Over in Le Pote du Suggestiones , Gnome Stew reader gustavovp asked us a great question. As I was typing up a response that began “I don’t think there’s an article in this, because…” I realized that there was — and that many of our readers may not know about the Suggestion Pot  at all.
The Suggestion What, Now?
Given that close to 4,000 of you read the Stew via RSS or email while around 1,000 of you visit the site itself, there’s a good chance that 80% of our readers may not even know the Pot exists. Which is a shame, because we think it’s pretty cool.
Here’s how it works. You suggest an article idea, or ask a question, and we do one of three things: write an article in response (generally when your suggestion has good applicability for other GMs, too), shoot you a quick response in the comments (when we don’t see full article potential, but want to help — we love helping!), or explain why we won’t write that article (generally because the request has nothing to do with GMing).
Not every site does this, but we love doing it and we think it’s a cool service to offer our readers. We’re not always prompt, but we’ve gotten better about that — and we dig writing articles around reader suggestions. We’ve written on the order of 40 or so since the site launched 2.5 years ago, and I’d love to see that number go up.
Anyway, in case it’s new to you here’s a short article responding to an excellent reader question — thanks for the suggestion, Gustav!
Here’s Gustav’s request:
Hello fellow gnomes,
I would like an article on unpredictable players.
I just can’t predict anything my players will do in any given roleplaying session. They’re often unpredictable to the point where they email me the day before the session saying they will follow a path and then they do the exact opposite when session begins.
Real life example: I run a Star Wars campaign where the players were a group of fringe characters stuck in Naboo when the invasion in Episode 1 begun. The group told me (by email) that they would stay and fight the bad guys. When session 1 begun, they wanted to escape the planet. Then, they made up a plan and arranged a escape that would be executed next session. When next session (2) began, they decided to stay on the planet and search for the McGuffin, what took the whole session. Before session 3, they told me they would fight the Trade Federation and look for the McGuffin later. Session 3 began and they kept searching for the McGuffin while hiding from the Trade Federation (not fighting!). They spend the whole session hiding from Trade Federation and discovered the place where the McGuffin was, cleary (at least to my point of view) showing that they would face an important fight to recover it, but only on next session. Next session(4) begun and they abandoned the McGuffin without even considering entering the fight and managed to escape from Naboo using the old plan they made.
I gave up making huge prep plans and I’m running mostly improv sessions but i am still not comfortable with this situation. I love my players creativity and I would hate to railroad them. Also, I am not an experienced GM. What do you suggest I do?
PS: Sorry for the bad english, it’s not my primary language.
First off, your English rocks!
On to the meat and potatoes: While technically the problem here is unpredictable players, the real problem is actually players who don’t understand part of their side of the gaming equation.
Yep, there’s an equation. Well, maybe not an actual equation, but a principle that’s kind of like an equation: We’re all in this together.
Which means: We all contribute to each others’ fun.
In this case (taking your comment at face value, Gustav, which we always do), you’re being a good GM — rolling with the punches, being adaptable, and showing great willingness to shift your play style in a direction you’re perhaps not so comfortable with in order to accommodate your players. All good things.
So how about your players? Well, they’re surprising you, which is a good thing; surprises are fun for GMs. They also sound invested in the game and the setting, which is excellent. But man are they falling down in one area: understanding what being a GM is like.
I’m not saying that they’re dicks, or even that they’re doing this intentionally, but they’re not respecting your time or your fun.
Changing their minds or surprising you during play is one thing — that’s great. Even saying they’re going to do X and actually doing Y instead is fine, provided they don’t do it constantly.
But saying “We’re going to do X next session,” which leads you to spend all your prep time on X, and then doing Y next session — repeatedly — isn’t respectful of the time you, the GM, invest in the game.
It’s also not respectful of your fun: You’d like to improv less, and right now you can’t. No fun for you.
What to Do
1. Explain the problem to your players. Don’t be a douche about it, and don’t blame them — I doubt they’re deliberately messing with you, and I’m willing to bet that they’re not GMs themselves (GMs know what it’s like to GM). They don’t know that this behavior creates problems for you — so tell them, politely.
2. Ask them point-blank to stick to their guns between sessions. Specifically, ask them to follow through on what they say they’re going to follow through on. Help them see things from your perspective.
3. Find out if there’s a problem with the adventures themselves. My hunch is that your adventures are fine, but ask anyway — maybe your players are less engaged than they seem, and that’s why they’re changing their minds all the time.
4. Follow through yourself: Take back some of your fun. Let your players know that you understand that a large part of the pleasure of RPGs is the sense of an open, do-anything world, but that you want to use your limited prep time wisely. And let them know that if they tell you to plan for X and then do Y, you’ll probably postpone the session so that you can prep for Y — not as a punishment, but so you’ll have more fun prepping and GMing, and they’ll have more fun because you’re better-prepared.
That’s Just Me
Even as I was writing this article, I was thinking of all the other ways that Gustav’s question could have been answered. My proposal is firmly rooted in my deep-seated belief that players and GMs need to meet in the middle and help each other ensure that everyone at the table is having a good time — no one’s fun is more important than anyone else’s.
But that’s just one philosophy — what do you think Gustav should do?