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Setting and Player Hints

Started by xenopulse, July 07, 2005, 05:03:17 PM

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This is a little revelation I had after our recent discussions here about Setting and how it relates to actual play.

In my AD&D group, the GM (along with the main player) has created his own world. A lot of it is standard fantasy. Then there's the city in which our current game is set. It's near the dwarven territory, and the humans defeated the dwarves in a long war. Humans are dominant and prejudiced against smaller species. Halflings, dwarves and gnomes are not allowed to wear weaponry inside the city. Dwarves are particularly under suspicion.

Further, there are a group of dwarves who collaborated with the humans in bringing down the Dwarven Empire. They have their own little area in town, because they are shunned outcasts among dwarves, but allowed more privileges by the humans.

Our game has little to do directly with the setup, aside from the fact that we have a gnome (my character), a dwarf, and a halfling (along with a human and a half-elf) in our group, and they frequently are faced with suspicion and are hindered because of the weapon restriction. The story initially revolved around our involvement with a local thieves gang. Overall, it was a typical detective and combat story.

I've figured out with help from here that the GM is running a thoroughly old-school Gamist game, despite his obsession with simulating the world correctly. The reward system is the best clue: XP are given for combat, finding clues, coming up with solutions to problems, successfully using skills vs traps and locks, etc.

Now, the important part. The halfling player and I decided that our characters, who are both half-thieves, were going to earn some money. And we purposely went into the traitor dwarves' territory. We went into a bar, the halfling cut a purse, and my gnome projected his voice to make one of the dwarves say, "I sold my soul to the Human Empire!" Then we did what we do best (run away! run away!).

We're also frequently making in-character and player comments about size-ism and prejudices, both as jokes and as character opinions. And still, the game went the way of going out to hunt bandits (some module about Vipers and a poisoned village etc.)

Here's the point: Consciously and sub-consciously, some of the players are giving the GM hints about what about the setting we found interesting and what we wanted to play. The whole species prejudice and dwarven traitor issue is the best part about the whole setting, IMO, and I'd love to play the game about that! So by us seeking out the traitors, and by having discussions about the situation, we were trying to move the game into the territory we found interesting. It didn't work. I guess I can try direct communication, now that I've figured out what I was doing :)

(As a side note, this is the sort of communication that games like Burning Wheel or Shadow of Yesterday make so easy -- just put them into Beliefs, Instincts, Keys, etc., and you're set.)

So, does anyone have experiences with this phenomenon? Players subconsciously trying to push the game in a certain direction? Setting elements that are cool but just don't come into play because of the way play is structured?


I can't think of any roleplaying experiences I've had that don't strongly feature this element.  Once you start really looking for them (and trying to hone your skills at spotting) you'll find these unconscious and conscious tells everywhere.
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