Structure First, Story Last

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I thought this was a really good blog post on building an imaginary play space in which a story can be built collaboratively rather than building the story first and then playing in it. It's relevant to a number of conversations going on here in these forums.

Here's an original link to the blog. (It's also not my blog, so I'm not self-promoting.) Enjoy:


I’ve been working a lot with how RPG sessions are run and planned.  What’s been bugging me is that it has always seemed difficult to find that right blend of preparation and improv as a GM.  I’ve run from both ends of the spectrum, and I’ve run in between.  In twenty or so years, I’ve hit what I feel is every major variation of running for and preparing a game.


And I still haven’t been happy.  I realized first that what has filled me with discontent is not the notion of preparation or improv or preparing to improv; it has been the notion of preparation itself.  Until recently I haven’t found a proceess that coincides with the way that I think an RPG should be run.  My process used to be something like:  Figure out a story, describe some situations, prepare the maths/crunchy bits go.  Sometimes there was more refinement to this, other times there was much less.


The first epiphany I had was:  Story is an artifact of play.  Re-phrasing: Story is the point of playing an RPG.  If story is the thing that you’re making,  you shouldn’t then fill your preparation with narrative.  Prepping story is like shovelling dirt in the hole that was dug to build a pool.  You’re going to need that space emptied for the players to do anything and to have fun.  Story is typically the first thing GMs build, trying to define the beginning middle and end of a narrative, when that in reality should be the thing that we do not define.  Story comes last, because creating the actions and reactions with the characters inside a fictional space is why we gather to play.


Instead we should build situations.  Adventure Burner does some great work describing what makes a great situation.  What I’ll add is that the best situations present an event, then also pose a question relating to that event.  A monster approaches the players, bellowing loudly. What does it want from the players?  In the answering of that question is where all of our play begins and then progresses.  You can add more or less detail to the situation, and you can ask more particular questions for followup.  Once you have the event and the questions (it should go without saying that these are implicit questions, not specifically posed to the players) you have created a space where play can happen.  Instead of filling the space of events with “if players do this, then that”, you let it be explicitly blank and powerful.


Underlying the creation of situations is what should be our first step: the creation of a structure.  What is the framework that the situations rest in?  What are the implicit genre assumptions we abide by?  What is the ultimate progression that events might lead us to?


More succinctly:  What sort of story do we want to see in play, and what is the best “box” for that story? For example, I’ve decided that I want to do a murder-mystery.  I know that structurally, the characters must be introduced to a crime (someone getting murdered), and then they the group will be involved in scenes where the interrogate and explore the people and environment. Finally, they will confront their suspect.


With this structure in mind, I know what elements that I need to create, and where the gaps will be left to fill up in play.  If I tried to think about this in terms of story first, it is certainly doable but in my experience it’s harder, because building story tends put you in a linear, narrative mode.  Building a a space for RPG play is best when you work from structure and fill out just the parts you need. Structure provides guidance but few answers. You shouldn’t be doing a lot of if this happens, then this will occur.  You are building key events and describing the flow of  play, then you consign yourself to what happens in play.


When you have a lot of story, it’s easy to go off-script.  When you have a lot of structure, you never go off-script, and you never truly waste elements.


Adventure Burner talks pretty deeply in this vein, and one of the many things I like about Marvel is that it already does a lot of what I’m talking about.  Because of Marvel’s structure-based adventure writing, you can play the Breakout intro adventure multiple times with the same people and never have the same story twice.  The event has a flow and it has elements, but little else.  You orient the players, spark the inciting situation, and boom! You’re all set for a few sessions.


I’ve also done a bit of chattering about situational play on the old site.


Earlier I mentioned experimenting with this kind of preparation.  A little bit at a time I’ve been building a 13th Age adventure called Hell’s Harvest that uses some of these principles.  If you want, you can follow along and see what you think.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver  |  Three Pillars of Immersion

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

I hate to post such a short reply to such a long OP, but in the example of the murder mystery would you prep by deciding who the murderer is, or would you just go "sure, why not" when the player makes a stab in the dark? I am not sure if you chose murder mystery on a whim, but to me it is one of the ones that needs the most planning.

In terms of watching or playing a murder mystery, I have found the joy is piecing together the clues & deducing who the murderer is. It's the challenge/fun of out-witting the enemy, or the feeling of success for knowing the answer. I know as a player I wouldn't feel any of those things if I know that I'm just making it up myself, there is no "true" murder/plot/mystery.

As an aside, have you ever looked into forum RPing? Where there is no mechanical system to abide by, where there is no story-generating DM, but where each poster actively creates & moves the plot forward? That seems to me what you are aiming to achieve as a DM.

Hey!

Iserith, thanks for the link!

Zippy, I wrote that article. First, did you look at the link for situational play on At-Will that the article links to?  That explains more that it's not necessarily about "less" prep (it ends up being that way), but about better prep.  Detailing everything that is going to happen in the game is a waste of time that ends up being a railroad or wasted energy.  

Games should have structure. Games should have elements - character, environment, mechanics. Games don't need plots. That doesn't mean NPCs can't have motivations, and it doesn't mean that events can't pop up to surprise the characters.  

And the answer is definitely not forum roleplaying This isn't something that only I randomly do.  Many people do play this way with general tabletop RPGs.  I played this way in 4e when I was playing it and we still had great battles and great RP.  It seems that you think that one can only either plan the whole story or it's a vague "artsy" exercise.  But that's not really how it works. It doesn't require the absence of mechanics to tweak your play this way.

A reader had left these links on the post and I think they are pretty awesome to share as well. 

thealexandrian.net/wordpress/4147/rolepl...

For murder-mysteries and mysteries in general:

thealexandrian.net/wordpress/1118/rolepl...


Hope that clarifies things for you on what I mean.  Obviously, play how you want to play, but I was stating my preference on my blog so I hope I don't have to apologize for that

Thanks,

Quinn 
@ Quinn: Sure thing, man! Thanks for putting so many thoughts I've been having into a coherent post. A lot of this stuff isn't new, but when it's parsed in a new way, it becomes easier to understand and makes it much easier to focus on what's important. Since I think prep is a barrier to DMing, anything that can be cut out of that process is a boon, not just for me, but to the hobby. Less/better prep means more DMs which means more groups and more people playing. That's a good thing.

@ Zippy: What Quinn said. Also, I probably wouldn't use D&D for a murder mystery adventure. There are better RPGs for that. While D&D is fairly broad as a game, it does one thing well and other things inconsistently. Right tool for the right job, and all that.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver  |  Three Pillars of Immersion

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Quinn - Zippy's post brings something to mind. The way you put it (and I agree) is that the point of us getting together to play an RPG is to create a story together.

That raises a question: If many DMs are writing the story (and I've done this myself, as have you), then what is it exactly the group is doing when they sit down to play? If the story is written, what is the purpose or goal of actual play?

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver  |  Three Pillars of Immersion

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Quinn - Zippy's post brings something to mind. The way you put it (and I agree) is that the point of us getting together to play an RPG is to create a story together.

That raises a question: If many DMs are writing the story (and I've done this myself, as have you), then what is it exactly the group is doing when they sit down to play? If the story is written, what is the purpose or goal of actual play?



To see how they can influence the story through their in-game decisions and actions. To see how what the DM had planned can be changed. To see how the PCs can make the story their own and what kind of life the players can build for their characters in a world not their own.

To be honest, I can never tell what you think of the other side. Do you believe DMs who sit down and write out a plot or plot points and some kind of basic structure or flow to the story do so very rigidly? I'm sure there are some who do. But most DMs I've met are much more relaxed and allow for an adaptable storyline so as to avoid railroading.

For example, most of my prep is influenced by decisions made in prior sessions so I have a direction to run with during prep. That way, their decisions have effected the future and twisted what I come up with.

In my current campaign, I had intended the following flow to the story:

A locally famous group of mercenaries work out of a town they've been in for years. One day they are approached by the captain of the guard to do a job for them. The job requires investigation into a string of grisly murders. After investigating several scenes and fighting off mysterious forces they were to be led into the forest where the bugbears lived. This would allow them to discover a piece of the bigger picture and when they return to town, it's burned to the ground and they become leaders who have to rebuild the town.

At the same time, I also include a job board in the tavern that allows them to take breaks between these main plot points. So they don't have to follow it all the time and I can focus on creating random interesting one shot adventures. This also allows for expansion on the world slowly and gives an even greater air of freedom to the world.

What actually happened:

The captain of the guard approached them and hired them. During the first investigation, they accidentally burned down the crime scene. This got them arrested. When they approached the guard captain to get them out of hot water, he denied ever asking them to do this. When surprised by this event, they realized that they never questioned the captain for details about the job or whether or not the job was on the up and up. That night, when they were in their prison cells, a corrupt guard came and tried to confiscate the locket. This led to him gutting the fighter and running off into the forest. After the captain of the guard finds them and patches them up, he explains the situation in full to them. They then pursue the corrupt guard into the forest. Which led to their capture (which they had the full potential to avoid). After being captured, I had intended for them to slaughter every single bugbear, but because I built an adaptable story, they managed to turn this on it's head and befriend the bugbears. The town still burned to the ground however because there are key NPCs in place who took advantage of their capture to push their own agenda (which required burning the town) into place.

Now, as you can see, they completely managed to bypass the string of grisly murders investigations, the job board quests, and were captured. All plot points I had never planned for from the start. I'm fairly certain that if I ran this story again with a different group, they would have a wildly different outcome despite the fact I still make key events happen to create or push a predetermined plot/story.
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
Eventually, I intend for the PCs to be dragged into the middle of a Mind-Flayer civil war over the Adversary while they build their town. As the Mind-Flayers are looking for the Adversary, who is currently going crazy as he tries to take his host and he is the one who caused the grisly murders, a plot point I will return them to as they rebuild.
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
To see how they can influence the story through their in-game decisions and actions. To see how what the DM had planned can be changed. To see how the PCs can make the story their own and what kind of life the players can build for their characters in a world not their own.



You've effectively made Quinn's point then. You can do all of that without the DM creating anything in the way of the story/plot. All you need is the structure - character, environment, mechanics. (I use Dungeon World's front-style, others may use another way.) Now, we can't argue if you should or shouldn't do that - it's your free time to spend after all. But the point is that you don't have to and you can get the same or better effect. (I find it's the latter.) It's extra work that you can simply do in game after you've established the basic structure. In a hobby that suffers from a lack of DMs (or good DMs in particular), lessening or focusing the prep is a good thing. It could have the effect of increasing the number of DMs and thus the number of people playing. The biggest hurdle I hear from people when I ask why they don't DM is "Too much work." It certainly doesn't have to be.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver  |  Three Pillars of Immersion

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

To see how they can influence the story through their in-game decisions and actions. To see how what the DM had planned can be changed. To see how the PCs can make the story their own and what kind of life the players can build for their characters in a world not their own.



You've effectively made Quinn's point then. You can do all of that without the DM creating anything in the way of the story/plot. All you need is the structure - character, environment, mechanics. (I use Dungeon World's front-style, others may use another way.) Now, we can't argue if you should or shouldn't do that - it's your free time to spend after all. But the point is that you don't have to and you can get the same or better effect. (I find it's the latter.) It's extra work that you can simply do in game after you've established the basic structure. In a hobby that suffers from a lack of DMs (or good DMs in particular), lessening or focusing the prep is a good thing. It could have the effect of increasing the number of DMs and thus the number of people playing. The biggest hurdle I hear from people when I ask why they don't DM is "Too much work." It certainly doesn't have to be.



I'm just going to facepalm and walk away from this conversation now.
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
Personally, I don't think ill of anyone who preps a tight storyline.  It's weird because when I say these things, people automatically assume I have no experience the other way.  I've been playing RPGs for nearing thirty years.  I've tried a lot of ways to prep and play adventures.  The fact that you think that we might see "sides" is so...odd to me. What sides are there?  What's the opposition?  I didn't create it.  I didn't say "you're wrong! Change!"  I just stated something I found to be helpful, and highlighted a cognitive change that I made some time ago.  

What I know from experience is that yes, you can adapt to what players do.  Good GMs are willing to give up their plan and flow with the players. My question is:  Knowing that you are going to have to give up your plans, why are you planning so much?  In the exact scenario you describe, you could have prepped.

The initial situation (players offered a job)
stats for possible foes (guards/bugbears/etc)
clues (what's at the crime scenes?)
event (town burning to the ground when players leave)
scene(bugbear showdown at their hideout)

And had the same experience.  Did you need to prep the part in the story where characters become leaders?  Did you have to prep all the other sub-encounters while they investigate?  Since you concede you are going to throw that out or tweak it heavily to follow player choice, why not leave out the parts that dictate or depend on player choice, and let the game flow as it will? Why not just stick to the events and let the story be written by the interaction of players with events?

It's fine to have a basic structure (in fact, my article is arguing for a focus on structure rather than on specific pre-determined stories and plots) to make the prep you do do more fruitful and impactful.

I'm going to repeat: Me stating my thoughts on my blog is not me making sides or telling you you're doing it wrong  
I'm going to repeat: Me stating my thoughts on my blog is not me making sides or telling you you're doing it wrong  



Unfortunately, that's how many people take it. For evidence, see every other thread on these forums. I think it's a D&D community thing more than anything else. Other game forums I frequent don't have this level of animosity or defensiveness.

Great points in the rest of your post. 

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver  |  Three Pillars of Immersion

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

This is the sort of thing that should be in the next DMG. Not as "how to do it" but as a way to be considered along side others.
Personally, I don't think ill of anyone who preps a tight storyline.  It's weird because when I say these things, people automatically assume I have no experience the other way.  I've been playing RPGs for nearing thirty years.  I've tried a lot of ways to prep and play adventures.  The fact that you think that we might see "sides" is so...odd to me. What sides are there?  What's the opposition?  I didn't create it.  I didn't say "you're wrong! Change!"  I just stated something I found to be helpful, and highlighted a cognitive change that I made some time ago.  

What I know from experience is that yes, you can adapt to what players do.  Good GMs are willing to give up their plan and flow with the players. My question is:  Knowing that you are going to have to give up your plans, why are you planning so much?  In the exact scenario you describe, you could have prepped.

The initial situation (players offered a job)
stats for possible foes (guards/bugbears/etc)
clues (what's at the crime scenes?)
event (town burning to the ground when players leave)
scene(bugbear showdown at their hideout)

And had the same experience.  Did you need to prep the part in the story where characters become leaders?  Did you have to prep all the other sub-encounters while they investigate?  Since you concede you are going to throw that out or tweak it heavily to follow player choice, why not leave out the parts that dictate or depend on player choice, and let the game flow as it will? Why not just stick to the events and let the story be written by the interaction of players with events?

It's fine to have a basic structure (in fact, my article is arguing for a focus on structure rather than on specific pre-determined stories and plots) to make the prep you do do more fruitful and impactful.

I'm going to repeat: Me stating my thoughts on my blog is not me making sides or telling you you're doing it wrong  



I understand that, but there's no harm in prepping as much as you can, because you simply don't know where the PCs will go. Sometimes they follow the path, sometimes they drive a bulldozer through the forest.

For the record, I never said that iserith's style is wrong. He asked a question, I presented my method. His response is less than I liked, as he seems only concerned with why proving less DM prepping is a good thing than considering the values of my own method.

As for prepping, have you ever considered that more prep can make it easier to share your campaign with other DMs (as I have done here) or even better, run it a second time on your own? Also, the DM does not always have to change his plans. There are various smaller (adventure/session specific) plans I implemented throughout thus far and will return to.

If I'm going to just completely and totally wing it during the game by asking my players, I can no longer view that as DMing. As the game from it's inception wasn't designed or intended to be played that way. Yes, it may have aspects that encourage smaller points of the shared storytelling style, but bringing the players in on the DM's side of thing no longer makes it a game. And from my point of view, I want a healthy balance between the game and the roleplaying and the story.

I have criticized it as "lazy DMing" to bring the players in before, and I think I will still critique it as such. At the very least, I can't view it as anything more than a DM wish to be a player, in which case, just go do that.

I still stand by my statement that forcing players to cope with a certain set of events the DM creates and enforces, gives way to more creative stories that emerge and definitely encourages critical thinking more than "think up whatever you like and I'll make it work". Of course, I understand iserith will attach stipulations to their ideas, but what's the point in doing that? It's like pulling the rug out from under them.

Also, sometimes, the players just don't want to do that much work. What's wrong with just doing it all yourself and letting them follow the story you create?  
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
There are a lot of different ways to play and enjoy role-playing games.

Sometimes I want a tightly plotted story that my character plays through without making too many choices, because, dammit, I make enough hard choices at my job and it's mentally exhausting.
Sometimes I want a loose story that emerges from the hard choices the characters make at the table.
Sometimes I just want to open the Monster Manual to a random page, kill the monster, take its stuff, lather, rinse repeat.
Sometimes I want all of those things in the same game.

I think the reason a lot of people struggle with this topic is because they don't articulate their desires, on either side of the DM screen. The DM might have in mind an emergent story, while the players would prefer something tighly plotted. Or vice versa. Or maybe part of the group wants one thing and another part wants another. Or maybe they change their mind halfway through the session. Or campaign.

If you don't talk it out, that lack of articulation can lead to discontent and a vague feeling of dissatisfaction.

My preferred solution? Talk it out. Take that which is unspoken or tacit and make it spoken or explicit. (A very useful technique we can borrow from psychoanalysis.) Come to an agreement about the game you, as a group, want to play. And note that it can be a short-term agreement: "Tonight we're all in a rambunctious mood so we're just going to bash monsters."

TL;DR -- There's no one right way to play the game. But, if you discuss your preferences as a group, I think you'll be more satisfied with the game you create.
"The initial situation (players offered a job)
stats for possible foes (guards/bugbears/etc)
clues (what's at the crime scenes?)
event (town burning to the ground when players leave)
scene(bugbear showdown at their hideout)

And had the same experience.  Did you need to prep the part in the story where characters become leaders?  Did you have to prep all the other sub-encounters while they investigate?  Since you concede you are going to throw that out or tweak it heavily to follow player choice, why not leave out the parts that dictate or depend on player choice, and let the game flow as it will? Why not just stick to the events and let the story be written by the interaction of players with events?"

 
In response to this, I prepped the town burning down when they return to do two things. 1, to be used as a cliffhanger to keep them interested in the next session. 2, to give an emotional impact once the real campaign started. What that emotional impact would be? That's open to interpretation. My players in particular, didn't grieve so much over the town but were excited that they get to build their own. If they had interacted more with the town through my intended flow? Probably would have grieved because they would have known some people and cared about various things.

But my method seeks to make a players care about a world I created, and get them invested in it. Yes, players will be invested and interested and will care about a world they create alongside the DM, but I see that as the easy path. As anyone will care about what they create. But as DM, getting them to care about something they didn't create, IMO, it's just more rewarding.
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/

TL;DR -- There's no one right way to play the game. But, if you discuss your preferences as a group, I think you'll be more satisfied with the game you create.




This.  Hey, if your game is working for you, rock on!  In part though I wrote this article in response to  the number I've times I've been talking with frustrated GMs who complpain about wasting prep or never being able to prep enough.  The goal isn't to never prep, but to prep the things that really need to be there.

But always, you have to mesh your style with another group's style.  If I run my way with people who are expecting me to hand them more plot, both sides of the screen get bored pretty fast.  It is vitally important to establish the type of experience you want ASAP.
I understand that, but there's no harm in prepping as much as you can, because you simply don't know where the PCs will go. Sometimes they follow the path, sometimes they drive a bulldozer through the forest.



Of course, nobody's saying prepping that much is harmful. That's the voice in your head that sees every post about a particular style as an attack on your own. It's not.

For the record, I never said that iserith's style is wrong. He asked a question, I presented my method. His response is less than I liked, as he seems only concerned with why proving less DM prepping is a good thing than considering the values of my own method.



I see no value in extra work for the sake of extra work. Because that's all it really is since you can get the same results without that work. If you want to do the extra work, as I said in my post - it's your free time, spend it how you like. We can't argue whether that's right or wrong and didn't.

If I'm going to just completely and totally wing it during the game by asking my players, I can no longer view that as DMing. As the game from it's inception wasn't designed or intended to be played that way. Yes, it may have aspects that encourage smaller points of the shared storytelling style, but bringing the players in on the DM's side of thing no longer makes it a game. And from my point of view, I want a healthy balance between the game and the roleplaying and the story.



Of course, nobody's advocating totally winging it either. That's the voice in your head again creating strawmen.

I have criticized it as "lazy DMing" to bring the players in before, and I think I will still critique it as such. At the very least, I can't view it as anything more than a DM wish to be a player, in which case, just go do that.



Pejoratively framing someone's style is so helpful to the discussion. You may actually be the first person I ever block, Lunar. Which is a shame because you might actually notice we agree on a ton of stuff, if you'd set your prejudices and strawmen aside.

I still stand by my statement that forcing players to cope with a certain set of events the DM creates and enforces, gives way to more creative stories that emerge and definitely encourages critical thinking more than "think up whatever you like and I'll make it work". Of course, I understand iserith will attach stipulations to their ideas, but what's the point in doing that? It's like pulling the rug out from under them.

Also, sometimes, the players just don't want to do that much work. What's wrong with just doing it all yourself and letting them follow the story you create?  



Again, you're making stuff up. Read the blog post again. "Set of events the DM creates and enforces" = "situations." And, yet again, nobody's saying your way is wrong. Stop arguing to argue for one second and think about what you're saying.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver  |  Three Pillars of Immersion

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

To see how they can influence the story through their in-game decisions and actions. To see how what the DM had planned can be changed. To see how the PCs can make the story their own and what kind of life the players can build for their characters in a world not their own.



You've effectively made Quinn's point then. You can do all of that without the DM creating anything in the way of the story/plot. All you need is the structure - character, environment, mechanics. (I use Dungeon World's front-style, others may use another way.) Now, we can't argue if you should or shouldn't do that - it's your free time to spend after all. But the point is that you don't have to and you can get the same or better effect. (I find it's the latter.) It's extra work that you can simply do in game after you've established the basic structure. In a hobby that suffers from a lack of DMs (or good DMs in particular), lessening or focusing the prep is a good thing. It could have the effect of increasing the number of DMs and thus the number of people playing. The biggest hurdle I hear from people when I ask why they don't DM is "Too much work." It certainly doesn't have to be.

I've used this approach of structure first, story last, with varied results.
The good side of it is, players have a lot more freedom. The great side of it is, the DM doesn't have to spend anywhere near as much time. Iserith's point that this method lessens prep time has been my experience with using this method.

In the current campaign I am running I used this method almost to the extreme. I started with absolutely nothing but a very simple map with 4 continents of fairly equal size in the 4 corners of the map. Mountains and coastlines. Not much else.

For the history of the world I did nothing but set an arbitrary number for what year it was and decided on a 400-day year. For flavor the sun and moon were a single orb in the sky that gradually changed.

For the pantheons, I decided on a simple concept for starters
- Old Gods (for druids, elementalists, nature priests, barbarian tribes, elves and such)
- New Gods (for paladins, good priests and more 'civilized' folk)
- Evil Gods (for evil priests and particularly evil types and monsters)

That was the full, absolute extent of the background work I did for the world.
We all got together for a character-making session. I asked the players to come up with what style campaign they would like to play and they started making characters. The only thing I required was for them to calculate their character's age and give me a background timeline for major events in their back stories, which I compiled neatly in a single notebook.

The very 1st player finished was to play a castrata bard who sang for the New Gods in the Temple of the Ten Virtues. His back story was that his father was an important lord, his older brother a famous knight and his mother died of an illness.

I used the 1st finished player's notes to help flesh out the other characters. Orphan? The same plague player 1's mom died of. Fighter? Trained as a squire under player 1's elder brother. Priest? New Gods?. What is the symbol? 10 pointed star sound good? Got a better one? Sounds good. I'll use both and say there is a recent schism in the church.

Bottom line... I started with little more than a simple map and a number and after an hour had enough material to work with for the rest of the session.

The only down side is... some players almost need to be led by the nose to get them going. Those players liked the amount of leeway they had in making their characters, but didn't know what to do once the character was made. As DM, without a major story-line pre-written I had to really be on my toes looking for opportunities to get players to do anything interesting. They were like little birds trapped in their cages. I opened their cage, but they wouldn't fly out.
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
I understand that, but there's no harm in prepping as much as you can, because you simply don't know where the PCs will go. Sometimes they follow the path, sometimes they drive a bulldozer through the forest.



Of course, nobody's saying prepping that much is harmful. That's the voice in your head that sees every post about a particular style as an attack on your own. It's not.

For the record, I never said that iserith's style is wrong. He asked a question, I presented my method. His response is less than I liked, as he seems only concerned with why proving less DM prepping is a good thing than considering the values of my own method.



I see no value in extra work for the sake of extra work. Because that's all it really is since you can get the same results without that work. If you want to do the extra work, as I said in my post - it's your free time, spend it how you like. We can't argue whether that's right or wrong and didn't.

If I'm going to just completely and totally wing it during the game by asking my players, I can no longer view that as DMing. As the game from it's inception wasn't designed or intended to be played that way. Yes, it may have aspects that encourage smaller points of the shared storytelling style, but bringing the players in on the DM's side of thing no longer makes it a game. And from my point of view, I want a healthy balance between the game and the roleplaying and the story.



Of course, nobody's advocating totally winging it either. That's the voice in your head again creating strawmen.

I have criticized it as "lazy DMing" to bring the players in before, and I think I will still critique it as such. At the very least, I can't view it as anything more than a DM wish to be a player, in which case, just go do that.



Pejoratively framing someone's style is so helpful to the discussion. You may actually be the first person I ever block, Lunar. Which is a shame because you might actually notice we agree on a ton of stuff, if you'd set your prejudices and strawmen aside.

I still stand by my statement that forcing players to cope with a certain set of events the DM creates and enforces, gives way to more creative stories that emerge and definitely encourages critical thinking more than "think up whatever you like and I'll make it work". Of course, I understand iserith will attach stipulations to their ideas, but what's the point in doing that? It's like pulling the rug out from under them.

Also, sometimes, the players just don't want to do that much work. What's wrong with just doing it all yourself and letting them follow the story you create?  



Again, you're making stuff up. Read the blog post again. "Set of events the DM creates and enforces" = "situations." And, yet again, nobody's saying your way is wrong. Stop arguing to argue for one second and think about what you're saying.



I never said I felt attacked. He asked my opinion, I responded. There's not much need to continue further between you and me, iserith. We know each other's opinions, you need not feel upset when someone posts an opposing viewpoint. None of my post was in defense.
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
To see how they can influence the story through their in-game decisions and actions. To see how what the DM had planned can be changed. To see how the PCs can make the story their own and what kind of life the players can build for their characters in a world not their own.



You've effectively made Quinn's point then. You can do all of that without the DM creating anything in the way of the story/plot. All you need is the structure - character, environment, mechanics. (I use Dungeon World's front-style, others may use another way.) Now, we can't argue if you should or shouldn't do that - it's your free time to spend after all. But the point is that you don't have to and you can get the same or better effect. (I find it's the latter.) It's extra work that you can simply do in game after you've established the basic structure. In a hobby that suffers from a lack of DMs (or good DMs in particular), lessening or focusing the prep is a good thing. It could have the effect of increasing the number of DMs and thus the number of people playing. The biggest hurdle I hear from people when I ask why they don't DM is "Too much work." It certainly doesn't have to be.

I've used this approach of structure first, story last, with varied results.
The good side of it is, players have a lot more freedom. The great side of it is, the DM doesn't have to spend anywhere near as much time. Iserith's point that this method lessens prep time has been my experience with using this method.

In the current campaign I am running I used this method almost to the extreme. I started with absolutely nothing but a very simple map with 4 continents of fairly equal size in the 4 corners of the map. Mountains and coastlines. Not much else.

For the history of the world I did nothing but set an arbitrary number for what year it was and decided on a 400-day year. For flavor the sun and moon were a single orb in the sky that gradually changed.

For the pantheons, I decided on a simple concept for starters
- Old Gods (for druids, elementalists, nature priests, barbarian tribes, elves and such)
- New Gods (for paladins, good priests and more 'civilized' folk)
- Evil Gods (for evil priests and particularly evil types and monsters)

That was the full, absolute extent of the background work I did for the world.
We all got together for a character-making session. I asked the players to come up with what style campaign they would like to play and they started making characters. The only thing I required was for them to calculate their character's age and give me a background timeline for major events in their back stories, which I compiled neatly in a single notebook.

The very 1st player finished was to play a castrata bard who sang for the New Gods in the Temple of the Ten Virtues. His back story was that his father was an important lord, his older brother a famous knight and his mother died of an illness.

I used the 1st finished player's notes to help flesh out the other characters. Orphan? The same plague player 1's mom died of. Fighter? Trained as a squire under player 1's elder brother. Priest? New Gods?. What is the symbol? 10 pointed star sound good? Got a better one? Sounds good. I'll use both and say there is a recent schism in the church.

Bottom line... I started with little more than a simple map and a number and after an hour had enough material to work with for the rest of the session.

The only down side is... some players almost need to be led by the nose to get them going. Those players liked the amount of leeway they had in making their characters, but didn't know what to do once the character was made. As DM, without a major story-line pre-written I had to really be on my toes looking for opportunities to get players to do anything interesting. They were like little birds trapped in their cages. I opened their cage, but they wouldn't fly out.



Mmm...I hung out with my players last night and urged them to come up with character backgrounds for their existing characters in the campaign. It's been 4 sessions that they've been using for them and they still haven't even named their characters. When I asked them to come up with backgrounds, their responses were "we have no idea what to do with them". I eventually got some more vague responses like "well, my character certainly isn't a parent" and he gave a rather vulgar reason as to why, which I won't go into detail on. I gave them some ideas, and they're still thinking on it. You'd think after 4 months, they'd have come up with a rough idea for the characters.

Most of the night however, was spent making new epic level characters for a future campaign. xD

But they are completely insistent upon finishing out the current campaign with the town they're building. They're too interested in it.

...WHAT'S A DM TO DO? XD LMFAO 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
But my method seeks to make a players care about a world I created, and get them invested in it. Yes, players will be invested and interested and will care about a world they create alongside the DM, but I see that as the easy path. As anyone will care about what they create. But as DM, getting them to care about something they didn't create, IMO, it's just more rewarding.

Many DMs are frustrated (or actual) novelists. They want to tell a story. I'll be the first to agree that there's a unique satisfaction in seeing players emotionally invested in the characters and events you imagined. It’s awesome. I’m not about to swear off that approach to D&D.

However, getting substantial input from your players opens up a new world of possibilities. The DM’s primary job is NOT to tell a story, it’s to facilitate fun at the table. I’ve used a little bit of cooperative world building/story telling here and there but just recently turned the cooperative element up to 11 and I’ve never seen my players more excited. Based on my experience, I’ll be using this approach for the foreseeable future.


That’s not to say that I’ll never again imagine a story I can subtly lead my players through. I’m still a storyteller at heart. But for now, I’m much more interested in what my players have to say.



EDIT: Got my topics a little scrambled. This comment probably belongs in the "Player Input" thread, but here it is. Embarassed
The only down side is... some players almost need to be led by the nose to get them going. Those players liked the amount of leeway they had in making their characters, but didn't know what to do once the character was made. As DM, without a major story-line pre-written I had to really be on my toes looking for opportunities to get players to do anything interesting. They were like little birds trapped in their cages. I opened their cage, but they wouldn't fly out.



There's a fix for this - location in motion. A sandbox very easily becomes a "quicksand" box if nothing is threatening the PCs or their goals. As Quinn says, after you create the structure (not the story/plot), "You orient the players, spark the inciting situation, and boom! You’re all set for a few sessions."

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver  |  Three Pillars of Immersion

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Mmm...I hung out with my players last night and urged them to come up with character backgrounds for their existing characters in the campaign. It's been 4 sessions that they've been using for them and they still haven't even named their characters. When I asked them to come up with backgrounds, their responses were "we have no idea what to do with them". I eventually got some more vague responses like "well, my character certainly isn't a parent" and he gave a rather vulgar reason as to why, which I won't go into detail on. I gave them some ideas, and they're still thinking on it. You'd think after 4 months, they'd have come up with a rough idea for the characters.





I understand that not everyone has the luxury of a large pool of players to choose from, and that beggars can't be choosers if you want to play.  But your players sound really really un-fun to DM for.

But my method seeks to make a players care about a world I created, and get them invested in it. Yes, players will be invested and interested and will care about a world they create alongside the DM, but I see that as the easy path. As anyone will care about what they create. But as DM, getting them to care about something they didn't create, IMO, it's just more rewarding.

Many DMs are frustrated (or actual) novelists. They want to tell a story. I'll be the first to agree that there's a unique satisfaction in seeing players emotionally invested in the characters and events you imagined. It’s awesome. I’m not about to swear off that approach to D&D.

However, getting substantial input from your players opens up a new world of possibilities. The DM’s primary job is NOT to tell a story, it’s to facilitate fun at the table. I’ve used a little bit of cooperative world building/story telling here and there but just recently turned the cooperative element up to 11 and I’ve never seen my players more excited. Based on my experience, I’ll be using this approach for the foreseeable future.


That’s not to say that I’ll never again imagine a story I can subtly lead my players through. I’m still a storyteller at heart. But for now, I’m much more interested in what my players have to say.







I concur. But I can't forget my own fun when at the table. And I have more fun telling stories, than I do following along with a story (at the table anyway).

Maybe one day, I'll give the shared storytelling thing a go, but I'll have to find new players for that. Mine have already rejected the concept and have difficulties making things up anyway. 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
Mmm...I hung out with my players last night and urged them to come up with character backgrounds for their existing characters in the campaign. It's been 4 sessions that they've been using for them and they still haven't even named their characters. When I asked them to come up with backgrounds, their responses were "we have no idea what to do with them". I eventually got some more vague responses like "well, my character certainly isn't a parent" and he gave a rather vulgar reason as to why, which I won't go into detail on. I gave them some ideas, and they're still thinking on it. You'd think after 4 months, they'd have come up with a rough idea for the characters.





I understand that not everyone has the luxury of a large pool of players to choose from, and that beggars can't be choosers if you want to play.  But your players sound really really un-fun to DM for.




I have a thread called "Recorded D&D Sessions". I posted a recording of our most recent session/adventure. It's 3 hours long, give it a listen. I think it's fun to DM for them, but for reasons completely different than what some of the other DMs here advocate.

And yes, where I live, the player pool is ridiculously tiny. I'd have to travel 30+ miles to attempt to find new players, and I just don't have the kind of money it would take to travel that far on a regular basis to play a game. 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
I understand that not everyone has the luxury of a large pool of players to choose from, and that beggars can't be choosers if you want to play.  But your players sound really really un-fun to DM for.



I was convinced this was the case since Lunar first posted a few weeks back. A lot of his views, styles, and techniques are because of his players, most assuredly. I know because I used to have those types of players and used to DM that way as a result.

Lunar, check out building a group online. I'll even help you set up your technology if you need assistance. Pen & Paper Games has a ton of people that play 3.5, too. Costs you nothing. You don't have to have people over to mess up your pad and you don't have to spend gas money getting anywhere. I do miss some of the camaraderie, but I can give that up if it means not smelling anyone else's farts, among other benefits.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Gen D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver  |  Three Pillars of Immersion

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

TL;DR -- There's no one right way to play the game. But, if you discuss your preferences as a group, I think you'll be more satisfied with the game you create.

Yes, this is what it comes down to.

You mention a variety of ways to play, though, and I come away feeling like there's a lot of potential for sudden swings there, to the degree that if a DM has focused on any one of those and arrives at the game to find that some or all of the players want something else based on their moods or their weeks, then the DM may have spent a lot of time and effort to please the players, without much immediate result from it. Thinking about elements that might make a good game almost always pays off in the long run, but it can still be frustrating.

I will admit that the only way to provide a tightly plotted story, or a consistent, detailed world, is to put in some work up front, so if that's what the players really want, the DM will need to work at it. What I've seen happen over and over though, is that the DM never seems to be truly ready. Complete worlds and stories take time, so one can either go in with a partial creation and hope the players will settle (hint: they probably will) or put off the game.

Or maybe I'm just projecting, because that's what's currently going on with me. We agreed to play Demon Queen's Enclave and the module, though well-crafted, isn't exactly what I want to run. But I don't have time to revise it. Lazy of me? Maybe. But there's nothing wrong with efficiency, and it's more efficient for me to understand what I can from the module to use as inspiration, and then ask the players to join me and create the scenes and people they want to interact with. Frankly, I don't think everyone could do what I did at the last session, even with hours of work, so if I come across as lazy, maybe it's just because I make it look easy.

But I'll be talking to my players, to make sure my little experiment is a direction they'd like to keep trying. Frankly, if they decide they'd prefer a writer-director kind of DM, and don't want to collaborate, I'll probably hand over the duty. But part of the reason I dislike that mode is because I know what good ideas my players have, and I don't want to quash them.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I understand that not everyone has the luxury of a large pool of players to choose from, and that beggars can't be choosers if you want to play.  But your players sound really really un-fun to DM for.



I was convinced this was the case since Lunar first posted a few weeks back. A lot of his views, styles, and techniques are because of his players, most assuredly. I know because I used to have those types of players and used to DM that way as a result.

Lunar, check out building a group online. I'll even help you set up your technology if you need assistance. Pen & Paper Games has a ton of people that play 3.5, too. Costs you nothing. You don't have to have people over to mess up your pad and you don't have to spend gas money getting anywhere. I do miss some of the camaraderie, but I can give that up if it means not smelling anyone else's farts, among other benefits.



I appreciate the offer, but I haven't the time or energy to be a DM to two games at once (I have other hobbies, a job, and various other social obligations). Just because I find new players who would be more creative, doesn't mean I'm going to up and abandon my style of DMing. I'll eventually give a different style a shot, but not now.

As for player pool size, don't get me wrong, just because I DM primarily for those two, doesn't mean I haven't DMed with other people (who were considerably more creative than these two on a non-stat driven level (they love stats)).

Besides, I'd need a webcam or at least a mic for my PC. Hardware costs money, and I'm lucky to get my bills paid.
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
TL;DR -- There's no one right way to play the game. But, if you discuss your preferences as a group, I think you'll be more satisfied with the game you create.

Yes, this is what it comes down to.

You mention a variety of ways to play, though, and I come away feeling like there's a lot of potential for sudden swings there, to the degree that if a DM has focused on any one of those and arrives at the game to find that some or all of the players want something else based on their moods or their weeks, then the DM may have spent a lot of time and effort to please the players, without much immediate result from it. Thinking about elements that might make a good game almost always pays off in the long run, but it can still be frustrating.

I will admit that the only way to provide a tightly plotted story, or a consistent, detailed world, is to put in some work up front, so if that's what the players really want, the DM will need to work at it. What I've seen happen over and over though, is that the DM never seems to be truly ready. Complete worlds and stories take time, so one can either go in with a partial creation and hope the players will settle (hint: they probably will) or put off the game.

Or maybe I'm just projecting, because that's what's currently going on with me. We agreed to play Demon Queen's Enclave and the module, though well-crafted, isn't exactly what I want to run. But I don't have time to revise it. Lazy of me? Maybe. But there's nothing wrong with efficiency, and it's more efficient for me to understand what I can from the module to use as inspiration, and then ask the players to join me and create the scenes and people they want to interact with. Frankly, I don't think everyone could do what I did at the last session, even with hours of work, so if I come across as lazy, maybe it's just because I make it look easy.

But I'll be talking to my players, to make sure my little experiment is a direction they'd like to keep trying. Frankly, if they decide they'd prefer a writer-director kind of DM, and don't want to collaborate, I'll probably hand over the duty. But part of the reason I dislike that mode is because I know what good ideas my players have, and I don't want to quash them.



Ultimately, it is about what kind of players you have to work with. But never forget about your own fun.

Any DM trying to get a payoff by investing/interesting players in the world will likely only be able to do it if he knows them well. It's most definitely a style that relies on time and knowledge of one another. The exception to this is having very maleable players who are interested in almost anything that comes up. Mine actually have that quality, and I have the benefit of knowing them well. I can create a very wide set of adventure types and they'd probably be up for playing almost all of them. Just don't ask them to come up with ideas. 

As for using a module Centauri, the great thing about that is that you can use only what you feel like. And it's not necessarily laziness to not modify the module. As you stated, it's not really the kind of thing you're interested in.

And lastly, I'll say that it's not always about quashing ideas of your players. Sometimes, it's about instilling your own and giving life to those. 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
But my method seeks to make a players care about a world I created, and get them invested in it. Yes, players will be invested and interested and will care about a world they create alongside the DM, but I see that as the easy path. As anyone will care about what they create. But as DM, getting them to care about something they didn't create, IMO, it's just more rewarding.

Many DMs are frustrated (or actual) novelists. They want to tell a story. I'll be the first to agree that there's a unique satisfaction in seeing players emotionally invested in the characters and events you imagined. It’s awesome. I’m not about to swear off that approach to D&D.

However, getting substantial input from your players opens up a new world of possibilities. The DM’s primary job is NOT to tell a story, it’s to facilitate fun at the table. I’ve used a little bit of cooperative world building/story telling here and there but just recently turned the cooperative element up to 11 and I’ve never seen my players more excited. Based on my experience, I’ll be using this approach for the foreseeable future.


That’s not to say that I’ll never again imagine a story I can subtly lead my players through. I’m still a storyteller at heart. But for now, I’m much more interested in what my players have to say.







I concur. But I can't forget my own fun when at the table. And I have more fun telling stories, than I do following along with a story (at the table anyway).

Maybe one day, I'll give the shared storytelling thing a go, but I'll have to find new players for that. Mine have already rejected the concept and have difficulties making things up anyway. 

The thing to do isn’t to announce a new style of play. Start with little things, like having them fill in some minor details. “You recognize the symbol etched in his sword – where have you seen it?” It can be a great way to dynamically build character backgrounds and tie them to the narrative. The first time you put a question like that to one of your players they may stare at you like a deer in headlights; that’s what happened at my table. If it does, tell him it’s cool, and to let you know later if his character remembers where he saw The Thing or The Person or The Whatsit. You might be surprised what develops.

But my method seeks to make a players care about a world I created, and get them invested in it. Yes, players will be invested and interested and will care about a world they create alongside the DM, but I see that as the easy path. As anyone will care about what they create. But as DM, getting them to care about something they didn't create, IMO, it's just more rewarding.

Many DMs are frustrated (or actual) novelists. They want to tell a story. I'll be the first to agree that there's a unique satisfaction in seeing players emotionally invested in the characters and events you imagined. It’s awesome. I’m not about to swear off that approach to D&D.

However, getting substantial input from your players opens up a new world of possibilities. The DM’s primary job is NOT to tell a story, it’s to facilitate fun at the table. I’ve used a little bit of cooperative world building/story telling here and there but just recently turned the cooperative element up to 11 and I’ve never seen my players more excited. Based on my experience, I’ll be using this approach for the foreseeable future.


That’s not to say that I’ll never again imagine a story I can subtly lead my players through. I’m still a storyteller at heart. But for now, I’m much more interested in what my players have to say.







I concur. But I can't forget my own fun when at the table. And I have more fun telling stories, than I do following along with a story (at the table anyway).

Maybe one day, I'll give the shared storytelling thing a go, but I'll have to find new players for that. Mine have already rejected the concept and have difficulties making things up anyway. 

The thing to do isn’t to announce a new style of play. Start with little things, like having them fill in some minor details. “You recognize the symbol etched in his sword – where have you seen it?” It can be a great way to dynamically build character backgrounds and tie them to the narrative. The first time you put a question like that to one of your players they may stare at you like a deer in headlights; that’s what happened at my table. If it does, tell him it’s cool, and to let you know later if his character remembers where he saw The Thing or The Person or The Whatsit. You might be surprised what develops.




They would know instantly what I'm doing, I've already exposed them to the style of play and this board so they can get a better read on it. They rejected it. And I'm not too keen on doing it myself.

The only thing I can be thankful of, is that they don't frequent the Internet often, so I have no worries of them spying on my campaign ideas (which, I could just change on the fly between sessions if they suddenly get smart on me). 
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
The thing to do isn’t to announce a new style of play. Start with little things, like having them fill in some minor details. “You recognize the symbol etched in his sword – where have you seen it?” It can be a great way to dynamically build character backgrounds and tie them to the narrative. The first time you put a question like that to one of your players they may stare at you like a deer in headlights; that’s what happened at my table. If it does, tell him it’s cool, and to let you know later if his character remembers where he saw The Thing or The Person or The Whatsit. You might be surprised what develops.

Right. Start small. Good idea.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

You mention a variety of ways to play, though, and I come away feeling like there's a lot of potential for sudden swings there, to the degree that if a DM has focused on any one of those and arrives at the game to find that some or all of the players want something else based on their moods or their weeks, then the DM may have spent a lot of time and effort to please the players, without much immediate result from it.

Yes! Exactly. That can, and does, happen.

And when it happens I think the best thing to do is to point it out at the table and see what you can do about it.

Players: We are in a skull-crackin' mood. Give us monsters to crush.
DM: Uh... based on last week's session I created an outline for a tension filled negotiation at the intrigue-filled courts of the Sun King.
Players: We appreciate you putting the time in, but we really want to crush skulls.
DM: OK, how about this. Somehow it slipped the King's mind, but it's time for the annual Orc Skull Cracking Games. [quickly sets up a map and some monsters] Roll for initiative, b*tches.
[... later ...]
Players: That was awesome. Thanks for indulging us. Next week we'll be ready for intrigue.        

That would be an ideal outcome.

I do think that if the players (or DM!) are contantly changing their mind about what kind of game they want to play, it might indicate some deeper sense of dissatisfaction.

Or maybe you've just got highly mutable players, in which case you need to realize that's how it's going to be, and make your peace with it. (Or, y'know, don't -- and seek new players, a new DM, a new system, or all of the above.)
And when it happens I think the best thing to do is to point it out at the table and see what you can do about it.

Yes, you can go from a planned out game to a quick and easy or improvised game. It's not really possible to go the other way. So I suppose being highly prepared is the only way to cover all the bases, unless one can just talk to the players. I guess I'll make it clear to my players that I'm not very interested in running a highly prepared game anymore.


[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

To see how they can influence the story through their in-game decisions and actions. To see how what the DM had planned can be changed. To see how the PCs can make the story their own and what kind of life the players can build for their characters in a world not their own.



You've effectively made Quinn's point then. You can do all of that without the DM creating anything in the way of the story/plot. All you need is the structure - character, environment, mechanics. (I use Dungeon World's front-style, others may use another way.) Now, we can't argue if you should or shouldn't do that - it's your free time to spend after all. But the point is that you don't have to and you can get the same or better effect. (I find it's the latter.) It's extra work that you can simply do in game after you've established the basic structure. In a hobby that suffers from a lack of DMs (or good DMs in particular), lessening or focusing the prep is a good thing. It could have the effect of increasing the number of DMs and thus the number of people playing. The biggest hurdle I hear from people when I ask why they don't DM is "Too much work." It certainly doesn't have to be.

You can get the same effect IF you are very good at winging it. Having more background beforehand gives you more to work with when you wing it. It makes winging it easier.

Focusing any prep work before hand is of course a good thing. Lessening the NEED for prep work is a good thing but that doesn't mean the prep work is a waste of time.

If you prep a plot involving a squinty eyed shady merchant planning to kidnap the baron's daughter, the players still have all kinds of choices once they discover the plot... they can warn the baron and call it a day, they can try to stop him themselves, they can blackmail the merchant, they can wait until the merchant succeeds and then see if the baron offers a reward, they can wait until the merchant succeeds and then take the girl from the merchant as a sacrifice for their evil gods, they can choose not to become involved, they can try to convince the merchant to repent his ways, they might be convinced by the merchant that he is trying to help the girl (he may very well be), or a million other things could happen, all depending on how the players react to what they do when they somehow discover the merchant's plot.

If you've thought out beforehand other details, such as who the merchant works for, what his ultimate goal is, who his allies may be, the baron's likely reaction if the kidnapping takes place, how the girl may react to her rescuers (heck, she may be hiring this shady merchant to help her because the baron is planning to marry her to some white-haired spot-pate. If that's the case, and you know what the white-haired old man's reaction to his wedding being called off will be, you can go ahead and plan for that as well.

So there are benefits to the prep work. Also... the prep work is often rewarding in and of itself. You say that sometimes the effect is better when you wing it. I suppose that what you come up with at the table can work narratively better than what was planned. If so, it's pretty easy to change your plans. Consider any prep work as a work in progress that only becomes important once it is "set in stone" by being presented to the players as what they see. In a sense, the story is mutable, but the characters and places and events described in the story can help form the structure, as an added element.

The structure itself can be sufficient, IF the DM and players are good at winging it. And a possible story outline can make a nice ADDITION, but isn't essential UNLESS the DM and players are not very good at winging it.

I'm very good at winging it. Just a little structure works for me. I find having possible storylines in advance is helpful because even the best winger sometimes has creative block. BUT a simple structure is usually all I need to jump into a game.

I've rambled here, but I'm sure there's a point in there somewhere that somebody may find useful.

A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
Focusing any prep work before hand is of course a good thing. Lessening the NEED for prep work is a good thing but that doesn't mean the prep work is a waste of time.

The prep work can prove useful, but it might not ever. I recommend not "prepping" for a specific purpose so much as just taking in or producing ideas for their own sake, from any source, and keeping their usefulness to a D&D game in the back of your mind. It's back to improv: good improvisors know a lot about a lot of subjects, and when the scene starts they turn their hungry intellects toward what's happening on stage so that the ideas appearing there can also be reincorporated.

This works exactly the same way at the game table.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Having more background beforehand gives you more to work with when you wing it. It makes winging it easier.



Yes, precisely. I have very rarely prepared ideas that didn't get eventually used, maybe in modified form. So even if things don't go precisely as planned (which they usually don't, and which I don't expect) the prep time isn't wasted. 
Having more background beforehand gives you more to work with when you wing it. It makes winging it easier.

Yes, precisely. I have very rarely prepared ideas that didn't get eventually used, maybe in modified form. So even if things don't go precisely as planned (which they usually don't, and which I don't expect) the prep time isn't wasted. 

This is the right balance. It's just that I usually see prepared ideas being forced to make sure that they're used, or because the DM doesn't have anything else to draw from in a pinch.

Edit: I doubt it's just me who has stressed over getting a session ready, writing up note, printing out aids, and then arrived to find none of it very useful. Or planned for a number of eventualities, only to have the players take the most obvious one, or none of them. That prep probably won't go to waste, but that stress is real, and is nothing someone should have to deal with, especially while running a friendly game.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Having more background beforehand gives you more to work with when you wing it. It makes winging it easier.



Yes, precisely. I have very rarely prepared ideas that didn't get eventually used, maybe in modified form. So even if things don't go precisely as planned (which they usually don't, and which I don't expect) the prep time isn't wasted. 



This is usually what happens. I think in the current game, it's likely I'll return to the job board idea (albeit in a different form) and most definitely the grisly murders will return, as it's central to the mind-flayer civil war. Simply because it's what's going on in the world. It's going to come up one way or another (as I have deemed it to). ...my players will likely freak the hell out when they know mind-flayers are in the area...
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
Having more background beforehand gives you more to work with when you wing it. It makes winging it easier.

Yes, precisely. I have very rarely prepared ideas that didn't get eventually used, maybe in modified form. So even if things don't go precisely as planned (which they usually don't, and which I don't expect) the prep time isn't wasted. 

This is the right balance. It's just that I usually see prepared ideas being forced to make sure that they're used, or because the DM doesn't have anything else to draw from in a pinch.

Edit: I doubt it's just me who has stressed over getting a session ready, writing up note, printing out aids, and then arrived to find none of it very useful. Or planned for a number of eventualities, only to have the players take the most obvious one, or none of them. That prep probably won't go to waste, but that stress is real, and is nothing someone should have to deal with, especially while running a friendly game.



I can honestly say I don't think I've ever stressed out over the concept of having something not get used. The only stress I've ever felt is when I procrastinate too much and have to create things quickly.

Sidebar: when something doesn't get used, for those that use this method, don't you just love to have the overlooked details come back and bite the PCs in the ass to make a situation more complex for them?
My username should actually read: Lunar Savage (damn you WotC!) *Tips top hat, adjusts monocle, and walks away with cane* and yes, that IS Mr. Peanut laying unconscious on the curb. http://asylumjournals.tumblr.com/
I can think of one instance where I completely abandoned a plot thread because the PC's completely ignored it. But most of what they'd have gotten from it was information, which was already available in some other places, just not quite as easy to get to. In that instance, it just surprised me because I thought the plot hook for that thread was glaringly obvious, easy to follow up on, and very tempting in terms of the promise of both treasure and revenge. Later I talked to the players and they didn't even notice it; thought it it was a meaningless background detail.

On the flip side, there was a time when I totally and obviously railroaded a player into taking a side quest. But she was someone's nine-year-old daughter who was playing with us for a while, and was bored with most of what we had going on. I created a storyline just for her, and she was interested in it, but was roleplaying her character too much like herself. She wouldn't sneak out her bedroom window at night to go off on an adventure (or at least wouldn't admit to this with her dad at the table, lol), therefore her character wouldn't either. Once we talked her into doing it anyway, she had a lot of fun with that bit.