Are you content to do all the story yourself?

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A lot of good DM advocates letting the players contribute to the story.   Have them suggest bits and pieces, or throw in some "maybe this happened, then this", or "while I was away, I....", etc.

Except with my current group, this approach simply doesn't work.    All but two of them (one, really) have no interest in creating backgrounds, story elements or the like.    They are very tactical players, and while they will roleplay a tiny bit, they are generally quiet during non-combat encounters.

As someone who runs almost all homemade adventures, I've always felt it important that a DM write for group he has.    Thus, I put in fewer role-playing encounters, and have most of them be of the combat or trap varieties.

I do what I can to encourage roleplaying, but with very limited success.   I'm almost always DM but have been a player a few times and laid on the roleplaying very thick, to try to spark more.    Ah, well.

Two questions:

Do you think it's ok if one of the players does most of the roleplaying/speaking for the party?   The rest are happy to throw their opinions in on tactics, but generally have little or nothing to say outside of combat unless I ask them pointed questions directly.

Would you, as a DM, be content with creating almost all the story yourself, with little to no creative input from the group?   They always seem to enjoy what I come up with, and I've tried forcing them to create backstories, and building a campaign around them, but received mildly enthusiastic reactions at best.  
I've actually faced something almost identical to what you're describing.  Personally here's how I handled it/what I think.

For your first question, I think it's fine that one PC does the majority, because everyone seems to be happy with it.  If everyone is enjoying it and having fun (yourself included of course), then it's okay.  Maybe try throwing a few things that you think may excite the other PCs just to see if you can interest them, but if they don't bite, that's fine too.

Regarding the story creation, I've enjoyed times when my players have helped develop the story or world, because I really enjoy the collaboration and the effort of all telling a story together.  But I've also played in a game where my players were not that interested in developing and just wanted to be told a story and interact with it.  In that case I just work with what they've given and instead of relying on backgrounds that they have created, I use past events in the game (maybe they attacked someone important and as a result X, Y, and Z happens).  That way it's still interesting and still involves the PC and the character's life...even if they didn't write it per se.

 
I might have been, once, but not anymore.

Actually, I still do a lot of creation on my own, but I know that if I get stuck on something it's ok, and actually a very good idea to ask my players what is happening around them, or what something means, or other details.

"Forcing" the players to do anything is not a good approach. If one wants to roleplay, nothing can stop them. If they don't want to roleplay, nothing can make them. I'll roleplay a boardgame without even thinking about it, but if someone tells me to write a backstory I'll shut down.

The key to engagement is to ask questions leading. There's a notice on the door: what does it say? You've seen this person before: where? Something he just said piques your interest: what was it? From the responses, not only do you get hooks for taking the game in a direction even you weren't intending, but you're guaranteed that the players who answered those questions will be interested to see what their answers lead to.

By the way, "roleplaying" is not just "speaking." Tactical combat is full of roleplaying opportunities, in (if nothing else) the ways in which the characters choose and pursue goals. This can be hard to see if the only goals are "stay alive" and "kill all the opponents," so try interspersing some other goals. What if one of the monsters has a task to complete and if it completes in then the players suffer a setback both in the combat and in the larger quest? They'll have to decide if it's worth trying to kill that creature in the round or so they have, or if they had better take care of the larger threats first. Yes, this can be handled tactically, but you have a chance to see the players considering story consequences instead of just player consequences.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

As someone who runs almost all homemade adventures, I've always felt it important that a DM write for group he has.



Yes, that's a good idea.

I do what I can to encourage roleplaying, but with very limited success.   I'm almost always DM but have been a player a few times and laid on the roleplaying very thick, to try to spark more.    Ah, well.



Could you define what you refer to as "roleplaying?" It has a lot of different meanings to people.

Do you think it's ok if one of the players does most of the roleplaying/speaking for the party?



Sure. But not all of the conversation of the game is a given player interacting with an NPC or making a decision at a plot point. Sometimes it's just what a character thinks about something or what they think is going to happen next. Or what the source of that weird smell and clicking sound really is.  

The rest are happy to throw their opinions in on tactics, but generally have little or nothing to say outside of combat unless I ask them pointed questions directly.



In the style being advocated, you should ask them questions, by being genuinely curious about what they're doing, why it matters to them, and what their characters think about things or other characters. I try to make my games a flowing conversation. It's a skill like any other GMing skill - it requires practice. Once you've done it enough, it's perfectly natural and every player I've seen at my table, online or otherwise, gets right into it. Before you know it, there is a ton of fiction being created as everyone bounces off each other's ideas. All of these ideas are very useful to the GM.

Would you, as a DM, be content with creating almost all the story yourself, with little to no creative input from the group?



I have done it. I probably won't do it again. Certain issues crop up in this style of play and often one of them is lack of player engagement. If I see players that are solely focused on the combat or are not interested in what's going on, I take that as a symptom of bad design or delivery on my part by and large.

They always seem to enjoy what I come up with, and I've tried forcing them to create backstories, and building a campaign around them, but received mildly enthusiastic reactions at best.  



Backstories are best when they come about through character to character interaction or through Q&A as part of the conversation. Bob throws down a power card and declares several enemies around him dead as disco. "Wow, that was a great move and all around you spurts the gore of your foes. Where did Ragnar learn such a powerful maneuver?" Bob can say anything he wants right now and *poof*, it now exists in the world, provided it builds on established fiction. His answer might raise one or two follow-up questions from the GM. Within just a short interaction, you know that Ragnar was actually raised by monks and that the monastery was burned down by orcs some time ago. You as GM have some new story to work with, as do the other players who might build upon that when asked questions next. And you're sure Bob's going to be interested in it because he made it up, so you use it... orcs are in the next adventure, or monks, or an NPC survivor of the attack on the monastery with important news.

Long story short, backstories written beforehand are okay for creative constraint and to bring the motivations of a character into focus, but they can also be a way to paint yourself into some very uninteresting corners. If you just establish that stuff in play organically, as it happens, after a few sessions, you will have some really fleshed out characters and a story that involves elements that the players really enjoy - because they came up with them together.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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One of the things I've done (which I consider the single best thing I've ever done as a DM) is to ask for what I call Threes.

Three Virtues and Three Vices
Three Friends and Three Enemies
Three Past Defining Events and Three Future Goals.

Its nowhere near as extensive as a backstory (you can probably do them all on one page). Yet, for a DM, it provides all sorts of wonderful stuff, and helps the player grasp their own character.

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@Ogiwan That is pretty much full of win. Stolen.

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One of the things I've done (which I consider the single best thing I've ever done as a DM) is to ask for what I call Threes.

Three Virtues and Three Vices
Three Friends and Three Enemies
Three Past Defining Events and Three Future Goals.

Its nowhere near as extensive as a backstory (you can probably do them all on one page). Yet, for a DM, it provides all sorts of wonderful stuff, and helps the player grasp their own character.

Yes, that's very cool, but if it's forced on a player, it's not going to get much of anywhere.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

One of the things I've done (which I consider the single best thing I've ever done as a DM) is to ask for what I call Threes.

Three Virtues and Three Vices
Three Friends and Three Enemies
Three Past Defining Events and Three Future Goals.

Its nowhere near as extensive as a backstory (you can probably do them all on one page). Yet, for a DM, it provides all sorts of wonderful stuff, and helps the player grasp their own character.

Yes, that's very cool, but if it's forced on a player, it's not going to get much of anywhere.




This.    Ogiwan, it's great advice.   But honestly, for some of my players it's a struggle getting them to come up with anything more than a character name.    "Three Past Defining Events and Three Future Goals" would seem like a massively unfun homework assignment to most of them, and my group is all aged mid 30's and up.
Bah.  Remember, it's not just about the players.  If you aren't having fun, that is not alright either.

Throw some stuff at those players and force the issue.  Say there's this big negotiation going on.  Your one player who deals with everything has been doing his job.  Well, the ones he is talking to notice that the others don't say anything.  "And what about them?  Are they here for decoration, or do they do whatever you say?"

It may be that they don't feel stimulated during these times.
Yes, that's very cool, but if it's forced on a player, it's not going to get much of anywhere.

This is key. It's good practice to ask for things like this, but don't demand it. Personally, I'd be happy with one of each, two would be awesome. I'm also more interested in what a character wants than what he did before the game excepting only how it relates to his/her current goals. 

Regarding original question: in the broadest sense, I want to do the setting and let the players do the story. I like setting up situations and introducing NPCs with their own motives and see what the players do with that. This is something at which I've grown more adept as the campaign advances. I do throw out hooks now and then, but carefully as my group WILL take a hook.

Iserith's idea of dynamically filling in the past is not only effective, but fun. Some of the more memorable backstory tidbits have come from that. Usually along the lines of: "You've seen something like this before, tell us about that." Frequently I get not only fun information but "world-changing" ideas.

Bah.  Remember, it's not just about the players.  If you aren't having fun, that is not alright either.

Throw some stuff at those players and force the issue.  Say there's this big negotiation going on.  Your one player who deals with everything has been doing his job.  Well, the ones he is talking to notice that the others don't say anything.  "And what about them?  Are they here for decoration, or do they do whatever you say?"

It may be that they don't feel stimulated during these times.



Well, I am still having fun.   I love the creative process, creating worlds, cities, encounters, interesting NPCs, etc.   Lately I've been trying to always have at least one tag-along NPC with the group so I can even roleplay it from my side of the screen.

      Regarding making them more creative, I've had talks with them all, both at and away from the table, and most have flat out told me they don't want to roleplay, invent backgrounds, and so on.   The one dedicated rp'er I have in the group laments the lack of contribution from the others in that department, but otherwise seems content to take the lead in any diplomatic situations.  The rest have told me how glad they are that they have a player like that in the group.
      A few are your basic min/maxer types who will happily spend two hours creating a character, tweaking every feat and such, but put no effort whatsoever into the character's personality or motivations.   I even have one player who is fine with letting someone else create his character, and have it handed to him for a quick glance 5 minutes prior to game start.   He's told me straight up that the thought of spending even 30 minutes pouring over feats and powers, let alone personality sounds like the epitome of boredom to him.    *Shrug, to each his own.

     However, I will try your exact suggestion to see what happens.
This.    Ogiwan, it's great advice.   But honestly, for some of my players it's a struggle getting them to come up with anything more than a character name.    "Three Past Defining Events and Three Future Goals" would seem like a massively unfun homework assignment to most of them, and my group is all aged mid 30's and up.



You're right. It is a very unfun homework assignment to a lot of people who just want to show up and play. That's why I recommend this sort of backstory stuff be a matter of emergent play when a player is inspired because of an interesting moment or turn of events, followed up by the right questioning by the DM. If you're playing 3.X or 4e, it's often already a major investment in time to create a character. You don't need to add onto that with backstories or the like. That stuff can be discovered by everyone, player and DM, during actual play.

I generally plug my fingers in my ears and shout "Lalalalala" whenever someone tries to tell me their backstory before the game has started... tell me when we're actually playing which is the time when it's at least relevant and maybe even a little poignant.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Is it OK that they don't contribue to the plot? Sure. Many DMs really do well in this sort of environment. If I were the DM? The game would fall apart prettpushy quick and probably be boring. I do best when I have very invested PCs. 


I want 2-3 plot hooks for your PC, and I want you to actively bring at least one of them up fairly regulalrly. I see my goal as DM as the one who is there to facilitate your stories, not the one to come up with it. 


I try to come up with a setting, and maybe one big plot that happens in the background. I expect the players to come up with the stuff inbetween. 


I don't force them to participate, and have one regular who literally runs starcraft on a netbook when there isn't combat. That said, I think the other players push plots and stuff enough to make up for him. 

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Talk to the players. Get to know them a little better, and find out what they are interested in doing, figure out what their expectations are, and whether you are meeting them; be sure you let them know what your expectations and interests are, too.

Are you all having fun, and getting what you want from the game?

If so, it ain't broke, don't fix it.

If the one guy doing all the decision-making is not enjoying himself and wants the other players to share some of that responsibility, that would be the time for that player to speak up and ask for help. If some of the other players want to try some of that but can't really figure out how to get their feet in the door, that's the time for them to speak up and tell you what would help them get into their roles a little more. This won't be a one-time conversation, either: tastes change, people learn new things, get bored with the status quo and want to try new things, and so on - chat with the players regularly.

I've come to believe that there are upwards of a half-dozen different types of RPG playing styles, more than just "role-player vs. gamer", and not all of them are in the game for telling or listening to a story, or for putting on a good show or watching one. Some are content to gamble with a character's life and beat the dice game, others are in it for the tactical combat, others are in it to just hang out with friends and goof off for a while, others are just there to unwind and get permission to push their boundaries for a couple hours in a controlled environment to see what they can get away with, and so on.

I think most players have a mix of different styles, but I'm sure some are just not at all interested in carrying the story or being the dramatic center of attention. And, that's alright.

You can provide the water for your players' proverbial horses, and do what you can to assure them it's safe to drink, and if you do that much, you're doing your job; however, you can't make them drink it if they don't want to, or don't know how to, or don't have the personality for enjoying it.
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A PC, by default, already has a race, a gender, and a class.  If it then has a name and a rudimentary physical description, it then has a perfectly working narrative foundation.  Everything else is just gravy.  It's flavor, not the meal.

Story is nice, but telling a story isn't playing a game.  DMs make that mistake too.  It's easy to over emphasize the importance of story.  We could just sit around a bonfire and tell a story, without a grid, character sheet, or any dice.  But shared storytelling is only part of what draws a person to DnD.

If the players are invested in combat, then they are invested players, regardless of their taste for backstory or plot.  How much do you care about story when you play Tekken or Soul Caliber?  Maybe 1-in-5 actually take the book out of the case and read the backstories, or don't skip the cinematic intro, but the vast majority go to those games for the excitement of the combat and the challenge of mastering combos. 

Of course, you're not playing Tekken.  You're playing DnD.  But don't assume that story is what makes the difference.  DnD allows a tremendous amount of customization compared to most video games.  And DnD morphs in ways that consul games can't.  One minute you're engaged in tactical combat.  The next, you're playing Clue, solving a who-done-it and using raw instinct and bravado to flush out the villain.  Some times you're playing Monopoly, buying up property and leveraging assets to make a fortune and play political intrigue.  But none of that strictly depends on a PC's backstory and, even if a player isn't extremely inspired by those other faces of DnD, it still proves to be a lot less redundant than consul games tend to be.

If combat is what your players want, then give it to them.  If story is what you want, and you can't live without it, then find new players.  Finding one new player who enjoys telling a story could make all the difference in the world.  Otherwise, just make do with what you have.  Don't judge your players for preferring combat.
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I see no difference between story and combat. Every single one of the combats I've run tells a story on its own, especially once I start asking questions of my players as they lock up in melee with monsters and villains.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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If so, it ain't broke, don't fix it.



Otherwise, just make do with what you have.  Don't judge your players for preferring combat.



I agree with both sentiments.   While I do occasionally lament not being able to get most of my current group enthused about the story, I was curious as to what take other DM's had on it.  

The bottom line is everyone must be having fun, because they keep coming back week after week, year after year.   In any event, I'm grateful for the posts made by others in this thread as they have given me more ideas and I'll continue to try to draw my players in without stepping on what they enjoy.

I'm starting to think the word "story" means different things to different people. I believe this because I see a lot of delineating between "combat and story" or "combat and roleplaying" or "backstories and plot." So, much like "metagaming," "railroading," and other gaming buzzwords, "story" is fast becoming something that no longer has a set meaning. At least, from what I've been reading.

What does "story" mean to you?

To me, the "story" is the PCs and what they do. Everything else are just elements of that story.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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The OP implicitely defined 'story' for the purpose of this conversation as 'character's personal backstory and/or player's contribution to the details of the setting.'  That's what my comments are in response to.  Neither of those things are necessary for constructive gameplay.

I think we all agree that an evocative narrative greatly enhances combat, and it certainly wasn't my intention to imply that 'story' is something separate from combat.  The issue is whether or not the contribution of the players is necessary beyond the specific choices they make on their turn.  I'd prefer it, personally, but I wouldn't get upset with my players if their priority is to run around on a grid and roll dice, even at the expense of their character's personal details.
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And what does "story" mean to you?

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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And what does "story" mean to you?



The OP implicitely defined 'story' for the purpose of this conversation as 'character's personal backstory and/or player's contribution to the details of the setting.' 



Gaius got my intentions just right, for the purposes of this discussion.

Story can be anything and everything that's not rules mechanics.   Selecting a character class isn't story, selecting a theme or background can be.   The rules for leaping across a pit aren't story, the reasons for doing so (or not doing so) can be.   Etc.

And what does "story" mean to you?



I've been sitting here for a minute trying to pin down a good enough answer for that.  I'm not sure I really need to.  You know story when you see it.  You know mechanics when you see them, and story and mechanics overlap.


Sleeping with interns on Colonial 1
Aww, c'mon, gaiusbaltar, that sounds like you're being evasive. I'm not trying to corner you in some argument as I'm earnestly curious as to what the community defines as "story." To say that I'll know it when I see it perhaps illustrates exactly why I asked - because it's an issue of perception. The disparate nature of how people define "story" may in fact be very much linked with how DMs present their games to their players and why there can be lack of player interest or pushback in some areas. I defined how I see it. I'd like to see what other people think.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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I'd like to see what other people think.


Then make your own thread instead of derailing a thread about a dm who needs help.
Then make your own thread instead of derailing a thread about a dm who needs help.



No.

This thread is about player engagement. What I'm suggesting is very much related and we should explore it if there is interest. If you have no interest, don't explore it.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Then make your own thread instead of derailing a thread about a dm who needs help.



No.

This thread is about player engagement. What I'm suggesting is very much related and we should explore it if there is interest. If you have no interest, don't explore it.



Iserith, I don't know whether you intend it or not, but there is a hint of condescension in your posts.   When you word questions like "What does story mean to you?", you sound like a teacher talking to a child.

I've DM'd since the basic game well before AD&D existed.   I've run groups of all sorts of players, and the other posters are correct when they say that some players will never feel engaged by the story.   There is no suggestion of failure on any DM's part if some people are like this.

This thread was less about player involvement and more about whether other DM's are content to be the source of almost all the story creativity.
Iserith, I don't know whether you intend it or not, but there is a hint of condescension in your posts.   When you word questions like "What does story mean to you?", you sound like a teacher talking to a child.



I can't control the tone in which you read my posts. I can only say they aren't intended to be read in the tone you suggest.

I've DM'd since the basic game well before AD&D existed.   I've run groups of all sorts of players, and the other posters are correct when they say that some players will never feel engaged by the story.   There is no suggestion of failure on any DM's part if some people are like this.



I've DMed as long as that, too. That doesn't give us any added credibility.

As far as saying some players will never feel engaged by the story depends on what you mean by "story," I think, which is why I queried it. There's something to this in my opinion and I would have thought an involved discussion on the topic might have revealed some truths from which we could all benefit. I don't have any answers or pretend to. Discussion may have allowed us to discover some. If you're not interested, then I guess I'll move along.

Best of luck with your issue.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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I'll have the conversation with you, iserith.

I don't think I was being evasive at all.  I define 'story' the same way Cookie Monster defines 'cookie.'  It looks like story... smells like story... tastes like story... IS STORY!!!!!  I'm not being evasive.  The definition you're looking for is inherently elusive.

Context is what matters.  Draw for me a context and I'll point you to the story.  'Story' is like an electron.  I know what it is and where I should find it, but if I try to look at it, then it won't be there.  Instead, we need to define it by how it interacts with everything else.

Asking what story means to me is like asking me what the color blue looks like.  That's why you're facing such resistence.  For the purposes of _this_ conversation, the pertinent aspects of 'story' have been selected out - i. e., character backstory and/or player contribution to the details of the setting.  Trying to define it further is unnecessary.

Would you like to offer some other context for how one may define 'story?'  We may yet arrive at a definition that helps the OP shed some light on his concerns.  I certainly haven't ruled that out.
Sleeping with interns on Colonial 1
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