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Defining Goals

Posted By John Arcadian On September 30, 2009 @ 1:25 pm In GMing Advice | 5 Comments

imageI run very improv heavy game sessions. I also do a lot of sandbox style game.  Because of this, there are a lot of nights around my gaming table where I’m picking at the players for some direction for the story. Sometimes the players know exactly where they wan to go, sometimes the players really just want to do “stuff” and want someone to tell them what that is. It’s brewed, over the years, a lot of dark roasted Colombian thought in my coffee pot head about how defined your goals need to be.

Well John, what all types of goals can there be? I’m glad you asked hypothetical reader. Here are a few that I can think of.

    • Player Group Goals – Goals of the group of players in general. The people sitting around your table have a certain set of things in mind about what they want from the game. Very related to social contracts.
    • Individual Player Goals – The goals of each individual player. Usually a player’s goals are going to revolve around their character. They want a certain power for their character, or to see them get a certain type of loot or item.
    • Character Group Goals – The entire group of characters have a set of goals. These are usually related to why the party travels together. Maybe they are in business together, maybe they are a group of friends, maybe they have a shared enemy. Character group goals are the high arch in the plot. Character group goals are almost essential to having some kind of party cohesion.
    • Individual Character Goals -  While the group of characters will have a shared set of goals, each character in the group will have their own goals. Individual Character goals are going to revolve around character wants and are linked to player goals. While the player may want the character to have a certain power, the character will want that power, but for different reasons. The character is entirely in the game world, and their goals justify the players goals for the character. Think of it like this. Geppetto makes Pinocchio so that he can have a son. Pinocchio thus wants to be a real boy.
    • Game Master’s Goals – The things the Game Master wants out of the game. Usually these relate to the running of a good game, but they can vary greatly in scope. One Game Master might want to run a good game in any system, one game master might want to run a great Shadowrun urban fantasy game, while another might want to use the game to test out their latest homebrew world setting.
    • Campaign Goals – Every campaign has its own set of goals, usually as high arching in the plots as character group goals. The goal of a campaign is usually large, being concerned with the defeat of a major enemy or the saving of a world. In the case of campaigns which do not have deep connecting plot lines, the goals are usually completely defined by the character group goals.
    • Adventure Goals – The goals of a particular adventure are usually well defined. Get the artifact, kill the BBEG, rescue the princess, etc. Adventure goals last for the Adventure, no matter how many sessions it spans.
    • Session Goals – The goals of a session are usually the same goals of an adventure, but they differ in that an adventure can span many sessions. Thus, an adventure goal rest somewhere on top of the 4th wall. The players know they need a certain item and know they won’t be getting it this adventure. Their goals may be to get to a certain point, or to stop before a major boss fight.

Defining Goals & Why It’s Important
Whoo. There are a lot of different types of goals, and they overlap a lot. That brings us to the point of this article. Define the goals of your game, players, and story.  It helps.  There are a slew of ways to define them, and how you do it isn’t actually that important. The important thing is that you do define the various goals in the game. Why?

Knowing the goals of your players, as a group and individually, helps you craft and change your stories so that the players are satisfied. Knowing the character group and individual goals helps you to introduce elements that are important to the characters, and thus to their players. Keeping in mind your own goals as Game Master helps you to stay on track and not go completely into a player motivated game.  Keeping Campaign, Adventure, and Session goals in mind helps you control the flow and pacing of the game.

Ask The Players
A lot of the goals in the last half of the list are fairly easy to define. They are usually inherent in the adventure you are running or come straight from the Game Master or a player’s request. Players don’t always come right out and say what they want to happen though. That makes the first half of the list of goals a bit hard to codify. So feel free to ask them what they want to happen. Even better, hand them a printout that says:

Player Name:
Goal 1:
Goal 2:
Goal 3:

and ask them go fill it out for next week. It seems a bit like homework for the game, but it gets people thinking about it on their downtime and tells them that you, as Game Master, want to involve them in the game more.

Write It Down
Keeping goals written down somewhere helps to keep them fresh in your mind. When I GM, I’ve got an excel spreadsheet open at all times. Anything of significance gets written down into it. Every character has a section that I check to see if there is anything I’m forgetting or could be bringing into the game.

So what kind of goals can you pick out of your current game? How solidly do you feel goals need to be defined? What sort of goals do you, as Game Master, set for your game.

About  John Arcadian

John Arcadian is the head of Silvervine Games, a freelance writer and art director, a website developer, a builder of sonic screwdrivers, and a purveyor of kilted mayhem. When he isn't out causing trouble in his kilt... Well, no, that is pretty much what he does when he isn't running RPGs or or trying to take over the world.




5 Comments (Open | Close)

5 Comments To "Defining Goals"

#1 Comment By John Arcadian On September 30, 2009 @ 1:31 pm

Here is a really simple template that lists all the type of goals from the article. It’s something that I’ve used to start out a lot of games.

• Player Group Goals –
• Individual Player Goals –
Player 1 –
Player 2 –
Player 3 –
Player 4 –
• Character Group Goals –
• Individual Character Goals –
Character 1 –
Character 2 –
Character 3 –
Character 4 –
• Game Master’s Goals –
• Campaign Goals –
• Adventure Goals –
Adventure 1 –
Adventure 2 –
Adventure 3 –
• Session Goals –
Session 1 –
Session 2 –
Session 3 –

#2 Comment By Scott Martin On September 30, 2009 @ 3:26 pm

I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly written down goals, though I can see the advantage of doing so. I never really thought about all of the types of goals tangled together as you list above, but it’s a very useful way of thinking about it.

The mix of goals gives you a lot of places to drive an open ended game, but a lot of chances to follow a passion and still drive off the road. Good to have them listed and gathered so you don’t get all wrapped up in one character’s goal by accident.

#3 Comment By mobuttu On October 1, 2009 @ 5:26 am

Good entry. On a related topic, Burning Wheel is about defining characters and group goals integrating them all in the setting definition as well as in the reward cycle. I recommend it to explore those goals cited.

#4 Comment By Rafe On October 1, 2009 @ 6:12 am

Interesting. When I think of GM goals, the only thing I can think of is to ensure the players have a good time accomplishing theirs. To me, being a good GM is about being a good enabler and facilitator. I don’t often have goals within the game itself. That said, I play Burning Wheel, so my hand in the fiction is loose; the players drive things and, ironically, their goals are built into their characters.

#5 Pingback By Ravenous Role Playing » Blog Archive » Friday Five: 2009-10-02 On October 2, 2009 @ 8:57 pm

[...] Defining Goals Everyone has goals. The players should have goals for their characters. Their characters should have goals. The GM should have goals as well. John Arcadian over at Gnome Stew has some great info on how to go about establishing these goals. [...]


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