Monday, April 5, 2010

Look to the Left, Look to the Right: Who is having fun here?

One of the things that was very interesting to me that came up at the retreat was the concept of player engagement rescue. What I mean by this is, sometimes, for whatever reason, players are not engaged. As the GM, you try to watch carefully for this, and reengage the player as much as possible. There are lots of GM'ing techniques for this, and really the GM side of this equation is worth writing about 10 books. But what I want to talk about today is the player side of this story. If you are another player in this game, it is a really cool idea to try to look out for this and fix this as well. It takes the pressure off the GM (if successful) and is often even more engaging than what the GM could do with his limited camera time.

I first noticed this technique when used by Chris Lightfoot, a great guy and an awesomely experienced gamer, and I'm embarrassed to say I only noticed it because he did it to me. I and several others were not really engaged with the game or with the plot, and he came over, got us organized and got us back in the game, and it was awesome. Ever since then I have been trying to do the same for others (in addition to figure out how to be more engaged all the time myself), and sometimes I can do stuff and sometimes I can't.

The easiest form of this technique is very simple and also, in my opinion, effective. Simply ask for another player's help. Going out to investigate something? You need the taciturn warrior to accompany you, no question, what if you ran into trouble? Trying to lure the big bad out of a cave, well, the only thing is to have that barmaid turned adventurer on your arm to help you, she might know something about caves! It's pretty cool to see the other player turn to you and suddenly become more active; to know that you just made their game experience at least a little bit better.

There are several different ways I've seen to approach this technique. First of all, ask for their help, as above. Second would be to look at what they are interested in doing (what do they come alive for) and engineer a spot in the plan for them (perhaps even by scrapping your intricate sneaking plan and letting the 9 ft tall cyborg guy smash through a wall to get into the secret lab). Another technique, which has to be used with care, is to engage them adversarial, if the game is of that form... See what their characters care about and suggest destroying or maiming it/them. Or just outright attack them in some manner. Players are never more involved than when defending what they care about. (Note: this can only be used with players who can play with this level of confrontation, unsure players or new players will almost always just fold and go along with your plans, even if it does require the bloody sacrifice of Aunt May, and then you've driven them away even more).

I'd love to hear how people have approached this technique or idea themselves, weather it is what has worked well on you or what you have used to good effect. As players there are a lot of things that we can do that the GM just can't (like change plans). This is, in my opinion, a high level technique that a lot of people just don't think about, but can really turn a so-so game into a great game.

Next time perhaps some review of some interesting concepts we've come up with, like "the belly of the dragon!".


Anonymous said...


Another related topic is spotlight time. I find that players can disengage when they feel that their character either isn't important or isn't getting enough spotlight time. One way to fix that is to "take turns." Many of the games I've been playing lately abandon the traditional party style adventure in exchange for more interweaving individual stories. In this style, when I'm the GM, I make sure to give no more than one scene to each player at a time. I then just go around the table in turn. It's not a hard and fast rule -- if one character's story is really hot, I'll stick with it for a couple scenes in a row -- but the round robin technique really ensures that no one gets left out.

Ben said...

Hey Tim,

Yeah, camera time is very very important. I feel like a whole series of blog posts could be done about managing camera time. I think it is both important to give everyone an equal slice of the camera pie, but also to in some way try to make sure that each scene accomplishes something on roughly the same scale. It is especially frustrating to have in-world realities screw you out of camera time (oh you're walking, it takes 3 hrs, you can't participate in the rest of the game).

But this is really a GM technique, maybe I should do a write up of some of the GM techniques I use for player engagement :).