Based on Nojo’s comment, which alerted me to the idea of player wish lists, and Matthew’s excellent article, Improve Your Game Guaranteed, talking about treasure and loot, I got to thinking about 4e’s use of player wish lists.  Though I’ve never run a 4e game, and I’ve only played in a game or two at conventions, there are a lot of fun elements to it. One of those elements is the use of a Player Loot Wish List.

The Concept
At the beginning of each level, players write up a list of magic items that they are interested in. The DM (it’s D&D after all) is encouraged to incorporate at least one of the magic items on the list into the loot that is giving out during the adventure.

The Drifting
The idea of a player wish list is something incredibly easy to drift. It is a simple concept. Players write down things they’d like to see happen, the GM (Sorry, I can’t break myself of saying GM.) incorporates some or all. At its core it’s a very simple example of shared narrative. Players influence the game by requesting events beforehand. Here are some places that you can drift wish lists to:

  • Other games, obviously. Player wish lists aren’t exclusive to D&D. The idea isn’t even unique to D&D. More on that later.
  • Player wish lists for magic items are good, but they can be used for all sorts of loot as well. Mage looking for specific spell components? Maybe she puts it on a more generalized loot wish list and the GM throws a wagon train of stolen spell components in the next encounter. Maybe the players are tired of getting coin loot or gems, so they put a few suits of armor or art works onto their wish list. Now you, as the GM, might have them raid a barracks or art gallery on an unrelated mission, and maybe they get away with a few other pieces.
  • Player wish lists can be a listing of character goals. I’ve been in loads of games where the GM asks for a list of character goals at the beginning and tries to work them in as the game go along. Its almost common in the games I run, and its a great way to get ideas to build your games around. Even published adventures have room for customization.
  • BBEG – Who do the players really want to take out? Are they hunkering for a hankering of half dragon hide? Are the players aiming to axe an axex or archon? Using a player wish list for enemies can integrate with player wish lists for loot as well.  Do they want to down a dinosaur and divvy up its dentures?
  • Where and how do the players want to play? Players can write up wish lists of locations they want the game to move to, or styles of play they want to try. Do they want their adventures to occur in a big city environment? If they let you know this you can start researching  Sharn and Ptolus for ideas. Maybe they want to do more dungeon crawls or be involved in more large scale battles. Maybe aerial battles or pirate ships are looking pretty good.

The Undertow
So the thing is, player wish lists aren’t all that unique. I”d say they’re actually a pretty common concept at their core. Martin wrote about player flags on Treasure Tables, and every company tries to get customer feedback to know what direction to take their products next. Comment forms adorn nearly every website, and suggestion pots are common as well. For another gaming example, look at Robin Laws’ player goal chart in Robin’s Laws Of Good Game Mastering.

So the concept isn’t that new, but I’ll definitely say one thing for D&D’s implementation of it. It takes a very abstract thought: “Get feedback from players about what to do next” and makes it into a rule. For some games, like D&D, it is much easier to implement new ideas when they are rules and not just a thought on how to do something. The abstract doesn’t always make the impact that the tangible and cogent does. Sometimes it has to be written out and codified. So next time you’re wondering what your players want to see out of your game, have them write it down on a wish list.

How have you gotten player feedback in your games? Is it always as tangible as player wish lists, or is it easier for you to do it more abstractly? Does it feel more permanent when its written down, or is it less limiting when it isn’t?