Giving up some power

This week I received an email from one of my players and I have decided to share a line from that email with all of you. The majority of the email was him explaining that he had accidentally played his character with an item which he had planned on purchasing but had not actually done so. Really that does not bother me at all and it’s not the point of the is post. What did catch my eye was at the very end of the email and it said “Describing some of the action tonight (Ashar’s ritual) as a mini-DM was kind of fun.  : )”

Everyone enjoys a good ego stroke and I like to be told that I am doing a good job as much as the next guy, but that also isn’t the focus of this article. “What is the point?” you might ask. His enjoyment of the control I gave him over a scene involving his character as the main protagonist.

What happened? I set the scene, I brought the NPCs and the players into a setting and described it with moderate detail and then pointed to the player and said “since it’s your character you tell me what happens”. For the next five minutes or so the player described what was taking place and the interactions his character had with the NPC and the environment. If a skill check was needed I would stop him and ask him or someone in the group to roll. Once the scene was complete I took over and resumed DMing the game.

One of the best parts of being a DM is being able to influence the world in which the characters play. Getting to be creative, not just imagining a story but sharing it with other. Sharing that influence is a great way to enhance players enjoyment of any RPG. How can you do this while still maintaining continuity and story flow? Here are a few suggestions on how you can share some of your DM power.

#1. Skill Check hand off: When a skill check is needed give your players the chance to describe what failure or success means. As the DM moderate to make sure what they describe is plausible and add small details but allow them to decided what happens when they fail a diplomacy check or if they crush a stealth check.

#2. Scene control: If there is a scene in the story which focuses heavily on one or two players let them narrate the scene. Start them off by describing the setting and give them what ever important information the NPCs might give them and then let your players run with it.

#3. Consequences of Action: If your players do something which could have wide spread consequences for the world at large ask them for input as to what it should be. Did the party topple an evil king? Who steps in to take his place? Perhaps your players might enjoy the kingdom collapsing into chaos, or the installation of a kind hearted young queen. Did they destroy an evil necromancer who was raising an army of the undead? What happened to his army? Are they free to roam the world and wreak havok? Do they start their own undead civilization? Let your players decide.

#4. City Building: The Dresden Files RPG has a great deal of good ideas for gaming, one of them being cooperative world building. This is a really useful way to get your players more involved and interested in the world in which they play.  Asking each player to create a place of interest and an NPC which the other players don’t know about can be very rewarding to the players. This gives each player a little inside knowledge about the city which the others in the group don’t. If each player creates one of these places of interest they will have have some special information they will enjoy sharing with the party, or using to their own advantage.

#5. NPC control: Often players will take a special interest in NPCs who they feel an affinity for; perhaps they enjoy something quirky about the NPC or they just think it’s funny. The DMG2 has some great rules for creating a companion character for your players. Taking an NPC your players like and turning it into a companion for a while gives them a bit of constant control over their world. Allow them to determine their companions reactions to situations and stimuli. Let them write some of the back story for the NPC if they want.

Creativity is at the heart of role playing games, and sharing the ability to be creative with your players is a great way to allow them to shine and enjoy their game even more. Even control freaks and evil DMs can benefit their games by allowing players to have some creative control. Giving them some rope with which to hang them selves can always be fun.


11 Responses to “Giving up some power”
  1. Trachalio says:

    This is one of the big reasons why I loved Don’t Rest Your Head. You’d roll the dice to determine if you succeeded or failed and then it was up to you, not the GM, to describe the scene. Made for some great roleplaying and some very awesome story building.

  2. The Angry DM says:

    Bah! Giving power to players is just asking for trouble. First rule of gaming: if something is going to get screwed up, its going to get screwed up by a player. Take, for instance, your point #4 about world creation. Well, let me tell you something: I tried this with my own group of weekly victims while we were gearing up for a new campaign. We had a cute little group brainstorming thing where each of us (me included, just to make them think I’m ‘part of the group’) created two landmarks or locations in the city that our characters might visit at some point. I expected them to drop a few shops to buy stuff, a ritual caster at a temple, or other mostly mechanical things. Just to save me the trouble of having to decide what to do. And what happened?

    Well, my beautiful city – MY CITY – was suddenly tainted with two brand new neighborhoods. One impoverished market district with crime problems and another upperclass area of hot springs, fungal gardens, and cafes. Instead of the requisite couple of bars, my players got all creative with landmarks and NPCs and flavor and all of that garbage and they suddenly felt like they were really a part of the world and that their characters had lives outside of the dungeon. And now I have to figure out how all of these little fiddly bits fit into my map because the gods know they will start whining and crying if I leave any of them out. As if that isn’t bad enough, what with the caring about the world and the taking ownership of the home base city, they also had disgustingly excessive amounts of fun doing it.

    Let’s see how they feel when Dagon bursts forth from the dark void of the night sky and begins devouring their beloved little landmarks and NPCs. Bwahahaha. That’ll teach them a lesson!

    • thadeousc says:

      And thus you validate my closing comment that even Evil DMs can benefit from this 🙂

      • The Angry DM says:

        Definitely. Actually, one of the real benefits of this technique is that the players really do start to care about the world them and that gives you excellent ways to drive stories. A rash of kidnappings of faceless NPCs is just a hook, but when the kidnappers target someone that one of the players created (like Gerta the halfling harmonica player who frequents The Hammer and Pickle), suddenly, the story has weight.

  3. Oh, that’s right, you were the one on the DM’s Rount Table going on and on about the Dresden Files character and world creation, and now here it is filtering into your D&D games, all for the good, great, best! This is an excellent idea. Thanks for the article.

  4. Wastex Games says:

    Wow…I’m going to email my players right now and tell them to be thinking about some fantastical places to add to the town. They’ve only been in a part of the market district and the guild hall they purchased.


  5. Jeff says:

    My group of newbs and I just did #4 last night to kick off our new campaign, actually. It was a grand time. We combined it with the some of the cooperative storytelling stuff from the DMG2, like having positive and negative ties to other character before the game starts, and everyone got very into it. It brought out some of the shyer players too, which I was worried about at first.

    We decided to set the campaign in the Nentir Vale, and so instead of doing “city building”, we expanded it to “region building”. Seems to have worked quite well.

  6. mbeacom says:

    My first reaction to the Angry DM was, “Wow, what a Jerk!” then I realized he was joking. 🙂

    In a recent game night I was running, my characters had this crazy idea to try to steal some stuff from one of the NPCs. it was kind of comical and fit within one of the characters personality as he was being role played so I went along with it. I threw some normal to high DCs at the PCs for thievery, diplomacy and bluff checks and the made them all. So I roleplayed the NPC as totally falling for their little ploy. It didn’t end up effecting the working storyline and it allowed me to give a neat little magic item to the PCs. They were thrilled and it started the night off great, setting the mood for a high energy combat encounter. I’ll be looking for more opportunities like this in the future.

    We’re getting together tomorrow night to finish the adventure. We had so much fun last time that my PCs have been bragging about our recent game night. Now several of their friends want in on the action. I’ve worked to create a story line that allows the new PCs to enter midway through. I plan to sit them down separate and explain how they arrive, just the basics, the mechanics. Then I’m going to call in the rest of the group and let the new PCs explain the situation in their own words and with their own flavor and imagination. It sounds a lot like what you’re describing here. To be honest, I was a little nervous about trying it, but now I’m totally excited to see how it pans out. Thanks!

    • The Angry DM says:

      “My first reaction to the Angry DM was, “Wow, what a Jerk!” then I realized he was joking.”

      Yeah, I actually get that a lot. Not the “jerk” thing, but the “joking” thing. Why do people always think I am joking?

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] over at posted an interesting article today called “Giving Up Some Power” that got me thinking about the current campaign I am […]

  2. […] The second is that the powers hurt as much as they help. This was never a stipulation, it’s just something that organically came up as the powers were being created. Before this, I was a bit afraid that players, if given the chance to craft an item, would want to have all sorts of good things without any repercussions. But the players seemed to enjoy the chaotic nature of their items. Maybe having shown they can handle power creation, and not start cackling and muttering about their evil plan to save the world the instant they had a taste power, I might entrust the players a bit more per Thadeous’ tip. […]

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