Sunday, April 19, 2009

Group makeup or group breakup?

Designing a game or a component for an already existing game is a creative process. It requires one to put forth something that is both realistic and fun within the constraint of the rules imposed by the game. However, in such a design process the designer cannot forgot or over look the importance of the makeup of the group. I think I personally experienced this lesson on it's most brutal level while working on a recent adventure plan for a D&D 4th edition group I was DMing.

The players had just finished up a big adventure that still had some loose ends and unanswered questions within the campaign. I gave the players a hook of what seemed like an obvious trap. Now for the adventure I planned out encounters rather than a true path so in theory anything they wanted to do was a viable option. In testing it out, the players would be able to walk into trap, leave town altogether, or try to investigate information in the town to thwart the trap. It seemed like the players could go anywhere and do anything and I would have something ready for them. It seemed almost perfect. However there was something beyond the design I had over looked, the group's expectations.

Now what might I mean when I say group's expectations? Well I see it as just that, what is the group expecting? What do they think they should do? It turns out that the majority of the players in my group saw the obvious trap for what it was and actually got angry that I was forcing them into such a predictably bad situation. They felt I was taking an Illusionist or Participationist approach to the game, on that I afforded them no options and no alternatives. However I was more closely modeling the adventure like a Bass Player. So what did this do to the group with such a simple misconception? Well the group felt genuinely jaded by my presumed pompous actions. They were ultimately so angry in fact that even the littlest of indiscretions could cause irrevocable harm.

When I mean little indiscretion, I mean little, like tiny, like minuscule. To make a long drawn out tiff short, basically a new player joining the existing group wanted to make a bow ranger when one of the existing players was already a bow ranger. That was the straw to break the proverbial camel's back and resulted in 4 of the 5 original players (after months of enjoyable gaming) to up and leave from the group. Even as I look over this I am still dumbfounded by it all. I guess it's true that Illusionism can disband a group but even if it doesn't apply to you as a designer or player on an abstract level it is something to think about. Not only does the design of the game matter, but so does what the players expect or think they should be expecting. If, as a designer of any game and particularly a DM in my case, you don't make sure you are aware of the player's expectations something as trivial as two characters of the same class could cause the entire group to implode in on itself.

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