Functional play depends on everyone playing the same game. Sadly, many people don’t even know or negotiate what that means, and a lot of game texts leave crucial things out. Too often, people come with different ideas and don’t realize it, and it turns into a mess during play.
So, this tool is designed to clear that all up before you start playing.
Choose the Ideal Options for Play
Before you start a campaign, either the GM or the group as a whole should sit down and look at this list, and pick the ideal options for this game – for this specific rpg, this specific campaign you’ll be playing, and this particular group of people.
Talk about which choices fit and which ones do not and why. If you are playing a game that already sets these options, simply circle them accordingly.
Yes, some of you might say, “I can do 2 or 3 of those choices” – pick the one that best fits the game you’re trying to run.
There’s room for negotiation, but remember- the group needs to pick ONE of each category.
Coming together, not coming apart
DO NOT have people fill these out separately then compare. DO NOT use this as a survey to try to meet in the middle.
The reason you even list the multiple options is this: most gamers assume the one or two ways they’ve played is how you play ALL games. Seeing the assumed default next to many other ways serves to highlight that it is not the ONLY way to play, but one option of many, to help people re-orient themselves, especially if they’re going into new territory.
Be aware that different games will have different answers. Different campaigns will have different answers. For example, I’ve personally played D&D with all but one of the answers below.
Same Page Tool – Checklist
Do you play to win?
a) Yes, you totally play to win! The win conditions are…
b) Good play isn’t a win/lose kind of thing
Player characters are:
a) expected to work together; conflicts between them are mostly for show
b) expected to work together; but major conflicts might erupt but you’ll patch them up given some time
c) expected to work together; major conflicts might erupt and never see reconciliation
d) pursuing their own agendas – they might work together, they might work against each other
e) expected to work against each other, alliances are temporary at best
The GM’s role is:
a) The GM preps a set of events – linear or branching; players run their characters through these events. The GM gives hints to provide direction.
b) The GM preps a map with NPCs and/or monsters. The players have their characters travel anywhere they can reach on the map, according to their own goals.
c) The GM has no plan – the GM simply plays the NPCs and has them act or react based on their motivations
d) There’s no GM. Everyone works together to make the story through freeform.
e) There’s no GM. The rules and the system coordinate it all.
The players’ roles are…
a) …to follow the GM’s lead to fit the story
b) …to set goals for their characters, and pursue them proactively
c) …to fling their characters into tough situations and make hard, sometimes, unwise choices
Doing the smartest thing for your character’s survival…
a) …is what a good player does.
b) …sometimes isn’t as important as other choices
c) …isn’t even a concern or focus for this game.
The GM’s role to the rules is…
a) …follow them, come what may. (including following house rules)
b) …ignore them when they conflict with what would be good for the story
c) …ignore them when they conflict with what “should” happen, based either on realism, the setting, or the genre
After many sessions of play, during one session, a player decides to have her character side with an enemy. This is…
a) …something that shouldn’t even happen. This is someone being a jerk.
b) …where the character becomes an NPC, right away or fairly soon.
c) …something the player and the GM should have set up ahead of time.
d) …only going to last until the other player characters find out and do something about it.
e) …a meaningful moment, powerful and an example of excellent play.
A fistfight breaks out in a bar! The details of where everything is – tables, chairs, where everyone is standing is something that…
a) …is important and will be displayed on a map or grid, perhaps using miniature figures.
b) …is something the GM will describe and you should ask questions to get more information.
c) …you can decide on the spot using specific game rules (rolling dice, spending points, whatever)
d) …isn’t really that important other than it makes for an interesting scene- pretty much anyone can come up with details.
In order to really have fun with this game, the rulebook is something that…
a) …everyone playing needs to have read and understood before play, because the rules and setting are both very important.
b) …everyone should know the rules very well.
c) …everyone should know the setting very well.
d) …everyone at least should know the basics of the rules.
e) …everyone at least should know the genre the game pulls from
f) …Only one person needs to really know the rules and it can be explained in 10 minutes or less to everyone else.
Instead of “choose one” think of this as a checklist – pick which options apply, leave the ones that don’t.
This game runs best when the players take time to create characters that are…
a) …built to face challenges using the mechanics and stats.
b) …written with extensive backstories or histories
c) …given strong motivations and an immediate problem or crisis
d) …tied into the other characters as (allies) (enemies) (as either)
e) …written with some knowledge, research or reading up on the game setting, real history or an actual culture
Fiction Hurdle Questions
Does everyone know the answers to these questions for this game? Hopefully between the game text and making choices above, the group can also be on the same page for the following points. If not, clarify!
What kind of conflicts make sense for this game?
What kind of protagonists make sense for this game?
What kind of outcomes make sense for this game?
Between a really useful conversation I had with Avalon’s Willow, listening to an old interview of Vincent Baker, and reading the Darths & Droids, I figured it might make sense to put together a tool for talking about “how we play what we’re playing”.
A lot of this is put together from playing in a lot of different games and seeing stuff go wrong and places where one or more folks showed up with different expectations.