Eye of the Beholder

Designing for your players is tough – especially if your players aren’t always on the same page as one another (let alone on the same page as the GM). When I recently made up a questionnaire for a game I’m planning, I asked “what do you, as a player, want from this game?” For three players, I got widely these different responses…

One player wanted to “fight things we don’t usually fight.” OK, sounds like an easy request. “Like and aboleth or something.” Oh. Damn. We’re starting at second level, by the way…

Another player said they wanted elements of horror, terror, and the “alien.” Awesome. He too spoke up about fighting unusual creatures, or at least avoiding typical fantasy game tropes and villains.

The third guy left the question blank. I hope I am reading it right that he’s open for anything, rather than wanting “nothing” out of the game.

Your players have desires, whether veteran gamers or first time noobs. They want the heroic battle against the dragon, or the race against time to save the world, or in this case, the chance to do something they’ve never done before. I had a story in mind before I asked about their characters. Then they told me about their characters. The story I had in mind went back into the mental filing cabinet, waiting for another opportunity.

Instead, now I am designing for what the players want. You have to find a balance between your story and their characters and their desires. If they don’t want to save the world, you can still destroy it, but you’re going to have to figure out something else to entertain them along the way (actually, that’s backwards – figure our their stories first, and if there is a way to blow up the world in the process, work it in if you must).

Along the way, don’t be afraid to beg, borrow and steal (and cheat, too!) your way to a great story. Borrow ideas from published sources, reshape them to suit the group’s needs and tastes. You’re only limited by how far you can stretch your own imagination.

Creation is in the eye of the beholder – and the eyes of its eyestalks too. The lesson here is don’t forget to see things from the player’s perspective… and from other views, too. Imagine your world, then imagine it from the perspective of the monsters, blacksmiths, kings and beggars that live there.

Just beware the disintegrate ray.

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