to tell me that you have never heard of a Soppet? You are a child, correct?  And even if you are not, I am sure you were one once. Most people were.

I’ll bet you know exactly what one is. I would bet all of the cushions on all of the couches ever made that you’ve had a Soppet in your hand before!

Let me tell you what a Soppet is and we shall see if I am wrong.

Every time a person, whose imagination is one of the biggest things they own, puts a sock on their hand, a Soppet awakens from the long sleep in the land of Skcos. This was the second change in the land of Skcos, but the most important one of all.

Now, those people with particularly largish imaginations will do more than just put a sock on their hands. Unless you are a hand walker, in which case you can be forgiven for not imagining much. People with imaginations at least as large as their own heads will make their sock talk.

If these people are especially special and their imagination can see things that aren’t yet made, they will add eyes, perhaps a bit of yarn for hair, or a nice mustache made out of pipe cleaner.

That is the best sort of Soppet, one that can really get things done in the land of Skcos; things that are in need of doing.

You see, in the land of Skcos, a Soppet isn’t alive in any real way until they awaken from their deep, deep sleep. And they only awaken when a wonderful thing known as an Outside Arm comes to them and gives them a bit of that left over magic.

Where do these Outside Arms come from?  Why, from you! For every single sock is something of a sock-shaped door in to the land of Skcos. You can’t travel through it, but a bit of that old magic can.

Soppets who have been touched by an Outside Arm can speak, see, laugh, run about, and think. Most importantly, they are filled with imagination, which gives them something to think about.

A Soppet who can think about things can quite naturally do them, no matter what they are. The land of Skcos is a magical place after all, and what good would magic be if it were only used for making potions or amusing dragons?

This is why it’s so very important for you to think big thoughts and imagine amazing things when a Soppet is nearby, in your world or in any other.

That is what a Soppet is, and I believe you owe me a few couch cushions, which you can get at any couch cushion store. I prefer purple with yellow stripes on mine.

I’ve been showing what I’ve done so far to a group of people both inside and outside the industry and getting more positive feedback than I honestly expected.  I’m very excited about this little game and hope that it will give lots of people the framework they need to explore their imaginations. For the more educational oriented of us, this can be used very easily as a tool to explore emotions, societal mores, and tough situations (dealing with a bully, divorce – just about everything under the sun that could concern kids) in a structured, fun and creative manner.

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll have more on this project as it develops, so stay tuned!


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