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Driver’s Education

Posted By Patrick Benson On July 25, 2012 @ 12:00 am In GMing Advice | 10 Comments

It is no shock that some drivers are observing traffic and some drivers are focused on their own objectives. The ones who observe traffic are cooperative in the sense that they are working with others to prevent problems in order to get what they want, and the drivers who focus on their own objectives are taking dangerous risks in order to get what they want. The cooperative approach works out the best for everyone, while the selfish approach results in horrible wrecks on the road.

In many ways this is exactly what GMing a game can feel like. As the GM your table is the expressway. Your plot and preparations are your vehicle. The players’ characters are the players’ vehicles. The system, setting, and a game charter if you have one are the rules of the roads.

Now everyone does not have to take the same entry ramp to get onto this expressway. Some take the “Epic Story” ramp, while others merge on from the “Hanging Out With Friends” junction. Likewise not everyone has the same destination. Some are going to “Strategic Victory Lane” while others want to make it to “Cool Character Moment Avenue”. Having the same starting points and end points are not important though.

Not crashing into each other and screwing up traffic for everyone is the important part.

So how does this analogy wrap up into some useful GMing advice? Well before you can legally drive in any of the fifty states here in the U.S., you need to qualify for  a driver’s license first. In order to get your driver’s license, you need to pass a written exam as well as an actual driving test. That means people need training first before they can get their licenses.

Perhaps before you let anyone onto the expressway of your game you should have a “Driver’s Education” session?

To begin with you might spend a little bit of time teaching the rules of the system, but that is the equivalent of teaching someone how to operate a vehicle. Overall, learning how to operate a vehicle is easy (brake, accelerate, steer, signals, headlights, wipers, and the cup holder is located on the dash…).

The real training is to teach new drivers how to participate in, observe, and respond to traffic conditions. Spend a session at the start of your next campaign not for character creation, but after character creation, to discuss what it is that everyone is hoping to get out of the game and what the ground rules are for obtaining those objectives. If you do not have a game charter as previously mentioned, this session is a great opportunity to draft one. Once you and the players have an understanding of how you will all cooperatively work together to make the game fun and fulfilling for everyone, you are all set to get on the road.

You might not be running a game during this session, but you will be running the table. Make sure that everyone has a chance to talk. Do not allow players to interrupt each other, and do not interrupt anyone else yourself. Take notes of what each player wants to achieve. Wrap up the session by stating to the group how you will be running the game and what your expectations are. Keep the session friendly, but make sure to have an agenda and stick to it. You want to build the framework from which a great gaming experience will be built upon.

Some might object to this idea as being a waste of a session. Yet I prefer to think of it as a single session to ensure that many more wonderful sessions will follow. Plus you may want to have the occasional refresher session to make sure that everyone is still aware of the “traffic laws”, just like you have to renew your driver’s license from time to time. Just try to make sure that your initial and refresher sessions are enjoyable experiences, unlike most visits to the DMV.

Remember that the objective here is to promote cooperation as a group of individuals with different starting points and objectives. You are not dictating what people must do, but instead you are simply letting people know what they should not do for everyone’s benefit. The rules of the road do not tell you where to go. The rules of the road just make sure that you get to where you are going safely.

So try a “Driver’s Education” session and see if it helps to make your next campaign even more fun than the last one, and may all of the roads the game travels upon be paved with the spirit of cooperation! Or ground up gnomes (they are great for gas mileage, trust us).

What do others think? Have you ever ran a “Driver’s Education” session focused on how the group will cooperate at the table? Leave your comments below and share with the rest of us what you have learned!

About  Patrick Benson

Patrick was born in 1975, and is more or less your typical American male for someone of his age. Except he is a tabletop RPG gamer and a damn fine game master! What else matters?




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10 Comments To "Driver’s Education"

#1 Comment By Knight of Roses On July 25, 2012 @ 5:14 am

I try to use a game framework document to set expectations for a coming campaign (Such as this one) or discussion over email rather than devoted a session to such. But then again, most of us have been gaming together for years so we have a fairly good handle on how each of us ‘drive’. For a new group, this seems like an excellent idea.

#2 Comment By Patrick Benson On July 25, 2012 @ 6:36 am

Thanks! I read your framework document and I think that would make for an excellent handout to use during a “Driver’s Education” session.

#3 Comment By shortymonster On July 25, 2012 @ 8:00 am

I’m having to do something similar to this at the start of my next game based on what happened last time a ran a significant campaign. I had described the world and the system, and the kinds of ways that the game could be played, without forcing my own opinions. Luckily everyone seemed to get what I was going for, which sandboxy in nature, where the combat would be more than likely lethal and realistic.

Everything was going fine for the first few sessions, but after a month, when the group got back to civilization for some down time, I had seeded the city with plots galore. Everyone jumped on those, knowing that they would have some time in the city, and that a few of them had enough clues for the players to realise that if they put the effort in, the subplots would feed into the main one and everyone would have a better time. Apart from one guy.

he had just wanted to play action adventure, with hefty dose of exploration. the game did promise that, and if over half the players had lost interest in the investigation side of the city plots, i would have ramped up the excitement, but he was the only one not enjoying the way the game was going. I gave him his own stuff to do, but the nature of the game meant that to be fair I couldn’t make the combat easier on him than the rest of the group should he go it alone. And because everyone knew how dangerous getting into a fight was, they steered clear of conflict unless there was a very strong reason to engage.

I would hate to have that happen again, so after char. creation, it’s going to be time for a chat. I might not get everyone on the same page again, but at least they’ll know what to expect from teh get go, and I hope that’s enough.

#4 Comment By Patrick Benson On July 25, 2012 @ 10:58 am

Let us know how it goes for you. I would love to hear your opinion on how this tactic worked for you. I’ve used it with great success, and I hope that your experience is the same!

#5 Comment By Ernst Seeth Laemmert On July 25, 2012 @ 11:18 am

That’s a really neat way of summarizing it all and giving a chance to the players for creative world input, before it’s “set”.
Thanks, I’m going to try that out.

#6 Comment By Nojo On July 25, 2012 @ 12:42 pm

My first reaction is “Really? 4 hours of this?”

My second reaction is “This is important stuff, well worth a discussion.”

My third reaction: “Really? 4 hours of this?” :)

Sounds like a good 20 minute conversation, with email follow through. Would work well just after character creation.

#7 Comment By Roxysteve On July 25, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

Some game frameworks and campaign structures lend themselves very well to this approach, but the GM has to be faithfuil to the results even if they do not support what *he* was expecting to get out of it, and that blows from where I’m sitting. I am avowedly not a fan of the “let the players ideas create the plot in-game” as that doesn’t stretch them and makes me just an interpreter of the rulebook. I’d rather play Fiasco! because at least then I can actually play an active role myself.

I prefer the approach another gnome floated a while back, wherein the basic nature of the game is set out for the players and they get to make three suggestions as to what elements they’d like to see come up. This allows me to run the game I want to run while giving the players plot elements they want to participate in.

Of course, I play two types of game almost exclusively at the moment: a trad RPG I author 100% of the material for and a second trad RPG I’m running from a printed campaign. A storyteller with a sandboxed plot would be a very different prospect and would work better for the techniques discussed in the article.

#8 Comment By Patrick Benson On July 25, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

If you can do this in 20 minutes, then by all means do it in 20 minutes and use the remaining 3 hours and 40 minutes to game! I know groups that would need 4 days to get anything of value out of this exercise. Tailor it to your group’s needs.

#9 Comment By Patrick Benson On July 25, 2012 @ 2:51 pm

Why not just say that at this session? I don’t see how what you desire and using this technique are mutually exclusive. The players do not have to be given influence over the plot as a result of this session, but if they are all asking for it you as a GM should take note and ask why? You might uncover a a way to improve your game without having to give the players influence over the plot.

#10 Comment By Roxysteve On July 26, 2012 @ 8:24 am

Sorry, misunderstanding on my part. Only once has such a session been requested of me, and that was to adjust the background of the PCs for a Dresden Files game in which the cast list had changed over time rendering the back stories unfit for purpose, to which I readily agreed but couldn’t make the preferred date due to a family obligation. Next session none of the players showed up so I fixed the problem by taking the game off the schedule.

One good thing to come out of it was that I now won’t accommodate players who don’t RSVP to a game date.

I poll individual players in emails as to their experience in-game and I adjust play accordingly but I don’t sweat this stuff. I don’t have the same vision of “the game” as you do Patrick, is all. You are far more accommodating to the players than I am, and (importantly) you play a different style of RPG than me. I don’t do storytellers because experience has shown I get bored with them. I need that frisson of control, I guess.

My take is that if I am running the wrong sort of game for some of the players, one of them can get behind the screen, show me how it’s done and give me a chance to fight the goblins etc for a change.


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