The Best Part of Player Empowerment

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So in my most recent game (it's been quite a few months, i think we started around spring break), i've been striving to improve my DM by utilizing many of the concepts that Iserith and Centauri (among others) have been advocating, things like "yes, and" dming, and giving players more power to decide what their characters will experience ahead of time (both with a session zero, and more organically after that) i did it very stematically, actively asking them about what they'd like to see, and sometimes even requesting their input as to how they might enjoy facing upcoming challenges.

Initially, i was frustrated- while my players took advantage of some things (mostly to request certain events happen for their character development) they mostly opted to stay passive in the context of plot decisions, allowing me to dominate the creation of the campaign's main plotline (outside of thingss where their characters were deciding what to do) they knew they had the power to take a more active role in our play, but chose not to exercise it.

When i questioned them as to this and reminded them that they had the power to take a more active role, they told me that they trusted me. They told me that they deeply enjoyed the plot hooks i pumped out for them, that they were perfectly satisfied with the gameplay as i was pumping it out, and that they'd rather it remain in my province, while their character development remained in their's.

They gave me compliments to the effect of "you're a fantasy writer, and it shows- we really like the plots you come up with, and we wanna see what happens next" and assured me that they enjoyed watching the turns of the main plot develop like a weekly tv series- without their control over it, aside from their characters and their actions (which i in turn, take steps to facilitate), and so they have actually exercized their greatest power: the ability to choose the sort of game they'd like to play in, after all, they could (and they are aware of this)if they chose, essentially become cowriters in everything they would face- it's only their own prefrences that prevents it.

i finally understood that this is perhaps the "Player Empowerment" style of DMing's greatest strength: the player's can choose to not exercize their own empowerment in order to enjoy a more traditional style, where they and their characters maunever through the plots i've come up with. If they ceased to have fun with our group's current style, their increased range of control would afford them the ability to change it- but for the time being, they prefer to leave those elements in my hands.

In a traditional game, the player's wouldn't be so free to choose their style, they'd better like it- because they're stuck with it. The enjoyment of the player's isn't the deciding factor in how they play, it's incidental.

In a way, my group works like the campaign is something i've given them to enjoy (by exploring it, enjoying it's story, and moving through it with their character) but have also given them a receipt for- if they dislike it, they're welcome to return and exchange it for something they'd like more. In this case however, they want to keep the gift as it is.

i'm perfectly happy with that, and coupled with the things they do utilize ("world-altering" suggestions to contribute to the growth of their characters) i'm rather happy i undertook the transformation- it makes for a very robust, less fragile, experience in deriving enjoyment from the game.

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/8.jpg)

Good to know, thanks for sharing this. Definitely, if players are enjoying and engaged with what's happing in the game, then there's nothing to change in terms of the content that's delivered.

Some DMs will listen to things the players say and subtly change what they had planned to take those things into account, or maybe utilize them wholesale. Do you find yourself doing that? Do they notice you doing it? Do they mind it?

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

Thanks for sharing your experiences.

To add, based on what I see on these forums, other forums, and on Twitter, a lot of people who deride the "Yes, and..." method of collaboration do so because they don't understand one simple thing about it:

It doesn't just apply to the DM.

Tell DMs about "Yes, and..." and many jump straight to "Whoa, I just have to sit there and accept everything my players tell me?" That sounds pretty threatening to someone who's used to a completely different paradigm of being empowered to say "No" whenever he feels like it, eh? What about magic goats and laser buttocks?!

Well, actually, the players have to accept what the DM tells them, too, as well as what they tell each other. "Yes, and..." requires the whole group to participate, not just one person. This is what a collaboration is. Each group in my experience finds a rhythm that works best for them. In your case, it seems the players are content to collaborate on certain things and leave the rest to you. In other words, they're saying "Yes, and..." to you and you're ready to say "Yes, and..." to them. That's great. They have the option and can exercise it when they want to make the game they're playing more fun for everyone. And that's the whole point.

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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First off: well done, and good to hear that your players enjoy the game. 

What catches my eye is that you mention you are creating the campaign's main plotline, when one of the goals of this type of game is to let the plot emerge naturally through the actions of the players. This is done not by creating plots but by creating situations, where something is happening or poised to happen and then you introduce the players into it. When a situation develops, you run with the choices of the players on how they want to handle it. Then the players develop the plot organically by choosing where to go, who to save, who to (try and) kill and so on. 

If the players have a decent backstory, you can use that when creating situations you know they will buy into. This way their personal plots will develop naturally as well. 

When the players have faced some situations, the campaign's plotline will emerge. Maybe it's the world's reaction to the actions of the players, or maybe the group figures out a way to tie the different situations together to form a sort-of 'retro-active plotline'. As long as the players are invested in the situations, you will eventually see a main plotline come into view. And that's one of the most awesome feelings a DM can have.

Once upon a time, iserith posted kind of a manual on how to create good situations that you can throw your players into. It also stated how the DM could develop those situations based on the player's actions. I believe the method came from Dungeon World. Frankly, I'm a little surprised he hasn't got that thread in his sig.
Wow, you have a better memory than I do. When did I do that?

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Must've made an impression on me, then.

It was about a year ago, I think? CorranHornIsAwesome also participated a lot in that discussion. You posted a sample situation about a town with kobolds undermining it, I think.

EDIT: got it. It was in the Location-in-Motion era of these forums. Too bad the dropbox link doesn't work anymore.
Wow, that takes me way back, almost a whole year ago. The LIM days... a great example of "Hey guys, here's an idea for you" followed by months of relentless attack. I blame my PR department. Thanks for the link!

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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  This sounds a lot like the game that I run.  For lack of a better term, I've called in collaboration-lite.  My players count on me to come up situations and the story develops as they interact with those situations.  There's a fair amount of collaboration, starting with simple things like, "What kind of monsters would you like to fight in the next few sessions," to more world-defining questions, like "Going through the Baronet's belongings you discover a secret about the baroness.  What is it?"

The big thing has has worked well for me and my group is for me to explicitly ask for their buy-in before doing something that could be considered gotcha DMing.  For example, I might say that the BBEG is going to try and set a trap for you guys.  If you fall for it, it may lead to you gaining some important information, but at the start of combat you could be at a severe disadvantage.  Does that sound fun?  I haven't told the players when this trap will play out, so it still maintains the cool surprise factor, but it likewise doesn't make them feel powerless when the situation comes up, as its something that we all discussed could happen and they know there's a boon in it for them if they succeed. 
  This sounds a lot like the game that I run.  For lack of a better term, I've called in collaboration-lite.  My players count on me to come up situations and the story develops as they interact with those situations.  There's a fair amount of collaboration, starting with simple things like, "What kind of monsters would you like to fight in the next few sessions," to more world-defining questions, like "Going through the Baronet's belongings you discover a secret about the baroness.  What is it?"

That sounds like full-on collaboration to me. I don't do anything much different.

The big thing has has worked well for me and my group is for me to explicitly ask for their buy-in before doing something that could be considered gotcha DMing.  For example, I might say that the BBEG is going to try and set a trap for you guys.  If you fall for it, it may lead to you gaining some important information, but at the start of combat you could be at a severe disadvantage.  Does that sound fun?  I haven't told the players when this trap will play out, so it still maintains the cool surprise factor, but it likewise doesn't make them feel powerless when the situation comes up, as its something that we all discussed could happen and they know there's a boon in it for them if they succeed. 

That's the key for me: that the players are thrilled about what's happening, not looking for loopholes or shortcuts. I don't worry about the surprise factor, though, because when ideas are generated by the group even the person suggesting them is often surprised. And if the surprise doesn't happen to the players at the same time it would happen to the characters, I'm okay with that.

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

  This sounds a lot like the game that I run.  For lack of a better term, I've called in collaboration-lite.  My players count on me to come up situations and the story develops as they interact with those situations.  There's a fair amount of collaboration, starting with simple things like, "What kind of monsters would you like to fight in the next few sessions," to more world-defining questions, like "Going through the Baronet's belongings you discover a secret about the baroness.  What is it?"



Curious: What do you suppose "full-on collaboration" (as opposed to "collaboration-lite") would look like?

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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  This sounds a lot like the game that I run.  For lack of a better term, I've called in collaboration-lite.  My players count on me to come up situations and the story develops as they interact with those situations.  There's a fair amount of collaboration, starting with simple things like, "What kind of monsters would you like to fight in the next few sessions," to more world-defining questions, like "Going through the Baronet's belongings you discover a secret about the baroness.  What is it?"

Curious: What do you suppose "full-on collaboration" (as opposed to "collaboration-lite") would look like?

I think I know the difference: story.

He's not asking "Why are those monsters there?" because that's a story element. The secret about the baroness seems to me like it could be open-ended and completely dominate the story "space," but I'm guessing the expectation is that the DM gets the seed of the secret and makes it into the actual story. Is that about right?

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

There's an argument that seems to come up a lot which states that in a collaborative game, there's not a lot of surprises, but in mine there are.  In our last session, the PCs were doing a hostage exchange for a once PC, now NPC who had been captured by a criminal gang.  Unknown to both the players and the PCs, it was actually a doppelganger in the wagon who changed himself to resemble said character, and team monster would have "won" that one had the party druid not done a little recoinnasance in rat form before the players entered the field and seen the doppelganger change himself before being chained and brought out in front of the rest of the party.  As a group we did not collaborate on that specific encounter, but it was indicative of a kind of twist that my players told me they'd enjoy.  So, 1. they got the kind of encounter they wanted, 2. they still got the cool reveal, and 3. they didn't have to worry at all about metagaming, which my players say they would like to avoid as much as possible. 
There's an argument that seems to come up a lot which states that in a collaborative game, there's not a lot of surprises, but in mine there are.



That supposition is based in understandable ignorance (where the given poster isn't making wild assumptions or asking dishonest questions, that is). Unfortunately, the way surprises come about collaboratively is not easily explained. I would if I could. I fear it's something one needs to see in action to understand.

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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There's an argument that seems to come up a lot which states that in a collaborative game, there's not a lot of surprises, but in mine there are.

There actually are in a more collaborative game, too, but they're not "traditional" surprises like season finale reveals or jump scares. Last session I ran, we were playing a science fiction game and a player suggested that a Russian oligarch was involved in the story. We joked about "oil pipelines to the Moon" and then someone, maybe the same person, said "They found oil on the moon."

I don't know about the other players, but I was gobsmacked. Just thinking about it still gives me chills. Oil on the moon? Let's take that as true, and even assume that corporate interests are exploiting it, without ever considering the earth-shattering wider implications. The people in the setting never bat an eye, but to a player who is taking the idea seriously, it should be a chilling bit of atmosphere for the game, even if it never comes up again.

So, collaboration is surprising, it just doesn't simulate "surprise."

  In our last session, the PCs were doing a hostage exchange for a once PC, now NPC who had been captured by a criminal gang.  Unknown to both the players and the PCs, it was actually a doppelganger in the wagon who changed himself to resemble said character, and team monster would have "won" that one had the party druid not done a little recoinnasance in rat form before the players entered the field and seen the doppelganger change himself before being chained and brought out in front of the rest of the party.  As a group we did not collaborate on that specific encounter, but it was indicative of a kind of twist that my players told me they'd enjoy.  So, 1. they got the kind of encounter they wanted, 2. they still got the cool reveal,

What if they hadn't done the reconaissance? When would the reveal have occured? Part of why I let my players in on things, is so we all get to enjoy what's happening to our characters, even if they don't know what's happening, or aren't enjoying it.

I loved what happened in one of the Penny Arcade podcasts. One character agreed to be inhabited by a ghost, after which only he could communicate with the ghost. He immediately asked the ghost for information leading not to the party goal but to his personal goal, then led the party in what they thought was the direction of their goal. This was declared in the clear, and the other players liked that the player was doing this and played along.

It went somewhat bad later, when the group was apportioning blame for a major failure, but up to then it was cool. Given the discussion they had about a different metagaming issue, I think they felt that their characters would trust the inhabited character and would have no reason not to, that questioning him would be "metagaming." That let them feel justified for blaming (seriously or not) that player for the failure, though I don't think their characters ever found out about being misled.

and 3. they didn't have to worry at all about metagaming, which my players say they would like to avoid as much as possible.

Interesting. Why would they be worried about metagaming? I guess I feel like metagaming only occurs when a player wants to avoid a bad thing that they're aware of but their character isn't. If the players knew about the twist, what would they do differently? Would they feel they then couldn't do recon or have any suspicions, because it would look like they were acting on player knowledge, or maybe because they then wouldn't be sure if they would have thought to do that otherwise? If you told them, and they did do the recon, would you feel like they had short-circuited the twist, even though that's what they ended up doing anyway? If they knew about the twist, thought it was interesting, and just let it happen instead of doing recon, how would that be?

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



So, collaboration is surprising, it just doesn't simulate "surprise."



Well put. 

What if they hadn't done the reconaissance? When would the reveal have occured? Part of why I let my players in on things, is so we all get to enjoy what's happening to our characters, even if they don't know what's happening, or aren't enjoying it.



Then the doppelganger would have joined the party, posing as the NPC.  The criminal gang is looking for an evil artifact that the PCs have holed up in a room 300 feet underground where the only mode of entry is a portal.  The PCs are the only ones with the sigil sequence, and they're leaving it there until they can research the means to destroy it.  The doppelganger would have waited until it was his turn to keep watch and then stolen the sequence to make off with the artifact, putting the PCs at a disadvantage.  

I likewise loved that episode of Penny Arcade.  The ghost was a cool touch.

As for metagaming, the PCs probably wouldn't have done anything different in this particular scenario, but since the druid chose to do his recon without knowing about the twist, the player got to feel special, and super cool for helping out the party and not just that his character was special and super cool.  I think for them it has to do with where their ideas are coming from.  

Then the doppelganger would have joined the party, posing as the NPC.  The criminal gang is looking for an evil artifact that the PCs have holed up in a room 300 feet underground where the only mode of entry is a portal.  The PCs are the only ones with the sigil sequence, and they're leaving it there until they can research the means to destroy it.  The doppelganger would have waited until it was his turn to keep watch and then stolen the sequence to make off with the artifact, putting the PCs at a disadvantage.

Ok. Would they still have enjoyed the game if that had happened?

As for metagaming, the PCs probably wouldn't have done anything different in this particular scenario, but since the druid chose to do his recon without knowing about the twist, the player got to feel special, and super cool for helping out the party and not just that his character was special and super cool.  I think for them it has to do with where their ideas are coming from. 

Ok, interesting. I think I'm almost seeing this. Some players want to feel smart in the context of the game, not just in the context of playing the game. Is that what you're saying?

What if there wasn't anything for the druid to discover? Or what if he looked in the wrong places? What if the DM made the risk of that recon into something that set back the whole story, such as the druid being discovered and the exchange being called off? That's where I, and I think others, get hung up. I don't want to waste the time of the druid and the other players by not having something to discover, and sometimes I can't think of what is discovered so I enlist the players. I don't want the game to fail in boring ways, so either failure isn't possible, or it's interesting. If I can't think of interesting failure (or interesting success), I once again enlist the players.

I try to put my focus on the players, so that they get what they want, which is the whole point of the initial post. If a player wanted what I felt was a "boring" failure, we'd arrange that to happen, and find a way to keep the game interesting for the other players. I have one player who will roll a d10 when he thinks his character should die, and on a 1 the character is dead. Fine by me, but I ask that he have a backup character so the game can keep moving.

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

As for metagaming, the PCs probably wouldn't have done anything different in this particular scenario, but since the druid chose to do his recon without knowing about the twist, the player got to feel special, and super cool for helping out the party and not just that his character was special and super cool.  I think for them it has to do with where their ideas are coming from.  




This is exactly the surprise I go for in my games, and I have trouble seeing, possibly out of ignorance, how it could work if you told the party ahead of time or got buy-in to the fact that the NPC you were rescuing was not really the NPC.  This is why I have several times asked for specific examples from Centauri and Iserith, however, one just says I don't say it because I get lambasted and the other has me blocked.  I would really like to know how to incorporate this type of surprise into my game, with a player buy-in that does not destroy the surprise. 
Ok. Would they still have enjoyed the game if that had happened?



I certainly hope so.  It didnt' occur to me that the druid might do what he did, so I thought that having an enemy in their midst for the day's travel was a verly likely outcome, and their enjoyment --along with mine-- is why I chose it to begin with.

Ok, interesting. I think I'm almost seeing this. Some players want to feel smart in the context of the game, not just in the context of playing the game. Is that what you're saying?



I think we're on the same page here.  It's an impulse from my players that stems from them only wanting to peak a little behind the DM screen, for lack of a better metaphor.

What if there wasn't anything for the druid to discover? Or what if he looked in the wrong places? What if the DM made the risk of that recon into something that set back the whole story, such as the druid being discovered and the exchange being called off? That's where I, and I think others, get hung up. I don't want to waste the time of the druid and the other players by not having something to discover, and sometimes I can't think of what is discovered so I enlist the players. I don't want the game to fail in boring ways, so either failure isn't possible, or it's interesting. If I can't think of interesting failure (or interesting success), I once again enlist the players.

I try to put my focus on the players, so that they get what they want, which is the whole point of the initial post. If a player wanted what I felt was a "boring" failure, we'd arrange that to happen, and find a way to keep the game interesting for the other players. I have one player who will roll a d10 when he thinks his character should die, and on a 1 the character is dead. Fine by me, but I ask that he have a backup character so the game can keep moving.



There's a lot to tackle here, but I'll do what I can.  I don't know that there's a wrong place for the druid to look, only places that I wouldn't necessarily see as being the right places to look.  In that event --and this has to do with searching for clues or information in general-- I ask the players what information they're trying to acertain from their actions, have them make the appropriate roll, if necessary, and relate anything germain.  

There was a very real possibility that the druid would be found out, and we discussed what the likely outcome of that would be -- most likely that he would be attacked and the wagon would flee the scene.  Any number of interesting things could follow that outcome, whether the party pursued, or sought to make contact again, through their captive.

As for interesting success and failure options, I also enlist the players, but through less straight-forward means.  In the above example of a PC searching in the "wrong" place, I enlist the player to help me understand what the PC is looking for and anything from the encounter to the story as a whole can be changed based on what that answer is.  Sometimes players get an idea in their head that is much more interesting than what I had rattling around, and the campaign changes as a result.  That's most definitely collaborative storytelling, but it is also "behind the scenes" and not all aspects of the game are up for such changes.  

Does that make sense? 
There actually are in a more collaborative game, too, but they're not "traditional" surprises like season finale reveals or jump scares. Last session I ran, we were playing a science fiction game and a player suggested that a Russian oligarch was involved in the story. We joked about "oil pipelines to the Moon" and then someone, maybe the same person, said "They found oil on the moon."

I don't know about the other players, but I was gobsmacked. Just thinking about it still gives me chills. Oil on the moon? Let's take that as true, and even assume that corporate interests are exploiting it, without ever considering the earth-shattering wider implications. The people in the setting never bat an eye, but to a player who is taking the idea seriously, it should be a chilling bit of atmosphere for the game, even if it never comes up again.

So, collaboration is surprising, it just doesn't simulate "surprise."



I'd love to hear this last line expounded upon a bit. This is an area where my argument isn't so great.

To add to that, I talked to some players who were in a recent game of mine. Tons of surprises just "happened" that game and so I asked how they would explain that to other people. I got some good responses, but nothing I'd call definitive or easily explained to someone who wasn't "there." One of the things that stood out to me was one player said it was a different kind of surprise, one of "creation" rather than "discovery." That got me thinking that it's actually both in the collaborative mode. We're creating, but in creating we're also discovering as one thing links to the next. As we discover, we create more. So in contrast to a "traditional" game (I use the term non-pejoratively here) where the players mostly just discover, in a collaborative game, we create and discover a lot which actually drives more creation and discovery. Or something.

As an example, in one scene, the characters emerge from the floor into the sepulcher of a lich. They get spotted by the lich's right-hand orc, The Tunnel-Keep. She comes at the PCs and they slay her in one shot. When they search her stuff, they realize she has a mysterious black poison on her (I pulled it out of a hat). I don't even really know what it does exactly, so the bard (iirc) uses his Bardic Lore and says it's a special poison that can affect undead. This led to "Why did the right-hand orc of the villain have a poison that could be used on undead? Was she planning to off her master?" It was very surprising and we became very interested in finding out more. I didn't plan it, didn't reveal it, didn't even have note one suggesting any of that. It just happened, and it was surprising and interesting to everyone.

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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There actually are in a more collaborative game, too, but they're not "traditional" surprises like season finale reveals or jump scares. Last session I ran, we were playing a science fiction game and a player suggested that a Russian oligarch was involved in the story. We joked about "oil pipelines to the Moon" and then someone, maybe the same person, said "They found oil on the moon."

I don't know about the other players, but I was gobsmacked. Just thinking about it still gives me chills. Oil on the moon? Let's take that as true, and even assume that corporate interests are exploiting it, without ever considering the earth-shattering wider implications. The people in the setting never bat an eye, but to a player who is taking the idea seriously, it should be a chilling bit of atmosphere for the game, even if it never comes up again.

So, collaboration is surprising, it just doesn't simulate "surprise."



I'd love to hear this last line expounded upon a bit. This is an area where my argument isn't so great.

To add to that, I talked to some players who were in a recent game of mine. Tons of surprises just "happened" that game and so I asked how they would explain that to other people. I got some good responses, but nothing I'd call definitive or easily explained to someone who wasn't "there." One of the things that stood out to me was one player said it was a different kind of surprise, one of "creation" rather than "discovery." That got me thinking that it's actually both in the collaborative mode. We're creating, but in creating we're also discovering as one thing links to the next. As we discover, we create more. So in contrast to a "traditional" game (I use the term non-pejoratively here) where the players mostly just discover, in a collaborative game, we create and discover a lot which actually drives more creation and discovery. Or something.




You (I think) and others have described how you used to enjoy the "traditional" game of discovery, and have moved towards the "collaborative creation" end of the spectrum over time. I think you'd probably describe this as a process of finding out you and your players enjoy the collaborative style more.

A (wholly speculative!) alternative hypothesis is that the discovery mode tends to be more fun for new DMs and players, and the collaborative mode tends to be more fun for experienced DMs and players who've already drank the discovery well dry.

Do you think that's plausible?

You (I think) and others have described how you used to enjoy the "traditional" game of discovery, and have moved towards the "collaborative creation" end of the spectrum over time. I think you'd probably describe this as a process of finding out you and your players enjoy the collaborative style more.

A (wholly speculative!) alternative hypothesis is that the discovery mode tends to be more fun for new DMs and players, and the collaborative mode tends to be more fun for experienced DMs and players who've already drank the discovery well dry.

Do you think that's plausible?



Yeah, that's possible. I'll cop to not finding much joy in the discovery of which way a door's hinges work. Or in pretending I don't know trolls are vulnerable to fire. I don't think it's a matter of cynicism though, at least for me. Anecdotally, I run games for players of all experience levels and I haven't really found any newbies that don't like what we're doing. (Perhaps that's because "discovery" is still present in the game, with "creation" added on, if that makes sense.)

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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So, collaboration is surprising, it just doesn't simulate "surprise."

I'd love to hear this last line expounded upon a bit. This is an area where my argument isn't so great.

To add to that, I talked to some players who were in a recent game of mine. Tons of surprises just "happened" that game and so I asked how they would explain that to other people. I got some good responses, but nothing I'd call definitive or easily explained to someone who wasn't "there." One of the things that stood out to me was one player said it was a different kind of surprise, one of "creation" rather than "discovery." That got me thinking that it's actually both in the collaborative mode. We're creating, but in creating we're also discovering as one thing links to the next. As we discover, we create more. So in contrast to a "traditional" game (I use the term non-pejoratively here) where the players mostly just discover, in a collaborative game, we create and discover a lot which actually drives more creation and discovery. Or something.

I think it really is about the simulation and the immersion.

If the surprise in any form is what's important, then clearly that can be achieved in a lot of ways. People can even surprise themselves. That's the case in "full-on collaboration."

If you want to surprise an "audience member," or someone with a partially omnipotent view point, like a reader, or if someone wants to be such a person, then they don't come up with the content, but it can still become known to them separately from the characters. The reader/watcher/player isn't surprised when the characters are, but are still surprised.

If you want the player/watcher/audience member to feel emotions at the "same time" the character does, then they can't come up with the content, and they can't know about it until the character does. Actions that would "ruin" that surprise are deflected, in favor of maintaing the simulation.

Polite individuals who do learn or figure things out "early" are obliged to respect the effort to surprise them and "act" surprised, which may include not taking reasonable action that would ruin the surprise and therefore require deflection.

Part of the simulation also has to do with the information being "discovered." The twist at the end of the book or movie was always "there." The story was built around it, and the reader or viewer "discover" it in the process of watching the movie. Maybe they figure it out ahead of time, maybe they're meant to, but it's someone, somewhere knows what it is. It's a fact belonging to someone else, and it's something that can be acquired. It's like a gift.

Discover of facts that no one previously knew realized, or looked at that way, is of course quite amazing, but it's not the same as obtaining a prize that someone else has been withholding, whether behind the pages of a book, or a dice roll.

The acquisition form of discovery is enjoyable, it just carries certain familiar risks. If the acquisition isn't successful or isn't attempted, nothing happens. If what is acquired isn't enjoyable, nothing happens. The invention form of discovery is enjoyable, and carries its own risks, but the primary one that concerns people is that it's different from acquisitive discovery.

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

Ok. Would they still have enjoyed the game if that had happened?

I certainly hope so.  It didnt' occur to me that the druid might do what he did, so I thought that having an enemy in their midst for the day's travel was a verly likely outcome, and their enjoyment --along with mine-- is why I chose it to begin with.

And this is where a lot of people would block the druid - because they'd only planned for what they thought the players would enjoy, and feel that a few blocks are worth preserving that enjoyment.

Ok, interesting. I think I'm almost seeing this. Some players want to feel smart in the context of the game, not just in the context of playing the game. Is that what you're saying?

I think we're on the same page here.  It's an impulse from my players that stems from them only wanting to peak a little behind the DM screen, for lack of a better metaphor.

I think this ties in with what I was thinking about in response to iserith. The players want the challenge of acquiring information held by someone else. You might happily give it to them, you might even prefer them to have it, but they want to have to take it. They want to show that they can.

There was a very real possibility that the druid would be found out, and we discussed what the likely outcome of that would be -- most likely that he would be attacked and the wagon would flee the scene.  Any number of interesting things could follow that outcome, whether the party pursued, or sought to make contact again, through their captive.

Cool.

Sometimes players get an idea in their head that is much more interesting than what I had rattling around, and the campaign changes as a result.  That's most definitely collaborative storytelling, but it is also "behind the scenes" and not all aspects of the game are up for such changes.

Is whether or not something is up for change a decision you make, a decision they make, or a joint decision.

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

  This sounds a lot like the game that I run.  For lack of a better term, I've called in collaboration-lite.  My players count on me to come up situations and the story develops as they interact with those situations.  There's a fair amount of collaboration, starting with simple things like, "What kind of monsters would you like to fight in the next few sessions," to more world-defining questions, like "Going through the Baronet's belongings you discover a secret about the baroness.  What is it?"



Curious: What do you suppose "full-on collaboration" (as opposed to "collaboration-lite") would look like?

I'm sorry I missed this question when I was posting earlier.  Centauri's response was pretty right on.  Broad strokes are worked on collaboratively and then I come up with situations containing those strokes.  Players make active choices to influence situations that interest them, and the narrative builds organically from there.  The big BUT is that players have little to no input on the layout of a dungeon, the make up of an enemy party, the goals of an enemy party, or the veracity of an NPC's statements -- at least not directly.  

Sometimes players get an idea in their head that is much more interesting than what I had rattling around, and the campaign changes as a result.  That's most definitely collaborative storytelling, but it is also "behind the scenes" and not all aspects of the game are up for such changes.

Is whether or not something is up for change a decision you make, a decision they make, or a joint decision.



When my approach started evolving a little bit, I told myself that certain aspects of the campaign were non-negotiable and that other aspects were up for debate.  So far, I haven't hit one of my hard limits, and I kind of doubt that I have any at this point.  The aspects of the game that are immune to tinkering so far are beloved NPCs, who if it came out that they were evil, or if I otherwise manhandled them would diminish the fun in the game.  Those come from the players, though it hasn't been explicitly stated.  Other potential changes are discussed as a group as they're debating a course of action, etc.
I'm sorry I missed this question when I was posting earlier.  Centauri's response was pretty right on.  Broad strokes are worked on collaboratively and then I come up with situations containing those strokes.  Players make active choices to influence situations that interest them, and the narrative builds organically from there.



No apologies necessary. I think there was a ninja thing going on and you already answered my question. At any rate, the above sounds like our games.

The big BUT is that players have little to no input on the layout of a dungeon, the make up of an enemy party, the goals of an enemy party, or the veracity of an NPC's statements -- at least not directly.



I think you mean here that you'll take a player idea over your own, if your idea hasn't already been established in play. If so, that's all we're doing too in what you might consider a "full-on collaboration" game because only things that are established are actually valid. The difference we have might be in the dynamic as to how things get established.

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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@Lathais, the quote I'm putting below from Iserith I think nicely sums up how surprise works in their collaborative games.  The emphasis is mine.

 One of the things that stood out to me was one player said it was a different kind of surprise, one of "creation" rather than "discovery." That got me thinking that it's actually both in the collaborative mode. We're creating, but in creating we're also discovering as one thing links to the next. As we discover, we create more. So in contrast to a "traditional" game (I use the term non-pejoratively here) where the players mostly just discover, in a collaborative game, we create and discover a lot which actually drives more creation and discovery. Or something.

As an example, in one scene, the characters emerge from the floor into the sepulcher of a lich. They get spotted by the lich's right-hand orc, The Tunnel-Keep. She comes at the PCs and they slay her in one shot. When they search her stuff, they realize she has a mysterious black poison on her (I pulled it out of a hat). I don't even really know what it does exactly, so the bard (iirc) uses his Bardic Lore and says it's a special poison that can affect undead. This led to "Why did the right-hand orc of the villain have a poison that could be used on undead? Was she planning to off her master?" It was very surprising and we became very interested in finding out more. I didn't plan it, didn't reveal it, didn't even have note one suggesting any of that. It just happened, and it was surprising and interesting to everyone.

 

I can relate to this from when I'm writing.  Oftentimes a character will do or say something in one of my stories that I had not anticipated.  It's a really nice moment, and it's very exciting, but it is also an entirely different feeling from being surprised in a movie or when reading a story.  I find it hard to write off because I don't like much about the writing process, but that is one thing that keeps me coming back to the keyboard.
Its good to see such a positive thread on here from time to time. 

Magic-Sword, 

My games are very similar to what you have described-well, most of the time anyway.  As of late my schedule has been moved around a lot at work so I've been playing with whoever I can pick up.  Which has been an interesting trial by fire all its own.  Most of these players are content to see what I come up with and add little bits here and there.  

My more regular group consists of very assertive players, people who drive the events of the world that I paint for them, but they actually contribute less to its creation than my pick up groups.  


Interestingly enough I had a 1 on 1 session with a less outspoken player the other day and within two hours we had filled in a vast unexplored part of my the world, and created a prison on another plane where inmates were forced to mine geodes.  He did most of the heavy lifting on that idea, once I mentioned the PC's finding their way into a prison by way of being framed things got interesting.  He suggested that time on this plane did not pass as quickly as on others, and so the inmates would not age-so instead of working to death, they were worked into madness.  Supplies were brought in by way of spelljammer, the entire prison was on a large asteroid floating in an endless abyss.  The prison was guarded by gunslingers with arcane rifles, crafted by a master wizard of course.  The whole place was bathed in the light of a purple sun and the only atmosphere on the station was retained under a large magical dome. 


It was all very interesting, and certainly not something I would have thought of without his input. 
...and in the ancient voice of a million squirrels the begotten chittered "You have set upon yourselves a great and noble task, dare you step further, what say you! What say you!"
This is an interesting discussion to watch,

to answer the questions posed to me

1. Yeah Centauri i do that a decent amount, if they've mentioned something i feel they would actually enjoy then my original intent, i generally change it (i'm clever enough to work through any issues, and it makes the end result a decent amount deeper) they notice it, but they don't seem to see it as anything negative- mostly because while i "know" some things, others are intentionally left up in the air, so i can smoothly fill it in naturally through improv/play

2. Yeah Svendji, i feel like i used the wrong word in "creating the plot", but i'm happy to read your description because it reaffirms my proccess. When i talk about creating "plot" i mean the plots the players will uncover and interact with- i.e. i'll design an adventuring zone with hooks, npcs, problems, secrets, and so on- and the players will interact freely with the situation creating what i consider the "story". i occasionally come up with set piece pre-mediated plot points but they're either the result of an agreed upon basic campaign structure from session zero (i.e. heroic tier will be centered around X, Paragon Y, and Epic Z, so i know) or i can tell based off the player's stated intentions that it's happening (i.e. they know they're going after the lich, they've outright stated that their goal is to find some way of killing it before it completes it's goals, i can now plan for the lich's lair, and their encounter with him) and proceed from there.


to expand a little bit on our style: my players like focusing on their individual characters as their creative outlets in influencing the story, so we don't really have the "so what should this scene be like?" conversation, but once i unveil the scene (which they've reached through their decisions) they jump into action about how their characters would react to what they find, the potential implications of whats in front of them, and what actions they take in response to whatever it is they've discovered.

TV show esque "surprises" are popular in my group, they're often related to character back stories, i.e. my druid (player personality: Actor) had a blast in roleplaying her characters reaction to the fact that the lich was her wizard father (presumed long dead)- which the player told me after had been completely unexpected (even after i asked her for an identifying marker, she assumed she was going to find his corpse), sometimes, it really feels like we're playing our way throug a tv series like avatar or young justice (in a good way.)


For anyone who's interested: my game is set in a post apocalyptic world, where mage run utopian empires, once bastions of peace and prosperity, went to war and unleashed spells of unimaginable destruction (think nukes) that not only destroyed their enemies, but collapsed in on themselves, gained sentience, and now roam the surface destroying everything in their path (see apocalypse spells in the MM3 for their inspiraion)

Remnants of surface civilization fled into the underdark, and have attempted for the last century to eke out an existence there- one village, remnants of a once great city filled with many races, is that of the players. They themselves began as adventurers seeking to protect their village anyway they can, with various specific histories and one or two pcs from outside the village.

The session zero outline is that: in heroic they'll be dealing with local threats (which is now culminating with the lich), that in paragon they can deal with larger-scale underdark threats (think drow and mindflayers), and in epic, they'll be doing something about the apocalypse spells themselves.

Inspired partially by the mm3 entry, partially by Gurren Lagann, and partially by a desire to do something less conventional.

The players love working with the group's interpersonal relations, their backstories, and allowing their characters to be the young band of heroes, just doing what they can.


edit: whoops detox, you posted while i was typing, thats an awesome story, and i love having those sessions with my players- it usually happens outside the game, on a one-on-one basis and the worldbuilding generally revolves around stuff related to their character. Which is how my avenger's backstory came into being, he suggested that he start to meet others of his kind (wilden) and we hashed out alot of information cocnerning corellon in this setting.

IMAGE(http://www.nodiatis.com/pub/8.jpg)

Wow, TMS, that just sounds so much like something I JUST POSTED on another thread, that I would like you to check it out.

community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758..." title="community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/758...">here post #32.

My current situation is very similar to yours.  Nice to know I'm not alone. 
Just to share, we gamed Saturday and the PCs were tracking a group of orcs that were planning to assault a small lakeside town. During a fight they realized the orcs seemed to be a bit crazier than usual and were yelling prayers and battle cries to their leader Grimshanks rather than their god Gruumsh.

One of the players has the Bloodsworn theme, with orcs as his hated enemy, and has said his character is the last of his clan, all thanks to orcs. When I have the first orc cry out to Grimshanks I turned to the player and said: "You've heard the name Grimshanks before, and it makes your blood boil. But you know, for a fact, Grimshanks is dead. How do you know?"

The player thought for a moment and said "I wasn't the one who killed him, but I personally punted his head off a cliff."

Later, when the PCs caught up with Grimshanks, as the player's dwarf charged through the door, the player asked me "Is Grimshanks' head stitched on to his body?"

Me: "No."

Player: "IMPOSTER!!!!"
I can relate to this from when I'm writing.  Oftentimes a character will do or say something in one of my stories that I had not anticipated.  It's a really nice moment, and it's very exciting, but it is also an entirely different feeling from being surprised in a movie or when reading a story.  I find it hard to write off because I don't like much about the writing process, but that is one thing that keeps me coming back to the keyboard.



I think the real difference is about "earning" that surprise as Centauri smartly suggested above. The DM's withholding something and you have to "figure it out" like a riddle or whatever. In any event, we can do this type of surprise as well in a collaborative game. It's just one of a variety of different types of surprises available to this kind of play. If I've written a murder-mystery scenario, then the buy-in is that I know who the villain is and the players don't.

Interestingly enough I had a 1 on 1 session with a less outspoken player the other day and within two hours we had filled in a vast unexplored part of my the world, and created a prison on another plane where inmates were forced to mine geodes.  He did most of the heavy lifting on that idea, once I mentioned the PC's finding their way into a prison by way of being framed things got interesting.  He suggested that time on this plane did not pass as quickly as on others, and so the inmates would not age-so instead of working to death, they were worked into madness.  Supplies were brought in by way of spelljammer, the entire prison was on a large asteroid floating in an endless abyss.  The prison was guarded by gunslingers with arcane rifles, crafted by a master wizard of course.  The whole place was bathed in the light of a purple sun and the only atmosphere on the station was retained under a large magical dome.



I'd certainly enjoy drawing up that dungeon and playing through it!

Just to share, we gamed Saturday and the PCs were tracking a group of orcs that were planning to assault a small lakeside town. During a fight they realized the orcs seemed to be a bit crazier than usual and were yelling prayers and battle cries to their leader Grimshanks rather than their god Gruumsh.

One of the players has the Bloodsworn theme, with orcs as his hated enemy, and has said his character is the last of his clan, all thanks to orcs. When I have the first orc cry out to Grimshanks I turned to the player and said: "You've heard the name Grimshanks before, and it makes your blood boil. But you know, for a fact, Grimshanks is dead. How do you know?"

The player thought for a moment and said "I wasn't the one who killed him, but I personally punted his head off a cliff."

Later, when the PCs caught up with Grimshanks, as the player's dwarf charged through the door, the player asked me "Is Grimshanks' head stitched on to his body?"

Me: "No."

Player: "IMPOSTER!!!!"



Thanks for sharing! This is a good example of "surprises" that arise through collaboration as well. I don't know how much you had planned that exchange, but things like this would just happen in the collaborative mode. What I like most about it and what really sets apart games that have even a small amount of collaboration is the increased level of player engagement. Few things are more engaging than seeing where you own ideas are going to go, especially if nobody's "at the wheel" pe se. There were a few times last gaming session where I had to stop and go "Whoa, give me one second to parse this!" The players were coming at me that fast with ideas and actions.

For those of you who engage in some level of collaboration as being discussed, what would you say about your player engagement as compared to other modes of play you might have done in other games?

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 I had to analyze, what I really did was give the players a way to determine something I already knew. I knew the orc leader was actually an oni (ogre mage) in disguise. This gave the player the ability to decide how he knew.

I don't have quite the level of collaboration at my table as some of you have at your tables, but I am trying to get my players move involved in creating the world. Right now a lot of it is still on my shoulders, but I try to bring in as much of their story and desires as possible, and whenever possible have them contribute and have them feel more comfortable putting in their own ideas and seeing them actually affecting the world they are playing in.

@Lathais, the quote I'm putting below from Iserith I think nicely sums up how surprise works in their collaborative games.  The emphasis is mine.

 One of the things that stood out to me was one player said it was a different kind of surprise, one of "creation" rather than "discovery." That got me thinking that it's actually both in the collaborative mode. We're creating, but in creating we're also discovering as one thing links to the next. As we discover, we create more. So in contrast to a "traditional" game (I use the term non-pejoratively here) where the players mostly just discover, in a collaborative game, we create and discover a lot which actually drives more creation and discovery. Or something.

As an example, in one scene, the characters emerge from the floor into the sepulcher of a lich. They get spotted by the lich's right-hand orc, The Tunnel-Keep. She comes at the PCs and they slay her in one shot. When they search her stuff, they realize she has a mysterious black poison on her (I pulled it out of a hat). I don't even really know what it does exactly, so the bard (iirc) uses his Bardic Lore and says it's a special poison that can affect undead. This led to "Why did the right-hand orc of the villain have a poison that could be used on undead? Was she planning to off her master?" It was very surprising and we became very interested in finding out more. I didn't plan it, didn't reveal it, didn't even have note one suggesting any of that. It just happened, and it was surprising and interesting to everyone.

 

I can relate to this from when I'm writing.  Oftentimes a character will do or say something in one of my stories that I had not anticipated.  It's a really nice moment, and it's very exciting, but it is also an entirely different feeling from being surprised in a movie or when reading a story.  I find it hard to write off because I don't like much about the writing process, but that is one thing that keeps me coming back to the keyboard.



And that's all well and good that the DM gets surprised as well, my players often surprise me.  However, my players also want to be surprised.  For example, in my current campaign they had a recent run in with a villian that they will not actually deal with until quite a bit later.  He is a Shadar-Kai and his face is heavily scarred.  I described him as a humanoid wearing a cloak and hood that covered most of his heavily scarred face, he may be human or half-elf but you cannot really tell.  If they knew he was a Shadar-Kai at this stage of the story, it would ruin the surprise later.  Now, he did outright lie to them as well, though they made no Insight checks, when questioning the proprietor about what he said, they said nothing of the like had ever happened.  They were Lawful-Good retired Paladins, so now the party thinks something is up, but really have no idea what. 

Now in the collaborative approach, at least the way I see it from what has been described by several people supporting it, they would have known he was a Shadar-Kai but thier charachters would not have known.  So that would ruin the surprise when they run across him later.  Perhaps I am mis-understanding thier side, however, they never ellaborate on specific examples, so I have no way of knowing, though am really curious if I could improve my game by attempting to use some of these tactics.  My players have zero complaints about my game and we all have fun, so I am not too concerned, but how can I know if we could not have more fun without trying.
Lathias, are you running Scales of War?  I am curious how they handle the Karak Lode surprises (If I remember correctly that might be the next adventure segment?), when you get to that point of the story, would you be willing to PM me with what they thought about the scenario set up with the old man and the canaries? That was supposed to be a surprise, however it ended up feeling like it was deus ex machina to me.

Now in the collaborative approach, at least the way I see it from what has been described by several people supporting it, they would have known he was a Shadar-Kai but thier charachters would not have known.  So that would ruin the surprise when they run across him later.  Perhaps I am mis-understanding thier side, however, they never ellaborate on specific examples, so I have no way of knowing, though am really curious if I could improve my game by attempting to use some of these tactics.  My players have zero complaints about my game and we all have fun, so I am not too concerned, but how can I know if we could not have more fun without trying.



For what it's worth, that tends to be the tripping point I see as well. My players tend to like the "dramatic reveal". We've had GREAT ones, and some ho-hum flat ones, of course - campaigns that started out great and fell flat or that started out "standard" and went so far off the rail to awesometown that they became a DIFFERENT awesome town.

Spoiler text to block Wall of Text +5. TL;DR version - Full collaboration is not for everybody, but I think MOST games could benefit from SOME.
 
Show

After a month or so of talking to Iserith and Centauri, and looking through PAGES of forum content, I have realized a couple of things about my specific gaming group. 

We meet once a month for about 6 hours a shot, so time is at a premium. A "softly" prepped plot is essential to getting the most bang for our gaming buck. By softly prepped, I mean an overall story that everyone agreed to beforehand. Specific case in point, the next 4e campaign I am running, after the current arc our group is running finishes in roughly 3 more sessions, is in the Games Workshop Warhammer campaign setting, and by player vote is focused on Chaos, specifically the demons of chaos. Within that broad confine, I have a loose story that ties the characters to a place, and a very rough idea of what things would happen to that setting should the characters NOT involve themselves.

I doubt I will tell the players the few specifics that I do have, until the time is right. However, the areas in my own group that the collaboration approach will see a lot of mileage is simply in the dictation of world fiction and going with the impromptu plans of the group. In the past, I have handled those surprises the PCs threw at me sort of off the cuff, and I've allowed some, and blocked some. My GOAL this time around is to be a LOT more allowing, and even if someone does something "dumb" (say, attacks an Ancient Red Dragon at level 2) to ask them the following question BEFORE working the results out.

"I'm not sure I see why you would do that. How do you see this working out?" and then taking that  into account.

I don't see HOW attacking that Dragon could result in anything OTHER than catastrophic annihilation, but maybe YOU do, and your idea could be cooler than mine. Fantasy fiction is RIFE with characters charging dragons and getting pinned under the claw, to be threatened or calmed down. Maybe THAT is your idea, and it doesn't impede anything else, just changes the perspective of the encounter a bit. If I just had the dragon flame you down, you say "Hey, that wasn't what I thought would happen" and get irrate, and I think "Holy cow, that was RIDICULOUS! Whyever would you do that?!" 

I'll give a specific example of when I blocked something to highlight why I started looking into this concept more.

I ran a campaign in a steam-punk/gaslight setting, though still 4e. We had a number of nights, each dedicated to a specific character's backstory. Some of those games were EXCELLENTLY put together (self promotion) and some fell flat, but overall the experience was one everyone was enjoying. Having a "night" dedicated to them, players were giving me LOTS of stuff to use, and were really invested in the other people's background, because they knew theirs was coming up, or the person had really helped their night go off well.

The final night before we wrapped the campaign (we tend to work through heroic tier, mainly) the last "character" spotlight night occured, and one of the characters (a warforged ranger) had been a victim of a Jack the Ripper style villian (leading to her soul being trapped in the automaton warforge- awesome idea, and completely player driven). Tracking down the villian had been happening in pieces through the other nights, as well, and the group was ready to kill this guy when they finally found his lair. I had set it up so that "The Doctor" had hired a gang of street thugs to act as muscle and guards, and thought I had set up two very interesting encounters for the night.

The players proceeded to come up with a plan to brazen their way into the Doctor's lair. I was completely flummoxed. I had prepped for a full out frontal assault, or EVEN if they tried a distraction to separate the guards, but I couldn't think of a way that they could POSSIBLY be believable enough to get into the sanctum uncontested. I had the first encounter of gang members lead them to the Doctor, appearing to believe the story (I gave no indication that they didn't believe the PCs, because ONE player had failed an Insight check, and nobody else bothered to try it). Once in the room with the Doctor, the player (whose "night" it was) told me "I slam the door and lock it! It should hold the guys in that other room long enough to fight the Doctor!"

I said "Um- There isn't a lock on the door."

Not because it didn't make sense that there COULD be a lock on the door, but because I didn't THINK about there being one. Combat ensues, and of course the thugs from the FIRST fight run in as reinforcements. Long story shorter, I TPK'd the party and had to resort to the lame "You wake up in a cell" trope to end the night.

Not only did this completely kill the mood that NIGHT, but the next session was the FINAL session, and it steamrolled the enthusiasm that had been building for the end of the campaign, and for the final reveals. I overdrafted the "Cool Bank Account" that I had built through the whole session, and it affected the whole campaign.

By RULE, I did fine. Failed Insight check, bam. No door lock planned? Bam. "Doctor" boss fight run competely above-board? Roger. Death saves failed? Check.

By intent, I messed up so badly that to ME and what I consider MY level of DMing, that campaign is ALMOST a total failure, because of how far reaching that ONE night was. All the cool stuff was wiped away because I stuck to MY story, instead of going with the players on THEIR story.

After talking to many folks on the forums here, I see many many places that I could have changed how that result ended, in far more cinematic and "cool" fashion. So I have asked a TON of irritating questions to various folks (Centauri and Iserith chief among them, since they are the bannermen of this type of DMing) and I have read and participated in threads by other posters (Yagamifire springs to mind) that run games far outside of my personal comfort zone, all in the effort to not have another crash and burn like that last one.

I probably won't implement HALF of what I've read, because despite how the above may make me look, my group loves playing in my games, and I have a lot of success stories that aren't necessarily germane to the topic, but there are definetly PIECES that I have decided to incoporate.
So many PCs, so little time...
Lathias, are you running Scales of War?  I am curious how they handle the Karak Lode surprises (If I remember correctly that might be the next adventure segment?), when you get to that point of the story, would you be willing to PM me with what they thought about the scenario set up with the old man and the canaries? That was supposed to be a surprise, however it ended up feeling like it was deus ex machina to me.



Yes, I am and yes that is next.  Send me a PM so I don't forget who you are and if I remember yes, I will gladly PM you.  Better yet, feel free to add me on Skype and I can let you sit in on the game if you want so you can see first hand how my players like it.  Skype=lathais

Now in the collaborative approach, at least the way I see it from what has been described by several people supporting it, they would have known he was a Shadar-Kai but thier charachters would not have known.  So that would ruin the surprise when they run across him later.  Perhaps I am mis-understanding thier side, however, they never ellaborate on specific examples, so I have no way of knowing, though am really curious if I could improve my game by attempting to use some of these tactics.  My players have zero complaints about my game and we all have fun, so I am not too concerned, but how can I know if we could not have more fun without trying.



For what it's worth, that tends to be the tripping point I see as well. My players tend to like the "dramatic reveal". We've had GREAT ones, and some ho-hum flat ones, of course - campaigns that started out great and fell flat or that started out "standard" and went so far off the rail to awesometown that they became a DIFFERENT awesome town.

Spoiler text to block Wall of Text +5. TL;DR version - Full collaboration is not for everybody, but I think MOST games could benefit from SOME.
 
Show

After a month or so of talking to Iserith and Centauri, and looking through PAGES of forum content, I have realized a couple of things about my specific gaming group. 

We meet once a month for about 6 hours a shot, so time is at a premium. A "softly" prepped plot is essential to getting the most bang for our gaming buck. By softly prepped, I mean an overall story that everyone agreed to beforehand. Specific case in point, the next 4e campaign I am running, after the current arc our group is running finishes in roughly 3 more sessions, is in the Games Workshop Warhammer campaign setting, and by player vote is focused on Chaos, specifically the demons of chaos. Within that broad confine, I have a loose story that ties the characters to a place, and a very rough idea of what things would happen to that setting should the characters NOT involve themselves.

I doubt I will tell the players the few specifics that I do have, until the time is right. However, the areas in my own group that the collaboration approach will see a lot of mileage is simply in the dictation of world fiction and going with the impromptu plans of the group. In the past, I have handled those surprises the PCs threw at me sort of off the cuff, and I've allowed some, and blocked some. My GOAL this time around is to be a LOT more allowing, and even if someone does something "dumb" (say, attacks an Ancient Red Dragon at level 2) to ask them the following question BEFORE working the results out.

"I'm not sure I see why you would do that. How do you see this working out?" and then taking that  into account.

I don't see HOW attacking that Dragon could result in anything OTHER than catastrophic annihilation, but maybe YOU do, and your idea could be cooler than mine. Fantasy fiction is RIFE with characters charging dragons and getting pinned under the claw, to be threatened or calmed down. Maybe THAT is your idea, and it doesn't impede anything else, just changes the perspective of the encounter a bit. If I just had the dragon flame you down, you say "Hey, that wasn't what I thought would happen" and get irrate, and I think "Holy cow, that was RIDICULOUS! Whyever would you do that?!" 

I'll give a specific example of when I blocked something to highlight why I started looking into this concept more.

I ran a campaign in a steam-punk/gaslight setting, though still 4e. We had a number of nights, each dedicated to a specific character's backstory. Some of those games were EXCELLENTLY put together (self promotion) and some fell flat, but overall the experience was one everyone was enjoying. Having a "night" dedicated to them, players were giving me LOTS of stuff to use, and were really invested in the other people's background, because they knew theirs was coming up, or the person had really helped their night go off well.

The final night before we wrapped the campaign (we tend to work through heroic tier, mainly) the last "character" spotlight night occured, and one of the characters (a warforged ranger) had been a victim of a Jack the Ripper style villian (leading to her soul being trapped in the automaton warforge- awesome idea, and completely player driven). Tracking down the villian had been happening in pieces through the other nights, as well, and the group was ready to kill this guy when they finally found his lair. I had set it up so that "The Doctor" had hired a gang of street thugs to act as muscle and guards, and thought I had set up two very interesting encounters for the night.

The players proceeded to come up with a plan to brazen their way into the Doctor's lair. I was completely flummoxed. I had prepped for a full out frontal assault, or EVEN if they tried a distraction to separate the guards, but I couldn't think of a way that they could POSSIBLY be believable enough to get into the sanctum uncontested. I had the first encounter of gang members lead them to the Doctor, appearing to believe the story (I gave no indication that they didn't believe the PCs, because ONE player had failed an Insight check, and nobody else bothered to try it). Once in the room with the Doctor, the player (whose "night" it was) told me "I slam the door and lock it! It should hold the guys in that other room long enough to fight the Doctor!"

I said "Um- There isn't a lock on the door."

Not because it didn't make sense that there COULD be a lock on the door, but because I didn't THINK about there being one. Combat ensues, and of course the thugs from the FIRST fight run in as reinforcements. Long story shorter, I TPK'd the party and had to resort to the lame "You wake up in a cell" trope to end the night.

Not only did this completely kill the mood that NIGHT, but the next session was the FINAL session, and it steamrolled the enthusiasm that had been building for the end of the campaign, and for the final reveals. I overdrafted the "Cool Bank Account" that I had built through the whole session, and it affected the whole campaign.

By RULE, I did fine. Failed Insight check, bam. No door lock planned? Bam. "Doctor" boss fight run competely above-board? Roger. Death saves failed? Check.

By intent, I messed up so badly that to ME and what I consider MY level of DMing, that campaign is ALMOST a total failure, because of how far reaching that ONE night was. All the cool stuff was wiped away because I stuck to MY story, instead of going with the players on THEIR story.

After talking to many folks on the forums here, I see many many places that I could have changed how that result ended, in far more cinematic and "cool" fashion. So I have asked a TON of irritating questions to various folks (Centauri and Iserith chief among them, since they are the bannermen of this type of DMing) and I have read and participated in threads by other posters (Yagamifire springs to mind) that run games far outside of my personal comfort zone, all in the effort to not have another crash and burn like that last one.

I probably won't implement HALF of what I've read, because despite how the above may make me look, my group loves playing in my games, and I have a lot of success stories that aren't necessarily germane to the topic, but there are definetly PIECES that I have decided to incoporate.



I agree with the bolded part, which is why I have asked several times for examples on how it works.  Those questions got met with them thinking I am trying to "grind an axe" when I was just asking questions to try to understand, stating that it sounded boring to me, because it does on the surface.  Perhaps if they answered the questions though, I might understand it better and it would not seem boring.  I simply said it -sounded- boring to me, not that it would be, to frame -why- I was asking the questions.  However, apparently, if you do not agree with them, they just ignore you instead of trying to help you understand.  I am fairly new around here, so have not seen the specific examples some people refer to, though pasting together bits and peices of it since getting blocked, it is starting to make sense to me and I really want to know more, however, the questions are still ignored so I am at a loss.
Examples of collaboration:

- Player: "Do I know anyone in this town?" DM: "Sure! You tell me who and how you know them."

- Player: "What kind of magic item do I find?" DM: "What kind of magic item do you need or want?"

- DM: "What kind of adventure would you like to play next?" Player: "My guy is really good at dungeoneering, so I'd like to do some dungeon exploration." Player 2: "I'd like to do something with the Feywild, since my character has strong ties to the fey." Player 1: Oooo, isn't there a Feydark, an underground section of the Feywild?" DM: "That sounds awesome. What kind of creatures would you expect to meet there?" ETC.

I could go on, but those give you some idea of what happens at my table. I am still coming up with stuff, running villains, running NPCs, etc, but the players have a lot more input into the process, so I'm not just throwing random crap at the wall and hoping it sticks.



Examples of collaboration:

- Player: "Do I know anyone in this town?" DM: "Sure! You tell me who and how you know them."

- Player: "What kind of magic item do I find?" DM: "What kind of magic item do you need or want?"

- DM: "What kind of adventure would you like to play next?" Player: "My guy is really good at dungeoneering, so I'd like to do some dungeon exploration." Player 2: "I'd like to do something with the Feywild, since my character has strong ties to the fey." Player 1: Oooo, isn't there a Feydark, an underground section of the Feywild?" DM: "That sounds awesome. What kind of creatures would you expect to meet there?" ETC.

I could go on, but those give you some idea of what happens at my table. I am still coming up with stuff, running villains, running NPCs, etc, but the players have a lot more input into the process, so I'm not just throwing random crap at the wall and hoping it sticks.



Now see, alot of that I already do.  Granted, I am currently using a published campaign, because I am still newish and the idea of creating an entire world from scratch is still daunting. 

For the first example though, I actually tried that almost to the word in my campaign and the response I was met with was, well, I don't know who is here, that's your job.  So I simply modified one of the NPCs to work with the provided char backround.

For the second, I just use wishlists, if they do not provide one, then I just pick items that fit thier build.

As for what type of adventure, well, when I recruited my players, I specified that it was Scales of War and that I was new so sticking to published, they all agreed to this.  In my live game, the players are a mix of new to 4e and new to DnD in general, so they told me to pick something until they got more comfortable with the system.

There are other specific examples in other threads though that just did not make sense to me.  There was one about player death and how to deal with it a while back that had me stumped.  The answers they gave I just could not wrap my head around, so I explained how it didn't make sense to me and asked questions for clarification and instead of getting help, they just picked apart my posts(except the relevent parts) and I was basically told no, you're wrong for thinking that.  That's the part I have problems with.  So for the time being, I will just continue asking questions, that will likely be ignored, and figure out my own way that works for me and my players.
Examples of collaboration:

- Player: "Do I know anyone in this town?" DM: "Sure! You tell me who and how you know them."

- Player: "What kind of magic item do I find?" DM: "What kind of magic item do you need or want?"

Those are excellent examples of collaboration. Ideally, the players and DM would reach the point at which the player doesn't even have to ask the question anymore.

- DM: "What kind of adventure would you like to play next?" Player: "My guy is really good at dungeoneering, so I'd like to do some dungeon exploration." Player 2: "I'd like to do something with the Feywild, since my character has strong ties to the fey." Player 1: Oooo, isn't there a Feydark, an underground section of the Feywild?" DM: "That sounds awesome. What kind of creatures would you expect to meet there?" ETC.

Another good example. No, ideally, the DM doesn't have to ask the players questions either, but in early stages of collaboration, when the players don't realize that in addition to accepting what the DM offers they should add on to it, it helps to have a dialog.

I could go on, but those give you some idea of what happens at my table. I am still coming up with stuff, running villains, running NPCs, etc, but the players have a lot more input into the process, so I'm not just throwing random crap at the wall and hoping it sticks.

Right. The DM doesn't stop doing what DMs have always done, it's just much less trial and error this way.

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

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