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Thread: Balancing Different Playing Styles.

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    Balancing Different Playing Styles.

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    Despite all my best efforts, sometimes I have this feeling that my game is just in a rut. In my minds-eye, I have crafted a delicately woven tale of deceit, treachery, and intrigue, but somehow it seems to loose something in the execution. I just can't get my players engaged in the roleplaying delicacies of my grand story, and I found myself wondering, how can I get my players more engaged in roleplaying.

    Then, something occurred to me. Many of our best gaming sessions, the most enjoyable, are heavily laden with combat. Often on those days when I think that I've cheesed out on my preparation and compensated with combat, the players nonetheless respond very well. Here on our Player Registry, I added a field for "Playing Style," for players to indicate their preference from heavy roleplaying, light combat to heavy combat, lite roleplay, but I failed to ever ask my players this same basic question. Would it surprise you to know what their answer was when I finally wizened up and asked?

    Two of the three players in my small group rate themselves as preferring "75% combat / 25% Roleplaying." (Actually, one of my players had put this in his profile on the forums, I just hadn't noticed it) The third player and I both enjoy a more balanced mix of roleplaying and combat. This is where I realized I was having a disconnect with the game.

    In our case, at least we're not on totally opposite sides of the table,--if you'll forgive the pun--which is probably what has allowed our group to stay together for the last four or five years. Still, I want both myself and each of my players to walk away from every game satisfied with the experience. Now the question - how do you as a GM handle balancing players different playing styles? Is your strategy to adjust the mixture of strategic versus roleplay? How do you make roleplaying more fun for your combat-oriented players, and combat more enjoyable for your players that lean more towards roleplay?
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  2. #2
    Ed Zachary Guest
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    Role playing is great, but it needs to be based around something... like the combat that will occur on a mission, or a rivalry between the kingdoms of the players. Role playing often happens during combat, the two are not mutually exclusive.

    As a DM I like to allow my players to gain a stake in the world, and they know that their actions and decisions will have far reaching effects.

    Pure role playing (in town, or without a threat) can only take you so far, there has to be a dynamic coming from the players based on what they have survived, and what they want to accomplish. And good role playing often happens when the players' characters are under external threat.
    Last edited by Ed Zachary; 05-11-2007 at 12:26 PM.

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    As a non DMing gamer, I find the combat easier to roleplay than some actual non-combat roleplay because it feels like we have to guess what the DM needs us to do next or the game is off course...My current DM is new at the DMing and is good for her experience but in the past I have had games that, by subtle suggestions and situtation, the game felt "right" whatever choice we made...NOT like one of those "choose your own adventure stories" where you only can pick "goto page 26 if you want to storm the castle or go to page 32 if you want to run away" instead you can being impulsive and go to the neighboring wizards home for information. I think if the DM is flexible with the story enough and can be open about the encounters, then the players can all get the amount of roleplaying vs combat that they enjoy.
    Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons... for You are Crunchy & Good with Ketchup


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    Quote Originally Posted by dragonmamma View Post
    it feels like we have to guess what the DM needs us to do next or the game is off course...
    Dragonmamma,
    The course of the game should follow the path forged by the players not the GM. Don't worry about what the GM wants you to do to advance the story. If they're a good GM they'll know what to do or, if they're new to GMing, they'll learn what to do.

    RPG's are best when fostering choice and creativity. Read and heed page one chapter one of your players handbook and DM guide.

    Also, when you said, "...or the game is off course", is this your perspective as a player and your wont to run straight through the main plot. Or, does your GM fuss when your party strays from the main plot.
    Your GM may be more than ready for the characters to take a path that is not directly linked to the main plot. A good GM puts more prep time into sub plots than the main one in anticipation of you guys doing something crazy. You might be letting your GM down by not taking the occasional "left hand turn".

    Those times you wrote of that "felt right" sound like opportunities when you allowed to explore. Did that lead to more opportunities to roleplay? Roleplaying will foster creativity and open new exciting doors.

    My GM rewards players xp for roleplaying. It's a great incentive to get into character.

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    I've run and been in games that had no combat. They can be a blast!
    But sometimes you just gotta tear out those blades and start hacking.

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    I think play style conflicts aren't usually about combat vs. role-playing. That's an awfully artificial distinction. Can't you role-play in a fight? Can't combat advance story?

    Instead, really the players and GMs have to decide which they care about most:

    1. Story
    2. Genre
    3. Competition

    If you really want the story to be front in center with detailed backgrounds and intricately woven levels of intrigue, competitive tactical combat between PCs vs. NPCs (or even PC vs. PC) is just going to be frustrating. It's a distraction from what you really want.

    If you are all about genre -- for example simulating Tolkienesque high fantasy, four color comic books or bad ass kung fu films -- any sort of background or fighing that doesn't support that is simply going to be a waste of time.

    And, if you want to prove your meddle, long drawn out background is just wasted space. You want to get to the action!

    Take for example something Ed said earlier...
    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Zachary View Post
    Role playing is great, but it needs to be based around something... like the combat that will occur on a mission, or a rivalry between the kingdoms of the players. Role playing often happens during combat, the two are not mutually exclusive.
    Ed is expressing frustration that there is not enough competition in a game. He wants story to serve competition, not visa versa. Is this a bad thing? I would say absolutely not. And the fact that Ed realizes what he wants means he can better communicate that to his GM or fellow players.

    I think one of the real problems with discussions about RPGs is they tend to be laden with very value-heavy terms. Take "role-playing" for example. If you say -- I want a game with role-playing in it, few would disagree. These are role-playing games, after all. Of course there should be role-playing. "You want combat (i.e. roll-playing) to be front and center? Oh, well you must suck at role-playing." These kind of statements are very typical of these discussions and they are a distraction. Ed does not suck because Ed wants competition in his game.

    Is one of these three priorities superior to the other? No, they are all valid forms of play. They can all be fun. I doubt anyone really wants one of those three priorities to always be emphasized. Developing a non-judgmental language and actually talking is the way to make actual play better.

    Just some thoughts.

    Gary

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    Ed Zachary Guest
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    Quote Originally Posted by gdmcbride View Post
    Ed does not suck because Ed wants competition in his game.
    Thanks Gary, I think...

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    Quote Originally Posted by gdmcbride View Post
    Ed does not suck because Ed wants competition in his game.
    So, what you're saying is that Ed sucks for a variety of other reasons, just not that one...

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    Ed Zachary Guest
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    Exactly...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Farcaster View Post
    So, what you're saying is that Ed sucks for a variety of other reasons, just not that one...

    Actually I'm saying that Ed may suck, but not because of that. I leave it to other wise heads to judge his overall suckitude.

    And to try desperately to get this conversation back to something substantive I also notice that Farcaster mentions dissatisfaction with a game because the players don't have buy-in to his story. That reveals to me a problem of priorities between GM and player. The Players want action, violence, victory -- in a word 'competition'. The GM wants "a delicately woven tale of deceit, treachery, and intrigue".

    What is to be done? Fundamentally the GM has four option:

    1. Do Nothing
    2. Quit the Game
    2. Change the Player's Priorities
    3. Change his Focus

    Option 1 and 2 are beyond the scope of this discussion and ultimately don't deal with the problem. Option 3 is a difficult task even under the best of circumstances. Game styles are matters of personal preference. Option 3 is very similar to convincing someone who loves mint chocolate chip ice cream to instead love rocky road. The only way to try is to let them sample another flavor and even that will often fail as they return to the old favorite.

    The only real option is four -- change himself, the only real thing he can really effect. If all of your best sessions are combat driven, make your story serve those goals.

    Why should the PCs care about your story? Because it helps them in combat. Say your PCs are going to fight Death Mummies. You want to introduce a back story about how the Death Mummies were once ancient kings who ruled the land who went mad because they fell into the worship of dark gods. Make sure the Death Mummies back story reveals a fatal weakness that makes the well-nigh invincible Death Mummies defeatable. Story supports combat. Once the players catch on that listening to the story helps them be bad-asses they have real incentive to start paying attention.

    Again just some thoughts.

    Gary

  11. #11
    Ed Zachary Guest
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    Quote Originally Posted by Farcaster View Post
    Despite all my best efforts, sometimes I have this feeling that my game is just in a rut. In my minds-eye, I have crafted a delicately woven tale of deceit, treachery, and intrigue, but somehow it seems to loose something in the execution. I just can't get my players engaged in the roleplaying delicacies of my grand story, and I found myself wondering, how can I get my players more engaged in roleplaying.
    I am not trying to be critical, but a few word here caught my eye.

    "I have crafted a delicately woven tale..."

    "I just can't get my players engaged in the roleplaying delicacies of my grand story"

    I have never heard any of the details of any of your games, and as far as I know none of your players post here. Previously you mentioned something else that I found different... that your players have never seen their character sheets, that you control and modify them.

    When I role play, I usually play to my strengths, but some of the most entertaining moments happen when I deliberately play to my weaknesses. Perhaps if your players had their character sheets in hand, that their role playing and interest would improve.

    You also mentioned "your grand story" that "you wove". That left me wondering how much influence and control you've allowed your players take in the direction of the campaign, and their characters take in influencing the world around them.

    And one last thing... are you the sole DM? Would you ever consider allowing one of the other players to DM every once in a while, placing new characters in a different part of the campaign world?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Zachary View Post
    And one last thing... are you the sole DM? Would you ever consider allowing one of the other players to DM every once in a while, placing new characters in a different part of the campaign world?
    The last campaign in which I had the chance to play was set a Birthright style world. For three weekends the the reg DM was in charge. On the fourth week of the month the DM would change to one of the chars in the group. The temp DM would manufacture some Arch villains and craft a mini adventure with pre-made characters. This temp adventure was a way for that player to add intrigue into the existing plot or set up further adventure for the party. When I asked the DM why he did that, he said it was a chance to see the different styles each of us had for playing. Looking back I noticed that each of us set up encounters or a story comparable to our play styles.

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    Not sure if this fits, but I stopped using the Champions/Hero system because of ROLL-Players and took up the Marvel Super Heroes RPG (Classic) system to help facilitate ROLE-Playing.

    It was a remarkable shift of gears because no longer does it take 3 hours real time to run a 30 second game time combat. And, it allows more 'story' time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gdmcbride View Post
    Farcaster mentions dissatisfaction with a game because the players don't have buy-in to his story. That reveals to me a problem of priorities between GM and player... The only real option is four -- change himself, the only real thing he can really effect.
    I wouldn't say that the players don't have buy-in to the story. They do enjoy it. The disconnect is that two out of three don't enjoy the roleplaying/diplomatic aspects of the game as much. As far as I know, they do like the story behind the campaign.

    The problem isn't that all the players enjoy mostly combat driven games, it is that two of us enjoy a more balanced ratio of combat to roleplay and the other half of the group enjoys the strategic, combat driven aspect. Just saying, "Buck up, soldier, and suck it up," isn't going to work. My goal is for everyone to enjoy themselves at the game, myself included. So, what I'm wondering about is how other GMs balance these disparate tastes.

    I also must disagree that each player's preference for the amount of combat versus roleplaying in a game is an "artificial distinction." D&D can be boiled down to just playing out "Miniatures" scenarios if you wanted to (100% combat/Virtually no Roleplay) or it could be taken to the other extreme with 100% roleplay/Virtually no Combat. Some people like those. I'm not much into either. This is definitely a difference in player preference.



    Quote Originally Posted by Ed Zachary View Post
    I have never heard any of the details of any of your games, and as far as I know none of your players post here. Previously you mentioned something else that I found different... that your players have never seen their character sheets, that you control and modify them.
    That was something that we used to do in 2nd edition. With all the complexity of characters and their options as they are today, we do not use that system any more. The only thing that they don't know for sure is what their exact hitpoints are. (And by the by, they do visit these forums, they just don't usually post in the public sections of the boards)

    You also mentioned "your grand story" that "you wove". That left me wondering how much influence and control you've allowed your players take in the direction of the campaign, and their characters take in influencing the world around them.
    The decisions and actions the players make can have huge impacts on the direction of the game. However, there are events in the story that are unfolding as time marches on. How those events unfold and how bad it is for their side (of the war) depends on what they've done in the game so far.

    And one last thing... are you the sole DM? Would you ever consider allowing one of the other players to DM every once in a while, placing new characters in a different part of the campaign world?
    Yes, I am the only DM, and the players like it that way. None of them are terribly interested in running a game. However, even if they were, I'd be more apt to switch off games with them and rotate--allow them to tell their own story without being confined to what's going on in my world.
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    Oh, PS:

    If my players don't jump into the story I'm telling, I make sure it bites them in the ass during the combat session.

    IE: Gary's Death Mummies. - If the players didn't RP talking to the constable and eventually pick up the Eye of Osiris - the only thing that could defeat the mummies, then they're SoL and will discover this during the combat sequence where they get their stuff handed to them. So, then they're forced to go back and talk to the constable to get the Eye and have to do the battle all over again.

    -but I'm just mean like that.

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